What to Look for in a Long-Gun Travel Case

Some long-gun cases have built-in locks and others have molded-in holes for padlocks. Both are fine just as long as they are sturdy. Flying with guns is a contact sport.photo from Windigo Images

As I stood with a hundred others in Washington Dulles International Airport’s baggage-claim area, I saw my gun case pop out with a huge gash and a shotgun barrel poking from it. I pushed through all the people waiting for their bags and grabbed the case. Only one person seemed to be awake. She gasped as I nonchalantly pushed the barrel back inside the black plastic case and carried it swiftly away. I could hear her telling others that I “had a gun.” I just kept walking as people looked all around, trying to determine what maniac she was drawing their attention to. I didn’t even stop to check to see if the gun was okay until I got to my truck. The gun was fine, but I knew I needed gun cases that could one-up baggage handlers.

This led me to Pelican’s cases. Professional photographers swear by them, and I use them for my cameras. The Pelican Double-Rifle Case weighs almost 22 pounds empty. It has an air of indestructability reinforced by knobby growths of plastic. A baggage handler would have to be accomplished at Scottish caber tossing to heave this case with any effect. I always checked my rifle’s zero and only had it knocked off once—this was a time when it showed up in Nebraska with a wheel shorn off, as if from a sledgehammer. But still I toted that heavyweight case, scars and all, until Canadian Air bumped it off a flight and then the U.S. Border Patrol refused to let it travel to America behind me. They finally relented, but not before someone with a sense of humor had removed the padlocks and replaced them with locks I would have needed to borrow a welding torch to remove. That case had to be cut open.

Another long-gun case that stood the test of many excursions was the SKB ATA Double Rifle Case. This case survived dozens of adventures. It also weighed in at 22 pounds empty. It was so sturdy that I barely winced when it was run over by six-wheeled Argo on a gravel beach in northern Quebec after it had been unloaded from a plane equipped with tundra tires. After many airline adventures it showed on a conveyer belt in Billings with a chunk missing from one its corners—it looked to have been tossed from a plane onto the tarmac and might have survived the impact if it hadn’t landed on its corner.

Other good cases I’ve personally used include Cabela’s Armor Xtreme Molded cases and other SKB cases. Whatever case you consider, look hard at these three things:

1. Weight/Dimensions: The case you chose naturally needs to be big enough for the gun or guns you will be flying with, but I recommend getting one that's even bigger than you think you need. You can stuff hunting or other clothes in to fill the space and to further protect the firearm. Airlines charge per bag and have weight limits, so it pays to distribute the weight.

These guns cases were unloaded onto the tundra, run over by a six-wheeled Argo driven by a guide who’d been out in the wind too long, and then moved out of harm’s way. They all survived.photo by Frank Miniter

2. Latches: They need to close with authority and must not have any protruding edges that can be bashed on landing. Some have latches with internal locks and others have molded-in holes for padlocks. Both are fine, just be certain they are rugged enough to withstand being tossed. Also, bring an extra key and always be ready to be polite to a baffled and often-ignorant-of-the-law airline employee. You must have the gun in a locked case and keep ammunition separate from the gun (all ammunition must be in a checked bag). The gun case will be inspected and locked back up. It's that simple. (Before you travel, go to the Transportation Security Administration's website to read how to fly with firearms.)

3. Material: If you can push the case's material in very much with you palm, look for another case. There are a lot of cases on the market made from pliable plastic. These might be fine for road trips, but airline baggage employees will have fun smashing them. It's worth a little extra money to get a case that will keep your firearms safe.

Now that I’ve given baggage handlers some deserved criticism, let me tell you about one who became my hero. A few years ago I arrived on an international flight at Washington’s Dulles International Airport to find my connecting flight had been cancelled. I finally found another flight, but my gun case, last seen in customs, didn’t make the flight.

Two weeks later I was still trying to track down my gun case when the phone rang. It was a baggage handler in Philadelphia. “Hi, my name’s Tim Dumont,” he said. “They told me to put your gun case in lost-and-found, but I saw your business card right on it. I see you work for the NRA. Well, guess what, I’m an NRA member and you’re getting your gun back.” He personally put it on a plane to my home city. I sent him a very nice care package and, every time I pack a gun in a travel case, I nod to him.