Have Hunters Been Regulated Away from Air Travel?
May 10, 2012
How do you pack all of your hunting gear for a flight?
By Keith Wood
TSA policies, airline baggage fees, and weight limits have made life difficult for the traveling hunter but if you plan ahead and pack smart; the process can be pretty painless. I'm a frequent flyer so I know the ropes, but if you haven't traveled in a while—here are some tips.
Most major airlines are charging fees for checked bags so you should maximize the amount that you carry onboard the aircraft. I use my hunting pack filled with essentials such as my binos and a set of hunting clothes as a carry-on. The more that you have with you, the more you mitigate the effects of a lost bag. The Kifaru Late Season pack was designed to comply with airline regulations as a carry-on so it’s my choice for backpack hunting. You’d be surprised how much you can fit in this 3,200 cubic inch pack. Remember that knives, ammo, multitools, and larger (over 3 oz) amounts of liquids, gels, and aerosols CANNOT be in this bag for air travel. Wearing your boots on the flight takes up less space in your baggage and ensures their arrival.
The Gun/Bow Case
There are many great cases on the market designed specifically for air travel. I use an old aluminum monstrosity that holds three guns and looks like a casket, the hard plastic ones (I’m not talking the $19.99 ones) are good as well and save weight. Just be sure that your case doesn’t have built-in TSA locks: currently, a firearm must be secured with a non-TSA lock, which makes many of these cases worthless for air travel. Check with your airline for specific guidelines on flying with guns & ammo as policies can vary.
If you’ll be hunting out of a vehicle or light aircraft: You’ll need a hard case for the commercial flight, but unless you want your guns beat to hell you’ll want to bring a long a soft case to protect them in the vehicle. On my last safari, I used the Galco Field Grade Gun Slip. These fleece-lined canvas cases are durable as well as attractive and rolled-up to fit in my kit bag. My guns stayed protected from dust, rain, and bumpy roads while riding in the rifle rack and were accessible in seconds.
The Checked Bag
After searching high & low for the perfect checked bag for a week-long Western hunt or a 10-14 day safari, I’ve found it: the Original Special Operations Equipment Kit Bag. This military style kit bag is made in the USA from tough 1000 denier cordura nylon and comes with a lifetime warranty. It’s 2,500 cubic inch capacity holds more junk than you’ll need on your trip (if you're a pack rat, their Super Kit Bag is twice the size) and the bag can be shoved into spaces in trucks and small planes that ordinary suitcases can’t. Keep in mind that you’ll need less gear to go to Africa than, say, Montana because the daily laundry service and climate require less clothing.
If you can’t get your gear to comply with weight restrictions or just don’t want to deal with the potential hassle, you can always ship gear to yourself ahead of time. If you’re hunting with an outfitter, contact them to see if they can accept your package—be sure to ship it in plenty of time for your arrival keeping winter weather delays in mind.
Avoid the pitfalls. Hazardous materials like powder and primers for muzzleloaders and camp stove fuel cannot be transported on commercial aircraft. Plan ahead and either arrange for your outfitter to secure these items or have them shipped to your destination from a mail-order retailer. If you’ll have time to stop, you may want to call outdoor stores in your location, just be sure that they’ll be open when you arrive (especially if your flight is delayed).
The Bottom Line
Flying stinks these days, but don't let it keep you away from your dream hunt. Once you're in the field, the stress and hassle of flying will all be worth it.
Finally, relax. Your gun will get delayed, your ammo won’t show up, your favorite skinning knife will get stolen out of your checked bag. Figure out a solution and get on with your hunt. A Canadian hunter in our Zimbabwe camp this Summer hunted all week in travel shoes wearing the PH’s sweat pants with a borrowed .375, and he was having far more success than another hunter who looked like he’d packed all of Cabela’s.