Guide to Air Travel with Firearms

Planning an out of state hunting or shooting trip? Flying to your destination sometimes makes good sense, but the logistics of leaving the truck behind and hopping on a plane with your shooting gear presents its own set of challenges – not least of which can be the hassle of flying with a firearm. Entering an airport with a firearm can be stress inducing for the newbie, but really doesn’t have to be a bad experience if a few simple rules are followed.

Guns are considered “Special Items” by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), the folks that oversee safe domestic airline travel. You are not prohibited from flying with your firearm, but in the interest of public safety, doing so is subject to strict regulation. All guns must be declared at the ticket counter upon arrival at the airport and turned over as checked baggage. I have flown dozens of times with rifles, pistols and shotguns, never once encountering anything more than a routine, albeit thorough check by the TSA.

Some simple rules apply:

  • Bring the unloaded gun(s) in a hard-sided, locked case to the ticket counter.
  • Declare your firearm(s) at the counter. The ticket agent will ask for picture ID, your boarding pass and will alert a TSA agent for inspection. The TSA agent will usually open the case and perform a cursory examination of your gun. A chemical wipe of the case will be done to detect explosives. Don’t worry, gun powder residue will not trigger an alarm.
  • Ammunition must be “securely packaged in fiber (such as cardboard), wood or metal boxes or other packaging specifically designed to carry small amounts of ammunition.” Properly packaged ammunition can be carried in the same hard-sided case as a declared gun, but if in a separate bag, must still be checked.
  • Once inspected, the gun case will be locked and accepted as checked baggage.
  • Multiple guns can be transported in one case.
  • Gunpowder and percussion caps are never allowed. This is an important detail affecting black powder hunters.

Proof of ownership is not required, and for domestic air travel, no additional documentation is required.


What kind of case should I buy? Key considerations regarding the type of gun case one should choose are:

  • TSA Compliance. By definition: “The firearm must be in a hard-sided container that is locked. A locked container is defined as one that completely secures the firearm from being accessed. Locked cases that can be pulled open with little effort cannot be brought aboard the aircraft.”
  • Sufficient protection. Baggage handlers are notoriously hard on luggage. A good case provides adequate protection in the event that it is dropped, stacked or mishandled.
  • Anonymity. I prefer a case that doesn’t scream firearm! Luggage has on occasion been known to disappear once entering the “baggage black hole”. I feel better using a nondescript-looking case.

Unfortunately, w hen arriving at one’s final destination, a guessing game sometimes ensue as to where your gun will pop up. In my experience, the baggage carrousel is where I’ll find my case, but in some instances my cargo has gone to the Oversized Items room or counter. There seems to be no rhyme nor reason to this, so if traveling with a partner, split up with one person watching the carrousel and the other keeping an eye on the Oversized Items area.

There are a bunch of great gun cases on the market suitable for air travel, including those made by Pelican, Americase and SKB to name a few. I prefer a product called Tuffpak, which is a lockable, nondescript looking, molded plastic, octagonal contraption with built-in wheels. I pack my long gun in a soft-sided case and place it in the center of the Tuffpak, which allows me to pack my clothes around it – a good thing in today’s era of extra baggage charges.

Gun insurance is cheap and a godsend should the unthinkable happen and your guns end up stolen or damaged – either on that trip of a lifetime, or at home. For mere pennies on the dollar, firms like SIAI ( can provide peace of mind coverage. Just remember, any changes to your policy must be made at least two weeks prior to travel.

Lastly, always go to the airline’s web site and take a look at their restricted baggage rules prior to flying. Airlines reserve the right to limit the amount of ammunition one can fly with or implement other minor rules. Special restrictions can apply to foreign travel, and additional documentation can, and probably will be required. Your outfitter or sanctioning shooting organization can usually help with these details.

For a list of federal air travel guidelines go to Safe travels and shoot straight!

Written by Dana Farrell.

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