Firearm hunting seasons are beginning across the United States and Canada, and that means hunters soon will be crisscrossing the country en route to their various hunting destinations. For the hunter traveling by vehicle, gearing up for the trip is fairly easy; just load your gear and go. But for the hunter traveling by air, things get a little tricky, especially when it concerns firearms and ammunition.
The first place to go for any information about flying is the Transportation Security Administration. Do yourself a favor and start at the agency's website (www.tsa.gov). Information about rule changes can sometimes take awhile to trickle down through an organization that large, so the hardworking TSA folks you meet at the airport don't always have the most up-to-date answers to questions about traveling with hunting or fishing paraphernalia.
According to the TSA, hunters may transport firearms on an aircraft but only those that are unloaded and "in a locked, hard-sided container in or as checked baggage. All firearms, ammunition and firearm parts, including firearm frames and receivers, are prohibited in carry-on baggage." In other words, if you don't want to get better acquainted with security personnel, don't put the bolt from your hunting rifle in your carry-on.
When it comes to hard-sided gun cases, you get what you pay for. With the cost of firearms climbing, cheap protection isn't worth the risk. Someone paid good money for that rifle, maybe even you. Keep in mind that baggage handlers really don't have time to handle your luggage as it should be. I once watched as my bag was allowed to run off the end of a conveyor belt and slam on the ground. Luckily, my camera was in my hand and not in the bag.
Be sure to build extra time into your schedule to allow for check-in procedures at the ticket counter. Curb-side check-in of firearms is not permitted. Firearms have to be checked as baggage, or packed inside of checked baggage.
Exact procedures will vary between airlines, but you will need to declare the gun at the ticket counter. Airline personnel will have you unlock the case and verify the chamber is empty and that all ammunition is removed from the firearm. Where applicable, magazines must be removed as well. You then will be asked to sign a declaration document that will be left inside the case when you lock it back up.
Ammunition may be carried in the same hard-sided case as the firearm, but it also must be packed in boxes or cases specifically designed for carrying small arms ammunition. It can't be loose. You can transport shotgun shells of any gauge, but cartridges can be no larger than .75 caliber. Muzzleloading enthusiasts get left out because black powder or percussion caps - including black powder substitutes and primers - are prohibited. If you choose to use a smoke pole, you will need to purchase supplies or have them available at your destination.
If you are flying into another state or country, be sure to know the gun laws in those locations where you will stop along the way as well as where your trip will end. The unknown can come back to bite you.
Some airlines limit the number of firearms you can check, others charge a fee per firearm and some will do both. Be sure to check with the various carriers before booking your flight. You also will want to verify the airline's rules and baggage guidelines for flying home with antlers.
Freelance writer Doug Nielsen is a conservation educator for the Nevada Department of Wildlife. His "In the Outdoors" column, published Thursday in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, is not affiliated with or endorsed by the NDOW. Any opinions he states in his column are his own. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.