Flying With Guns

News & Tips: Flying With Guns

There are a lot of misconceptions out there about the rules regarding flying with guns. Can you fly with guns? Can you carry ammo? Let's discuss the rules as I know them to be, but first, let me throw out a few disclaimers. Don't take what I say as the gospel. Check with your airline before you fly. Rules can change.


Be sure to have heavy-duty cases for your rifles.

Also when you fly into states with tight gun restrictions, not only do you have to follow the airlines rules but you may also have to worry about the various city/state requirements.


So with all of that said, let's get started. On the airlines that I fly on they always told me that I'm allowed up to two guns and 10 pounds of ammo. The ammo must be in the original case or some airlines allow you to carry it in an adequate container and of course your gun must be unloaded. If you actually check though, with United Airlines you can actually carry up to five guns and 11 pounds of ammo.



When flying with firearms you must pack them in a hard sided lockable case. If I'm flying with a pistol, many times I will use the hard plastic case that it came in or you can buy one. Most of them will have a hole to insert a padlock, if not, drill a hole the size of the lock shank.


If you want to fly with a rifle or shotgun, then obviously you will need a longer case. Here's my advice: buy a good case. The life of your scope depends on it as well as the accuracy of your gun.


A good gun case should last you for decades, according to how much you use it, how you treat it AND what airline you fly with. Thirty or 40 years ago, Frontier would rent you a gun case for $20. They were at that time nice cases so most people just kept them. The first time that I flew with my rifle I went in and talked to the desk clerk about all the rules involved. She explained them to me and then said most people kept the cases and showed me one. I told her that sounded like a good option to me. She said well, wait a minute and I'll get you a new one in a box.


I used that case to fly for over 30 years, but due to the increased brutality that airlines pour onto our luggage, I just got two new heavy duty cases to test. They ripped the top off of a brand new five-day cooler and told me that they only saw minor damage so I opted for some nearly bullet proof gun cases.


Whenever possible, I like to give people multiple options on equipment in my articles and will do so in this one. I have a Boyt Harness and an SKB case. They are both heavy duty; have tough latches; holes for two padlocks; and water proof seals. I expect them to last literally a lifetime. I am in the air right now with one of the above cases packed somewhere below me in the luggage compartment. I trust my most expensive rifles with them so I guess that sums up what I think of them.


Usually due to the thickness of the case you will need a longer necked lock to work. One problem you may encounter with longer necked locks is that, especially on pistol cases, which usually only utilize one padlock, you may be able to twist one side of the case open enough to remove the pistol if you unsnap the two latches. To prevent this you can add a stack of washers on the removable side of the shank. This will meet the airline requirements of not being able to unsnap the lock and remove the pistol.


At the Airport

When you arrive at the ticket counter you must declare your firearm and ammo. If I am traveling with a pistol, I put the locked case in one of my check on bags. Of course a rifle case you will have to check separately.


The ticket clerk will have you sign and date an orange declaration tag and when you are finished with her they will direct you to carry your firearms(s) to the TSA check person. In the old days you checked it in with the desk clerk, she'd tape the orange tag to the outside of your gun case, throw it on the luggage conveyor belt and off you'd go. Now they place the orange tag inside the case. This prevents from alerting the baggage handlers that there is a firearm ready to be stolen inside the case.


FlyingWithGuns RedHeadVinylGunCase
Even handguns need to be in a hard case, such as this RedHead Rigid Vinyl Pistol Gun Case.

With the advent of TSA they now inspect your case after you get done with the desk clerk. TSA agents all react a little different. Some want the key and will not let you near the case. Some tell you to do all the locking/unlocking, although lately they've left it locked and just do their swab routine. Let them instruct you as to how to handle it.


They run a swab around your case, I assume looking for explosives. I don't know why they do this on gun cases and not on all luggage. When traveling with pistols, I place the locked case into my checked bag so I don't have to pay for two bags.


Ammo & Knives

Ammo must be in its original box. Some airlines allow you to pack it in a sturdy container other than the original box. This is packed in your checked-in luggage. Although not required, I stick my ammo boxes in a pair of boots or wrap it up in a pair of blue jeans. That way if the airline bagagge system rips apart my luggage, as the new luggage handling system did at Denver, then hopefully it won't cause it to shoot off.


I also lock all my knives in my checked in gun case. This prevents a snoopy TSA employee or crooked luggage handler from pilfering my knife when they rifle through my bags.


After Arrival

Upon arriving at your final destination you will pick up your gun case at luggage claim like normal. If it doesn't show up there then check in the oversize luggage claim area, as sometimes it will be diverted to there. Or just check with the claims department. And some airports, such as the Wichita airport, requires you to pick up your firearm at the ticket counter. I questioned them as to why they do this. Her response: "for your safety." How is it safer to have my gun picked up there? She never did give me a satisfactory answer.


Some airports will have a sign declaring that you cannot carry concealed weapons in their airport so it's best to wait to unlock your case until you exit the airport. I advise checking before you leave, though, to ensure that a baggage handler didn't steal your gun out of your case.


You will want to check your gun when you arrive for your hunting trip since with rough handling your scope can be knocked off sight. Sight it in before you begin to hunt.


Like I mentioned at the first of the article, you will want to go online and check your airlines current rules regarding traveling with your gun and also visit the Transportation Security Administration's website on traveling with firearms and ammunition. You will also want to check local firearm rules in whatever locale that is your final destination.


It is also prudent to print off a copy of the airline rules, that way if there is any question as to the rules, you will have them handy.


TSA Regulations

  • All firearms must be declared to the airline during the ticket counter check-in process.
  • The firearm must be unloaded.
  • 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.
  • If firearms are not properly declared or packaged, TSA will provide the bag to law enforcement for resolution with the airline. If the issue is resolved, law enforcement will release the bag to TSA so screening may be completed.
  • TSA must resolve all alarms in checked baggage. If a locked container containing a firearm alarms, TSA will contact the airline, who will make a reasonable attempt to contact the owner and advise the passenger to go to the screening location. If contact is not made, the container will not be placed on the aircraft.
  • If a locked container alarms during screening and is not marked as containing a declared firearm, TSA will cut the lock in order to resolve the alarm.
  • Travelers should remain in the area designated by the aircraft operator or TSA representative to take the key back after the container is cleared for transportation.
  • Travelers must securely pack any ammunition in fiber (such as cardboard), wood or metal boxes or other packaging specifically designed to carry small amounts of ammunition.
  • Firearm magazines and ammunition clips must be securely boxed or included within a hard-sided case containing an unloaded firearm.
  • Small arms ammunition, including ammunition not exceeding .75 caliber for a rifle or pistol and shotgun shells of any gauge, may be carried in the same hard-sided case as the firearm, as long as it follows the packing guidelines described above.
  • TSA prohibits black powder or percussion caps used with black-powder.
  • Rifle scopes are not prohibited in carry-on bags and do not need to be in the hard-sided, locked checked bag.

*Source: Transportation Security Administration, revised Jan. 9, 2013