Whether this season will see you making your first out-of-state or out-of-country trip with a shotgun or your thousandth, here are some time-tested tips for getting from Point A to B with no stress!
1. Leave your gun at home.
If you’re planning a trip to a distant location like Argentina for doves, look into renting guns from your outfitter. There’s pleasure in shooting your own guns, but you owe it to yourself to compare that benefit with the reduced stress of international airline travel without guns. Purely comparing costs, it’s likely a wash. Import permits and inspection fees to bring two guns into the country are almost identical to renting quality shotguns. When you add additional airline baggage fees and extra tips to baggage handlers, it actually proves less expensive to rent guns rather than bring them.
Talk over the options with your outfitter well ahead of time. You may find he or she is on a program with one of the big companies like Benelli or Beretta to keep the latest models in-camp and available for shooters to experience the newest guns. That’s a nice perk, too!
2. Consider shipping shotguns.
If you’ll be traveling within the United States you may find benefit in shipping your guns before and/or after your hunt. Many hunters don’t know it, but it is perfectly legal to ship a firearm to yourself. The need to involve a Federal Firearms License holder only comes into play if there’s a transfer in ownership of the firearm. For trips inside the country, it’s often possible to ship your unloaded, cased, and locked firearm ahead of time to be held by your outfitter or friends with whom you’ll be hunting. After the hunt, stop by UPS and ship it directly to your front door or office. Be aware, carriers have individual regulations for packaging and methods of shipping for various types of firearms.
3. Bring a soft-side case.
Any time you’re bringing a shotgun on a hunt in a hard-side case, be sure to bring along a full-length soft case, too. Just put the gun in the soft case first, then lock it inside the hard case. Or if you’ll take your gun apart for transport or shipping, throw the soft case in for extra padding. You’ll almost always be happy to have it available especially for quick trips in vehicles between locations or in space-constrained modes of transportation like bush planes.
If you’re traveling to Canada, for example, the maximum number of shotshells a hunter can bring into the country without paying duty is 200. However, most airlines mandate that a passenger can only check 11 pounds’ worth of ammunition in their baggage—about three boxes of 12 gauge hunting loads. Depending on what and where you’re hunting, that can put a squeeze on shooting. Plan ahead with your outfitter or local contacts so you can acquire the bulk of the shells you need once you arrive. You can stop at a sporting goods store on the way to the field or order ammo from a cataloger ahead of the trip and have it shipped directly to your destination.
5. Take your time.
No matter how you’re traveling, it’s a stress saver to allow plenty of extra time to deal with the unexpected issues. If possible, add 50 percent to anticipated time requirements. So, if you normally get to the airport two hours ahead of your flight, make it three hours for travel with guns. If it looks like the drive to camp will take 10 hours on the road, plan 15. It sounds difficult, but if you do this, you’ll arrive more rested, relaxed, and ready to enjoy a great hunt. Few things are as detrimental to enjoyment of a highly anticipated hunt than arriving late and starting it tired and harried. Another time tip is to plan a flight itinerary that allows a minimum of two hours on any layover. Relying on short layovers ups the chances of missing flights and being separated from your checked firearms.
6. Make your gear recognizable.
When I used to travel a lot on airlines with my hunting dogs, I always insisted they wear some uniquely colored collar—hot pink, for example. That way I figured if a dog was somehow let loose on the tarmac, I would know instantly if it was my dog. Same goes for all checked bags, especially gun cases. Mark yours so you can identify them at a distance.
When you’re traveling to hunt, you’ll want to take your ThermaCELL with you, too. Bugs are everywhere! However, be aware it’s not permitted to carry butane cartridges for the ThermaCELL repellant unit in your airline baggage – carry-on or checked. If you do, it’s likely to be removed during inspection. Plan ahead with your outfitter or local contacts to pick up refill packs when you arrive. Or you can order them ahead of time from catalogers who can ship refill units to your destination so they’ll be ready and waiting.