Traveling with Firearms
Follow these tips from hunter and competitive shooter, Rich Yoder, for a safe and uneventful trip.
by Joe Balog
Today’s hunters pull out all the stops in pursuit of their quarry. Turkey enthusiasts crisscross the country each spring in their individual quests for a “grand slam” – the successful harvest of each of the four North-American subspecies. Similarly, ardent deer hunters chase monster bucks from the furthest reaches of Canada to South Texas. Waterfowl addicts often follow the migration for thousands of miles. Such travel can lead to the hunt of a lifetime, but isn’t without challenges.
Problems can arise from the complex logistics of packing and transporting a hunter’s necessary equipment. Guns and ammunition cause the greatest concerns. While traveling anglers may be content to use rods and reels provided by their guides, an experienced hunter simply won’t leave home for a hunting trip without his or her trusted, personal firearms.
But traveling with a gun is no picnic. Complex airline and highway rules coupled with the constant threat of damage can wreak havoc on the traveling hunter’s otherwise well-laid plans.
Rich Yoder knows all the pitfalls of traveling with firearms… and how to avoid them. He logs thousands of travel miles by land and air each year with firearms in tow. A veteran deer and waterfowl hunter, Yoder also competes in 3-gun competition – a fast-paced sport involving self-defense-style shooting with shotguns, rifles and pistols. It’s a vocation that requires Yoder to transport multiple firearms and a small arsenal of ammunition whenever he competes. His traveling tips give insight into stress-free gun transport.
Keep your guns unloaded and cased in your trunk or locked truck bed and you will be in compliance with most state and local firearms laws.
Guns On the Road
When traveling the country in his truck, Yoder packs his unloaded guns away in premium hard cases and buries them deep. “When driving with firearms, my experience has shown that guns are best stored in hard cases and kept relatively inaccessible,” says Yoder. “By this I mean they shouldn’t be in the wide open.”
Yoder’s reasoning for burying the weapons is simple. Regulations for transporting firearms in a vehicle vary from state to state. Some are quite lenient, while others are much stricter. Within many states, gun transportation laws also vary considerably from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Of course, it’s always advisable to research the specific laws where you plan to travel, but the multitude of diverse and changing regulations can make a complete and total understanding of all laws you may encounter a fleeting prospect.
If possible, keep your gun cases locked in your vehicle’s trunk or truck bed, as long as your bed has weather-tight and lockable security. If your guns are outside the passenger compartment, in a case, unloaded, and kept separate from ammunition, you’ll be in compliance with all but the strictest of local and state gun laws. If your truck bed is not secure, or you drive an SUV or another vehicle without a separate trunk, you’ll need to do your best to keep the guns as “inaccessible” as possible, per Yoder’s recommendation.
In addition, Yoder points out that different law enforcement officials within the same jurisdiction may be on a different page when it comes to interpreting and enforcing firearms transportation laws. “Unfortunately, not every police officer you may run into is a sportsman like you,” states Yoder, who also points out that officers can have differing opinions and outlooks on civilians with firearms. His words are wise. With the tremendous pressure being placed on law enforcement officers today, they are understandably careful, and are always likely to err on the side of caution. If pulled over with firearms, don’t do or say anything to give them a reason to doubt your intent.
Plano’s All-Weather Gun Guard cases provide quality protection at an affordable price, and are great choices for all modes of travel.
For his highway shotgun and rifle transportation needs, Yoder selects Plano’s model 108191 All-Weather Double Scoped Rifle/Shotgun Wheeled case. Pistols go in Plano’s model 108021 All Weather Large Pistol Case. Inside these durable, hard cases, each gun is fully encased in custom-trimmed foam. “These cases are capable of being loaded in the truck and then having a ton of gear piled on top of them,” Yoder says. “They offer strong, lockable, all-weather protection.”
After guns are packed away, Yoder points out that it’s essential to pack and transport any ammunition with similar care, and away from the guns. Most state laws require this, and it is essential to avoid any misperceptions of improper intent, should you be pulled over.
Yoder packs bulk ammo in Plano’s various rifle, handgun and shotshell ammo cases. These cases are small, flat, and can be easily stacked inside a larger lockable container, allowing ammunition to be transported in bulk, while in full compliance with the widest range of state and local laws.
If firearms must be transported inside a vehicle’s passenger compartment, keep them unloaded, inside a case, out of view, and as inaccessible as possible.
As tricky as hitting the highway with firearms can be, air travel presents hunters and shooters with even more challenges. Guns must be unloaded, declared and inspected. They must be locked in an airline-approved case, and, in some case, be partially broken down. Similarly, ammunition must also be declared. But the cumbersome inspection process is only part of the concern. Of course, all firearms must travel as checked baggage, so once they are inspected and turned over, it’s anyone’s guess what torture a gun case – and the precious cargo inside – might go through in the hands of task-oriented baggage personnel.
When checking in at the airport, travelers need to declare that they are traveling with a gun. At that point, airline personnel will quickly advise the traveler of the need to open his or her case and inspect the firearm. Always wait for the TSA inspector before unlocking or opening the case, and only do so when clearly directed to do so by TSA personnel. Never take a firearm out of its case in an airport under any other circumstances. Typically, you and your firearm will be taken to a special inspection room. You have the right to remain with your firearm at all times during the inspection process. Never leave your firearm until the inspection is complete, the case has been re-locked, and you are in possession of the key or combination.
You have the right to remain with your firearm at all times during the inspection process. Never leave your firearm until the inspection is complete, the case has been re-locked, and you are in possession of the key or combination.
There are additional steps during international travel. Specifically, guns must clear customs in the destination country, and once again when entering back into the United States. Multiple government forms may need to be completed and carried with the firearm, like U.S. customs form 4457. Be sure to check into all required paperwork well before traveling. Although most forms are available at the airport, unnecessary delays can often be minimized or eliminated by first downloading and completing forms prior to travel.
As their name implies, Plano’s Field Locker Mil-Spec Cases meet rigorous military and law enforcement specifications for immersion, dust, vibration and transit drop, making them great choices for airline travel. Each of the three distinct long gun cases and three pistol cases in the series is waterproof and dust-proof, and secured with massive, draw-down style latches and multiple, steel-reinforced padlock hasps. Heavy-duty handles are also oversized and padded. Larger models, like the model 109440 Tactical Case, have heavy-duty axles and easy gliding wheels. Cut-to-fit padded interiors cradle firearms firmly and securely.
The thought of traveling with a firearm intimidates many hunters, keeping them tirelessly beating their home turf. But there’s nothing to be afraid of, given the travel tips of our expert. What’s more, recent low fuel and airline costs make far-away hunting locales more accessible than ever. So start making your travel plans for the coming hunting seasons. Pack your guns right and expand your reach. It’s easier than you think.
Wes White represents the collective — yet individual — voice of the Western Whitetail editorial staff.