Jim Zumbo - Everything Outdoors
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Traveling with Firearms
Hunting season is here in many areas, and various forms of transportation will be used to get to the hunt location. Most people will travel in their own personal vehicle. While in might seem simple, transporting firearms can be complicated, since states have different rules. Check the laws before you hit the road to be sure you're complying with them.
If you travel by bus, which is rare for hunters, firearms may not be transported, period. Unless laws have recently changed, Amtrak allows firearms.
Most hunters who don't drive a vehicle to the hunt area will fly. Some folks believe airlines have drastically changed the rules recently on transporting firearms. Not so. It's a simple process. You MUST transport your firearm as checked baggage in a hard case that can be securely locked. Be aware that merely putting a lock or two on a case may not be sufficient. If the case can be pried open because the locks are too far apart or in the wrong places, TSA will ask you to put another lock on. This has happened to me and friends.
So here's the procedure. Put your firearm in the gun case and take out the bolt if it's a bolt action. Lay the bolt in the case next to the firearm. It goes without saying, but make doubly sure the barrel and magazine are unloaded and there are no stray cartridges in the case. Take your firearm into the terminal in the case. Don't lock the locks at that point. When you approach the counter, declare to the airline agent that you're transporting a firearm. Do not say "gun." Passengers who are uptight about guns may give you a dirty or petrified look, or, as I heard from a gun-toting friend, complained to the airline agent and asked if guns are really allowed on planes. The agent will give you a small declaration form to sign. You must open the case and slide the signed declaration inside. The agent may want to look at the gun to be sure it's unloaded, but most will not. The less a firearm is exposed to the traveling public, the better. The airline agent WILL tell you to take the gun to TSA officers who will likely put the case on a table and inspect the gun. Then the agent will lock the locks and give you the keys, and you'll be on your way. As a point of information, there is no extra tariff or fee to transport a firearm on domestic airlines. Be sure the case has at least two name tags attached. I like to write my name and contact info on the case with a Sharpie. When you arrive at your destination, the case may come into the baggage area in the oversized baggage"' place, where items such as skis, golf bags, and baby strollers are offloaded. Most airline baggage handlers will release the gun to you after you produce a form of ID such as a driver's license. All airports are different. In some, the firearms case comes out with regular baggage. Ammo typically must be transported in a checked bag, but some airlines might have different rules.
Standard rules with most major airlines allow you to have 11 pounds of ammo. The ammo MUST be in the original box, and not packed loosely such as in a ziplock bag or other container. When you're leaving for the hunt, check the clothes you'll be taking through the TSA screening area, insuring there's no ammo in the pockets. I did that once at the Billings, Montana airport. Unbeknown to me, I
had two .22/250 cartridges in a small pocket from a coyote hunt at home a couple days prior to the trip. The X-Ray machine spotted the ammo, the conveyor belt came to a halt, and the agents asked me to step aside away from the passenger screening area. I was scolded, had to fill out forms, and surrendered my ammo to two real cops who thought it was amusing. I asked how often that happened. They told me every few days during hunting season. Once the process of answering questions and filling out forms was completed, I was allowed to board the plane with no other problems.
International travel with firearms is a different story. You need to carefully read all the rules. Many different documents and forms may be required in order to enter a foreign country with a firearm. It's important to know that you MUST have US Customs Form 4457 to get your firearm back IN to the U.S. on your return from the hunt. These are free and are good for the life of the gun. They must be obtained at a U.S. Customs office. Obviously, international travel can be complicated. Your outfitter, PH, or booking agent should be able to help you. Be sure you dot all the "I"s and cross the "t"s. There shouldn't be any concerns about transporting a firearm. Just be sure you follow the rules. Don't try to bend a rule and try to get away with it. If you're caught you could be in serious trouble.
In my next blog I'll address traveling with game meat.
Here's the TSA link you may also find helpful: http://www.tsa.gov/travel/transporting-firearms-and-ammunition
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