By Phil Bourjaily

Waterfowl guns need protection from bumps and bangs; from mud, ice, snow, and water; from baggage handlers; and from thieves. Soft cases, hard cases, and safes will help keep your gun secure and undamaged so you can rely on it in the blind and, in some cases, stay on the right side of the law.

Soft Cases

Although modern waterfowl guns are tough, it's still a good idea to put one in a soft case for transport to the field, and some state laws require it. A simple unlined sleeve is compact, protects from minor dings, and will keep the mud off your gun during an ATV ride, but it doesn't offer a level of protection that you might want for that walnut and blued-steel heirloom.

Floating gun cases have become nearly universal among duck hunters for good reason. They give you peace of mind on boat rides, and their flotation material provides excellent padding. The drawback to floating cases is simple-anything that keeps water out also keeps moisture in. Closed up in a watertight case, a wet gun can turn rusty in just a few hours. Wipe your gun down before you put it in the case and get it out as soon as you get home. If the inside of a floating case gets wet, stick it on a boot dryer after the hunt.

Hard Cases

A hard case provides better protection than a sleeve or floating case. Airlines require hard-sided, locking cases. Some of the hard cases that come included with many guns qualify as "airline approved," but that doesn't mean you should fly with one. It's worth spending money on a hard case designed for air travel because it has to protect the gun and survive the trip. You don't want to arrive at your destination with a broken case and have to scramble to find another one for the trip home.

Solid cases that are airtight and watertight, like those made by Pelican, are great choices. Though a bit bulky, they are tough. And many have wheels, which is especially convenient on two-gun models. Some feature pre-scored, removable foam squares in the interior that help you customize an exact fit for your gun. Be sure your gun fits inside with a little room to spare. Some cases advertised for shotguns or scoped rifles may be a tight fit for a pump or semiauto with a 28-inch barrel.

Cabinets and Safes

Storing a gun at home in a hard or soft case risks rust and theft. Key-locked storage cabinets made of thin metal are inexpensive and light enough for one person to install, and they can be bolted to the floor and wall. These cabinets keep guns locked up and tucked away, but they won't protect your firearms from fire.

Gun safes offer added security at the expense of lots more money (from several hundred to a few thousand dollars), hundreds of pounds of weight, and the hassle of delivery and installation. A safe is a once-in-a-lifetime purchase for many people, so be sure to choose one that suits present and future needs. Gun collections can grow over time, and extra room in the safe reduces the chance of guns banging against one another.

Safes have fire protection ratings expressed in time and temperature. As you compare them, bear in mind that the average house fire burns at 1,200 degrees for 30 minutes. If you live in a rural area where fire department response time might be slower, consider a safe with added protection.

Once you install a gun safe you won't want to move it, so choose its location wisely. Set it out of sight of the front door so delivery people and others can't see it over your shoulder. Bolting a safe into a corner puts it in an awkward place for burglars to break into. Also consider that kitchens and furnace rooms burn the hottest in most house fires, while the coolest spot is an outside basement wall. If you do put a safe in the basement, consider putting it on some kind of low riser to keep guns dry in case of flooding.