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Hunters need to know the nuances of traveling with guns

Thursday, November 28, 2013
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Each year, I get more and more Buck Tales from hunters who travel to other states or countries in search of trophy animals or birds and for many, it’s their first time.

I’ve been doing it for several years and would like to share some things I’ve learned about traveling with firearms, some of which were learned the hard, costly way.

Here are a few answers to questions I’ve been asked, beginning with the selection of an outfitter or guide.

If you’ve heard about an outfitter that a friend has hunted with or been inspired by one of the outdoor channel’s deer hunting shows, there are a few things that should be done before booking a trip. Start with Goggle and check those recommended or TV show outfitters first and also see who else is out there.

All costs should be known first, including price of the animal or bird, whether there are additional trophy fees, license cost, accommodations, meals, meat prepar­ation, etc. And find out what kind of hunting (ground blind, treestand, sneak and peek) will be involved so you can pack accordingly. Using a computer, go to forums where your

selected outfitter’s previous hunters have posted their comments.

Canada

Hunting in Canada requires declaring all firearms in writing to a customs officer at the point of entry using their non-resident firearms declaration form. It can be done at the border or by going to their website, downloading the forms and filling them out. Do not sign them until you get there. I recommend downloading them. It’ll save time crossing. The reason for not signing is that they have to witness the signature. This form acts as a license for you only and is valid for 60 days. The fee is $25 regardless of the number of firearms listed.

There are also some firearms requirements. The maximum capacity is five cartridges for most magazines designed for a center fire, semi-auto, long gun, but there is no maximum magazine capacity for other types of long guns or semi-auto, rim fire, long guns. Leave all hand guns home.

There’s an option for a five-year Possession and Acquisition License that requires passing written and practical tests for the Canadian Firearms Safety Course. To take this test, contact the Canadian firearms officer of the province you want to hunt. Cost to obtain a PAL is $60. I’ve found that filling out the declaration form mentioned above is the best and quickest option.

As for the border crossing, a United States citizen doesn’t need a passport to enter Canada. However, be sure to carry proof of citizenship (birth certificate, certificate of cit­izenship or naturalization) as well as photo identification. Also keep all guns cased and unloaded.

I know this may sound comp­licated, but if you have the proper ID and filled out non-resident firearms declaration form, everything goes very smoothly.

Airlines

Traveling to out-of-state hunting destinations with firearms is a bit different. First, let’s see what a gun-toting hunter is going to encounter when he enters Albany Airport.

Believe it or not, it’s no problem if you don’t mind some of the wide-eyed people in the airport gawking at the gun case. Also be prepared to be approached by other hunters wanting to know your hunting destination, and chances are you’ll have to listen to a few of their old buck tales. So what do you do?

When you are called by the ticket agent, tell them you’ll be checking in a firearm. They’ll call a Transportation Security Administration officer who will come and check your gun. They should be unloaded and if you’re also transporting a handgun, you’ll need your pistol permit with this handgun on it. He’ll then take the gun and gun case back into a room where I believe it’s scanned and cleared for loading on the plane. Once accepted, which takes only a few minutes, he/she will tell you it’s OK and you can go to the gate.

The regular luggage you’ll be checking in and not carrying on is where you should put all ammunition, hunting knives, etc. None of these should be put in your carry-on bag or in your pockets. I prefer to carry my electronics (computer, GPS, cameras, etc.) onto the plane. They usually require opening your bag so the computer can be scanned separately. And wear clean socks because your shoes will also have to be scanned.

Once I used my range bag as a carry-on. I thought I’d cleaned it out, but unfortunately, I missed two spent shells and that caused me to miss my plane and a lot of grief, for which I can only blame myself. Pack carry-on bags very carefully.

Gun Care

I’m sure most have heard stories of hunters whose guns have been damaged during a flight. I’ve only had two incidents in all the years I’ve transported firearms on airplanes. The key to your gun arriving safely at your destination begins with you, and what you use to transport it in. Forget those $40 plastic shell gun cases, they’re fine for car/truck transporting, but not for riding in the luggage compartment in the cold belly of an airplane.

After my second hard-plastic-cased gun/scope was severely damaged, I contacted Larry Weeks, regional relations manager of Brownell’s who I met at a Shot Show several years ago, for some advice. Brownell’s is the largest supplier of firearms accessories and gunsmithing tools in the world, and I knew he could solve my traveling problems.

My question was simple: “How can I keep the two rifles I’m going to take to Texas next month from any possible airline travel damage?”

The answer he gave was to put the rifles in a Brownell’s Three-Gun Case, inside a wheeled Pelican Hard Case from which the factory form has been removed.

The Three-Gun case has a fully padded main compartment that can accommodate scoped rifles or even a tactical shotgun. When I pack, I place the rifles into the case with the separated full-length padded divider between them to prevent any contact between the guns.

The Three-Gun has adjustable straps with hook-loop fasteners to cinch down both guns to prevent them from shifting during transporting. It also has three, roomy, zippered compartments for mag­azines (empty) etc. and there’s also a pistol rug. I also like the adjustable shoulder straps which allow leaving the hard case in the hotel or in this case, the ranch, and carry the guns to and from the blinds safely.

Other features include reinforced, leather-wrapped carry handles with double stitching around the case to insure against tearing. The Three-Gun Case comes in 54- and 48-inch sizes and sells for $200. Check it out at www.-brownells.com.

Arrival

When the final destination has been reached and the luggage picked up, take time to inspect the gun case. Open it in the airport and inspect your firearms, but do not take them out. If there’s damage, be sure to follow up then and there with the airlines baggage staff.

When you reach your happy hunting grounds, be sure to shoot your guns before hunting. I’ve only once had a problem with my gun’s accuracy after a flight, and that one time cost me two nice bucks. I missed a 10-pointer in the morning and assumed it was me, but that afternoon, I missed another eight-pointer which had me talking to myself. The next morning, I went to the range and was barely on the top of a 12x14-inch Caldwell Orange Peel target.

I’m not blaming the airlines, but the day before I left, I was shooting one-inch, three-shot groups at 100 yards from a bench position. When I got to the ranch range, my elevation adjustment was way off. It’s hard to believe it was caused by the vibration of a plane ride. Don’t take a chance of missing the buck of a lifetime. Shoot a few rounds before going afield.

Do It

Every avid hunter owes it to themself to go on at least one out-of-state or county hunt. For deer, pick a state like Ohio, Iowa, Illinois or Texas and for those 300-plus-pound bucks, head up to Saskatchewan. It’s something you’ll always remember.

 
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