No question it’s fun to bowhunt and compete in nearby archery tournaments. But flying to distant locations lets you experience scenery, hunts and cultures that differ from home. And although flying with your bow and arrows might seem a headache, it differs little from taking golf clubs.
Although a bow technically can be considered a weapon, it isn’t subject to special airline rules like those governing firearms. You neither fill out special forms nor make a declaration when checking in at airline counters.
Don’t be surprised, however, if the airline representative at the check-in counter asks if your case contains a firearm. Bow cases can resemble gun cases. You cannot, however, carry your bow onto the plane. The Transportation Security Administration forbids it. You must check it in with other baggage. Given the size of bow cases, you’d probably have do that regardless.
If you plan to fly with archery equipment, buy a good, airline-grade case. Such cases are more expensive because they’re made of durable materials to withstand the rough, fast-paced handling of airline travel. Some of my airline bow cases have suffered damage I couldn’t inflict on purpose, let alone through normal handling.
Choose a bow case with TSA-approved locks. These convenient locks let TSA agents open the case if it gets pulled for inspection, which isn’t uncommon. The only way you’ll even know this happened is from the TSA card inside when you open it at your destination.
But if you use non-TSA locks, pay attention to airport announcements. You might hear your name called, with instructions to go to a security office so the TSA can inspect your case. TSA agents will ask you to unlock it for inspection if they can’t open it.
Buy a case bigger than your bow so you can pack clothing around it. Even though airline-grade cases have interior padding, you’ll find it inadequate. By stuffing clothes around cams and sights you’ll further protect your gear from rough handling.
Some bow cases have built-in holders to secure arrows. Another option is a plastic arrow case that fits inside your bow case or suitcase. If you’re going hunting, remove the broadheads from your arrows and store them in a plastic case so the blades can’t damage anything.
Should you buy a hard-side or soft-side bow case rated for airline travel? Soft cases usually weigh less than hard cases, which can be critical for meeting minimum weight limits. Bags weighing over 50 pounds can trigger hefty handling fees. Further, overweight baggage often gets delayed on full flights, causing irritation when arriving at your destination.
Don’t let the outer material of soft-side cases fool you. It’s tough and takes a beating. Your equipment should be protected if you bought an airline-grade case.
Hard cases, of course, protect anything inside, but weigh more. The SKB iSeries 5014 case, for example, weighs 24 pounds empty, leaving just 26 pounds for gear.
In addition to the weight limit, bags are considered oversize if they measure over 62 linear inches, meaning their combined length, width and depth.
Most bows fit inside cases that don’t exceed that limit. Exceptions include one-piece recurve bows that measure 66 to 72 inches.
Most hunting compounds are no longer than 36 inches, but the biggest target compound bows can measure 40 inches axle to axle, plus 5 inches or so of cam length. Only cases for the biggest compounds approach that 62-linear-inch cap.
Most airline-travel bow cases have built-in wheels, but double-check before ordering, and avoid those that don’t. Traveling bow cases are big and heavy when fully packed. You don’t want to carry all that weight far or long.
A unique case for recurve archers is the recurve backpack, which holds takedown recurves. These packs have separate compartments for a riser, limbs, sight, tabs and other gear, and they usually have a built-in plastic tube for arrows and stabilizers. Best of all, you can haul it on your back.
Flying with your bow opens a new world of experiences. Protect your gear as best you can for airline travel, and you’ll encounter few problems or frustrations.