How-To

Traveling with Firearms — Tips for Hunters and Competitive Shooters

Plano’s All-Weather Gun Guard cases in back of pickup truck

Follow these tips from hunter and competitive shooter, Rich Yoder, for a safe and uneventful trip with your firearms.

Guest post by Joe Balog

Today’s hunters pull out all the stops in pursuit of their quarry. Turkey enthusiasts crisscross the country each spring in their individual quests for a “grand slam” — the successful harvest of each of the four North-American subspecies. Similarly, ardent deer hunters chase monster bucks from the furthest reaches of Canada to South Texas. Waterfowl addicts often follow the migration for thousands of miles. Such travel can lead to the hunt of a lifetime, but isn’t without challenges.

Plano Field Locker Mil-Spec case
Once your cased firearm hits the belt, it’s anyone’s guess what torture it might go through in the hands of task-oriented baggage personnel. Plano’s Field Locker Mil-Spec cases provide premium, worry-free protection.

Problems can arise from the complex logistics of packing and transporting a hunter’s necessary equipment. Guns and ammunition cause the greatest concerns. While traveling anglers may be content to use rods and reels provided by their guides, an experienced hunter simply won’t leave home for a hunting trip without his or her trusted, personal firearms.

But traveling with a gun is no picnic. Complex airline and highway rules coupled with the constant threat of damage can wreak havoc on the traveling hunter’s otherwise well-laid plans.

Rich Yoder knows all the pitfalls of traveling with firearms — and how to avoid them. He logs thousands of travel miles by land and air each year with firearms in tow. A veteran deer and waterfowl hunter, Yoder also competes in 3-gun competition — a fast-paced sport involving self-defense-style shooting with shotguns, rifles and pistols. It’s a vocation that requires Yoder to transport multiple firearms, and a small arsenal of ammunition, whenever he competes. His traveling tips give insight into stress-free gun transport.

Keep your guns unloaded and cased in your trunk or locked truck bed and you will be in compliance with most state and local firearms laws.

Gun cases in back of pickup truck with camper shell
Keep your guns unloaded and cased in your trunk or locked truck bed and you will be in compliance with most state and local firearms laws.

Guns On the Road

When traveling the country in his truck, Yoder packs his unloaded guns away in premium hard cases and buries them deep. “When driving with firearms, my experience has shown that guns are best stored in hard cases and kept relatively inaccessible,” says Yoder. “By this I mean they shouldn’t be in the wide open.”

Yoder’s reasoning for burying the weapons is simple. Regulations for transporting firearms in a vehicle vary from state to state. Some are quite lenient, while others are much stricter. Within many states, gun transportation laws also vary considerably from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Of course, it’s always advisable to research the specific laws where you plan to travel, but the multitude of diverse and changing regulations can make a complete and total understanding of all laws you may encounter a fleeting prospect.

If possible, keep your gun cases locked in your vehicle’s trunk or truck bed, as long as your bed has weather-tight and lockable security. If your guns are outside the passenger compartment, in a case, unloaded, and kept separate from ammunition, you’ll be in compliance with all but the strictest of local and state gun laws. If your truck bed is not secure, or you drive an SUV or another vehicle without a separate trunk, you’ll need to do your best to keep the guns as “inaccessible” as possible, per Yoder’s recommendation.

Plano’s All-Weather Gun Guard cases in back of pickup truck
Plano’s All-Weather Gun Guard cases provide quality protection at an affordable price, and are great choices for all modes of travel.

In addition, Yoder points out that different law enforcement officials within the same jurisdiction may be on a different page when it comes to interpreting and enforcing firearms transportation laws. “Unfortunately, not every police officer you may run into is a sportsman like you,” states Yoder, who also points out that officers can have differing opinions and outlooks on civilians with firearms. His words are wise. With the tremendous pressure being placed on law enforcement officers today, they are understandably careful, and are always likely to err on the side of caution. If pulled over with firearms, don’t do or say anything to give them a reason to doubt your intent.

Plano’s All-Weather Gun Guard cases provide quality protection at an affordable price, and are great choices for all modes of travel.

For his highway shotgun and rifle transportation needs, Yoder selects Plano’s model 108191 All-Weather Double Scoped Rifle/Shotgun Wheeled case. Pistols go in Plano’s model 108021 All Weather Large Pistol Case. Inside these durable, hard cases, each gun is fully encased in custom-trimmed foam. “These cases are capable of being loaded in the truck and then having a ton of gear piled on top of them,” Yoder says. “They offer strong, lockable, all-weather protection.”

After guns are packed away, Yoder points out that it’s essential to pack and transport any ammunition with similar care, and away from the guns. Most state laws require this, and it is essential to avoid any misperceptions of improper intent should you be pulled over.

Plano Gun Guard case under car seat
If firearms must be transported inside a vehicle’s passenger compartment, keep them unloaded, inside a case, out of view, and as inaccessible as possible.

Yoder packs bulk ammo in Plano’s various rifle, handgun and shotshell ammo cases. These cases are small, flat, and can be easily stacked inside a larger lockable container, allowing ammunition to be transported in bulk, while in full compliance with the widest range of state and local laws.

If firearms must be transported inside a vehicle’s passenger compartment, keep them unloaded, inside a case, out of view, and as inaccessible as possible.

Air Travel

As tricky as hitting the highway with firearms can be, air travel presents hunters and shooters with even more challenges. Guns must be unloaded, declared, and inspected. They must be locked in an airline-approved case, and, in some case, be partially broken down. Similarly, ammunition must also be declared. But the cumbersome inspection process is only part of the concern. Of course, all firearms must travel as checked baggage, so once they are inspected and turned over, it’s anyone’s guess what torture a gun case – and the precious cargo inside – might go through in the hands of task-oriented baggage personnel.

Shotgun in case
You have the right to remain with your firearm at all times during the inspection process. Never leave your firearm until the inspection is complete, the case has been re-locked, and you are in possession of the key or combination.

When checking in at the airport, travelers need to declare they are traveling with a gun. At that point, airline personnel will quickly advise the traveler of the need to open his or her case and inspect the firearm. Always wait for the TSA inspector before unlocking or opening the case, and only do so when clearly directed to do so by TSA personnel. Never take a firearm out of its case in an airport under any other circumstances. Occassionaly, you and your firearm will be taken to a special inspection room. You have the right to remain with your firearm at all times during the inspection process. Never leave your firearm until the inspection is complete, the case has been re-locked, and you are in possession of the key or combination.

You have the right to remain with your firearm at all times during the inspection process. Never leave your firearm until the inspection is complete, the case has been re-locked, and you are in possession of the key or combination.

There are additional steps during international travel. Specifically, guns must clear customs in the destination country, and once again when entering back into the United States. Multiple government forms may need to be completed and carried with the firearm, such as U.S. Customs form 4457. Be sure to check into all required paperwork well before traveling. Although most forms are available at the airport, unnecessary delays can often be minimized or eliminated by first downloading and completing forms prior to travel.

Rich Yoder holding a competition AR-15
Avid hunter and competitive shooter, Rich Yoder, logs thousands of travel miles with firearms in tow each year.

As their name implies, Plano’s Field Locker Mil-Spec Cases meet rigorous military and law enforcement specifications for immersion, dust, vibration and transit drop, making them great choices for airline travel. Each of the three distinct long gun cases and three pistol cases in the series is waterproof and dust-proof, and secured with massive, draw-down style latches and multiple, steel-reinforced padlock hasps. Heavy-duty handles are also oversized and padded. Larger models, like the model 109440 Tactical Case, have heavy-duty axles and easy gliding wheels. Cut-to-fit padded interiors cradle firearms firmly and securely.

The thought of traveling with a firearm intimidates many hunters, keeping them tirelessly beating their home turf. But there’s nothing to be afraid of, given the travel tips of our expert. What’s more, recent low fuel and airline costs make far-away hunting locales more accessible than ever. So, start making your travel plans for the coming hunting seasons. Pack your guns right, and expand your reach. It’s easier than you think.

Avid hunter and competitive shooter, Rich Yoder, logs thousands of travel miles with firearms in tow each year.

What’s your favorite case when you travel to the range, for a hunt, by air? Share your top picks in the comment section.

The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (34)

  1. So I live between 2 locations that are 6 hrs apart and can be at one or the other for long periods and my problem is I inheritted my 2 grandfathers as well as now my dads, obviously one can imagine there are a bunch and irreplaceable, it’s become some what a burden honestly, bc it leaves my truck full of guns instead of clothes and tools I need for work, anyone have suggestions on a weather proof basically portable safes lol from my experience things left for the slightest sec. in the back of a truck while u drain the ol main vain at a stop u had best just be willing to give away.

  2. As an airline pilot who travels a lot with my rifles on my off days, I can offer a few other tips for the air travel that the TSA likes to see:

    1. If your case has four holes which were designed to put a lock, fill them all up. Talking with a supervisor, he said they all must be filled and if not, they may either outright decline it, or make you go purchase some cheap locks from the airport news stand/gift shop at 500% markups.

    2. In regards to locks, use some with short shanks/shackles. The ones with the longer arms on the shackles “may” allow the case to be opened just enough to slide your weapon out. The airlines have thieves just like every other occupation.

    3. Ammo is allowed, but can’t be lose. I’ve traveled many times with multiple boxes and 6 fully loaded AR mags and the TSA doesn’t bat an eye.

    4. The case must be hard sided.

    5. Check the airlines website for any other airline specific rules.

  3. I want to drive from Pittsburgh,Pa. to Tampa, Fl.,I have my ccw permit from my home state of Penna. I want to drive hwy 95 south. The states of Mary-land,South Carolina and DC don’t honor my permit. What do I have to do to be legal and not problematic for this move?

  4. Under federal law, the Safe Passage Act allows any person not federally prohibited from possessing a firearm to transport a firearm by vehicle from any state or jurisdiction where a firearm may be legally possessed to another place where the firearm may be legally possessed. This includes passing through places where the firearm in question may be illegal, even potentially felonious, providing it is transported unloaded and stored separately from the ammunition in an area not readily accessible from the passenger compartment or in a locked case. This is, in my opinion, about the only good thing to come from FOPA ’86.

    1. then again, the law is what the local sheriff says it is. keep your attorney’s phone number handy.

    2. @Secundius, One would think the sign on the East side of the checkpoint, in big letters, “CALIFORNIA AGRICULTURE STATION” would have been a good clue. Unless there is another checkpoint, or your firearm has a plant growing out of it, you shouldn’t need to worry about that.

    3. @Secundius, Actually, I think that should be listed as I-10W since it is only the Westbound lanes that go through the check[point. If you go to http://www.bing.com/mapspreview, type in 33.606114, -114.535557 in the search box, click on the picture in the window that pops up from that search and turn the view so you are looking west and you can’t miss the sign. You could use Google maps, but there is a truck blocking part of the sign.

    4. I wouldn’t know anything about that checkpoint because I have never been through there. If have any doubt that what I posted previously is TRUE read through the Firearm Owner’s Protection Act of 1986 particularly the Safe Passage Act. Try some self education before attempting to cast doubt on a factual comment.

    5. @ secundius
      I wouldn’t know anything about that checkpoint because I have never been through there. If you have any doubt that what I posted previously is TRUE read through the Firearm Owner’s Protection Act of 1986 particularly the Safe Passage Act. Try some self education before attempting to cast doubt on a factual comment.

  5. As a somewhat humorous aside to this article, in 1990 I planned a move with my family across the country–literally across the country, just a shade over 3000 miles. I legally owned a select-fire Thompson SMG at the time, legal where I resided and where I was going to reside, however completely illegal in several states through which I was going to pass,and undoubtedly spend the night in some of them.. In my efforts to determine how best to reconcile this potential problem, I dutifully phoned my closest ATF regional office to seek the best course of action…anticipating the filling out of endless government forms, etc. Those being the days when you actually spoke to a person when you called the Feds, I spoke to a very amiable guy whose response to my dilemma was, “Well, do you plan on getting stopped? If not, don’t worry about it.”
    Being a former Army Special Forces soldier, a law enforcement officer for 24 years and a contractor in Afghanistan for 3 more years, I can assure you that many things have occurred in my life I hadn’t “planned” on, but I placed all my guns in the very front of a 26 foot Ryder truck, (except for the one I kept with me in case it was needed for any social work), and went for it with no difficulties. Now I carry under the provisions of H.R.218, however I still wait for the encounter with the wrong LEO who isn’t well versed in that…although properly concealed, it should never arise.

  6. I’m flying from Dallas to San Francisco, picking up a vehicle and driving back to Dallas. I would like to take a handgun with me for protection on the return trip. The pistol is CA compliant and I have a Pelican hard case with TSA approved locks. I’ll also a CHL holder in Texas. I do understand CA laws which allow for carrying a “unloaded” firearm in your vehicle with is locked in a truck or glovebox with ammo locked in a separate area of the vehicle. Arizona and New Mexico recognize Texas CHL’s. Anyone have some advise or see something that I’ve missed? I P,an on purchasing ammo once I’m in CA. Thanks

    1. I was going to suggest perhaps considering going East from San Francisco to Nevada, but unfortunately it does not recognize a permit from Texas, so you would have to make it to Utah, which would be about as long as going South on the route you mentioned. ~Dave Dolbee

  7. I have taken my hunting rifle twice now to Africa, flying from Pittsburgh through Atlanta to Johannesburg. For both trips I used a Pelican hardcase (these are the cases used for transporting most military “specialty weapons” by the US armed services. Absolutely indestructible…the metal gun cases typically don’t hold up well according to many fellow hunters I have talked that iwn them…the metal cases used to be the gold standard before the advent of Pelican cases…however metal gun cases get dented or fail at the corners when breached by being thrown around by baggage handlers. The Pelican case has yhree metal reinforced locking points…I use three high quality rubber-armored Master locks with hardened alloy hasps. Do NOT use TSA locks…everybody and their brother have these TSA universal keys and airport thieves working in the bowels of the airport baggage handling sytem can break into your gun case…TSA in fact specifies that your gun case locks NOT be TSA locks. Have a copy of your Customs Form 4457 inside the guncase with your gun(s) and also keep a copy with your travel do uments/ DL/ passport. Put your ammo in a locked hard case of some type (I use a plastic Plano “ammo can”…locking just the ammo can with a TSA lock, whichI then put inside my lovked nylon duffel bag. Keep several set of keys for the guncase, as you will be taken to a TSA screening point at the airport and asked to open the case for thr officer. Needless to say, the gun needs to be unloaded, and in the case of my rifle I have the bolt removed and stored in a niche cut into the foam case interior. Hope this is helpful.

  8. my situation may be off the beaten path, but sending to myself via parcel service to hold at a place near where i will end up would seem to be much less hassle (maybe expensive).

    1. George, I retract that last post. I was a bit tired at the time and was thinking postal service. Sort about that.

    2. That was supposed to be “sorry about that”. I forgot to proofread before I posted. I just get a bit annoyed sometimes when posting from my iPhone.

    3. interesting. a person can ship guns in luggage, fly to final destination, spend whatever time at the airport on arrival, lollygag over to the baggage claim, then retrieve gun cases (all the time unattended), but not ship via parcel service to himself?

      guess it is a good thing i asked.

    4. @ george from fort worth.

      As a FORMER Bonded Interstate Courier, ALL Courier Services, including UPS, FedEx, DHL, etc. Will Transport Firearms from Point “A” to Point “B”, but may ONLY Handle Curtain Firearms. Best Suggestion, Check with you’re Local Gun Dealer for Recommendations of Interstate Bonded Firearms Couriers. Or Go ONLINE…

  9. I’ve never flown with a gun. For some reason it always makes me wonder what will happen if there is a weird problem of some kind and I get diverted to some Nazi state like New Jersey where they arrest travelers who get diverted with their firearm.

  10. The Best Cases I own a Ziegel Engineering TiG-Welded Aluminum and Titanium Cases with Cam (Ace) 8-Pin Circular Locks. Not “Cheap” by Any Means, but “Virtually” Impossible to Break Into…

  11. A couple of years ago I was planning a deer hunting trip in Pennsylvania that would make me travel thru a small section of Maryland. I knew that Maryland has some brutal laws on firearms, so to make sure that I would not run afoul of anything, I contacted the Maryland Attorney General’s office for chapter and verse on how to do this.

    I could not get a straight answer from them on how to legally transport my firearms thru Maryland. The gist of the reply from the Attorney General’s office was that if I was pulled over by the police for any reason, the individual officer would decide if I was breaking any law.

  12. for travel by air, always have a complete spare set of locks. if your locks have keys, be sure to buy them in packs where one key fits all.

    reason?

    TSA loves to tell you to present your firearm cases for inspection, then stand back. at that point, they will use bolt cutters to remove the locks. after inspecting your firearms, they will tell you to re-lock the cases and depart. point being that if you only have the one destroyed lock, you cannot leave with your firearm. which is the point.

    oh yea….never say “gun” in an airport. when you present yourself to declare the intent to ship your gun, do not say, “i have a gun.”, or “i want to declare a gun.” always say, “i want to/am declaring intent to ship a firearm.” firearm. not gun.

    1. They only cut locks off if they aren’t TSA approved. That’s why they ask you to use a TSA approved lock George.

    2. not to say i don’t trust TSA, but….i want a lock TSA cannot get into without my assistance. wouldn’t tell them a combination, wouldn’t use a lock they have a key to. there is absolutely no security reason they cannot ask me for my key, or ask me to run the combination. the reason they make you stand back has nothing to do with security. it is an intimidation tactic, informing you they think you are an evil person who will overcome multiple agents, and use your firearm to wreak havoc. to accomplish the same elimination of risk to themselves, all they need is ask the traveler to open the lock, do not remove the lock, then stand back during the inspection. at that point, they can allow you to close the lock (or do it themselves, but i don’t trust they will make it “click” everytime.

  13. Just remember that things can also go wrong when you end up with your firearm in a location that you weren’t supposed to be in… with your firearms. Just do a google search for Revell v. Port Authority. In 2005, Greg Revell was supposed to fly from Salt Lake City to Allentown, PA with a connection in Newark, NJ. The flight from Salt Lake City was late and missed the connecting flight. For some reason, Mr. Revell’s luggage, which included a pistol, was given a final destination of Newark. This resulted in Mr. Revell being in Newark with an unlicensed pistol in his possession. When he tried to check in for his new connecting flight the next morning, he was promptly arrested.
    Make sure where your luggage is routed to. I remember when I was flying to Salt Lake City and the ticket desk put a tag with SJC on it instead of SLC. In response to the Mammas and Pappas, my luggage knows the way to San Jose. I now try to remember to check and make sure my luggage is correctly tagged. If the luggage had the correct tag on it, the airline would have been responsible to get the luggage to Allentown and he wouldn’t have been in possession of it in Newark.

  14. I have flown twice and brought my EDC with me to Florida. Since Florida is a gun friendly state, as is Tennessee, I didn’t have any problems. I used my factory issued Glock carry case. I also totally disassembled my weapon even taking the spring and barrel out of the slide. I brought a full box of ammo, which I taped closed, and an empty magazine. Everything fit nicely in the case, and I actually used my factory gun lock cable to secure the case closed on the carry handle. Very tight fit to get to lock, but it passed!!
    As far as rifle or shot gun transport, I don’t hunt out of state, but when going to the range, or out hunting, no case used,except for the AR-15. As long as the action is open, and no ammo is chambered, there isn’t any problems (so far) here in Tn. Matter of fact, you can legally carry a long gun here loaded,but not chambered if you have a HCP and believe that your life may be in danger.( We live in a dangerous world, when is it not dangerous?)

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