Borrowing firearms

by Bruce Ranta | June 17, 2020
borrowing firearms can be an adventure when travelling

On a recent trip to Africa, the first full day of hunting was a washout for my buddy Brian and me. The reason? The scope on our rented, bolt-action .30-06 Savage had loosened during the morning sight-in and was way off when Brian tried to take first a gemsbok, and later, a zebra.

Fortunately, neither animal was wounded— clear misses — and we solved the problem the next morning. At home in Ontario, I don’t usually borrow or lend firearms. I learned that from my dad, who’d had horrible experiences doing so. And while his advice has stood me well, there are circumstances when it makes sense to borrow or rent, or even lend a firearm.

Leaving home without it

One reason to borrow a firearm is that you’re away from home. Travelling by air with a firearm is generally a hassle, even within Canada, involving cumbersome regulations and often substantial additional expenses. And, when I have taken a firearm on a flight, I’ve noted that most ticket handlers have little to no experience with the firearms process, which is both frustrating and time-consuming.

Because of these omnipresent stumbling blocks, I highly recommend anyone planning to take this route inquire about the airline’s firearms policies well in advance, and that you let them know you will be bringing one. Also, check in early on the day of your flight. Crossing the border into the U.S. or any other foreign country is even more problematic. Each country has its own system and as a rule, those systems aren’t user-friendly. Again, check what you’re going to be up against well in advance of a planned trip.

Not worth the headache

To avoid the unwanted attention, paperwork, and regulations that travelling with a firearm entails, I’ve taken to borrowing or renting one when I get to my destination. That said, borrowing is not without its complications either. For example, the last time I went to the U.S. turkey hunting, I made plans to borrow a firearm from my friend Randy.

That turned out to be a bit of a shemozzle.

First, it took a lot of phoning around to see if that was even legal. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources didn’t know, (not even the director). Fortunately, we eventually got the OK from someone at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

At the border, I got a thorough interrogation when I informed them that the purpose of my trip was a turkey hunt, and no, I didn’t have a firearm with me.

“What are you going to do? Beat them with a stick?” asked the customs agent.

Due diligence

The most common issues with borrowing and renting firearms involve safety, handling, and the condition of the firearm. One way to minimize these problems is to request, well in advance, that you have at least a couple of firearms to choose from. Before firing a borrowed gun, check it for signs of misuse. Don’t even take possession of a gun with a cracked stock, loose or missing parts, a safety that doesn’t work, or any other obvious fault. Check the action to ensure it’s smooth. Check the bore of the barrel for obstructions. Cycle a few rounds through it without firing.

Once you’re satisfied a firearm is safe to handle, you need to do some practice shooting. During the shoot, wear clothes you intend to hunt in. Does the gun feel comfortable? Is it too long or too heavy? Test fire it from a bench, using the same cartridges you will use on the hunt. Sight in and get a feel for the trigger pull. Assess the recoil by trying some shots while standing or kneeling. After each shot and especially at the end of shooting, check to ensure nothing has loosened, such as scope mounts.

What could go wrong?

Still, despite taking precautions, problems can arise with borrowed firearms. On the last day of my African hunt, I shot a red hartebeest that didn’t go down immediately. I went to set up for a second shot, but the action jammed and it took two of us, me and my required Professional Hunter guide, to eject the spent shell. I don’t know whether it was the result of a fouled chamber or improperly resized reloads. Fortunately, the shot had been good and the hartebeest went down.

New finds

Despite the potential negatives, there are definite positives to borrowing a firearm. It can be a chance to try out a make, model, calibre or gauge, or load that’s new to you. In Namibia, I rented a bolt-action Remington 700 in .30-06 that was fitted with a Trijicon 2.5-12.5 X 42 scope. I was unfamiliar with that scope, but I would now consider using it here in Ontario.

On my Michigan turkey hunt, Randy lent me his Thompson Center Encore with 12 gauge barrel andT/C Turkey choke. The scope was a Truglo red dot, and the ammo was ACTIV brand Penetrator nickel-plated turkey load, 2¾′′, #4 shot, 1¾ oz.

It was all new to me, but it worked well and I bagged a nice tom with a single shot at 25 metres. There are definitely pros and cons to borrowing firearms, but with some diligence, chances are the experience will be enjoyable.

Originally published in the May 2019 edition of Ontario OUT of DOORS magazine.

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