Saturday, April 25, 2015

Shipping 101

Over the years I have witnessed a number of unfortunate shipping disasters. Not to long ago I picked up what had once been a much better than average Pre-64, 375 H&H Super Grade from my Post Office. The case used to ship the rifle may have cost $30.00 at a big box store. The thin cardboard sleeve covering the case offered nothing in the way of added protection. When I signed for the package with my Post Master a casual look over the exterior of the box showed no visual signs of trauma. Every time I receive one of these cases containing a high grade rifle I feel as if I have just run into a mine-field. When I opened the case back at the shop my heart sank. A crime had been committed, the wrong case had once again been used for shipping! The phone call to the owner started out something like this " time of death for your Super Grade was 9:46 am ".

The owner, a great client and friend, had removed the bolt from this rifle, wrapped it in one layer of bubble wrap and placed the bolt body under the barrel ahead of the fore-end tip then closed and taped the latches shut. He slipped the plastic case into a cardboard sleeve and dropped the rifle off with his postmaster on his way to his son Lacrosse practice. The trip across the country must have been pretty rough. During that trip the bolt body had migrated out of the bubble wrap then back and forth from the trigger guard bow to the muzzle. The dents and dings in the barrel and fore-end while repairable required significant cost for these repairs. The Redfield receiver sight which had been in excellent condition before the trip now was bent beyond any chance of repair. The rifle itself was now positioned in one corner of the case and in contact with the hinge side of the case and not located anywhere the center of the case. Further proof the that the rifle was migrating on a quest of its own inside the case during it's travels west. To add insult to injury the package was not insured.

Over the years I have used and have received a serious selection of gun cases. Aluminum, molded plastic, fiberglass, regular cardboard boxes with and without foam centers, triangles, cardboard tubes you name it, I've seen it. As with many things in life generally the more money you spend on a case the greater the degree of protection you can expect. The heavier the case, the more you'll pay for shipping cost but the money spent for this protection is well worth the investment on the front end. I have used a variety of Aluminum cases over the years, some designs are excellent and can withstand a lot of abuse while keeping the contents secure. However I have had rifles shift in transit encased in aluminum and had both the recoil pad or muzzle damaged created on sharp inside edges of the case left over from the manufacture process. Once again not all cases are created equally despite the cost outlay.

I have sadly received more big box cases than any other model design. These molded plastic case are cheap and can be found almost anywhere. They typically come with an egg carton foam liner that is 1" thick per side but with the egg shell pattern the bottom of the cavities only offer on average a 1/2" of thickness. When these Big Box cases are purchased a cardboard sleeve is usually not included in the sale. I consider the best use of these type of cases is for going to your rifle range and traveling to a hunting area in or out of state in your personal vehicle. While this style case is used for shipping firearms across the country everyday by all the major carriers you are taking on a significant risk in using this type of case for interstate transportation. I would NEVER fly with one of these cases to any hunting destination.

If you insist on using one of these thin cheaply molded plastic cases to ship a rifle or shotgun it is best to roll up and tape linear sections of bubble wrap and lay these along the sides the firearm to help prevent the firearm from migrating in the case during transport. Wrap the bolt body in bubble wrap and surround the bolt body with these linear pads to prevent the bolt from coming in contact with the rifle.

Failure to do so is just asking for disaster.  Do what ever it takes to find a cardboard sleeve that allows for a minimum of  2" of padding on either side of the Big Box case as well as on either end. If you have less than 2" of additional padding around the Big Box case GOOD LUCK in claiming any insurance from the carrier. Typically your cardboard sleeve will need to be 54" to 56" in length. Then fill the cavity between the gun case and the sleeve with packing peanuts, really fill it, pack it, cram it and jam it so the plastic case can not shift, move and rattle during transit. I have used this method many times in the past to ship Legends, never a Classic. As of Jan 2015 I will never ship another Legend even re-enforced in a Big Box case and cardboard sleeve as the stakes have just gotten to high.

I mentioned aluminum cases, most of these cases protect a firearm very well. They are a quantum leap forward in protecting your firearm while shipping firearms across the state or country and certainly for air travel. Full length hinges are a good thing with these aluminum cases, look for them. Locking bars are another options as are retracting or flush mounted latches. Before you buy, open the case and feel under the edges of the foam inserts, are the edges under the foam sharp and ragged ? If the cases is tossed by baggage handlers and the firearm slips under the foam and up against any sharp edges you might have problems, I have seen this happen more than once. Unless your traveling to a hunting destination using a cardboard sleeve slid over the aluminum case is also a good idea. I'd rather have a potential thief have to ponder whats is in the sleeve than knowing he has a firearm right off by all the travel stickers and pro-gun propaganda logos plastered on the sides of an un-sleeved case. The cardboard sleeve will only apply for carrier shipping. Air travel of course requires easy visual access to the firearms for TSA and custom agents.

Bar none the best cases I have used to date have been the Pelican 1750 and the Storm-Case im3300. I prefer to ship every Classic or Legends that leaves the shop today in one of these cases. These two cases come with three separate solid layers of foam.
If this style case is to be devoted to a particular rifle then the center section sleeve of foam can be cut to fit that rifle and scope further preventing the rifle to migrate in the case during the transit. The cut outs can be done so the bolt is removed from the rifle or installed in the rifle, cavities can be cut for small tool containers as well. Done properly the protection allowed in this type of case to the firearm is excellent. You can also invest in additional middle foam sleeves cut for different rifles to extend the use of this style case. One case and two extra sleeves can cover a lot of hunting around the world.

The Storm and Pelican cases are not expensive when compared to the protection they provide. I buy the 1750 Pelican case locally from a dealer that knows I will not pay for the case unless the cardboard sleeve comes intact with the new case. When I ship a rifle back to the client I advise them to save and store the sleeve in case the rifle ever needs to be returned for cleaning or maintenance.

Choice of carrier depends a lot on your location. I continue to use UPS, FED-EX and to a minor degree the US Postal System for all my shipments. Knock on wood, I have very, very few shipping issues over the last 30 plus years when I have shipped a firearm from this shop. However as stated in the beginning of this text incoming parcels have not always arrived in good nick. I can say that anytime I have had a problem the support to resolve the issue by both UPS as well as FED-EX has been very professional. With the exception of my local Postmasters dealing with USPS can be interesting to say the least.

You can get two scoped bolt action Sporters into one 1750 or im3300 but you will most definitely have to cut a cavity into the center foam section when flying to any destination. Even with weight restrictions today concerning air travel you are still only touching about 31 to 32 pounds with a single scoped rifle and approximately 10 more pounds with two scoped rifles in one of these cases.

If the unfortunate does happen and a firearm is damaged while in transit the "step and fetch" procedure to rectify the matter is not for the faint hearted or those with a limited amount of patience. The claim must be handled by the original shipper and not the recipient. Documentation of the shipment and any insurance coverage must be produced, pictures of the damage along with inspection by an agent representing the carrier will need to be carried out. The rotation of the earth will seem to stop as the wheels of compensation are considered by the insurance and shipping carrier. It is a slow painful death that can be avoided with the right case and some up-front expense.

The next time you get set to ship a firearm for any reason, sale, repair or for a hunt you might want to give some serious thought to the "what ifs" before you reach for that old $30 Big Box special with the broken hinge and the Scotch Tape.

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