A Hunter's Guide to Crossing the Canada-US Border
There was a time when hunters didn't have to think twice about transporting game and firearms across the Canada/US border. Unfortunately, those days are gone forever.
Now, more onerous firearms laws, fear of spreading game-borne diseases, and post 9-11 security concerns have made crossing the border with firearms, trophies, or game meat far more complex. Here's a quick run down of what a traveling hunter needs to know.
Prepare in Advance
With so many regulations to be aware of, the best thing a traveling hunter can do is to gain knowledge of border crossing issues well in advance. This means researching the firearms and game transport requirements so that all options and obligations are fully understood. For information regarding Canadian firearms laws, visit the Canadian Firearms Centre (CFC) website at www.cfc-cafc.gc.ca. Similarly, US firearms requirements are detailed by the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms' (BATF) at www.atf.gov. These two agencies have the final word on firearms laws in their respective countries.
Whether you're an American planning to cross the border with firearms into Canada or a Canadian planning to cross into the US, it's prudent to start the process at least three months prior to your trip. In most cases, this provides adequate time to determine the best course of action, as well as complete, and send out the required forms. It will also give you time to speak to people in the agency should any exceptional circumstances or questions arise. Access to a fax machine and computer and printer help expedite the process.
Three months seems like a lot of lead time but remember both agencies are bureaucracies that, though generally efficient, have been known to lose forms or accumulate backlogs. Also, in some instances, police references, courses, or passport-style photos are required, all of which take additional time. When transporting firearms into the US for the purpose of hunting, a photocopy of a hunting license from the state you are visiting is also required.
Lastly, be aware that previous criminal records, including driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, will complicate the issue. In Canada, for instance, visitors with criminal records applying for firearms permits have to deal with the Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration in addition to the CFC. Again, this adds to the preparation time required.
Bringing Firearms to Canada
Even though Canada's current government has loosened firearms laws, these regulations are still notably tighter than those that Americans are used to. To begin with, Canada's Firearms Act classifies firearms into one of three categories: non-restricted, restricted, and prohibited.
Ordinary shotguns and rifles typically used by hunters generally fall into the non-restricted category. Keep in mind that, in Canada, centre fire semi-automatic long guns can not have magazines that hold more than five cartridges. Additionally, hunting regulations restrict pump or semi-auto shotgun magazine capacities to no more three shells when plugged, just as in the US.
Restricted weapons and prohibited weapons can not be used for hunting in Canada. The former can only be used for target shooting on approved ranges; the latter, as the name implies, cannot be brought into the country at all. A complete definition of these categories and further explanation of Canada's gun laws can be found on the CFC website.
You must be 18 years or older to bring firearms into Canada. Youth from 12 to 18 years of age can acquire a minor's license, which permits them to borrow a non-restricted weapon for the purposes of hunting, target shooting, shooting competitions, and the instruction in the use of firearms. In most provinces, this license also entitles youth to purchase ammunition. With few exceptions, the youth must pass a Canadian Firearms Safety Course before receiving this license. We'll speak more of the course later.
Unlicensed minors can still use firearms of any class as long as they are under the direct and immediate supervision of someone who is licensed to possess that class of firearm.
Non-residents bringing in guns have two options. First, they can declare their firearms at the border crossing by filling out a Non-resident Firearm Declaration Form (CAFC909) form in triplicate. This is, by far, the easiest route.
This form will accommodate three firearms; if you need to declare more, additional firearms can be covered with a Non-resident Firearm Declaration Continuation Sheet (CAFC910). Both forms should be filled out prior to the crossing but should not be signed as a Customs Officer must witness your signature.
Once Customs has confirmed this declaration, the firearms being transported are registered and the person registering them is licenced in Canada for 60 days. This process costs $25 (Canadian) and renewal is free by contacting the Chief Firearms Officer of the province or Territory you are in or by calling 1-800-731-4000.
Non-residents can also opt to take the Canadian Firearms Safety Course, or, if they choose, forego the course and challenge the accompanying test. If they pass the test, they are eligible to apply for a 5-year Possession and Acquisition License (PAL) which costs $60 Canadian for a non-restricted type. A PAL is a valid firearms license and the owner of one can register the firearms they will be bringing to Canada on-line for free. After that, each time they enter Canada they then declare their firearms at the border, and show their PAL and the registration cards for each individual firearm being transported. Firearms and ammunition can also be purchased in Canada with a PAL.
Note that the cost of the Canadian Firearms Safety Course or of challenging the test are outside of the price of the PAL. And, unfortunately, having passed an equivalent course in the US is no substitute.
More information on the Canadian Firearms Safety Course or challenging the test can be found on the previously mentioned CFC website.
It should also be noted that Canada has strict laws regarding safe gun storage, which might prompt visiting Americans to buy things like trigger locks if they did not already own them. Furthermore, firearms must be unloaded and properly cased during transport in Canada. If left unattended in a vehicle, the vehicle must be locked and the firearms must be out of sight or in the trunk.
Airlines, of course, have their own detailed requirements.
Bringing Firearms into the US
Canadian visitors entering the US for hunting or sporting purposes must fill out a BATF Form 6 (The Application for Temporary Importation of Firearms and Ammunition by Non-immigrant Aliens) in advance of their arrival. This can be obtained at www.atf.gov or by calling 304-616-4550. Additionally, you'll need to produce a hunting license for the state or states in which you intend to hunt. To expedite service, fax the application to 304-616-4554. A 6 to 8 week delay is normal.
Some restrictions are outlined on the form. Mostly, they apply to barrel length, overall firearm length, and magazine capacity. The permit is good for one year from the date of approval.
In the US, firearms can be rented or borrowed for temporary use for lawful sporting pursposes. You can also borrow non-restricted firearms in Canada if you possess a PAL or have a Non-resident Temporary Borrowing Licence for Non-restricted Firearms (Form CAFC715).
The cost of the Non-resident Temporary Borrowing Licence for Non-restricted Firearms (Form CAFC715) is $30 (Canadian.) Among other things, it allows the holder to borrow a non-restricted firearm while hunting under the supervision of an outfitter or a Canadian resident who has a valid firearms and hunting licence. It remains in effect for 60 days.
The Meat of the Matter
Canadian sportsmen can bring game carcasses back in to Canada providing it is accompanied by the state licence under which the animal was taken. They can also bring processed game back as long as the licence under which it was taken is available and the game is recognizable as such to customs. For migratory birds, this means leaving one fully feathered wing attached; turkeys should have a game seal attached to a leg; packaged big game should be properly labeled with accompanying licence. Antlers, bones, hide and horns can be brought back as trophies on either side of the border as long as they are free of undried pieces of hide, flesh, and sinew. For further information or clarification call Canadian Border Services at 1-800-461-9999 or from the US 204-983-3500 or 506-636-5064.
American sportsmen are free to bring wild game back into the US too, provided it is accompanied by the appropriate licenses. The carcass, however, must be eviscerated and have the head removed.
Game birds and waterfowl being imported to the US as trophies must be processed at a taxidermy shop approved by the US Department of Agriculture's Vetrinary Services. A list of approved taxidermy facilities or further clarification on importing game meat and trophies into the US can be obtained by calling the USDA Animal and Plant Inspection Services National Export and Import Center at 301-734-3277.
Both American and Canadian hunters should also be aware that certain animals such as black, grizzly, and polar bears require CITES permits, which are free, in order for any part of them to be transported across the border and, depending on the province or state export permits must also be purchased for certain animals. Thus it is important to check with the DNR in the province or state you are hunting in to ascertain costs and requirements.
While I have attempted to highlight the major issues, this article is by no means comprehensive. The laws governing these issues are difficult to summarize in so brief a space.
Therefore, I strongly recommend spending time at the appropriate website to familiarize yourself with the regulations regarding firearms in the country you are visiting and game importation in the country you are returning to. I'd also contact the appropriate Department of Natural Resources to find out if further regulations apply. Also, if you are making use of an outfitter, ask them for advice - reputable ones are up on border crossing requirements and laws on the lawful transport of game.
Finally, remember that these laws are subject to change, especially when it comes to the importation of meat or trophies. Don't just assume last year's rules apply. Get informed, be prepared, and your border crossing experience will be a lot more pleasant.
Steve Galea is a full-time outdoors writer who lives in central Ontario, Canada. He divides his time afield between hunting big game, chasing ducks, geese, and upland game, and fly fishing the lakes and rivers around his home. An award-winning columnist, his work is featured in several community newsapers as well as leading outdoors magazines.