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What do I need to know about flying with firearms and ammunition?

Estimated reading time: 3 min

Flying on commercial airlines in the company of your hunting firearms and ammunition is not really that difficult, but it can be a bit intimidating if you’ve never done it before. Here are the 9 most important things you need to know and plan for:

  1. Your firearm will need to travel as checked baggage in a locked, hard-side, airline approved case. It must be unloaded, of course, and it should be made as easy as possible to see that it is unloaded. Ammunition must be in its original packaging or in a hard-side container that separates rounds in individual compartments. Most importantly, you should not have “loose” ammo such as in a vest or pocket of a hunting coat. Ammo should be in lockable baggage, separate from the firearm.
  2. Review both your airlines and the Transportation Safety Administration’s regulations and restrictions regarding firearms by visiting their websites. You can try contacting them by phone, but good luck getting through to a real person! And if you do reach someone, chances are they will provide their interpretation of the regulations. It’s best to review them yourself in black and white.
  3. When you approach the check in counter, you must declare to the agent that you are traveling with a firearm and which baggage contains the gun and which contains the ammunition. Say, “I’m traveling with a firearm today in this case.” Do not say, “I have a gun!”
  4. Do not lock the gun case or your bags until all the paperwork is done and all inspections are completed by both the check-in agent and security (in the US, that’s the TSA Agents). Then ask, “Is it okay if I lock my bags, now?” to remind them it still needs to be done.
  5. If you are traveling out of the country with firearms and/or other expensive hunting equipment, make sure to acquire and complete a U.S. Customs & Border Protection Form 4457. (http://forms.cbp.gov/pdf/CBP_Form_4457.pdf) This is simply a Certificate of Registration of Personal Effects Taken Abroad. Fill it out with detailed descriptions of your gun and equipment including serial numbers, but do not sign it. Take it to your nearest U.S. Customs & Border Protection Office (usually at an international airport or border crossing station) in the company of the guns/gear listed. (Have the gun(s) unloaded, cased and locked just as you would for traveling on the airlines.) The agents will verify the serial numbers, sign and certify this document, and you will sign it in their presence. As long as you don’t lose the certificate, you’ll only have to do this once for the gear that’s listed on the certificate. Presenting a 4457 to Customs when you are reentering the U.S. usually makes things go much more smoothly.
  6. Travel with a high-quality, hard-side gun case. Your hunting guns are a substantial investment, so don’t skimp on protecting them. It’s also helpful to look for a case that will allow you to secondarily protect your guns inside easy to transport soft-cases as well. These will be handy when you arrive in the hunting locale. It’s wise to use gun cases that don’t immediately give away what’s inside, too. Problems of theft and other hassles of travel with guns are reduced if would-be thieves and the general public can’t really tell what you’re transporting. However, make sure your all your bags stand out to you with some kind of unique, permanent identifier like color or a spray-painted stencil, etc.
  7. Add trigger locks on your guns inside the locked hard-side case. Some airlines and some countries require trigger locks, so it’s definitely better to have them than not. Try to make sure both your trigger locks and the locks on your hard-side case are combination locks rather than keyed locks. You can carry a combination in multiple places including your passport, wallet and phone in case you forget it. If a single key is lost – you’ll have to tear things apart to get them open in a remote location.
  8. If you have the choice, hunt with “common” cartridges or gauges in remote locations. You can travel most anywhere in the world and find a box of .30-06 or 12 gauge ammo on a shelf at the tiniest hardware store. But if your ammo doesn’t make it to your destination and you’re shooting a 8mm Rem. Mag. or a 24 bore … chances are you’ll be out of luck!

Make every effort to watch your bags, especially your gun case until the last second it disappears through the door on the baggage conveyor belt, and be at the carousel or unloading area when it arrives at your destination. When traveling with firearms allow at least an extra 30 minutes to your arrival at the airport for check-in just in case there are any unforeseen issues. If they arise, this extra time will be a big stress reducer for you.

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