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Chances are, you probably can't just grab your bow and hunt right outside of your door in your backyard - your neighbors may not be the biggest fans of this idea either. And if you want to hunt elk, but you live next to the Everglades in Florida, you're probably going to have to figure out how to travel with your gear inside a big aluminum tube 6+ miles off the ground. Or you're taking the train or bus to your next hunt. Either way, you want to make sure you're prepared for traveling with your gear.
Below, I'm going to cover what it will look like for you when you're taking your bow on a hunting journey. As you read along, please don't hesitate to reach out if you've got any questions in particular and I will do my best to answer them.
First thing is first, no matter how you travel, you have got to package your bow up correctly. And to do this, you need a quality case to package it in.
Like with many pieces of gear, there are two types here: hard cases and soft cases. And they’re just as they sound. That said; let’s quickly go over the main differences. I’ll focus mainly on hard cases, since I highly recommend you use a hard case when traveling.
Furthermore, if you're a beginner and looking for a bow case buying guide, take a look at another one of our blogs.
Hard cases have a hard exterior shell that is tough and will hold up well to abuse. Depending on the quality of the case, hard cases can usually withstand a beating with little to no damage to your bow. The interior of a hard case is lined with foam or padding where your bow will fit into nice and snug.
Some bow case brands provide a thin outer shell and others offer a bulkier outer shell. Of course, the thicker the outer shell, the more durable and protection you’ll have. That said, it will be heavier and cost more. You’ll find a lot of shells that are water resistant and heat resistant as well. This all depends on your price range. If you feel it’s necessary, and you can afford it, go for the added quality. In the long run, it could save you a good bit of money if it protects your bow better than the next case down.
Another few things to look for in hard cases are the features. Do the hinges feel smooth and like they won’t snap? Are the latches going to hold up as well or are they made of cheap plastic? Are there tie-downs within the case to better secure your bow and gear? What are the handles like – are they comfortable and can you see yourself toting this case around for what’s needed? Does the case come with wheels? Do you even want wheels?
The pros are that you feel more confident in the case’s ability to protect your gear and everything usually has a very set place that it falls into.
The cons are that it costs more (due to the added protection and resources necessary), is heavier to lug around, and overall not as flexible – it’s pretty much a brick and what you see is what you get.
Overall, like I mentioned before, I highly recommend using a hard case. Especially if you’re traveling via a plane/train/bus. Last thing you want is a TSA agent throwing your $2,000 bow around in a soft case that may compromise it.
Soft cases on the other hand are of course, softer. The exterior is made up of a durable cloth material and provides padding on the interior of the case. A lot of times, the soft cases will have more options for added pockets. This is surely a nice feature, but I wouldn’t say it’s a deal breaker when deciding between a hard and soft case.
When judging a soft case, look at the material used. What is that material? How thick is it? Does it turn white if you stretch it out? That may mean it’s actually pretty thin material. Check the zippers. Are they good quality and look like they’ll withstand a lot of use? Do your best to get your hands on the case. If you’re able to, get into a shop and get your hands on them. That’ll help with your decision.
The pros are that soft cases are going to cost you less money and they’re more flexible in what gear you’re able to fit in it. For getting around town and to a hunting location close by, where only you are maneuvering the gear, soft cases work great. Those are the pros. The cons are that they are not as durable and do not offer the same protection level that hard cases offer.
The cons, when traveling via plane/train/bus, are just too great to not ignore. Not to mention that not all airline carriers and trains allow soft cases.
Now that you’ve got your case figured out, let’s go over some packaging tips. It all comes down to packaging it up safe and secure - you don't want to do a sloppy job and it damage the bow, or worse yet, have the bow in any position where it can hurt others. So that's step one for packaging.
When it comes to safety, always err on the side of caution. This means that you're going to want to mitigate all risks here since your bag will be going through an x-ray and though it doesn’t always happen, there is a good chance that the TSA agents will be opening your bag and checking out the goods. It’s important that you sheath your arrows and do the same if you have any knives on board as well. If the arrow or knife doesn’t have a sheath, wrap it up securely. Pretty much, anything with a pointy end needs to be nullified well.
If you are shipping your bow, make sure you take the same precautions here. If your package feels like a box of Legos, you’re doing it wrong. Everything should be tightly secure and all pointy ends wrapped up well and/or sheathed.
Now that you’ve got your bow packaged up nicely, let’s go over the different forms of travel.
Chances are that you’ll be traveling via air, so it’s important that you know some general guidelines when doing so.
Call Ahead and Be Prepared - The biggest piece of advice I can give you is to call the airline beforehand. I get it; no one wants to go through the hassle of that. BUT, that 10-minute call will give you better advice than any online article will. Talking to a well-informed representative will go a long ways and provide you with some solid knowledge on what it’s like to travel with a bow on their airline.
You should have at least these four questions going into that call:
1. Can I bring my bow to the airport and check it in over the counter?
2. What size restrictions do you have, if any, on bow cases and is yours TSA approved?
3. Does the case need to be a hard shell? (You should use a hard shell case anyways)
4. Is there anything else I should know that we have not yet covered?
You may be able to find these answers on their website, but if anything, a call will give confirmation of what you already know and provide you good peace of mind.
And finally, be prepared. Get to the airport early and be ready for anything the airline agent may ask of you. Have your permits ready to show and present yourself as a well-informed passenger.
Check Your Bow Underneath - Next thing you need to know is that your bow must be checked in underneath. You cannot bring it as a carry-on. This much should be obvious, but you’d be surprised. Again, do not show up to the airport with some idea that you can bring your bow as a carry-on. It’s a weapon. And TSA is very clear that all weapons must be checked underneath so you can’t get to it during flight. Seems reasonable enough.
Choose the Right Case – Again, I think it’s important to drill it home here that you should opt for a hard case for any travel outside of your local area. Many airlines require that the case be hard and plus, it’s just going to be a better experience. If you use a soft shell, you run the risk of other bags being stacked on top of it and crushing your bow. TSA agents are not going to treat your bow like a princess; it’s going to probably be tossed around with little care. It’s your bow, not theirs. Treat your bow with some respect and upgrade it to a hard shell case. Last thing you want is to reach your destination and find your bow broken into pieces.
Another piece of advice here is to get a TSA – approved lock for your bow case. A TSA – approved lock means that the TSA agents will be able to open your case and inspect it, without having to cut your lock.
Traveling Internationally – If you’re traveling internationally to hunt, it will be a good idea to register your bow with US Customs and Border Protection. If you visit a Customs office beforehand, they’ll have you fill out the Form 4457 – Certificate of Registration for Personal Effects Taken Abroad. This states that you did not buy the bow abroad and therefore you won’t have any hassles when re-entering the country and won’t be charged any duty fees.
Traveling by train and/or bus is more or less quite similar to traveling by plane, so this will be brief. The big rule is once again, your bow will have to be checked. There’s simply no getting around this! So just get used to it, this is the way it is.
Again, I strongly recommend that you call ahead and are well prepared in advance. You don’t want to show up to the station and be asking all of your questions there for the first time. Show up prepared and show up earlier than you normally would.
For rules on what can be checked and the limits of these bag sizes, I’ve provided some links here. The first link is to AMTRAK and it covers which items are allowed and which items are a no-go. This second link is another AMTRAK link and it reviews specialty items. Archery equipment is considered a specialty item and it comes with certain restrictions – up to 50lbs and 75 linear inches. And finally, the buses get some love – this link is a PDF of what Greyhound buses will and will not allow (archery equipment makes the cut, but it must checked).
The biggest thing I will harp on again is to over prepare. Call ahead. Check your bow case and make sure it is good to go. Have all the necessary documents ready. Don’t show up without a clue – find out all the answers you need to know beforehand. Don’t be a jerk to any of the workers even if they begin to ask more questions than necessary - be understanding of the TSA agents and the job that they have a duty to complete. You are traveling with a weapon after all. Be nice and treat them with respect, and they will more often than not return the favor.
And of course, most importantly, enjoy the trip! You’ve done the prep work and you’re ready for your hunting trip – enjoy it!
For a blog about the Best Hunting Dog Kennels check it out!