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Muzzle Blasts Online
Muzzle Blasts Online Cover
Dec 1999/Jan 2000 Volume 4, Number 6

A Word On Traveling

The modern hunter is a mobile individual. We have the ability and means today to travel farther, faster, and in more comfort than our ancestors ever thought possible. Many times over the years I have departed Boston's Logan International Airport in early morning, and by late afternoon or evening have been glassing game in northern Labrador, Colorado, Alberta, or Alaska.

Floatplanes are used to reach remote hunting areas. Hunters should keep gear to a minimum. Soft duffle-type bags and hard gun cases are also best.

Floatplanes are used to reach remote hunting areas. Hunters should keep gear to a minimum. Soft duffle-type bags and hard gun cases are also best.

Even with our cars or pick-ups we can travel hundreds of miles each day, more miles than the pioneers could travel in several weeks. I often wonder as I fly here and there and look down at the undulating earth below what the mountain men and early settlers would think about it all. I have no doubt they would be truly amazed, as I am.

Reaching far off places can be quick and relatively easy these days, but it does have its frustrations and potential mishaps and inconveniences, particularly for the traveling blackpowder hunter. While our problems pale in comparison to those of our ancestors who crossed the continent in wagons, on horse, and on foot, modern technology sometimes seems to magnify difficulties.

Many of the problems hunters encounter when traveling with firearms and transporting meat, capes, and horns can be avoided with some advance planning before leaving home, and by following a few general practices upon arrival at camp. For example, some of the biggest problems arise when using commercial airlines to reach hunting destinations. In reality, through all the miles flown over the years I have experienced only one mishap. That came in the form of lost baggage, and fortunately it occurred on the return trip at the end of my hunt. My baggage, including gun case, boxes of meat, cape, and antlers failed to arrive in Boston when I did. To be fair, the airline did find it and deliver it to my doorstep in Maine, but regardless, when something like this happens it is not only frustrating, but it makes you wonder if you will ever see your property again.

There is really little the hunter can do about lost baggage. The airlines generally do a pretty good job of transporting and delivering millions of items on schedule, but lost and damaged baggage does happen. If you travel enough, as I do, I suppose it is only a matter of time before the odds catch up with you. There are, however, some procedures you can follow that might reduce the chances of its happening.

To begin with, carry any expensive items such as cameras and binoculars on board as part of your carry-on baggage. These days you can carry only so much, and only certain kinds of items; but these items are not only fragile but expensive, so make room. Equally important, anything kept with you is practically guaranteed not to be lost or damaged. Also, purchasing extra travel insurance can help. It doesn't necessarily mean a larger reimbursement if something is lost or damaged, but it does increase the airline's liability and provides more leverage. In the event anything is lost or damaged, don't be afraid to send a letter to the public affairs office of the airline, even if efforts are made to settle the claim. Be polite, but express your feelings and how your satisfaction, frustration, and faith in the airline might be somewhat restored. There is a great deal of competition in the airline industry these days, and since deregulation, airlines seem more willing to keep customers satisfied, so don't be bashful. Make your wishes known!

Whenever flying and carry firearms, keep a couple of things in mind. Some airlines have a policy of not transporting guns, so when making reservations, either on your own or through a travel agency, make it known you are going on a hunting trip and will be shipping firearms. When dealing directly with airline reservation clerk, once that is known, they will generally inform you of any special procedures or requirements. If not, be sure to ask.

One significant thing they usually do tell you is to get to the airport and check in early. This is particularly true if flying internationally, for example to Canada, but it also to domestic travel. Whatever the case, plan to check in at least a solid hour before departure for domestic flights, two hours for international flights. There are several reasons for this.

In a good many cases the earlier you check in, the shorter the lines at the ticket counter for that particular flight. That also improves your chance of getting those guns and all your baggage onto your flight. Many flights are overbooked these days, and in some cases though people may get on board, baggage doesn't. With all the increased security at airports these days, checking in firearms takes time. With that in mind, keep keys to gun cases handy and tape your cases closed, as many hunters do, after they have been checked in at the counter. There is a chance the tape will have to removed in the event you are asked to open the case, which delays getting checked in even more. When I finally do tape my cases, I wrap around and over the locks; that keeps them from springing during shipment. This has happened to me a couple of times even though locked securely.

Good, solid gun cases are also important. I have used the popular Gun Guard cases for years with excellent results. They are injection molded, rugged, piano-hinged along the entire back, and offer thick foam paddling. Other quality gun cases include Firelocker, SKB, Doskocil, Field Locker, and Gun Master. Most are available through Cabelas's, Gander Mountain, L.L.Bean, and most retail stores such as Wal-Mart. Any case you purchase should be durable, have locks, and ideally have "egg carton"-type foam on the interior to hold firearms securely and safely. As with all your baggage, make sure your gun case has a tag listing name, address and telephone number, or better yet, has your name and particulars plainly visible right on the case. It is amazing during the height of hunting season how many gun cases go through an airport, especially major hubs like Atlanta, Chicago, Salt Lake, and Toronto. When coming off the baggage conveyor and placed side-by-side they all look alike. My particulars are printed right on the case with a black "Magic Marker" in big letters. I have even gone a step farther by adding some decals to my cases. When searching through dozens of cases in a busy baggage terminal it is usually these decals from the NMLRA, Longhunter Society, NRA, and other organizations I spot first.

Another thing when traveling with firearms: if you're heading for Canada and departing from a U.S. airport, make sure you declare them at Customs before departing. The same is true if you reside in Canada and are heading into the U.S. It only takes a few minutes, but declaring firearms at U.S. Customs is another reason for arriving at the airport well in advance of departure time. To speed things up, have the serial number, model, and make of any firearm with you and readily available. I usually write this info down on my airline travel itinerary, which I always keep handy. It should also be noted that firearms should be always declared at Customs whenever traveling into or out of Canada by vehicle. Once you've obtained the white declaration form, stick it into your gun case beneath the foam padding; it will always be valid as long as you own that gun and can be used again.

Canada is the most popular destination for a good many American hunters, and whether you're flying or driving, keep in mind the new Canadian Firearms Act enacted in 1998. Until January 1, 2001, for the most part, non-resident hunters bringing non-restricted firearms into Canada, including muzzleloaders, will see little impact. But starting in 2001 several regulations come into effect, and things are apt to get confusing. For more information call 1-800-731-4000.

As for other baggage, I have found it much easier to travel with soft duffle-type bags rather than hard or soft suitcases. For one thing, you can get more into them, and they pack easier in the trunks of cars or the bed of a pick-up. They are also preferred for stowing in the float planes or helicopters that are used in many areas to reach remote hunting grounds. Canvas bags, such as the standard military-types are fine, but I prefer some of the newer designs offered by Cabela's or L.L.Bean. They are much stronger, durable, and user-friendly. Many are made of nylon, and most are coated with a water repellent polyurethane finish, an important factor when lodging in spike camps or when traveling by boat or over water to reach your hunting area. Again, make sure your name and other particulars are on each bag.

Commercial airlines seem to be fussy about transporting game meat and antlers. Some airlines have a policy against carrying them altogether. Others do, provided that the meat is properly contained and the antlers are covered. Most outfitters and guides know which airlines servicing their area will transport meat, skins, and antlers and how best to prepare them for shipment. Some even have available special boxes and styrofoam inserts for meat. When arranging and discussing a hunt with an outfitter, ask specifically about transporting these items, particularly whether they have boxes and other items to help prepare them for shipment. I also inquire when making airline reservations whether the carrier has a policy about shipping such items. The last thing you want is to check in at the counter after a successful hunt and find your airline will not ship meat and trophies.

As a matter of course, I carry a roll or two of "Tuck" tape, and when hunting deer, elk, moose, caribou, and other game with pointed headgear, a section of old garden hose. Upon cleaning the head, I cover each point with a section of hose, and then tape it securely. Not only does this protect the points, but many airlines demand this to prevent damage to other baggage. Pieces of cardboard over the points and then taped will also work, particularly on those game heads with "palms" or "prongs" such as moose, caribou, and pronghorn. In some cases, carrying these items may not be necessary, but make sure you inquire from your guide or outfitter.

Meat is best shipped frozen, wrapped in plastic bags, and cased in boxes. More and more hunting operations across the continent have made arrangements for animals to be butchered, wrapped, and frozen, sometimes pre-packed in special waxed boxes. Upon arriving home all you do is unpack it and stick it into the freezer. That service generally costs a little extra, but it's often less expensive than getting it cut at home. Here again, discuss it with your outfitter when arranging the hunt. Ask if you need to bring anything for shipment of game. Keep in mind, too, when hunting in Canada, that all animal parts must be checked in with U.S. Customs before entering the country. This is no big deal when driving, but when flying it takes time. Make sure you have sufficient time between connecting flights to get the task done. With black bear, which are protected under the CITES agreement, it takes even more time, since they must be checked with Canada wildlife officials before U.S. Customs allows them across the border.

Blackpowder hunters have a special dilemma when flying because it is illegal to transport blackpowder or Pyrodex aboard commercial carriers. This means several things. Arrangements can be made for the outfitter or guide to pick up and have propellant waiting for you at hunting camp; you can buy it in person at a local shop before heading into the bush, or you can purchase and ship it before leaving home. I have done all three, and you can choose whichever you prefer.

In nearly all cases I have found it easier to purchase propellant locally. Just about all commercial flights terminate in a major city or town. Fortunately, I have found blackpowder, and especially Pyrodex readily available, even in out-of-the-way places in the U.S. and Canada. It has become a rule of thumb to ask my outfitter or guide where it can be purchased locally. I also ask for the address and telephone number. I then call to make sure the brand I want is available, and I ask for directions from the airport. I have purchased so much Pyrodex over the years and left it with the guide or outfitter that I should have stock in the company.

Things are much easier when traveling by vehicle, but as I mentioned earlier, I dislike driving long distances. I live in Maine, and even when hunting Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, and Quebec, or states farther away than New York, I prefer to fly. There is no way I would drive cross-country. It may be fun and adventurous going out, but after the hunt is over there is a long ride home! Along with that, with fall comes unpredictable weather which can delay getting home. There is always a chance of having truck or car trouble as well.

I once hunted in Colorado with a bunch of men from Michigan who drove cross-country figuring they would save money and see part of the country. It was early October and the weather in the Rockies that year was unseasonably warm, but mid-week much of the east was getting blanketed by snow, sleet, and high winds. I flew and got home on time, but two weeks later one of the men telephoned and told me it took them nearly eight days to reach home. They got waylaid for a day or so by freezing rain in Nebraska or Iowa, by heavy snows west of Chicago, and engine trouble near Battle Creek, still 250 miles from home! "We should have flown like you," the guy said; "Next time we will."

When planning to drive any great distance, especially cross-country, it is imperative to make sure vehicles are up for the journey. Get a tune-up, check the tires, map out the best and most direct route (unless you plan to take time for some sightseeing), carry some tools, and check in with home from time to time. It also helps to be a member of AAA or other automobile service club. If you break down in the middle of the boondocks it is nice to know road service is available.

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