By: Tom Claycomb III

Can you fly with guns? Yes, I fly every 1-2 weeks with guns. For example, I’m flying to Texas in three days for a hog/Nilgai hunt with the Umarex Air Saber. Then I fly home for one day, and then to South Dakota for a goose hunt.  So yes, you can fly with guns, but there are several regulations, some set by the government and some by the airlines.

Here’s the routine: When you get to the ticket counter, declare that you have a firearm. They’ll ask you if it is unloaded and locked in a hard container. They’ll then have you sign and date an orange declaration card, which is taped to the gun box. Ninety-five percent of the time, you’ll be directed to the TSA station to let them check the gun box, but in some airports the employee just takes the box with your luggage.

The firearm must be locked in a hard-sided container. Many pistols come with a traveling case, but I like a little larger case than a new pistol comes with because I often travel with two pistols.


The first time I flew with a gun – I believe in 1979 – I went to the airport ahead of time to learn the rules. The ticket counter lady informed me that they would rent me a case for $20, but most people kept them because that was cheaper than you could buy one in the store. She then said if you plan on keeping it, then I’ll go in back and get you a new one in a box. So, that was how I got my first hard-sided gun case.

I’ve had quite a few gun cases, but each is filled with foam to protect the gun/scope. Due to the foam, you can only put in your guns. So, you have to pay to fly with a luggage that will only hold two guns. For 40 years, I thought this was the only option.

At the 2016 SHOT Show, I met the Explorer Cases crew and was soon testing one of their rifle cases. Shortly thereafter, Ron Spomer and I lined up a brown bear, moose, duck hunting, and fishing trip with Alaska Expedition Company.

When I first received the rifle case, I didn’t like it at all. Yes, it was stoutly built, but there was no foam inside. How could it protect my rifle? Bouncing around in the airport luggage transfers, I knew the scope would get beaten out of whack.

When we go on a hunt, we take a ton of gear – pants, shirts, base layers, coats, gloves, etc. – don’t we? And ammo, optics, knives, camera…  and the list goes on and on. With my foamless case, I could lay shirts/pants on the bottom, lay the canvas case on top with the guns in it, and then lay more clothes on top. Wow. This was almost like having an extra luggage.

The inside of the case has thick velcro straps for holding two guns in place. I stuck a T-shirt around the scope and then zipped up the case. On the outside, the case had some large pockets. I put pistols, knives, and binoculars in those.

I fell in love with the foamless concept; now it’s the only gun case I use. But what if you already own an expensive gun case and can’t (or don’t want to) buy another one? Why not rip the foam out of your existing case? That’s better than flying luggage half full of foam around the country!

If you go the above route, I recommend getting an Explorer canvas gun case; pack your gun in it; then place the canvas case into the hard case. Plus, you can carry your gun around in the canvas case when hunting.

If I’m only flying with a pistol, I just lock it in a smaller case and put the locked case in my unlocked suitcase. You don’t have to have a locking suitcase as long as the pistol is locked in a hard-sided case.


My Explorer case has holes for six locks, which is a pain because Delta requires you to have a lock in every hole. With long-necked locks, a thief can pop open the closures on the case and may be able to stick their hand into your case and pull something out. Plus, if TSA can open the case closures and stick their hand into the case, they won’t let you fly with it. The locks have to hold the case together even if the closures are opened.

But still, I like longer-necked locks to ensure that they can be locked. But, to alleviate any problems with TSA, I carry a baggie of washers. I put washers on the backside of the shank of the lock and then lock the lock in place. Then, even if a thief opens the clasps on the case, he cannot pry open the top. I started doing this years ago. Carry a bag of washers in your gun case.

Always carry 1-2 extra locks in case one malfunctions, which would be a disaster. I’ve never had a problem until last week. TSA wanted to open my case to inspect it upon arriving at their station, and for some reason, the key wouldn’t work. No bigee. I let them cut the lock since I had an extra one. (At some airports, TSA will sell you a lock).


Some airlines say ammo must be in the original container, but here’s an excerpt from the TSA website:

  • Small arms ammunition (up to .75 caliber and shotgun shells of any gauge) must be packaged in a fiber (such as cardboard), wood, plastic, or metal box specifically designed to carry ammunition and declared to your airline.
  • Ammunition may be transported in the same hard-sided, locked case as a firearm if it has been packed as described above. You cannot use firearm magazines or clips for packing ammunition unless they completely enclose the ammunition. Firearm magazines and ammunition clips, whether loaded or empty, must be boxed or included within a hard-sided, locked case.
  • Please check with your airline for quantity limits for ammunition.

Over time, the original factory cardboard box starts to deteriorate. I just discovered some lightweight plastic containers called Ammo Buddy made by Clamtainer. They’re also great to carry extra ammo while backpacking or packing into elk camp. I would classify them as somewhat water resistant, at least as compared to a factory cardboard box.

As far as I can tell, TSA doesn’t limit you on how much ammo you can carry, but airlines seem to set their own limits. Delta allows up to 11 pounds, and in the past, United has told me they allow 10 lbs.