Many folks shy away from flying with firearms because it can be a hassle on good days or a nightmare on bad ones. However, there are a few things you can do – and items you can acquire – to make any gun-toting trip a low-stress affair. 

At the end of the day, we’ve made some lifelong memories in some of the most beautiful places on the globe because we were able to travel successfully with hunting firearms. Here’s how you can do the same. 

Have All Your Paperwork in Order

When traveling out of the country, though it’s not a bad idea anytime you fly, complete a 4457 with U.S. Customs. This serves as your proof of ownership. The form lists information like make, model, and serial number. As a side note, we also include the serial number of the scope and any other high-end accessories, if applicable. You’ll also need temporary import permits for the country or countries you’ll be visiting. 

TSA Locks
Part of preparing for flights with guns involves paperwork. Start early and take the stress out of last-minute packing. (Photo: Kristin Alberts/

On our most recent trip, that meant long-gun paperwork for Namibia and both handgun and long-gun forms for South Africa. The process on some of these forms can take months, so don’t wait to get the paperwork completed. If you have questions, there are travel services that can help. In the past, we’ve worked with Travel With Guns. However, in most cases, your outfitter or professional hunter can assist with the entire process. 

Use a Quality Firearm Case

Don’t cheap out here. For the most part, long guns require a large separate case. If you’re traveling only with a smaller handgun, depending on the airline and destination, that smaller case can often be packed inside your larger luggage. 

Vault Gun Case
A gun case needn't be big and bulky. These Pelican Vault handgun cases work equally well for handguns or for ammunition. (Photo: Kristin Alberts/

For our purposes, we’ve recently tested out two major players in the gun-travel space: Pelican and Boyt Harness. Both brands have stood up to multiple, lengthy flights and repeated mishandling with only exterior scratches to show. The guns inside remained tucked safely to their destination. 

Boyt Gun Case
Detail on our recently-used Boyt hard case. Other than a few scratches, it survived eight flights with nary an issue. (Photo: Kristin Alberts/

A few years back, a hunting buddy decided to save on weight – and quality – and use an inexpensive Plano case. That’s not a knock on the brand, but in his effort to save greenbacks, he chose a case model not intended for air travel. Weak latches, thin foam, lacking lock mechanisms, no breather valve…you get the idea.

When the case reached the international destination, the case had been shattered, with one end completely missing. His rifle was sticking out and damaged, and the hunt was compromised because of a simple case. Do it right and don’t worry about your guns en route. 

Grab Some Gun Socks


BFR Revolver with gun sock
Our Magnum Research BFR wheelgun came with its own gun sock. If your chosen firearm did not, they literally cost only a few dollars and can be priceless when it comes to protecting your gun. (Photo: Kristin Alberts/

Gun socks are literally the cheapest “insurance” you can give your guns, not only in a home safe but also in the air. If you cut your gun case foam to fit the firearms exactly, it’s not as critical, but we still like to use gun socks. Most of these stretchy knit coverings are silicone impregnated, so they offer some degree of rust prevention. But the major use is preventing nicks, dings, and damage to both guns and optics. 

Gun Case Foam
Some cases use solid foam, while others (like this one) use pick-and-pluck interiors to easily customize it to your gun's outline. (Photo: Kristin Alberts/

On our last safari, the gun case weight allowance was 50 pounds. So, not only our scoped firearms but also binoculars, rangefinder, small cleaning kit, and shooting sticks went in the case. Obviously, we didn’t want anything damaged – especially the guns. Both the Henry lever action and the Magnum Research BFR went into socks before being nestled into the case foam. 

RELATED: Gun Socks – The Cheapest ‘Insurance’ for Your Firearms

Everything came out just as it went in, even after eight flights. For only a few dollars, you can outfit your firearms with gun socks. The coverings are available in multiple options. For instance, Bulldog offers socks for rifles/shotguns, scoped long guns, tactical guns, and handguns. 

Prepare the Gun


guns in a case
Preparing for our most recent Safari with a Henry lever gun and a Magnum Research BFR, we put the guns into socks. We then popped them into the Boyt Harness hard case. (Photo: Kristin Alberts/

Always check and then double-check that the firearm is unloaded. Many airlines – and sometimes the TSA – require the bolt to be removed from the firearm. This is no problem for most bolt actions.

However, as I’ve traveled extensively with lever actions, they will allow it to pass, but I’ve had to explain that certain rifles would need to be nearly completely disassembled to remove the bolt. Understand that most of these airline folks are not versed in firearms design, so you may have to explain. 

Prepare for the Airline


Gun Case Lock
Our Boyt Harness case uses heavy-duty metal latches. But it's always critical to use your own locks, too. These Padlocks have stood up to multiple international flights. (Photo: Kristin Alberts/

Some airlines require three or more days of notification that you’re packing firearms. Others don’t need this at all. When you arrive at the check-in counter, have your cases set with quality locks and have the key handy for unlocking. We’ve never encountered any circumstance where airline locks are acceptable. Well-made keyed padlocks work best. 

Gun Case
Breather/pressure valve on an airline case. (Photo: Kristin Alberts/

At the end of the day, be respectful with the staff and follow instructions, but also stand your ground when it comes to safety and security. We’ve had uninformed staff ask us to leave our cases unlocked and out of our presence, and that’s never a good idea. Whenever possible, stick around until your locked gun case is ready to head for the plane. 

Related: Traveling with Guns - Flying the Friendly Skies while Armed

Don’t Forget Gun Care


Hoppe's Deluxe Cleaning Kit
Make sure to keep some space for your go-to cleaning gear. (Photo: Kristin Alberts/

In the spirit of preparedness, part of flying with firearms means being ready not only for their use but also maintenance. That’s especially true for hunters venturing into distant, dusty, wet, challenging terrain. The firearm is bound to get dirty. Knowing that, it’s important to pack items you’re liable to need. 

Think of gear like a small gun cleaning kit, oil wipes, bore snakes, and a multi-tool. When flying far into remote locations, we’ll also stash a compact torque wrench for verifying both optic and stock fasteners, as well as an additional optic, just in case. 

If you fully prepare for your flight with firearms, every other detail – and the associated headaches – will be greatly reduced. We hope these hard-learned tips after dozens of flights and adventures with guns help you find success as a mobile firearms owner and traveling hunter or explorer. 

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