Flying with Inert Ammunition

Recently I flew from Atlanta to Dusseldorf Germany for the ECRA 2011 meeting. In one bag I had slightly less than 5kg of loaded ammunition and a cardboard box (about 7"x7"x7") of dummy ammunition (brass cases with plastic bullets in various calibers and shapes-no primer and no powder-just plastic and brass), as well as a similar size box with among other things about 250 30-06 projectiles (no case, primer or powder).

When I opened my bag for German Customs at Dusseldorf to declare the loaded ammunition, I noticed that both boxes had been opened by TSA. All the 30-06 bullets had been removed as well as the dummies described above, about $400 in material.

The TSA Baggage Manager at Atlanta had the items removed from my bag because they thought they might have been prohibited items and they were not packed in cartridge boxes. The TSA management now admits that is a mistake and they are trying to figure out what they did with my items.After almost 2 weeks of telephone calls with TSA, and they required a lot of pushing to take my calls seriously, I have learned a few things that I could have done to prevent this (perhaps).

  1. I should have clearly labeled both boxes as containing only inert dummy cartridges or inert projectiles that are legal to fly on commercial aircraft in checked baggage and since the items are inert they do not have to be packed in cartridge boxes.

  2. When I checked my bag I should have insisted that it be checked at the TSA point set up for oversize bags and other special bags-specifically those set up for bags containing guns. I tried to do this and was told by the TSA person at the oversize bag point that they only did guns and did not do ammunition. TSA managers have told me this is wrong and they should have done it. If they refuse, insist that they call TSA baggage management.

  3. I should have indicated with a large notice in the bag that I wanted to be present when the bag is screened (particularly if I was changing planes because TSA also screens bags when luggage is transferred between flights). This notice should have had my cell phone number and a specific request that I be called when the screening occurs and particularly if there is any question of the content.

  4. If I had wanted to be particularly safe, I would have packed the dummies in plastic cartridge boxes with partitions.

The TSA baggage people have zero training on anything to do with ammunition and have no idea what they are looking at, yet are charged with ensuring the requirements to keep tracers, flares and similar ammunition off commercial flights as well as making sure the live ammunition is properly packed. They are told that if they have any questions they are to pull the items. They have also been told that because of workload (apparently they pull quite a few restricted items) they are not required to notify the passenger.

The other thing I learned from this event that the little TSA notification of inspection has a number on it that identifies the individual who inspected that bag, so save it to make sure you can follow up on any issue that occures.

I will say this, when I finally got TSAs attention (they didn’t return my initial phone calls for 6 days) they worked it hard. Some senior supervisors are involved and their customer services lady called me at 9:30PM last night to tell me that they had tracked down the individuals who had made the decision to remove the items and were hoping to locate the items for me. I know this lady had been at work yesterday at 9:15AM because I spoke with her then.

Live and learn!


Thank you very much for sharing your experience and the valuable lessons we all can benefit from.


Unfortunately they were probably dumped in the trash along with all other non-hazardous prohibited or banned items. As big and busy as Atlanta’s airport is they are very quick to make hasty decisions. The last time I went through that airport on a connecting flight a fellow passenger was denied her flight over a water bottle she bought at the terminal. She was seen putting it in her carry on. Even though its a pain it’s better to ship it UPS,Fed Ex or DHL and declared for what it is. I might get held in customs but at least you would get it back.

Strange things happen at airports. I thought any drinks bought once you cleared baggage screening and go into the departure lounge was OK to carry onto the plane. Many airports have duty free shops in the departure lounge. I commented on this to my wife on our last trip. If you buy a bottle of Whisky in duty free you have to take it on as hand luggage there is no other way. They hold you up for ages while they search your bag for nailfiles and then sell you a heavy glass bottle of potentially inflamable liquid.

m91dragoon, I agree with you that it is better to ship live ammunition by UPS, DHL, etc, but I have not been able to find a way to ship ammunition between Europe and the US in less than pallet load quantities in the past 20 years. The only way I know to move cartridges across the Atlantic is in checked baggage. Do you know a way to ship live ammo to Europe?

I have never had a problem moving live ammo across and have been doing it once or twice a year for over 30 years with no problems. The live ammo on this trip came over without a problem. In all those years I have also carried dummy cartridges and loose projectiles in both directions without a problem. This trip was strange because the problem was with the inert items.



Give me a day. There is an exporter/importer of small arms and ammo. He is in Georgia or close by. I talked to a friend of mine who travels often for shooting events and has multiple problems at airports but never the same one twice. Any thing from employees with no training and not knowing what to do or the opposite employees who won’t allow any thing even if its legal. He carries rifles, pistols, tools loaded ammo, all components and equipment for reloading. He suggests to mark all bags in large print to indicate whats in it. Some Airports have special rules for getting on board (inspection and taped or tagged.) So it helps to call ahead for special instructions. That avenue may be frustrating and you may not get the correct answers. When I got My son from Fort Bragg when he ended his tour of duty it took 3/4 of a day and if we were to fly the restrictions and the paper work that would have to be filled out was never ending and could only take certain flights and anything that could be considered a “tool of war” had to be shipped ground. Yep, rented a car trailer, loading all his things in my truck and drove back to Ohio.

M91Dragoon - you mention that your friend travels with reloading components. I have not examined the law, but I do know from shipping laws that primers and powder not loaded into cartridges are treated quick differently - much greater restrictions - than loaded “Safety Cartridges, Small Arms Ammunition” is. I can’t imagine that any passenger airline would carry a can of gunpowder in any quantity in checked luggage or any other way, and I suspect primers would be frowned on as well.

If I am wrong, perhaps someone can quote the actual TPA/FAA/IATA rulings on the subject.

All is well that ends well…I suppose!

I just received from the Delta Airlines HazMat manager all the dummy ammunitions and seperate bullets that were seized 2 1/2 weeks ago by TSA. After long discussions, TSA seized them because they didn’t know the cartridges were inert (the cases like primers and about half were just seperate 30-06 bullets). Apparently a screener questioned them because they were not properly packed (they were in ziplock bags) and he didn’t realize that they were inert, and asked his manager who told him if they were not properly packed to just pull them. That is what they did, including to the seperate bullets.

If I had added a note with these indicating they were inert and explaining how the inspector could tell, and including my cell phone number the problem would have probably been avoided. If I had called the baggage manager and insisted that the screening be done in oversize baggage where I was right there the problem would have been avoided, but if they have a question, their orders are to pull the material.

TSA screens baggage when it is transferred between flights so if you are passing through the US from another country make sure at your first stop you contact your airline representative and ask to speak to a TSA baggage manager and explain what you are carrying and why so the screeners will not be surprised by ammunition that may look like tracers, or that is not properly packed in ammo boxes.

If things are seized, contact TSA and the airline HazMat manager at the airport where it happened and you should be able to recover the items. If there is a TSA inspection tag in the baggage from which items were seized, keep track of it. There is a number on it (I’m told) that identifies the screener.

If you get any stick, call your Congressman ASAP. Most, probably all, have a staffer who deals with the TSA and they can call and get peoples attention in TSA.

Hope this helps.



Nice way to get a solution rather than running around blaming people who are given a job without any instructions! Thank You this post was very helpful! Vic

Yes but it is a hill that is getting harder to climb each time, i suspect. Eventually it will wear everyone down and that is the end result. Will Lew bother next time? I have never met him but my instinct is he will but it will just get harder until in the end nobody will even try. At that point its a victory won by default. I call this regulation by stealth. Nothing in writing just systematic difficulty


Thanks for the time you have taken to detail the events, pitfalls and your probable solutions/fixes.

Speaking of inert…and “issues”. I was transporting (inter-state USA) a 100% inert full sized plastic model of the 25 mm OSCW squad weapon (for my planned SLICS display) in its original trade show cases and encounter an overzealous (surprised) inspector who got a “little crazed” over a fully labeled, all plastic (very real looking) model (destined for the luggage compartment of our teams charter flight).

It’s a long story and was simply being transported via our team bus directly to the tarmac/loading belt at plane side…but “she” got excited doing a spot check on our buses while parked at the stadium (before departing for the airport).

On occasion, we will clear TSA at the stadium and be escorted directly on to the tarmac…and yes…professionals sports teams are still subject to all of the TSA inspections, etc…

The salvation of it making the flight (and not having the loaned item confiscated) was the fact that I had it labeled as clearly belonging to me, with phone numbers, addresses and every one of our security staff (and charter flight rep) was aware of it (and had seen it).

My tack? label…label…label and make it clear who is responsible for it. (this particular experience was the fall of 2007 and Lord knows regulations and approaches change quickly and alot since then)

I have taken to adding photos (inside of cases/boxes) of something that might be bubble wrapped so there is no surprises when it is scanned…opened…or otherwise.

I know there is no reason to think someone might be reasonable…but I want to kill em with information, admission and identification (cause last I checked…bad guys aren’t generally so forthright)

Thanks for sharing

Wow! Excellent information! Thank you.



You are right on. Regardless of the circumstances, effective communication means you really have to think the subject through from the other person’s viewpoint.

People who read this Fourm have little problem understanding that an empty primer pocket where no powder drops out means “Dummy”. The fact of the matter is that even the Delta HazMat manager in Atlanta didn’t know this simple fact. We all spend too much time talking to each other to really appreciate how very little the vast majority of our fellow citizens, regardless of what country we live in, know much of anything about ammunition. About a decade ago I watched three young men buy a pistol at a table at a gun show, and then walk down to an ammo table, and pick up a box of 308 cartridges and say, “Wow! will it shoot these???”

When dealing with regulators of any kind on any subject, we all have to bend over backwards to communicate because, they have no idea how much they don’t know.

Cheers and good luck,