Flying With Bowhunting Gear: 5 Things to Remember
I’ll never forget the anticipation I felt while packing to fly on my first out-of-state bowhunting trip. I thought I was going to wear out YouTube looking for videos on the best way to safely and legally fly bowhunting gear. I was thankful when I found out the truth of how these items are handled. As long as I remembered some basic principles, I had very little to worry about.
1. Give Yourself Plenty of Time
Flying with hunting equipment requires thoughtful planning and good time management. A good friend of mine who flies all over the world with thousands of dollars of hunting and camera equipment made very clear to me that I should give myself no less than two hours of cushion prior to my boarding time.
Bowhunters are flying with potentially dangerous items. We should be understanding when we are asked to answer questions concerning what it is. This can require some extra time at the airport baggage check-in location.
I was fortunate to not be called aside for my non-stops from St. Louis to Dallas and back. In St. Louis, the individual checking my bow in recognized the shape of my case and kindly asked if it was a bow or gun. When I told him it was a bow, he simply passed it along with my bags. In Dallas, the young lady had not ever seen a case like mine and was little concerned about it being a gun. I assured her it was a bow, and she too passed it along.
Perhaps the most important reason to give yourself more time than you normally would is in the event of having your luggage checked by TSA. Again, in my bow case, I placed and locked all of my hunting gear. This includes knives, broad heads, optics, etc. I do not carry any of my actual hunting equipment in a carry-on, or even in my checked bag if possible. This is to protect my gear and protect those handling it. Any potentially dangerous items could result in a search. This will cause a potential delay for you should you be called to the TSA inspection location.
Because I wasn’t checked, and because it wasn’t a busy time of year, I had plenty of time to find my gate and sketch out this article! That, of course, was much better than rushing to the gate just in the nick of time. It’s also important to take note of what time of year it is when preparing to fly. Waits will be much longer around the holidays or vacationing season, often the times of year we are flying.
As I was researching how to fly with bowhunting equipment, I found that there are two schools of thought on how to lock your case. Some will say to use the TSA approved locking mechanisms on your case, or that you can purchase aftermarket. This allows the TSA to open your case at-will and inspect without having to call you to open your case. Others (and this is where I lean) will tell you that you should use non-TSA locks to more efficiently protect your case from having the locks picked and gear stolen. I like the idea of a potential thief having as much trouble as possible to get into my expensive equipment, so I purchased two, key-operated padlocks and use them to secure my bow case. I’m happy to have my name called and open the case for them with me standing there as they inspect.
Note: The TSA has the right to bolt cut your aftermarket locks should they feel the need to and if they cannot get in touch with you. To avoid this, it’s important to inform the person working the check in counter that you have the keys for the locks on your person should TSA need to open it. The worker may tell you to stay close to the check in counter or close to where you can hear your name called after you check in should you need to remove the locks. This could take as long as a half an hour after check in. Be patient. I have even heard it recommended that you ask to be escorted to the TSA area if the location is not close to the check in counter.
3. What to Pack
I like to minimize the amount of luggage I carry by putting everything equipment related like optics, calls, knives, separately cased broadheads (I like to use a drill bit box) in my bow case. This centralizes any potentially dangerous items and items that need to be protected by a hard case. I also like to place my hunting clothing throughout the case to provide some extra cushion and keep items from bouncing around inside. Basically, I want anything that might be questionable to be in one location, not scattered throughout my luggage.
My second checked bag will contain my boots, clothes, and other non-gear items and my carry on will typically be my small backpack with the flying essentials and keys to my bow case locks.
4. No Need to Freak Out
After you land, you’ll then report to the baggage claim area to retrieve your luggage. Some airports will consider your bow case over-sized, others will not. If you have retrieved your luggage bag but don’t see your bow, check the oversize luggage area before you run to the closest worker.
5. One Last Thing to Remember
People in the airport aren’t used to seeing other people lugging bow cases around. My bow case…looks like a bow case. It’s not a high quality, generic looking black box. I have actually received several strange glances, and even one lady who looked at me like I just crawled out of a cave somewhere. I just smiled back and went along my way. The cool thing is, I’ve also had some welcome conversations with other hunters. Plan ahead, do your homework, have fun, and happy hunting.