It used to be easy for hunters to transport game and firearms across the Canada/US border. Unfortunately, those days are gone forever. 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
Research the firearms and game transport requirements. For information regarding Canadian firearms laws, visit the Canadian Firearms Center (CFC) website. Similarly, US firearms requirements are detailed by the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms’ (BATF) website.
Start the process at least three months prior to your trip. 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.
Be aware that previous criminal records, including driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. In Canada, visitors with criminal records applying for firearms permits have to deal with the Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration in addition to the CFC.
Bringing Firearms to Canada
Canada’s current government has loosened firearms laws, but these regulations are still much tighter than those of the United States. 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 (center fire semi-automatic long guns can not have magazines that hold more than five cartridges). Hunting regulations also restrict 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.
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 can declare their firearms at the border crossing by filling out a 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. 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 licensed 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, forgo 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.
Canada has strict laws regarding safe gun storage. Visiting Americans should purchase trigger locks if they did not already own them. 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.
Borrowing Firearms in Canada
Hunters can borrow non-restricted firearms in Canada if you possess a PAL or have a Non-resident Temporary Borrowing License for Non-restricted Firearms (Form CAFC715) which costs $30 (Canadian). This license 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 license. It remains in effect for 60 days.
Transporting Game Trophies and/or Meat
American sportsmen are free to bring wild game back into the US, as long as it is accompanied by the appropriate licenses. The carcass 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.
Certain game 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. It is important to check with the DNR in the province you are hunting in to ascertain costs and requirements.