Game Shooting Laws


In today's society, extra vigilance and care is necessary, which is why it is important to be up to date with game shooting laws.

You have probably heard the famous saying ‘where there’s a blame there’s a claim’, so be careful that you don’t fall into this trap and are blamed for not taking care when out game shooting.

Without the appropriate duty of care and attention you may possibly end up with a big problem on your hands!

Beginners Guide Download PDF


This chapter has been split into a number of sections for easy access:

  1. Shotgun Certificate
  2. Shotgun Exemptions
  3. Age restrictions
  4. Shotgun safety
  5. Shooting Season

To start with, a very important point is that if you are invited to a shoot on private land, then the occupier has a duty of care to ensure that you are safe whilst you are on their land.


Let's Get You Started!

The main legal acts that you need to be aware of are:

Firearms Licensing Law 2016
Highways Act 1980
Health and Safety at Work At 1974


Game Shooting Laws Introduced

It goes without saying that, as a shooter, the laws that govern you must be adhered to. Further, the Code of Good Shooting Practice sets out the standards - and provides advice - to ensure that shooting is conducted in the right way and that best practice is followed.

The laws that govern you will depend upon your location. Northern Ireland has its own firearm laws, and similarly there are certain differences in law between England, Wales and Scotland that you have to look out for. (For example, the dates of the legal shooting season)

What you are allowed to shoot - and when - will vary too, depending upon your location. Therefore, if you intend to shoot outside of an organised event, you really should check seek advice about any specific laws that may impact upon you. For more specific advice and guidance about this, you can contact The British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC).  BASC's dedicated firearms team will be able to offer you specific and up to date advice, relating to your own location.

In addition, if you'd like more information about specific firearms laws and safety, there is a useful guide by the Home Office entitled “Collection Firearms” which was last updated on the 6th July 2016.

Interestingly, since 1st August 2007, there has not been a requirement to hold a game licence to kill game in England and Wales (BASC). However, a game licence is necessary if you are shooting in the Isle of Man. (The requirement for a game licence in Northern Ireland has been abolished since 2011)

Although a general licence is not necessary, a game shooter is advised to seek out and study the information that is available (about licences in general) for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, by checking out the BASC website.


A shot gun is described by the firearms licensing law as:

“a smooth-bore gun (not being an air gun) which has a barrel not less than 24 in length and does not have any barrel with a bore exceeding 2 inches in diameter”

Naturally this is important, so for more information and further details about the definition of a shotgun, please do visit Guidance on Firearms Licensing Law.

Useful definitions:

Firearm: a lethal barrelled weapon of any description, from which any form of ammunition can be fired

Ammunition: shot, bullet or missile

Shotgun Certificate

A shotgun certificate is necessary if you intend to buy or acquire a firearm or shotgun. Also, a shotgun certificate will be needed to buy ammunition.

Once a certificate has been granted, it is valid for 5 years.

To apply for a shotgun certificate you will need to complete a shotgun certificate application form from the firearms licensing unit of your local police force. To contact your local force please visit the Police Force website.

As part of this process, you will receive a visit from a police officer at your home to clarify certain safety requirements. Below is a list of what the police officer will be looking for when checking your suitability for a shotgun certificate:

  • where the shotgun will be stored – it is good practice to buy a shotgun cabinet
  • a list of existing shotguns and firearms in possession  - and how they are stored
  • to see the land where the shotgun will be used on
  • to check if you have permission to shoot on the land
  • to check if you have any previous convictions including motoring offences, cautions and bind overs
  • to see if you have any specific health questions
  • to ascertain the reason why you want a gun and to ensure that you will not endanger the peace or public safety

To complete your application you will also need to obtain 4 photos of yourself, such as a passport photo, and details of a person who has agreed to be a referee. The referee must be resident in Great Britain, have known you for a minimum of 2 years and must be of good character. Unfortunately, a family member cannot be used, neither can serving police officers, police support staff or registered firearms dealers.

Shotgun Exemptions

There are a number of exemptions that apply whereby a certificate is not needed to use a shotgun. Under the Firearms Act 1968 exemptions can be grouped into two sections:

  1. Possession, purchase and acquisition
  2. Possession only

Possession, purchase and acquisition

The first example of an exemption relates to any person who possesses, purchases or acquires firearms in the ordinary course of a business. (e.g. dealers and their servants, such as employees) However, a dealer or their servant who possess firearms unrelated or unconnected to the business must then have a firearms certificate/shotgun certificate

Secondly, visitors to Great Britain must complete a visitors’ permit to enter Great Britain. This permit will allow them to posses a firearm or shotgun, to purchase or acquire ammunition and shotguns whilst in Great Britain. For more information visitors’ rights please visit section 6.15 of the Firearms Act 1968.

Possession only

A chief officer of police may, in some circumstances, issue a permit authorising an individual to posses a shotgun or firearms without a certificate. For example, possession permit for a relative or the executor of a deceased person which forms part of the estate.

An individual may borrow a shotgun from the occupier of private premises and use it on those premises but only in the occupiers presence.

A person over the age of 17 may borrow a rifle from the occupier of private premises and use it on the private premises in the occupiers or servants' presence.

Shotgun age restrictions

In order to own and possess a shotgun you must be 18 years old or older. There are however a number of circumstances where young people can use a shotgun with restrictions. These circumstances are listed below:

Young persons and firearms law

  Under 18 Under 17 Under 15 Under 14
Purchase any firearm or ammunition No No No No
Receive shotgun as a gift Yes Yes No No
Possess assembled shotgun Yes Yes No* No*
Receive firearms certificate Yes Yes Yes No

*Under 15 and 14’s can possess an assembled shotgun if under the supervision of someone 21 years or over - and on private land.

Shotgun Safety

Below are other factors to consider when using and storing a shotgun:

  • Never leave a shotgun unattended or unsupervised
  • The use of lead shots are prohibited in certain areas

If transporting a shotgun, make sure that the following are observed:

  • Your vehicle is locked
  • The shotgun out of sight
  • your gun should ideally have a trigger lock or cable
  • Consider removing the gun's fore-end and keep this with you at all times

There are various reasons why the police may take your shotgun certificate away from you. It's also important to be aware that many of these reasons may result in a criminal offence too! So, it's worth spending time finding out how you can avoid these situations.

It's a certainty then that care needs to be taken! Below are some other ways in which you could lose your shotgun certificate. (which, remember, could also be considered a criminal offence) These include:

  1. Trespassing with firearms (such as entering a building as a trespasser with a firearm, without a reasonable reason)
  2. Having previous convictions of crime
  3. Firing an air weapon beyond the boundaries of private land

Shooting Season

During the shooting season, and when at your own location, you can shoot certain species of game birds, quarry birds or waterfowl within the law.

However, there are restrictions that you must be aware of when shooting certain species. For example, you can’t shoot some waterfowl above a high water line. By ignoring or not being up to date with shooting restrictions you may be fined or jailed, especially if it is considered that you have been hunting illegally and/or causing unnecessary suffering to animals!

Do remember that shooting birds outside of the official shooting season is illegal. A shooting season helps to ensure certain species breed successfully.  For more information and specific dates check out our Shooting Season chapter here.


Again, it's always worthwhile making further enquiries about anything you feel unsure about. You can always contact your nearest police station or an organisation such as BASC to clarify key points.  

The next chapter will now discuss shooting etiquette- Enjoy!

Next chapter - Shooting Etiquette - What should I wear? > 


Chapter 1:
Game Shooting in the UK - Pheasant, Partridge or Grouse

Chapter 2:
Game Shooting Season in the UK

Chapter 3:
Game Shooting Laws

Chapter 4:
Shooting Etiquette - What should I wear?


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Written by Bethan Bithell and Cherry Tree Country Clothing staff

6th June 2017