By Mark Hampton, American Handgunner
Having just returned from Africa, I was reminded of the tribulations we often encounter while traveling with firearms. After hunting on six continents, 32 countries, 25 states and several Canadian provinces in the past 30-odd years, I’ve met several bumps in the road. There are a few things worth pointing out I’ve learned during these adventures — some the hard way.
You must declare your firearm to the airline representative when checking-in. Obviously, the gun must be unloaded and packed in a lockable, hard-sided case. Ammunition must be packed separately. You may be asked to remain nearby for TSA inspection. The procedure varies depending upon the airport. Some airlines limit the number of firearms in one case. Some countries don’t allow you to import two firearms of the same caliber. You need to brush up on the facts for your particular trip.
As a general rule, you’re allowed up to 11 pounds of ammo. If traveling internationally, ammo should be locked in a container like those available from Plano, Pelican or any other form of lockable box. The ammo can be placed in your checked luggage, other than your gun case. However, be certain to check with all airlines you may be traveling with as certain airlines in foreign countries may not transport ammo — or firearms.
Working with a good travel agent can be beneficial, if not mandatory! I use Barbara Wolbrink of International Journeys [(703)-354-2943] who handles complex travel itineraries in remote locations known to hunters. She’s well-informed and steers me clear of snafus.
Regardless where you’re flying, a good quality gun case is essential. I’ve been using Impact Case & Container (ICC) and Bear Track cases without issue. There are many other quality gun cases available, just avoid using a $50 plastic case. You’re guaranteed to regret it.
Firearm- and hunting-related stickers will tell the world what’s inside the case. Don’t do it.
Outside The US
If you’re traveling internationally, you must have a US Customs Declaration, Form 4457, listing your firearm and other personal gear (binocs, scopes, cameras, etc.). This form will usually be requested upon re-entering the US. It’s easy to obtain from any customs office. I carry the original form with me during travel, with a photocopy packed in the firearms case.
Should I be separated from my luggage, the customs officials will see the 4457 Form whenever the gun case arrives. This form basically proves you owned the firearms and gear before traveling abroad. It’s also a good idea to allow enough time to declare your firearms with customs personnel before your connecting flight. I’m hearing an ugly rumor more bureaucracy is coming for international travel with firearms, so don’t leave 30 minutes between flights!
After experiencing three separate incidents involving four handguns lost/stolen, I strongly suggest considering some type of gun-floater insurance. The airline policy regarding reimbursement probably won’t cover the cost of a good gun case. Sportsman’s Insurance Agency, Inc. specializes in gun-floater insurance for hunters and shooters alike. Oh, and avoid placing ammo, bolts, scopes, or any firearm parts in your carry-on baggage. It’s only asking for trouble.
Bear Track case with Ruger and Customs Form 4457. On the left; Pelican case, on the right, Plano plastic box. Both are lockable for ammo storage.
It’s wise to be familiar with all TSA regulations, as rules can change overnight. You can check-out requirements and procedures on their website, and it makes sense to verify your specific airline requirements while you’re on-line. It’s also important to know the rules of countries you’ll be visiting. Some of the procedures encountered in third world countries may seem awkward, ineffective and slow to you but patience will usually prevail. Being courteous to foreign authorities won’t hurt anything, either. Remember, they are the ones allowing us to enter or exit their country with our firearms.
Upon arriving at your destination, be sure to check your firearms and gear carefully before leaving the area. Report any missing or damaged items to the airline or appropriate authorities, and keep a copy of the report for your records.
Knowing TSA and your specific airline requirements, and the country’s laws pertaining to firearms which you are visiting, will go a long way toward avoiding problems. Know your rights as a passenger too. Don’t assume third world countries have sole ownership of inefficiencies. Some of my most unpleasant situations have occurred right here at home. Inconsistency seems to be all over the map, but if at all possible, remain polite and courteous. Bear in mind, you are only trying to get from point A to point B, and back — with your gear. Do your research and prepare for the unexpected. Sometimes it’s an adventure just getting to camp.