Airport evacuated! Was it my gun case?

I’ve suffered plenty of travel trocities. One of my all-time favorite stories involved a hunting trip to North Dakota. For several years, I’d borrowed my friend Harry Vanderweide’s gun case for this annual pheasant hunting trip, with no problem. Until 2013.

At the Portland Jetport, after I’d checked in and they’d taken my bag and gun case, I got called to the back room by security. They’d determined that Harry’s gun case, which was locked, could be pried open from the side, and said I would not be able to travel with it. Fortunately, one of my traveling buddies was right there with me and we were able to transfer my shotgun to his case. Because my gun case was already checked in and paid for, and was now empty, and I really didn’t have time to take it back out to the car, they allowed it to continue on to North Dakota. I really felt I had to return it to Harry, so I didn’t want it just tossed out.

Having traveled with that case for years, I figured I would be able to use it on the return trip. I’ve found that standards in the western hunting states are a bit less stringent when it comes to hunting gear. So I arrived at the Bismarck airport for our return trip with my shotgun again in Harry’s case. And again, it was accepted at check-in. We proceeded upstairs to the airport waiting area, going through security to get there, and I hauled out my computer to do some writing.

But I hadn’t been there long when I got called back downstairs, and there was the gun case, which the kind lady at the check-in booth explained had not passed security. I got my hunting buddy, again, to put my shotgun in his case, but then I had to do something with Harry’s case. By now, I’d decided I was not going to be able to return it to Harry. So I carried it over to a trash bin inside the terminal, and dropped it in there. It filled the bin and stuck quite a ways out in the air.

Back upstairs I went, and was anticipating boarding our flight about an hour later when all hell broke loose: flashing lights, shouted announcements telling everyone to quickly evacuate the building. Airport staff was sprinting here and there, when I saw the lady who’d returned my gun case running by me. I had panicked, thinking perhaps my gun case had set off the alarm!

I shouted to her, “This isn’t about my gun case, is it?” And was relieved when she said no. So we all proceeded to leave the building, and after about a half hour in the parking lot, we were allowed back in. However, the Bismarck airport has only one security gate, so it took a very long time to get everyone back into the building. Fortunately, our plane had waited for us and we had plenty of time between connecting flights at our second stop, so the rest of the trip went smoothly.

I had taken a photo of the gun case, sticking out of the trash bin, and had emailed it to Harry, with a note telling him to say goodbye to the case. And when I got home, I bought a case of my own.

George Smith

About George Smith

George stepped down at the end of 2010 after 18 years as the executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine to write full time. He writes a weekly editorial page column in the Kennebec Journal and Waterville Morning Sentinel, a weekly travel column in those same newspapers (with his wife Linda), monthly columns in The Maine Sportsman magazine, two outdoor news blogs (one on his website,, and one on the website of the Bangor Daily News), and special columns for many publications and newsletters. Islandport Press published a book of George's favorite columns, "A Life Lived Outdoors" in 2014. In 2014, George also won a Maine Press Association award for writing the state's bet sports blog. In 2016, Down East Books published George's book, Maine Sporting Camps, and Islandport Press published George and his wife Linda's travel book, Take It From ME, about their favorite Maine inns and restaurants.