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WILTZ: Planning to leave the country with a gun?

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At breakfast in the church basement this morning, I ran into Doug Kniffen. He and nine Wagner area fishing buddies had recently returned from an April trip to Lake Erie. The weather was perfect, and they brought back 214 walleyes that averaged 8 lbs. apiece. Action was hot and most of their activity was catch and release. Imagine playing catch and release with 10-pound walleyes.

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I asked Doug if this kind of action could eventually hurt the Erie walleyes. He asked the locals the same question, and they said the walleye action had been going on for 25 years, and it just kept getting better. This Erie angling continues through the summer.

When I write this column, I must keep in mind that my following goes well beyond hunters and fishermen. Though I'd like to appeal to everyone, I find it necessary at times to be specific about hunting or fishing related topics. The following falls into this category.

I recently discovered there is some misinformation out there about taking guns on a commercial airline flight. I've done this a number of times without incident, and I presumed that taking two guns to Africa this coming summer would be no different. There has always been a bit of "red tape" in the past, but in view of today's international problems, I don't see it as being unreasonable. In the United States, the guns and airlines issue comes under the supervision of the Transportation Security Administration.

Two different merchants that I won't name, have recently told us that for our coming Africa hunt, we will need TSA approved locks on our gun cases. TSA approved key padlocks can supposedly be opened with master keys possessed by airline staff. Airline staff keys will also supposedly open TSA approved combination locks. We do know that there are such things as TSA approved locks. Were the merchants correct about the locks being required?

My first course of action brought me to the Internet where I googled "TSA." According to the Internet information, TSA approved locks are not necessary. It also appears that nothing had changed since Doug Koupal and I hunted Argentina a few years ago.

In general, the rules included having the unloaded guns in a hard, durable case that was locked. The case can also contain ammunition, and a bag or suitcase can contain ammunition, but both have to be checked. Guns and gun-related bags are checked early, and the owners of such luggage have to be in the immediate area so bags or cases can be opened for inspection. Once the guns and related ammo leave the country, they are subject to the laws of the country receiving them.

So far so good, but I wasn't going to trust the Internet to a point where misinformation could jeopardize my African hunt. Since three of us will be flying Delta Airlines out of Omaha on the first leg of our trip, I called Delta Airlines in Omaha. Guess what? I talked to a real, live person, and Delta assured me that we didn't need TSA approved locks. So there you have it.

There's a second bit of protocol that one who is taking guns, cameras, fishing tackle, archery equipment or optics, such as binoculars, out of the country and eventually back into the country has to deal with. I'm talking about U.S. Customs. When one re-enters the United States, he or she must go through U.S. Customs. Customs could ask a person who is re-entering the U.S. to prove that the rifle or something else they are carrying wasn't purchased in a foreign country. They would like to slap on an import tax.

This hassle can be avoided by carrying a certificate or registration for personal effects taken abroad. This certificate should be obtained ahead of time. Our closest U.S. Customs office is located north of the Foss Field terminal in Sioux Falls. The certificate is free, and the staff is friendly. Sometime between now and our Africa departure date, I will haul my rifle, shotgun and camera to the Sioux Falls Customs office where they will record my property onto a corfpeta form.

What happens when we reach our final African destination with our guns? Our gun forms for South Africa and Namibia will already be filled out and ready for inspection by local authorities. I have never been hassled by African authorities about guns. African countries know that hunting is their bread and butter, and I don't look for them to mess with it. Our African outfitter, as well as our travel agents, will make certain that we have the proper forms.

Have I missed anything? The last time our group went to Africa, we went by way of Frankfurt, Germany. At the recent Safari Club International Convention in Las Vegas, every African outfitter I talked with told me to avoid flight connections in Europe, and especially London. This relates to firearms hassle. Doug, Jim and I will be flying Omaha to New York JFK, JFK to Johannesburg, South Africa, and Johannesburg to Windhoek, Namibia. The New York City to Johannesburg flight will be as long as a non-stop flight can get -- I'm guessing 18-19 hours. It really gets to me, especially when I can't move about.

Since 911, I, like most people, have become conscious of airline security. Has anything I've been a part of ever bothered me? Doug and I once spent the night in the Minneapolis airport waiting on an early morning flight. We had our rifles and ammo with us, and our airline wouldn't check our luggage, guns included, until flight time approached. By 2 a.m., that terminal was as quiet as a Dead Sea cave while Doug and I sat there with our rifles in semi-darkness. What limited security there was paid zero attention to us. What if we had been terrorists?

The SD elk license application deadline is May 23. See you next week.

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