People keep asking me about traveling with guns, and I keep disappointing them with a lack of horror stories. The thought of trusting guns to airlines makes people nervous. It makes me nervous, too, but I’m still waiting for something bad to happen. Traveling with a firearm is a chore, and it adds time and anxiety to any trip—not to mention an extra bag—but by and large, guns get where they are supposed to in once piece. That has been 100 percent the case for me on domestic flights. Maybe I’m just lucky. Give yourself extra time at the airport, as the TSA will often take your guns into a back room to look at them, and you have to hang around to lock them back up before the gun goes off into the baggage-handling system.
Traveling with guns internationally adds a degree of difficulty. For one thing, you have to register your guns with U.S. Customs (CPB form 4457) when you take them out of the country. Do not skip this step or you will regret it upon your return. It usually requires a trip to the customs office, although once a particular gun is registered, it’s registered forever so you can designate one or two travel guns and be done with the process.
There’s paperwork to fill out to get your guns into the country you’re visiting. When I traveled to Mexico for the Copa Aguila sporting clays shoot, we had to fill out forms with the serial numbers of our guns, which were checked by the army on our arrival in Guadalajara early in the evening. And, except for waiting a while for the soldiers to show up to check us, we were all allowed into Mexico with our guns without incident. Then the guy who had brought a scoped rifle for the 3-gun event went through the line. He had neglected to list the serial number of his scope on the form. Who knew you had to register optics? In Mexico, you do.
The soldiers dismounted his scope to find the serial number (yes, they have serial numbers; so do red dots) and kept him until well after midnight, but eventually they did let him into the country to compete. Moral of the story: Read all the fine print on the forms, or, better yet, arrange your travels through an outfitter who is versed in the country’s gun laws. Or, even better still, rent a gun from the outfitter if you have a low tolerance for bureaucracy.
The main piece of advice I’d offer for traveling with guns is to invest in a very sturdy gun case. I’ve not seen guns damaged, but I have seen cases banged up badly enough that they didn’t offer much protection to a gun on the return trip. You don’t want to be wrapping your case in duct tape in hopes that it holds together to get your guns back home in one piece. I’d second Dave’s recommendation of the Pelican Storm case, and I have a similar polymer Explorer Case that has proven admirably rugged.