There was a time when I needed an Ativan prescription to calm my nerves when preparing to fly with my bow. I’m exaggerating, of course, but I was a hot mess. Don’t be me. Flying with your bow is an elementary process, and if you follow the tips in this article, you can tote your compound anywhere in the country with zero hassle.
I remember the first time I flew to an out-of-state hunt. I was excited, but the anxiety about flying with my bow and packing my gear was crippling. I was so worried and had so many questions that I made myself sick. I didn’t sleep the night before my flight to Illinois and almost got in a wreck on my three-hour drive to Denver International Airport. I was exhausted, my brain was spinning, and I nearly swerved into an oncoming semi.
I wish I had known how simple flying with archery equipment is, and I would have loved to have had someone educate me on some packing tips.
If you’re preparing for your first out-of-state bowhunt and have to catch a direct flight or several connections, don’t fret. Follow these tips, and you won’t have to break out the anti-anxiety meds.
At Home Preparation
The more you plan and prepare at home, the easier the travel process is. First, you must get a good bow case designed and rated for airline travel. The case should have a robust build, wheels to cruise through the airport effortlessly, heavy-duty latches, and a padded foam interior. I just returned home from a turkey hunt in the Sunshine State, and my case of choice for this hunt was Plano’s Field Locker Element Compound Bow Case. It will be my go-to for years to come. Over 15 years of flying back and forth across the country chasing critters, I have used a pile of bow cases, and this one takes the cake.
The case is a little pricy ($339.99), but it’s built like a tank, and I love that it came with complete sheets of foam inside so I could trace the outline of my bow and then cut the foam to fit. The case is designed to take abuse, and I promise airport personnel doesn’t treat your equipment like you do. They throw cases on conveyer belts, drop them off vehicles on the pavement while in transport, etc. This case was built with drop and shock resistance protection, and the Dri-Loc Seal creates waterproof and dust-proof protection. I also applaud that the case has an internal quiver that holds all diameters off arrows and snaps into place in seconds. Make sure not to skimp on your bow case. Remember, that case protects your bow, sight, rest, arrows, stabilizer, and any other gear you pack. Often, I have over $2K worth of gear in my bow case, and if you spend the money and get a good one, it will last you a lifetime. More to come on packing.
Once you decide on a case, get a well-built rubberized name badge for that case. Refrain from relying on the paper models you can toss on your case at the airport. These rip off in seconds. Ensure your name, address, and phone number are on the badge and lash it to your case. Also, bow cases do not have to be locked with a TSA-approved lock like firearm cases, and I recommend skipping the lock and trusting the case’s latch system. Doing this simplifies things even further when you get to the airport.
After you place your bow, arrows, and other archery equipment inside your case, use the remaining space to tote socks, underwear, and clothing. A good bow case like Plano’s 44-inch Field Locker Element Compound Bow Case will leave you with lots of space, and you want to take up that space with delicate apparel items. This saves room in your other luggage and further protects your bow, arrows, and accessories. Always take a pair of socks or underwear and put those in any open spaces around your sight and cams to provide extra protection. The clothes will lock your bow into the foam. I wish someone had told me this when I started flying to bowhunt in other states. I used to take three luggage items, not including my carry-on, and that third bag fee is never cheap. If you pack your bow case properly, you can fly to hunt anywhere worldwide and take only your bow case, a carry-on, and a second bag. Sometimes, I can fit everything into my bow case and carry-on, especially when I’m going on a turkey hunt and have less gear.
At The Airport
When you get to the airport, relax. The first time I flew, I was nervous someone would take my bow from me because I didn’t follow a specific procedure. This isn’t going to happen. When checking your bags, the airline agent will likely ask you what’s in the case, and all you need to tell them is that the item is a compound bow. That’s the entire process. I have been asked to open my bow case only once in 15 years of flying with archery equipment. You’re not declaring a firearm, so there is nothing left to do but place your bow on the scale, let the agent attach the travel tag, and watch it roll away on the conveyer belt. I did all that fretting for nothing.
When you arrive at your final destination, don’t panic. I tell you this because when I flew to Illinois for that first out-of-state whitetail hunt, I didn’t know about oversized baggage areas, and I didn’t see my bow come out a few carousals down from where my other luggage arrived. Of course, I freaked out and spent nearly an hour in line at the baggage assistance office, only for the agent inside to point at the lone bow case sitting on the metal ramp 15 yards away.
You must also know to avoid panic when your other bags arrive, and you don’t see your bow case in the oversized luggage area. Typically, it takes 15 or 20 minutes after you get your regular luggage for oversized luggage to be delivered. Remember, relax.
Once you reach your final destination, open your bow case and look everything over. If a TSA agent looks inside, you will likely find a little card letting you know. However, I have seen guys arrive at camp, open their bow case, and find every carbon arrow snapped in half. Yes, there are some terrible people in every line of work. I have also seen bowhunters — two that were world-class — take their first practice shot at the lodge and miss a target at 20 yards. After checking their sight marks, both gentlemen were positive their bow sights had been tampered with.
I don’t tell you those stories to scare you but to make you aware. I have never had a single issue, but typically, I work with the outfitter, buddy, or whoever I’m going to hunt with months ahead of time and ship a dozen arrows to them in the mail. I have seen lots of bow cases opened and lots of broken arrows. You don’t have to do this, but it’s a good tip.
Your final step is to take a few practice shots to ensure your bow is dead-on the money once you assemble it at camp. Don’t skip this process. Take the time to shoot a few arrows and ensure nothing got bumped or moved (intentionally or not) during the travel process.
Traveling with your bow is a breeze, and if you invest in a good bow case, pack that case right, and take steps ahead of time to make your travel easy, the process of toting your bow anywhere is cream cheese.