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Update: United Airlines Rescinds Antler Policy - Played a Major Role

Read the following Press Release by the US. Sportsmen's Alliance:

United Hears Sportsmen, Antlers to be Allowed on Flights

The voices of sportsmen were heard loud and clear by United Airlines as the company made the decision to change a new policy that would have banned antlers from being allowed onto any flight.

As previously reported, sportsmen from coast to coast were enraged as it became known United Airlines had quietly initiated a policy preventing passengers from carrying on or checking antlers or animal horns of any kind. 

After receiving thousands of complaints from sportsmen, who were informed by the U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance (USSA), through, and from many other concerned organizations, United Airlines has reconsidered this policy.  In a message sent to the USSA and other organizations, United stated:

“As you have recently contacted us, I wanted you to be the first to know that we have heard our customers’ feedback about our Antler and Animal Horn policy, and are responding.  Soon we will begin accepting Antlers and Animal Horns as checked baggage again.

As many of you may recall or have seen on our web site, in October 2008 we stopped accepting Antlers and Animal Horns because of the damage the tips caused to the cargo section of the aircraft and to the luggage belonging to our other guests.

We will soon publish new requirements – and ones we previously did not have – about packaging and cleaning Antlers and Animal Horns to ensure their safe, clean transport. These travel requirements will also provide information on the size of Antlers and Animal Horns we can accept based on the type of aircraft being flown (i.e., traditional jet vs. a regional jet) and the special handling fee, which we previously had in place and is similar to other items that require special care.

Stay tuned for further updates on the baggage section of

“United proved that just because you make a mess doesn’t mean you have to stay in it,” said Pat Lefemine, the developer of the nation’s leading bow hunting website, and one of the first to sound the alarm over the anti-hunting policy. “It also proved again that when sportsmen unite behind an issue, their voices will be heard.”

The USSA echoed Lefemine’s sentiments.

 “We’re glad that United has considered the views of sportsmen and hope the new rules will reflect our concerns,” said Bud Pidgeon, USSA president and CEO.  “Regardless, the USSA plans to examine these new policies to be sure that they are fair to sportsmen.”

Our Thanks to our visitors who contacted United Airlines



Original Article Below:

In November I traveled to Saskatchewan to hunt trophy whitetails with Rob Nye of Canadian Trophy Quest.  A group of Christian rifle hunters overlapped me by one day.  They had all tagged out with deer racks and headed down to Saskatoon to board a United Airlines flight back to the US.   When they checked in the ticket agent informed them that United had changed their policy a few days earlier and their antlers were no longer allowed as either checked, or carry-on luggage.  The surprised group of hunters scurried around to find a hotel to take their capes and horns then they boarded the United flight; minus their trophies.  To say they were upset would be quite an understatement.   

While this particular situation did not affect me this time, like many of you I have my share of airline horror stories.  Remember my elk hunt from 2006? Northwest Airlines lost my luggage for the first 5 of my 7 day elk hunt at Rhynard Ranch.  To add insult to injury, I was treated like crap despite the fact that I was broadcasting the debacle to 20k people every day!  But that was nothing compared to the Bowsite visitor who checked his hunting gear to Johannesburg and it showed up a week later – after he returned home!

Bowsite is frequented by most of the top traveling Bowhunters in North America.  Like so many of you, I spend a considerable amount of time and money bowhunting destinations that require commercial flights.  I doubt there is a single person that would argue that commercial airline travel is anything less than a nightmare now and much of that has nothing to do with Post 911 policies.  I am almost to the point of advocating disobedience with some of these ridiculous policies, or better yet – just convincing all of you to simply drive to your hunting destination.  In no other industry on earth are the customers treated so poorly and still allowed to stay in business. 

So now that I’m done with my rant, here are some traveling tips to help keep you sane since the airlines have become so unfriendly to their hunting customers:

Discuss This Feature

15 Tips  for Traveling Bowhunters

Drive to your Destination – I am of the opinion that unless it is impossible (logistically due to time constraints or distance) hunters should avoid airlines altogether and drive to their hunts.  Despite a busy schedule, I will be driving from Connecticut to my next hunt (Hogs in Tennessee) simply because I want to bring back all of my meat and the (overweight and additional bag) fees have made it cost ineffective for me to fly.  Since I am bringing my son on this hunt we estimate the cost differential to be a $900 savings between driving and flying.
Avoid United Airlines – Their most recent policy shows they have disdain for traveling hunters. Without any warning they simply began rejecting all antlers/horns from traveling hunters despite their condition and packaging.  Until that restriction is lifted I will filter them out of every Expedia search I perform regardless of price.  Delta and Northwest are, so far, relatively friendly to hunters. If United changes their policy due to negative hunter feedback I will change this recommendation.  Until then they should be scratched off our list as a carrier.  I would add that this also applies to my ‘non-hunting’ personal and business travel as well since companies that don’t support hunters don’t get my hard earned money.
Note: Since United has rescinded their policy we are withdrawing tip #2
Pack Bows in Golf Cases – generally speaking, and for whatever reason – some airline personnel treat golfers with respect while they treat hunters with contempt.  A friend of mine has been posing as a golfer for years with great success. He takes a golf bag hard case (including a sticker from Pebble Beach) and ships two bows in it along with his arrow tube (smaller bows fit better) and then stuffs his clothing around it to cushion the contents. Since he has been doing that he has never asked to have his bags inspected and they have never been mistaken for a firearm case.   On some airlines, golfers are given a waiver for oversized baggage as well but check first since every airline has different fees and policies.  The bow doesn’t have to be in a golf bag, another friend and well-known international bowhunter packs his bows in a two-compartment rolling duffle and that has worked quite well for him.
Stop looking like a hunter – nothing spells “hunter” to a ticket counter attendant than duffel s in Realtree AP. While we’re at it, lose the Camo cap and the Mossy Oak jacket that you like to wear on the plane. Instead, look like a yuppie traveling with Nike luggage and you won’t be interrogated by a judgmental ticket counter agent who just renewed her Humane Society Membership.   This is especially helpful if you are inclined to disobey airline policies and pack your 125” deer rack into your suitcase – not that I am advocating this of course.
Pack as light as possible – Remember when you could check 3 bags and you had a tough time getting any of them under the weight restriction of 7o lbs?  Well those days are long gone.  Originally, luggage fees and charging for peanuts were the result of astronomical fuel prices. But when fuel prices plummeted, the airlines found that if they kept those fees they could earn close to a billion dollars (US Air) .  And that 70lb weight limit is now 50lbs before they nail you with fees – and with an ultimate max weight of 100lbs - so keep that in mind if you think you’re going to fly home all that moose meat.  Find ways to pare down your gear list by sharing items with your buddy, shipping stuff ahead of time or borrowing or renting gear from the outfitter. An interesting service has just popped up in the west where you can rent some essential gear – it’s called and this may be a good option as well.
Fly Direct or 1-stop maximum – An airline misplacing your bow case when you have to catch a charter flight with 10 other hunters will ruin your week – fast.  I always avoid having to change to 3 or more planes. Think of each stop as adding 15% more risk for a lost bag. So if I change planes once, I have a 15% chance of it not showing up. Three changes and it’s 45% - and so on.
Always stay on one airline – Internet airline shopping is terrific for finding bargains but watch carefully to make sure they don’t book a flight where Delta is handing your bags over to USAir because the cheapest option was a multi-carrier one. That handoff is fraught with issues.  In fact, and this is a true statement:  In the three cases where I booked multiple carriers, my baggage has never arrived with me.  That means 100% of my experiences with multi-carrier flights have resulted in lost luggage. I will never book another multi-carrier flight where I check bags ever again.
Ship your gear ahead of time – If your outfitter is OK with this, ship your gear to him one month before your hunt and confirm he received it before stepping foot on the plane.  If you are going to Africa or some other international destination and you are concerned about ruining your trip if SAA loses your bow case, ship a backup bow ( or any inexpensive gear you can afford to be without) 3 months prior to your trip. Shipping things to Africa are probably as risky as checking your luggage on your flight, but if it gives you peace of mind to have essential gear waiting there for you go right ahead.
Forget about flying meat – I know I’m going to catch hell from the “hunter should eat everything he kills crowd” but I won’t ship meat on airlines any longer.   This has become a nightmare for hunters and fisherman.  In fact, the last time I went hog hunting my coolers went over the 100lb limit and Delta would not check them. I was forced to chuck hog quarters into the Nashville airport trash bins in order to reduce the weight and meet their limits. Unless I can ship them some other way, I donate all my meat now to locals or those lucky hunters who drove. 
Freeze Capes and ship with Clothing – OK. Now this is where we’re getting sneaky.  I cape my heads out completely, roll them as tight as possible, double wrap them in plastic bags, tape them up to keep them condensed and freeze them solid.  On the morning I fly, I take the entire frozen package and wrap it up in several layers of insulated clothing before sticking them in my duffel bag.  This has worked well for years including my last trips to Saskatchewan and Kansas.  Just pray they don’t lose your luggage since it’s not marked perishable (like that matters anyway to baggage handlers).
Creatively pack your antlers and horns – Antlers that either doesn’t qualify for record books (or you don’t care about submitting them) are easy. Split your racks down the skull plate and they will fit easily in most luggage.  This includes smaller elk, mule deer, whitetail, and even smaller caribou.  But only split them if they won’t fit, or are at risk for getting broken in transit.  During my last Kansas hunt I was able to ship both sets of un-split whitetail racks in the same duffel bag lined with clothing. One of those racks scored 150 gross so even trophy racks will fit.  Most horns are no problem (without splitting) including sheep, goats, pronghorn, musk ox and bison.

Plan how to ship your trophy Racks prior to the hunt – Assuming you just shot a 350” elk or 70” moose – or maybe a 30” mulie that scores 190, you should have a plan for getting these back home long before you ever left your home state.  I’ve broken these down in priority from my favorite method to my least favorite method. You can see which works best for you.

1.       Driven Home by a fellow Hunter – This is by far my favorite option when hunting with a group of guys and one of them has driven. Assuming the guy lives within a 5 hour drive of my home, I will ask him to drive my antlers back to his house and then I drive and get them from him at some point. I’ve done this in the past and it’s the cheapest and easiest option.

2.       Measured then Shipped by Outfitter – If you are hunting with a reputable outfitter and option 1 (above) is not available,  ask the outfitter to arrange to have your antlers scored (>60 days) then split the rack and ship it back to you via FedEx, UPS, etc. This is my 2nd favorite option and probably cheaper than the one above.

3.       Ship antlers back yourself – if you have time, you can crate up your antlers and bring them to a freight company at the airport, UPS, or FedEx facility. This is not always cheap depending on the volume and weight of the container as well as the shipping options available to you. But it is an option and I have done it once without a hassle.

4.       Use a local taxidermist - The easiest thing to do is to leave your rack and cape with the outfitter who will bring it to a local taxidermist.   The taxidermist will ship your trophy back to you - either mounted or unmounted.   Typically this is far more expensive than shipping it back yourself. And you are relying solely on faith that your guide has picked out a quality taxidermist and not just one that’s giving him the highest cut.    This is my least favored option and one that I only use if there are no other alternatives.  For International hunts outside of North America this is likely the only option available to you. Ask your safari provider who he uses and the dip/pack costs per animal before you book a safari with him. It’s also a great question to ask his references.  My personal recommendation is to never use an African Taxidermist for finished mounts. The quality I’ve seen was horrendous and the crating costs are typically more than you’d pay your local guy including both his fees and the dip/pack/shipping fees from Africa. 

Don’t ask – Don’t tell – no, we’re not talking about Clinton’s advice for gay sailors. We’re talking about what you should do if your airline has a policy prohibiting capes and horns in luggage and you have no alternative than to fly them home.  While my parents’ teachings about honor and honesty had a great affect on how I conduct my life. I must confess that when an airline like United tells me my 120” deer rack (that is clean and dried) cannot be placed into my checked luggage, I am tempted to be forgetful and pack it anyway.  This is where it helps to look like a yuppie with a Nike bag rather than the Duck Commander with a camo bow case.   Mind you, I’m not advocating for you to violate their policies and lying if they should ask, it's far easier just to avoid airlines unfriendly to hunters so you don't have to.
Jam as much as possible into Carry-On – The law of unintended consequence was in full effect when the airlines enacted expensive and restrictive policies regarding checked bags. Now my heart goes out to the flight attendants who should be wearing back braces as they hoist 50lb rolling suitcases into stuffed overhead bins. I am no exception. Since lowering weight restrictions and charging for extra bags, I cram every small, dense and heavy object into my carry on. I also carry all of my most expensive and critical gear that I can legally get through security including my HD video cameras, all batteries, binoculars, and my heavier boots.   I carry both my backpack and my rolling suitcase on board and if gate agents make a stink that my backpack is not technically a “small personal item such as a briefcase, handbag or laptop case” they will check it at the gate and I am not charged for that 3rd item.
Consider a Hybrid approach to getting to and from your destination – While I have not done this personally I know guys that have and it has worked out well for them. They check the price of a round trip ticket and compare that against a one-way fare. They will fly with their gear to the hunt but then rent an SUV for the ride home, bringing all the meat and horns back with them. Depending on the ticket price and certainly for bowhunters if there is a small difference between a one-way fare and the round trip – book the RT and drive back only if you nailed that big 300” elk you were dreaming of.  That way if you are like me and can never seem to kill an elk, you simply fly back with your gear on your original Round Trip flight.

We’ve spent a lot of time discussing ways to make things easier for you. But we have responsibilities too which can help prevent the airlines from enacting radical punitive policies and which represent hunters in a good public light: 

Be Polite, Courteous, and Respectful – This applies to everything in life and it’s how I conduct myself right up until the point when the Friday night ticket agent tells me my luggage is lost and hands me the toll free number that only works Tue-Thurs.  Attitude is everything and being an absolute jerk will get you nowhere fast. I have seen some wildly impolite behaviors including an actual fight between a ticket agent and seriously frustrated passenger in the Philly airport.  This tip is especially true if you don’t follow Tip #4 above and are wearing a camo jacket that says embroidered across the back. In everything you do, you represent hunters. Represent us well, even when you are justifiably frustrated.

Don’t check anything that smells or bleeds – Remember the saying “one bad apple” well my guess is there was an incident that got to United’s Sr. Mgt that made it easy for them to craft this ridiculous knee-jerk policy of banning antlers. Some miscreant probably checked caribou antlers in stripped velvet and the antlers went rancid and stunk up the entire baggage compartment while dripping blood all over the place.  Of course, they stick dogs in those compartments too as well as carry-on luggage and nobody ever seems to ban them even though they bark, pee and crap.  My last flight had a carry-on dog that barked for two hours and that tripped off a toddler who screamed the entire flight.   If they are going to ban things based on “one-off” – “ what if” situations then I’d vote that both dogs, and kids under 3 are shipped separately via UPS. But I digress. Be respectful to the people who don’t wish to see a blood trail leading from the baggage belt to the shuttle van.  Make sure those horns are clean and dry before you ever bring them to the airport.



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