To Russia with Guns: red tape is not so red as it is painted

Coming to hunt in Russia with your own gun is not as difficult as some stories would make you believe. Obtaining temporary import permits is the responsibility of your outfitter, and for the tourist the procedure is in fact easier than in most other destinations. Let’s say, if for an American hunter to bring their rifle to Russia is like pouring a cup of coffee, for a Russian to the US it is like building a coffee machine. Some international hunters do face problems on the border, but they are all due to incompetence of individual police and customs officers. If you know where you stand, you won’t face a single problem, and BookYourHunt.com is ready to help.

How do you bring your gun to Russia (and back)

  1. You sign a contract with an outfitter, who has to be a registered business. The contract is the legal ground for temporary permit application, and you’ll need to present it to the authorities both as you enter and as you leave the country.
  2. The outfitter applies to the local police department for the temporary firearms import permit; apart from the contract, they are going to need your personal details, information on the make, model, caliber and serial number(s) of the gun(s) you plan to use, the amount of ammunition you plan to bring, and your “agreement for processing personal data”.
  3. The police office grants the temporary import permit to the outfitter. There are actually four documents: The Temporary Import Permit, the Statement to the Customs accompanying the Import Permit, the Export Permit, and another Statement to the Customs to accompany the Export Permit. All these documents must bear your name as in your passport on them.
  4. The outfitter mails you the originals of the documents. If the outfitter or their official representative can meet you in person at the border, they can send you copies and bring the originals, but in all respects it’s better if you have the originals.
  5. For transport, each of the guns you bring must be in a separate lockable case. The ammunition must also be transported in a separate lockable container, and not with the gun(s).
  6. On arrival to Russia, you declare the gun(s) to the Customs office, showing your contract, the Temporary Import Permit, and the Statement to the temporary import permit. The Customs keep the Statement, and hand you back the rest of the documents.
  7. While in Russia, the Temporary Import Permit gives you the right to transport your weapon to the place where you intend to hunt and back out of the country by yourself, no escort is mandatory.
  8. On leaving the country, declare the gun(s) at the Russian Customs, showing them the contract, the Export Permit, and the Statement to the export permit. The Customs keep the Statement, and hand you back the rest of the documents. Both Permits have detachable slips that must be returned to the outfitter by mail (or personally, if they see you to the airport or border station).

The application process, while not your responsibility, is long and not entirely fool-proof, so start working on your permit at least three or four months before the date of your hunt.

A few other important points

  • The temporary import permit is valid for the duration of the hunt, according to the dates specified by the outfitter in the application, but no longer than for six months. Make sure the validity period covers your hunt with a few weeks’ margin, in case of emergencies.
  • Only long arms, rifled or smoothbore, are legal to hunt with in Russia. No handguns or archery, sorry.
  • The Russian law allows individuals to enter the country with weapons only for the purposes of hunting, official sports competitions, or participating in exhibitions and cultural events. Taking weapons in for self-defence and property protection is not allowed (Russians can’t carry lethal firearms for protection either).
  • Mind the difference between “transport” and “carry” in Russian legislation. You “transport” your weapon cased and unloaded. Once you have your firearm uncased and loaded, it’s classified as “carry”, and is legal only on hunting grounds and designated shooting grounds.
  • Your temporary import permit doesn’t give you the right to purchase ammunition in Russia, so take an adequate supply.
  • You can bring in no more than 5 kilograms of ammunition, and you must claim the amount of ammo you’re planning to take in the application for temporary import permit. The number will be written in the permit; don’t try to smuggle in more.
  • The Russian law forbids taking a firearm to a theater performance, political rally, or any other organized mass gathering of people, so if you want to go to the Bolshoi to see the ballet, leave your rifle at the hotel.

So what can go wrong?

Here are three main problems that international hunters experienced while entering Russia with guns:

  • Temporary Import Permit filled in according to the old pattern, with the outfitter’s representative’s name entered in the slot for “under responsibility of” and the hunter’s name in brackets following the details of the weapon. The Customs officer may request the presence of the person whose name is in the “under responsibility of” slot. This request is unlawful, and the permit is still valid no matter how it is filled in.
  • Customs officer mistakenly processing the Export Permit and keeping the Export Statement on entry to the country, leaving the hunter without any legal ground to leave Russia with the gun later. This will be sorted out eventually, but the delay may be enough to miss your flight.
  • When the hunter is accompanied by an interpreter, the Customs officer may misidentify this person as the “responsible representative”, and claim a mistake in the documents because the persons’ names and details don’t match.

Import-Export permit2To understand why this happens, we must go a bit into history. Russia inherited the relevant regulations from the USSR. The people who drew the rules had probably seen Americans only on smuggled VHS tapes with Hollywood flicks, and imagined a hunter from a Capitalist country as a Rambo who would suddenly pull out a .50-caliber machinegun, mow down every Communist in the neighborhood, and let the NATO forces in. Whatever the reason, the foreigners were not allowed to touch their rifles on their way to the hunting grounds. The temporary import permit was written in the name of a designated representative of the outfitters (in the USSR, it was probably a KGB officer undercover) who was responsible for the hunter’s guns and ammo at all times. The “responsible representative” would meet the hunter at the border, get the firearm(s) from the Customs, and carry them to the hunting grounds. Then, after the hunt was over, the same representative would escort the hunter back to the border, hand in the gun(s) to the Customs, and wash their hands out of the matter.

In theory, the escort scheme is still possible, and sort of convenient, as the client doesn’t have to handle any red tape whatsoever. Article 16 of the “Regulations for firearms circulation” gives international hunters a right to hand over their guns to the responsible representative of the outfitter for safety of storage and transportation. However, escort adds greatly to the final cost of the hunting trip, and many people, honestly, would rather do without it. So, everyone was happy when in 2012 the old regulations were finally abandoned.

The problem is that the police still have to use old permit blanks and protocol. The application must state what person is responsible for the client’s firearms and ammunition, and the permit has “under responsibility of” as the name in which it is issued. The outfitter should explicitly request the name of the client to be entered into this area. However, sometimes the officers fail to do that, and fill in the document according to the old standard, with the outfitter’s representative’s name in the “under personal responsibility of” graph and the hunter’s name in the brackets after the details of the firearm. As already mentioned, this doesn’t make the document invalid, but may confuse another officer.

What do you do when a problem arises?

  • Know your rights within the law (check out with your outfitters for any recent updates).
  • Make sure the Customs officer processes and collects the correct document. They are easily confused, because they are written on identical blanks, in Cyrillics, and differ only in a few words. The best way to track them is by the unique identification numbers on the blanks. Record which document bears which number, and use these to track your paperwork.
  • Insist to get a person that speaks your language to help you with communication. Call your outfitter for help, or contact BookYourHunt.com. Our team have handled dozens of similar situations worldwide and will resolve most issues quickly and efficiently (of course, it only works if you booked your hunt with BookYourHunt.com).

And to get you sufficiently armed to handle this situation yourself, BookYourHunt.com is working on an information booklet, with all relevant laws, rules, and regulations explained in English, and supplemented with extracts from the original Russian documents paired with English translations. Stay tuned!

IMPORTANT: The temporary firearms import permit is absolutely not related to your visa. The procedure is the same for holders of visa, non-holders of visa, citizens of nations with which Russia has a no-visa entry agreement, and holders of permanent residence permits. Even if you’re issued the temporary import permit for your gun(s), it is still your responsibility to make sure you have a legal right to enter Russia, and if necessary procure the right visas – lest you share the fate of these Hungarian hunters.

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