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Crossing the Border: Following the Rules of Transporting Firearms

The goals of traveling for your next hunt are noble, and in some ways timeless. Yet, you must plan that hunt around modern -- and strict -- requirements for transporting your firearms and traveling with weapons. 

Hunters are vagabonds by design; it's the nature of the beast, really. The lifestyles of historical hunters and gatherers helped establish today's travel industry because the tribes followed migrant wildlife wherever it roamed in order to secure food. The hunter's mindset is partly based on an internal desire to conquer and successfully win the battle of man vs. beast, one of our most innate instincts. Once that initial goal is achieved, hunters will often adjust and set their sights on an increasingly difficult goal, like multiplying success into other states or countries.

Centuries later, hunters continue to wander in their conquest of filling big game tags and harvesting fowl across the globe. For some hunters, the draw of traveling is twofold. Part of it is leaving their daily grind behind and focusing on putting physical distance between themselves and the mental challenges of work. Other hunters recognize distance as a simple factor of geography; much of the best hunting opportunities are days away from populated areas, and the need to travel is just a small, necessary part of the equation for an enjoyable excursion. Still, there remains a segment of the hunting population choosing to travel beyond political borders as an additional challenge in expanding their trophy collection. Decades ago hunters took their own initiative and proudly proclaimed in a different light, "Have gun, will travel."

Now, travel resonates more as a personal decision to spend days or weeks connecting to nature, bagging a trophy elk in multiple states and provinces, or connecting the dots by hunting ducks from Manitoba down to Mississippi along the migrating path of the Central Flyway. Some hunters will forge a lifelong goal of hunting mule deer in every state possible or adding their name to an exclusive accomplished list of bagging all types of sheep - the "grand slam" of wild sheep hunts.

But in this day and age, one cannot afford to overlook the rules and regulations regarding transportation of hunting guns and ammunition. The first step is to understand that while you see a firearm as a tool for hunting, entities like the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), which deals with importation and transportation issues in the U.S., sees it is a weapon and will subject it to strict guidelines without exception. 

Hunting Within U.S. Borders

In the U.S., the TSA lists several reminders for transporting weapons on an aircraft. All firearms must be declared to the air carrier during the ticket counter check-in process. With that in mind, here is a brief checklist of air transportation guidelines for hunters from TSA's Web site:

  • The firearm must be unloaded. 
  • The firearm must be carried in a hard-sided container. 
  • The container must be locked. 
  • The passenger should provide the key or combination to the screener if it is necessary to open the container, and then remain present during screening to take back possession of the key after the container is cleared.   
  • Any ammunition transported must be securely packed in fiber (such as cardboard), wood or metal boxes or other packaging specifically designed to carry small amounts of ammunition. 
  • Firearm magazines/clips do not satisfy the packaging requirement unless they provide a complete and secure enclosure of the ammunition (e.g., by securely covering the exposed portions of the magazine or by securely placing the magazine in a pouch, holder, holster or lanyard). 
  • The ammunition may also be located in the same hard-sided case as the firearm, as long as it is properly packed as described above.
  • Black powder and percussion caps used with black-powder type firearms are not permitted in carry-on or checked baggage.
  • Other equipment, which often accompanies hunters, are also subject to specific regulations for air transportation, such as:

Bows and Arrows - Bows and arrows are prohibited from carry-on luggage and should be packed in checked luggage. 

Hunting Knives and Tools - Knives and certain tools are prohibited from carry-on luggage and must be packed in checked luggage. Sharp objects packed in checked luggage should be sheathed or securely wrapped to prevent injury to baggage handlers and security screeners.

Understand, this is just a brief summary and you'll want to check with your travel agent or airline for specific instructions. Even items such as insect repellent, which is a hazardous aerosol, is not allowed in carry-on or checked luggage.


It's an increasingly popular trend: hunters traveling from the U.S. to Canada in pursuit of a broad range of quarry, from waterfowl and small game to trophy moose, caribou, or bear. When traveling into any other country, you'll need to pay particular attention to detailed rules and regulations for importing firearms and ammunition across the border - whether by plane or by vehicle. 

Ian Kelso works with Border Information Services Line in Hamilton, Ontario, and suggests first and foremost that hunters and travelers planning to bring firearms into Canada tell the truth. "The first bit of advice is to be honest about what you are doing, and where you are going. Don't lie or try to hide anything," Kelso says. "Make sure you adhere to the basic rule of having cased firearms stored separate from the ammunition. And don't hide the guns or ammunition under the seat." 

Kelso goes on. "Make sure you declare them (firearms). To hunters they are just gear for a hunting trip; they think of it as having a pen in their pocket or a regular piece of luggage. It's not luggage, and must be declared." Also, make sure the weapons you bring along are legal to import into Canada. "Sawed off shot-guns, fully automatic weapons, and some handguns are not legal even if declared," Kelso says. "Also it's a good idea to have the name of your destination lodge, provincial hunting license, and other pertinent hunting information available." In the end, you'll want to remember the hunt and not the border crossing. 

The Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) lists a few other important reminders to help expedite your Canadian hunting excursion:

  • Some large-capacity magazines are prohibited even if the firearms to which the magazines are attached are allowed. As a general rule, the maximum capacity is five cartridges for most magazines designed for a centre fire semi-automatic long gun and 10 cartridges for most handgun magazines. 
  • There is no maximum magazine capacity for other types of long guns, including semi-automatics that discharge only rim-fire ammunition.
  • You must be at least 18 years old to bring a firearm into Canada. If you are younger than 18, you may use a firearm in certain circumstances, but an adult must remain responsible for the firearm.

As a visitor to Canada you have two options for meeting the Canadian licensing and registration requirements. Your first option is to declare your firearms in writing, in triplicate, using the Non-Resident Firearms Declaration (form CAFC 909). If you are bringing more than three firearms, attach a Non-Resident Firearm Declaration continuation sheet (form CAFC 910). Your second option is to apply for a five-year Possession and Acquisition License (PAL) and register your firearms in Canada. But you must wait until you get your PAL before you register your firearms. Visit CBSA's Web site for more information.

Here's the bottom line: The key to a hassle-free hunting vacation is researching the rules and regulations of transporting your firearm and other important equipment ahead of time. This will ensure smooth traveling and avoid unnecessary pitfalls and hang-ups, which can turn a great hunt into a miserable waste of time. If you plan in advance, your next hunting vacation can be unforgettable -- not because of that mishap at the airport where half your equipment was confiscated and you almost couldn't get on the plane, but because of your incredible time spent outdoors, the trophy buck you bagged, and having gotten closer to fulfilling your lifelong hunting dreams.