Flying with Firearms

As sit down to write this month’s column, I find myself sitting in a hotel room in the Lone Star state, 2195 miles from my home in northeast Maine; the opening of the small game and partridge seasons well under way. I was trapping for bear and my fall turkey tag has yet to be filled. It is the second week of October and when I left Maine, the foliage was a riot of reds, oranges and yellows. Here in southern Texas it’s just hot.

There are few things that will remove me from the Maine woods during this special time – family is one of them. You see, my son is getting married this weekend. Can you imagine the ribbing I gave him and his bride for choosing to wed during a hunting season? All joking aside, making the plans for this trip involved a lot of research, comparisons and most importantly of all – reacquainting myself with TSA and commercial airline restrictions in respect to firearms. I may have an opportunity to do some hog hunting with my new in-laws and it has been several years since I’ve travelled with a gun.

It is noteworthy to mention that the same rules apply to all firearms regardless of category and designated use. Handguns, rifles and shotguns are all the same in the eyes of TSA. If you are planning to travel to hunting destinations with your sporting arms in the near future, here are a few things you should know about the current regulations when flying with firearms.

There are actually two sets of rules you’ll need to reference when checking a firearm. The Transportation Security Administration sets the overall procedure and determines prohibitions for checked and carry-on baggage. Airlines have their own additional rules that need to be read and understood before you step foot in the terminal. It is also solely your responsibility to know and be in compliance with all firearm laws and licensing requirements at both your departure location and destination.

Guns confiscated from carry-on baggage at TSA checkpoints

Firearms must be unloaded and locked in a hard-sided container and transported as checked baggage only. Only the passenger checking the firearm should retain the key or combination to the lock. Firearm parts, including magazines, bolts and firing pins are prohibited in carry-on baggage, but may be transported in checked baggage. Optics are the only exception to the firearm part rule and may be placed in your carry-on or checked baggage.

Before you arrive at the airport, go to the airline website and review the special/restricted item policy for firearms. You must declare your firearm at the counter; curbside checking isn’t allowed by any airline. Calmly tell your agent you need to declare a firearm. Do not use the phrase ‘I have a gun’. They will ask you to verify it is unloaded and hand you the orange card to secure in the case. Lock the case and if a handgun, stow it in your checked baggage.

Ammunition is always prohibited in carry-on baggage but may be transported in checked baggage if packaged properly. Magazines must be securely boxed or included in the guns hard-sided case. Your magazines may be loaded or unloaded but loose ammunition is not allowed. Keep it in factory packaging or an ammunition case if you hand load. Most airlines restrict how much you may check per passenger – typically 11 pounds gross weight including container.

Your hard-sided case may be metal or plastic. What is most important is that unauthorized persons (anyone but you) cannot gain access to the inside of it when locked. Cheaper plastic cases that can be pried open on the ends are a no go and will be rejected at the counter. Quality metal cases are great but heavy; you may pay upwards of $100 to check them. A good alternative is a quality ABS plastic style case from a reputable manufacturer like Pelican.

Details can be found at the TSA website –

John is a Registered Maine Guide, an NRA Certified Instructor and owner of Tucker Ridge Outdoors in Webster Plantation, Maine. He also works as a freelance outdoors writer and is the author of “Life on the Ridge” for the Outdoors section. He can be reached at or on Facebook @tuckerridgeoutdoors

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