If your hunting grounds are nearby where you live, or you’re a roadtripper, you have probably never thought about flying with your gun or bow, or how to transport wild game meat on an airplane.
I recently had to fly with my bow, and figure out exactly what I needed and needed to do. Just a few weeks prior to opening day of archery season, I discovered that I had an issue with my bow. Although I was practicing daily in the Huntress View #arrowaday challenge, my groups were still pretty inconsistent at 30 yards and further. Upon inspection, I realized that my arrows where hitting something and likely the cause of the inconsistency. Since moving to Idaho in 2017, I haven’t found an archery shop I trust—the one nearest to me got poor reviews from some friends, so I really didn’t want to take it there. As luck would have it though, I was leaving the next day to go to Kentucky for work and called my old archery shop there to see if “my bow guy” would be available to take a look…if I was able to get it there. He was, so it was a nearly immediate panic attack to figure out: I need a hard case. What about locks. Will it be safe. How do I check it. Will it cost extra. So many questions! So little time!
I did a little research and found exactly the info I needed. And luckily, a nearby friend had a hard case that I could borrow for my trip!
Below are some basics for airline travel with your bow and gun, and for transporting meat from your hunting or fishing trips:
Bows and arrows may be packed in checked luggage and are prohibited from carry-on luggage. Other than that, the TSA website does not include specific guidelines for archery equipment. But since your bow is a precious piece of equipment, you need to take the right measures to ensure it arrives safely at its destination.
You need a good case. There are hard and soft cases suitable for airline travel. Personally, I used a hard case and am not sure I would trust a soft case with the way airlines treat luggage.
Make sure it’s secure in the case. The case I used had Velcro straps to hold it in place, and places for arrows. My bow didn’t fit with my quiver attached so I had to put in the case loose. To keep everything securely in place, I used bubble wrap I got in some mail-order packages. Once I closed the case, I shook it vigorously to see if I could hear anything moving around.
Broadheads - Since I wasn’t traveling for a hunt, I didn’t have broadheads, and only had field tips on my arrows. But if you are traveling with broadheads, they should be secured in a separate, enclosed container inside of your checked luggage or bow case.
Locks – You’ll need to use TSA-approved locks. You can use keyed or combination locks, either will work. Just be prepared to be able to open it if TSA needs to inspect it.
Luggage tag – Although TSA will put a luggage tag on it for the airlines, definitely attach your own. In the event the TSA paper tag gets lost, you’ll want to have identification on it.
Checking it with luggage – Although my case didn’t weigh much, I was unsure if it would be considered oversized because of its dimensions, possibly resulting in having to pay a fee. I flew Southwest, and since I only had one suitcase, they let me check it as luggage instead of sports equipment or oversized.
Security screening – When I dropped it off with the checked bags, the TSA agent had to put it through a scanner before I could leave. I had no issues, assuming because there were no broadheads, said “see you in Louisville” to my bow, and was on my way.
Luggage pick up – This will vary by airport, but try to figure out where your bow case will be when you land. In the Louisville airport, it came out with the suitcases. When I returned to Salt Lake City, it came out separately and in a different location at the oversized luggage area.
Because there are no specific TSA regulations, be sure to check with your airline on any specific requirements they may have prior to your flight to ensure you don’t have any issues when you arrive at the airport.
Firearms and ammunition do have very specific guidelines for travel, and everything must be followed properly in order to fly. I have not flown yet with my gun, but I will be traveling in November for a waterfowl hunt and needed to know the requirements for traveling with my shotgun and ammo.
Included below are the basics from the TSA website, and more information can be found here: https://www.tsa.gov/travel/transporting-firearms-and-ammunition
Firearms can only be transported as checked luggage, and no part of the firearm can be included in carry-on luggage (with one exception, scopes can be carried on)
Must be unloaded and in a locked, hard-sided container; passenger should retain the key or combination to the lock unless TSA personnel requests it to ensure compliance with regulations
The container must completely secure the firearm from being accessed; you should not be able to open the container at all
Ammunition can be transported in checked bags, separate from the firearm
Magazines or ammo clips must be securely boxed or included with the hard-sided case containing the firearm
And just like with archery equipment, in addition to the TSA guidelines, check with the individual airline to see if they have any specific regulations or requirements.
For both archery equipment and firearms, if you are traveling outside the U.S., be sure to check with U.S. Customs and Border Protection for any additional regulations, as well as research and follow any regulations for the country where you are traveling.
Flying with Game Meat
If you’re spending money to fly to a hunting or fishing trip, most people will want to bring the meat home, if regulations allow. I recently took a trip to Florida to visit family and wanted to take them some elk meat, and in return, they were giving me some fresh fish. I had never flown with meat before, and wasn’t sure exactly what I needed to do to transport it. Below are the TSA requirements, and the precautions I took.
Fresh meat and seafood can be transported in carry-on or checked bags
As a carry on, you can pack food with ice packs, but they must be completely frozen when taken through screening
Food can be packed with dry ice, but the FAA limits passengers to five pounds of dry ice, it must be properly packaged and vented, and must be marked
I used a small Igloo backpack cooler to as a carry-on and packed it with frozen meat and two gel ice packs
To keep the meat frozen as long as possible, and to prevent any blood from leaking if it did thaw, I packed the frozen, wrapped meat in Ziploc bags first, putting 3-4 packages in each bag so they were tightly packed. Then put the Ziploc bags in plastic grocery bag and packed them into the cooler.
It was a 2.5 hour drive to the airport, plus time for parking, shuttles and the security line so I was mostly concerned about the gel ice packs. Once we arrived at the security screening, it went through like a normal carry on, but did get pulled aside for inspection. The TSA agent unpacked most of the meat to inspect the bag, but other than that, we had no issues.
On the return flight from Florida, I was more concerned about the fish thawing so I packaged it in more layers of plastic to prevent the cooler from smelling like fish in the event it started to thaw.
If you’re traveling outside of the U.S. but sure to check to see if there are any additional regulations you need to be aware of for your equipment or game meat. For game meat, there are specific U.S. Customs and Border Protection requirements when bringing meat from Canada, and for meat from other regions, you should contact the National Center for Import and Export.
Sarah Honadel is an avid outdoorswoman from Kentucky, now living in Idaho, who enjoys hunting elk, deer, turkey and waterfowl. She is a team member at Huntress View, Pro Staff for Browning Trail Cameras and Brand Ambassador for the GoWild app. Follow her on Instagram @waddysarah and @arrowridgecreations.