Like many SCI members, I fly to far-off destinations to hunt — a lot. At least, I used to. These days, if I’m hunting within a two-day drive of my home in southern Arizona, I drive. Why? Because I’m sick and tired of being treated like chattel by the airlines.
Now, driving isn’t always possible. Pretty tough to take the truck across the pond to Africa, or Europe, or Asia, or South America, or even remote locations in North America. That’s when it’s time to gird oneself for a trip in the Not-So-Friendly skies.
Flying with bows-and-arrows is a lot like flying with firearms, with notably-important exceptions. You don’t have to go through the declaration process, fill out the firearms paperwork, and stuff it into your gun case as you do with guns. But a compound bow is a very fragile and highly-technical piece of equipment that has to be protected from nosy TSA employees uneducated about such things as well as the airline baggage handling goons who will literally throw your bow case onto hard surfaces, or crush it under the weight of other like luggage. If you arrive at some far corner of the globe and find your bow has been seriously damaged in transit, your hunt could be over before it begins.
Case in point. For more than a decade I flew thousands of miles around the world with my archery gear protected by a large, lightweight aluminum case made by the now out-of-business Kalispel Case Line products. This thing was virtually indestructible. Or so I thought. Standing at the baggage carousel in Montgomery, Alabama after a connection through Atlanta flying Delta, the entire airport gasped when they saw my case come out. The pictures tell the story. Not only was my case ruined — and it could not be replaced, since the company went under shortly before the trip — I had to lawyer up to get adequate compensation from Delta. Unbelievably, my bows and arrows were still in perfect working order.
In that old case I could bring two complete compound bows and a lot of related gear and stay under the 50-lb. bag weight limit now imposed by most major air carriers. I’ve looked and looked and cannot find a similar case anyplace. Several companies make excellent hard cases for archery gear. With all of these products you have to balance out the weight of the case itself vs. its interior volume. Arrows are often (but not always) stored in a separate case hard plastic designed for them, and broadheads can also be stored in little hard cases designed just for them.
Here are my Top 10 tips for flying with archery equipment for a hunt where the nearest archery pro shop might as well be located on the moon, it’s so far away.
1) Packing the Bow Case: Today I fly with a Plano All Weather Double Rifle/Shotgun Wheeled Case. First though, I take out all the foam inserts, and put my bow in there packed inside a separate padded soft case. This “double casing” offers great protection to the bow, and its elongated side pouch is great for storing arrows, release aids and other little accessories. The main reason I do this is, if I have to jump into a tiny float plane or travel on an ATV, I can leave the too bulky hard case behind and still have my bow protected.
Also, before placing my bow inside the soft bow case, I cover the string with a neoprene bowstring cover for added protection. I also hike and travel afield with this in place.
2) Fill It Up: I fill up the remaining space on the hard case with all manner of items. I can fit hunting boots, knives, loose clothing and whatever else until the case reaches 48 lbs. total weight (I like to leave it a couple pounds light to account for the often-inaccurate scales found at some airline counters.) This extra gear also keeps everything from shifting around and helps pad my bow.
3) The Duffel Bag: My duffel bag has most everything else, except for some key items that are in my carry-on. Clothing, boots, hunting gear and, depending on where I’m going, I might even throw in some protein bars to supplement the food provided on a remote outfitted hunt. Weight: 49 lbs., max.
4) The All-Important Carry-On: My large carry-on is also my hunting pack. It’s more than 2,500 cubic inches in volume. Inside I have my optics, laser rangefinder, camera gear, auxiliary power pack for my iPhone, as well as a light wind stopper jacket, hat, light gloves and reading material. I also remove my bow sight from my bow, wrap it in bubble wrap, and pack it in my daypack — something that freaked out a security dude in Vancouver this past spring, but we got through it.
4) Bow Repair Kit: I have a compact fold-open pouch with all sorts of pockets I bought from Cabela’s eons ago that has become my bow repair kit. In it have everything I need to make minor repairs on my bow, sight, release, arrow rest and so on, along with spare practice arrow points, stick tape, super glue, Allen wrench set, extra peep sights, string serving and so on. The only thing I can’t replace using this kit is my bowstring. The Bow Medic Deluxe Repair Kit available from several sources has the stuff needed to make a string change, except the bowstring, of course.
5) Arrows Aplenty: Arrows don’t weigh much, and I bring a lot, usually two dozen — one dozen usually packed inside my soft bow case, and another dozen outside of that in a separate case. There will be times I will leave a dozen in my hard case, and maybe have six with my bow, and some in my soft case, so I have options in case there’s a wreck of some kind (I once had a pack horse roll in the dirt with my gear packed as a top pack, crushing a dozen arrows). I also seem to lose a few arrows every trip stump-shooting with Judo points. You also have to have enough broadheads to match them. I also never travel with arrows with broadheads attached. I’ve heard lots of horror stories about guys carrying broadhead-tipped arrows in their cases, having them cut up everything including bow strings and cables.
6) Target Spots: In my bow repair kit I also have some four-inch fluorescent stick-on target spots and some plastic coffee cup tops I spray paint black. I am a stickler for wanting to shoot my bow pretty much every day, and am always amazed at outfitters who do not have archery targets in camp. Before leaving home I sight in my bow with broadheads, then shoot it with field points. If the field points don’t hit precisely where my broadheads do — generally I can tune my bow so they do, but sometimes they don’t — I make a note of where they impact and put it in my kit. In camp if there’s no target I can always find something to put my target dots on and shoot at them that won’t destroy my arrows.
7) Locks: Today you have to fly with TSA-approved locks, of course. Amazingly, more than once I’ve reached my destination to find that one or both of my case locks have either been broken or are flat gone. So now I throw in a spare set of case locks in my hard case so if I have to fly home from the middle of nowhere I can do so with the proper locks, thereby avoiding a security hassle.
8) Mark Everything: Once my bow is tuned and sighted in, I use a Magic Marker to mark everything movable so that once I arrive I can check to see that all is well. Important to mark are the position of the peep sight in the bowstring, the vertical and horizontal position of the arrow rest and the vertical and horizontal position of the bow sight.
9) Spares: Knowing that Murphy, of Murphy’s Law fame, was undoubtedly a bowhunter, I bring important spares with me. A spare release aid, battery for my laser rangefinder and Allen wrenches are always along. Depending on the trip — and assuming I don’t travel with a complete spare compound bow, which I often do — I’ll bring a spare bow sight and arrow rest, too. You never know.
10) Paperwork: SCI members are veteran travelers, so you know how important it is to have all your important travel documentation organized and easily-accessible at all times. In addition to passport, driver’s license, airline and hotel info, credit cards and cash, I also have a list with the outfitter’s phone numbers and email address, float plane phone numbers, etc. — basically, the quick contact info for anyone I might have to reach out to during travel should something go wrong. I have this list in duplicate and keep it in both carry-ons, in case one disappears.–Bob Robb