Shooting and Firearms
Many members of the public have no direct experience of handling firearms or being in the presence of people legitimately handling them. This can lead to reports of firearms danger to the public where there is none. Overall there is therefore a general lack of knowledge of the appropriate use and licensing.
The legal ownership of firearms, including shotguns and air weapons is complex, especially with regard to minors and an examination of the Firearms Act is the best way to understand age limits for various categories of weapon and the conditions by which they can own, possess or use them. However strictly speaking it is neither an offence to shoot from nor across a public right of way although this is dependant on conditions.
- The shooter must have lawful authority to possess the weapon.
- The shooter must have permission from the owner of the land or shooting rights.
- The shooter must not endanger, injure, intimidate or obstruct users of the highway.
If any of those conditions are broken then the shooter may be in breach of one or more of the following pieces of legislation:
- Firearms Act 1968 s19 possession of a firearm in a public place without lawful authority.
- Highways Act 1980 s137 obstruction.
- Highways Act 1980 s161 discharging a firearm within 50 ft of the centre of a carriageway if the act injures, interrupts or endangers users.
- Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 intimidation.
- Town Police Clauses Act 1847 s28 discharging a firearm in the street such that it endangers or annoys residents and passers by. May not apply to rural footpaths or bridleways.
'Shooting' can break down into various categories for the purposes here:
Plinking – informal target shooting using spring, air or gas cylinder powered weapons.
Paintballing – combat simulations using air powered weapons firing pellets that release a pigment on impact.
Re-enactments – enthusiasts using weapons or replicas from the period of interest NB this can go from the wars of the roses through English and American civil wars, the 'wild west' up to the present day and involve artillery and armoured fighting vehicles (AFVs aka 'tanks')
Pest Control – hunting (and/or trapping) of pest species including rabbits, rats, foxes, squirrels and various birds. The weapons include air rifles, shotguns to high powered cartridge rifles.
Range and Field Target Shooting – use of rifles, small or large bore to shoot at static targets some classes use images of 'quarry' species in 'in field' set-ups.
Clay Pigeon – use of shotguns to fire at moving 'clay' disc targets which are arranged to take flight paths resembling various game birds or along the ground to resemble 'rabbits'. Many game shoots are now organising clay shoots to supplement funds or raise money for charities in the closed season and inappropriately sited clay shoots can cause problems if public rights of way are not properly taken into account. The national governing body for the sport, The Clay Pigeon Shooting Association, has strict guidelines to protect members of the public stating, "The minimum area required for a clay pigeon site is about 15 hectares (approx. 34/40 acres) to include a minimum safety zone of 275 metres (300 yds) in front of the shooting stands in the general direction in which shooting takes place. Within that safety zone there must not be any places to which the public has access such as public highways, footpaths and bridleways, etc".
Rough and Driven Game – shooting of live animal quarry either by the hunter moving through the landscape and flushing game into the open or by the game being driven by beaters towards the shooter using a shotgun who is stationary by a 'peg' or in a 'butt'.
Stalking – hunting of deer using high powered rifles on uplands.
Military – the military services have a large range of weapons. Their working practices, disciplinary procedures and safety measures coupled with the legislation of operating on military land means that any problem should be considered on a case by case basis generally outside of the remit of this article.
Recent case law has suggested that shoots should have a written safety policy which should deal with such issues as Rights of Way
An Access Practitioner should consider the types of guns used to assess how shooting issues may affect users of access land or routes. Advice and guidance should also be sought from the governing bodies of each shooting discipline often available from the internet (e.g. CPSA, BASC) and on Health and Safety from the police firearms licensing sections. The latter are responsible for working to ensure that all certificate holders have a legitimate use for the weapons and that weapons can be safely stored. According to the Home Office on 31/03/06 there were 368,658 firearms and 1,360,770 shotguns registered in England and Wales. Other sources state that 240 million shotgun cartridges are purchased in the UK each year.
Below is a table indicating the useful i.e. working range, maximum range at which a serious injury is reasonably possible and danger range of the various types of weapons.
|Weapon||Use||Useful range||'Injury' range||Max range/safety distance||Notes|
|BB pellet||Plinking||10m||5m||30m||Serious injury highly unlikely|
|Paint pellet||Paintballing||20m||50m||100m||Serious injury very unlikely|
|Air pistol||Target shooting||15m||30m||50m||Up to 6 ft/lb power|
|Air rifle non FAC*||Target/pest control||25-40m||100m||100m||Up to 12ft/lb power. Potentially fatal at close range|
|Air rifle FAC*||Pest control||25-60m||150m||200m||Potentially fatal at close range|
|Shotgun .410**||Pest control||25m||100m||200m||Smallest normal shotgun|
|Smallest normal shotgun||Game/clay pigeon/pest||35-50m'||100m||275-300m||Most popular shotgun size|
|Rifle .22*||Target/pest control||75m||250m||2km||Shooter to ensure any misses hit
|Rifle *||Deer stalking||600m||1200m||4km|
*FAC Fire Arms Certificate – issued by local police force required for air weapons of greater than 12foot/pound force, conventional bullet/cartridge weapons
- Shotgun certificate issued by local police required
- Shotgun certificate issued by local police required
For general information the Health and Safety Executive Agricultural Safety Leaflet AS 7 Firearms.
|Species||England, Scotland and Wales||Northern Ireland|
|Pheasant||Oct 1 - Feb 1||Oct 1 - Jan 31|
|Partridge||Sept 1 - Feb 1||Sept 1- Jan 31|
|Grouse||Aug 12 - Dec 10||Aug 12 - Nov 30|
|Ptarmigan (only found in Scotland)||Aug 12 - Dec 10||-|
|Blackgame||Aug 20 - Dec 1||(not currently found in NI)|
|Common Snipe||Aug 12 - Jan 31||Sept 1 - Jan 31|
|Jack Snipe||Protected at all times||Sept 1 - Jan 31|
|Woodcock||Oct 1 - Jan 31||Oct 1 - Jan 31|
|Woodcock Scotland||Sept 1 - Jan 31||-|
|Duck & Goose inland||Sept 1 - Jan 31||Sept 1 - Jan 31|
|Duck & Goose below HWM of ordinary spring tides||Sept 1 - Feb 20||Sept 1 - Jan 31|
|Coot/Moorhen||Sept 1 - Jan 31||Protected at all times|
|Golden Plover||Sept 1 - Jan 31||Sept 1 - Jan 31|
|Curlew||Protected at all times||Sept 1 - Jan 31|
|Hare (cannot be sold Mar 1st to July 31st)||Moorland & unenclosed land subject to closed season||Aug 12 - Jan 31|
For more information on other species please see BASC's overview on licences.
The above deals with the basics of gun types and use and mentions the existence of licensing arrangements for firearms and shotguns. Much of the basic firearm etiquette is handling of weapons with the intent of maximising safety e.g. on a walker approaching a shooter with a closed shotgun (the loaded state) the shooter should break the gun open and remove the shells to demonstrate it is in a safe state.
Pointing a weapon at an officer or member of the public is against the first rule of shooting safety and anyone pulling the triggers on 'empty chambers' whilst pointing the gun at a person should be reported to the police. Guns are like cars, useful and fun in safe hands but capable of killing when used badly. Safety should be paramount – although many gunsmiths will tell of having weapons brought in for repair still loaded!
Although safety considerations for humans have featured above, when being consulted about shooting projects access practitioners should consider that horses which may be surprisingly undisturbed by the report of a gun may become agitated seconds later by the fall of shot which might be manifesting itself to them as a mysterious rustling in the undergrowth by a large, fast and invisible predator even if their rider does not hear the noise.