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Flying to The Tactical Games: A Guide for Competitive Shooters

Flying to The Tactical Games: A Guide for Competitive Shooters

Competing in The Tactical Games involves a significant amount of gear, making driving the preferred option for travel to accommodate for anything you might need. However, when the journey exceeds a day’s travel (I consider this to be 12 hours of windshield time one way for my cutoff), flying becomes a practical choice and will require you to take a serious look at what’s going to make the trip.

Contrary to popular belief, flying with firearms and gear can be relatively hassle-free with a well-thought-out system.

Delta Airlines

Packing Essentials

I like to think I’ve gotten this down to a science over the years – while it does cost a little more to check two bags and either ship or purchase ammo on site, it’s worth it for me as I prefer the convenience and peace of mind knowing I’ve limited the opportunity for disruption and/or delays on my end.

First and foremost, condense your gear

The Tactical Games Basic Gear Loadout

The challenge with airlines is managing the quantity, weight, and contents of your luggage, especially when carrying two firearms, accessories, ammo, a plate carrier with weighted plates, and personal items. When you itemize everything that you may need at an event, it becomes daunting to figure out what you actually have room for. What further complicates things is having certain items being restricted from your carry-on, and trusting TSA with high-value items in your checked luggage.

My method for condensing gear consists of first laying out what I absolutely need to just compete at an event. We’re talking bare essentials here – Rifle, Pistol, 5x mags each, sling, holster, belt, mag pouches, and plate carrier with appropriate weight. I include a long gun range bag here as well as I find it more convenient to shed the hard case once at the range.

My next group is personal protection items: Eye & Ear Protection, knee pads, and a small first aid kit with very specific items.

Next up – clothing, shoes & hygiene items. Consider that you will be performing the equivalent of 3-4 WODs per day over two days plus a day of travel on either end – it is nice to have a change of clothes or two per day and definitely not fun to travel home gross and filthy.

Finally – items that would be nice to have but are first to get cut if I either a) don’t have room for it or b) will put my luggage grossly overweight. Things like fix-it kits/maintenance for guns, spare mags beyond the initial 5, extra shoes, etc.

Luggage Strategy:

Once everything is laid out, it’s time for the luggage strategy. Mine consists of two checked bags, a hard-sided pelican case for gun gear & another small to mid-size roller case for the rest. I’ll have a third carry-on bag to transport anything that doesn’t need to be checked, consisting of clothing, massage gun, shoes, etc.

Checked Luggage

  • Long Gun Case: Use a hard-sided, lockable case for your rifle/pistol and magazines (unloaded, no magazines inserted). Pack as much ammo as possible without exceeding 50 lbs. Opt for a gun bag within the hard-sided case over custom-cut foam for convenience. Ensure this case has NON-TSA locks inserted in every available lock hole – you will catch grief and be denied checking it if your case has holes for four locks and you only have two.
  • Additional Luggage Case: Prioritize restricted items you couldn’t fit in the first case. I throw my plate carrier, tool kits, and additional ammo (up to 11 lbs total). TSA does allow your plate carrier and belt setup as carry-on, but to avoid potential hassles, I prefer to transport them in checked luggage.

Useful link: https://www.tsa.gov/travel/transporting-firearms-and-ammunition

Carry-On Bag

  • Include personal items, clothing, shoes, and fragile items like eye and ear protection. Avoid any gun parts in your carry-on.

Airport Procedure:

  1. Arrival: Arrive 2-3 hours before your flight. At the check-in, declare your unloaded firearms. You’ll be given an orange tag to sign and place discreetly in your gun case.
  2. Bag Screening: Bags are either screened with you present or taken by staff and opened if necessary, varying by airport.
  3. Security Check: Proceed through regular security with your carry-on and board your flight. Collect your firearms at the specialty counter upon arrival, you’ll find your non-firearms checked luggage on the carousel as usual.

Returning Home:

Reverse the process, though this time you might be a little heavier bringing home one of those sweet trophies. It is important to ensure no loose ammunition or brass cases are in your luggage, including in pockets of dirty clothing. I’ve had my firearms case flagged for a loose round that slipped into the foam before, which will result in a 20+ minute delay as they proceed with a manual inspection.

Special Considerations:

  • Ammunition: Airlines typically allow up to 11 lbs of ammo per passenger, preferably in factory packaging. Consider shipping ammo to the range or taking advantage of ammunition purchase packages offered by The Tactical Games. The 250 rounds required per gun is closer to 18lbs and while I’ve been able to make it through in a pinch, it’s a major gamble.
  • Plate Carrier: If carrying it on, be aware of local laws, especially during layovers in areas with different ownership regulations. If you do choose to carry it on, be prepared to explain it during screening – calling it a weight training vest for fitness is the most disarming way you can refer to it.

Final Tips:

  • Rental Car: Opt for an SUV over a car for better fit and terrain adaptability. Most cars will not fit your hard-sided rifle case in the trunk or across the back seat, so know your measurements ahead of time if you go that route.
  • Mindful Packing: Stay aware of weight, content, and any size restrictions for both checked and carry-on luggage.

In summary, with strategic packing and an understanding of airline procedures, flying to The Tactical Games can be a smooth and efficient process. The approach I take above ensures you have all the necessary gear without the added stress.