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Air Rifle Safety in England and Wales
Code Of Practice
It is estimated that there are over six million air rifles in England
and Wales, the vast majority of which are used in a safe and
responsible manner. This code of practice offers guidance to
those who shoot with them. It does not apply in Northern
Ireland or Scotland where firearms laws are very different.
High standards underpin public and political support
for shooting, now and in the future.
The code provides advice at two levels:
Advice that must be followed in order to deliver sustainable
shooting – unless otherwise stated the term ‘must’ only applies
to meeting the standards set by this Code of Practice and does
not refer to a legal obligation.
Advice that should be followed in order to achieve Best
Practice, any deviation from which would need justification.
THE FOLLOWING GOLDEN RULES APPLY:
1. Always know where the muzzle of your air rifle is pointing
and NEVER point it in an unsafe direction.
2. The safe conduct of air rifle shooting must meet the
standards described in this code, show respect for the
countryside, due regard to health and safety and
consideration of others.
3. Before you shoot, make sure that a safe backstop is
present to capture the pellet.
4. Consider live quarry; do not shoot beyond the bounds of
your ability. Do not take chance shots.
5. REMEMBER – ignorance of the law is no excuse.
If in doubt, always ask.
2. BEHAVIOUR IN THE FIELD
Promote and insist on safe and sensible behaviour by all
shooters in all disciplines. By acting on these points you will
reassure shooters and non-shooters alike that you can be
trusted with an air rifle.
• Always check with the landowner, in good time, if you want
to go shooting.
• Always confirm with the landowner what quarry you may
• Always respect the land owner's property, crops, livestock
and fences and follow the Countryside Code.
• Always treat an air rifle as though it is loaded and keep its
muzzle pointing in a safe direction.
• On picking up or being handed an air rifle, check
immediately to ensure it is not loaded e.g. that it is
un-cocked and that there is no pellet in the breech. Be
particularly careful when checking pre charged pneumatic air
• Before you fire your rifle, consider where the pellet could go.
Be sure that no damage can result if you miss your intended
• Always bear in mind the possibility of a ricochet.
• Never put down a loaded air rifle or leave it unattended.
• Use of a sound moderator can minimise disturbance to
wildlife, livestock and other countryside users.
• Remember that all shooters will be judged by your actions
and ensure that your conduct is always above reproach.
Encourage the same attitude in your shooting companions.
Above all, be safe and be sensible.
3. WHAT YOU CAN SHOOT
There are numerous clubs catering for this growing sport
throughout England and Wales, and they can offer great help
and shooting opportunities for both the novice and the
experienced shooter alike. You will find contact details on the
BASC website in the airgun section.
If you want to practise on your own premises you must have
an effective backstop. This may be an adequate soft soil bank,
without stones, or a brick wall on which an old piece of carpet
can be hung to prevent ricochets. Do not use chipboard,
plywood or any thick composite material with a polished
surface, as there is a high risk of ricochet.
Remember that you can be prosecuted if any pellet goes
beyond your land, whether it is directly fired or an accidental
Live quarry shooting
Many people shoot live quarry, either on their own land or
where they have permission. The species which you can shoot
are limited by the law and by the effective power of an air rifle.
All wild birds are protected, and although there are seasons
when you can legally shoot game, and certain wildfowl, they
are not suitable quarry for air rifles. However, as long as you
are complying with firearms law, you can shoot certain pest
bird species. These are covered by general licences which, in
simple terms, mean you can shoot the birds listed, provided
you have the landowner’s permission and provided you are
doing it for one of the reasons allowed by the licence.
These reasons include:
• to prevent serious damage (e.g. to crops and livestock) or
to prevent disease.
• to protect and conserve flora and fauna.
• to preserve public health or safety.
The general licences vary by Country and are annually
reviewed by the BASC. ( British Association for Shooting & Conservation)
The BASC recommends that anyone wishing to take
these species should regularly read BASC’s advice on general
licences, which is available online at
You can shoot mammal pests at any time provided you have
the landowner’s permission. Air rifles are suitable for: brown
rats, grey squirrels, stoats, mink and rabbits.
Respect for the quarry
Always shoot well within your capabilities. Practise on targets,
never on live quarry, to establish the maximum range at which
you and your rifle can consistently hit the point of aim that will
ensure a clean kill; this is usually the head, and normally has a
maximum diameter of about three centimetres (1¼ inches).
Practise regularly to improve your shooting and stalking skills.
Make sure you know where the kill zone is for each species
that you are going to hunt. For mammals the side -on head
shot should be the preferred shot placement. For birds, head
shots are effective but difficult because the target area is very
small and rarely remains still. Shots to the breast or body
cavity offer a bigger target area but remember that dense
feathers or a crop full of grain will limit the pellet’s
effectiveness. The area under the wing is a good place to
You should zero your rifle and sights (check their correct
alignment) before starting any hunt; usually a rifle scope will
come with instructions; otherwise there are many books which
explain the principles.
It is your responsibility to be able to recognise your quarry and
know when and where you may shoot it. Never shoot unless
you have positively identified your quarry.
Wounded quarry should be despatched quickly to minimise
suffering, either with a second shot or a sharp blow to the
base of the skull. Be particularly careful when dispatching
wounded rodents as they can bite and scratch with a risk of
DO NOT TOUCH RATS. They may carry fatal diseases, so
you should lift them with a fork or shovel.
At the end of the day
Always leave your shoot in the condition in which you would
like to find it. Make sure that you collect all your equipment. It
is courteous to thank the landowner and to offer him
something from the bag if you have shot any edible quarry.
Take care of your edible quarry – remember it is food, store it
in a cool place and never waste it.
Non -edible quarry should be disposed of discreetly, carefully
and should not create a health hazard. This is a legal
requirement. Under most circumstances deep burial beyond
the reach of a carnivorous animal would be appropriate.
The displaying of carcasses on fences or on a gamekeeper’s
‘gibbet’ serves no useful purpose and may offend other
4. THE AIR RIFLE
Always ensure that your air rifle is powerful enough to achieve
a clean kill of your chosen quarry and do not attempt a shot of
more than 30 metres. Generally the ideal power level is just
over 11 ft lb (15J). For an air rifle that is more powerful than
12 ft lb, (16.25J) you must have a firearm certificate.
Never shoot at partially obscured quarry or shoot at quarry
which could escape into cover before it can be retrieved. For
example, do not shoot rabbits which are less than two metres
from their burrow.
Certain types of air rifle are more suitable for hunting than
others. Avoid those air rifles which take excessive time to
charge, load and fire. Repeating air rifles give an immediate
second shot which is always an advantage. All air rifles must
be well maintained in accordance with the manufacturer's
recommendations. If in doubt, consult your local dealer.
Choose pellets which are designed for hunting. These will
produce a cleaner kill than those which are intended for target
shooting. Check every pellet before loading to ensure that it is
not damaged or deformed.
5. CARE AND MAINTENANCE
Take care of your gun; it is built to precise standards and
damage or mistreatment can seriously affect its performance
Do not attempt to strip an air rifle without having the proper
tools, facilities and knowledge to do so safely. Many air rifles
contain powerful springs which can cause serious injury if
released in an uncontrolled manner. After shooting, ensure
your air rifle is dry and free from dirt before storing it.
Metalwork may benefit from a wipe down with a lightly oiled
rag or a silicone cloth. The barrel should be cleaned using a
proper barrel cleaning kit, and again lightly oiled. Only use the
correct lubricants in accordance with the rifle manufacturer’s
instructions. Always carefully wipe the oil from the bore before
6. THE LAW
The law makes no distinction between air rifles and more
powerful guns for which you need a licence – they are all
classed as firearms. This means that any offence you commit
can carry a very heavy penalty, and there are at least 38
different offences. Following this code will help you to keep on
the right side of the law, but if you have any doubt, seek
advice from BASC (www.basc.org.uk) or your local police
firearms licensing department.
WHO CAN SHOOT
18 years or older
If you are 18 years or older there are no restrictions on buying
an air rifle and ammunition, and you can use it wherever you
have permission to shoot.
14 – 17 years
• borrow an air rifle and ammunition
• use an air rifle, without supervision, on private premises
where you have permission.
• buy or hire an air rifle, or ammunition, or receive one as a
gift. Your air rifle and ammunition must be bought and
looked after by someone over 18 – normally your parent,
guardian or some other responsible adult.
• have an air rifle in a public place unless you are supervised
by somebody aged 21 or over, and you have a reasonable
excuse to do so (for example, while on the way to a
Under 14 years
• use an air rifle under supervision on private premises with
permission from the occupier – normally the owner or
tenant. The person who supervises you must be at least 21
• buy, hire or receive an air rifle or its ammunition as a
gift, or shoot, without adult supervision.
Parents or guardians who buy an air rifle for use by someone
under 14 must exercise control over it at all times, even in the
home or garden.
It is illegal to sell an air rifle or ammunition to a person under
18 years of age.
Where you can shoot
Where you intend to shoot, always ensure that you are
authorised by the landowner or person with the sporting rights
and that you know precisely where the boundaries are.
Get permission in writing, if possible, to remove any doubt.
Whenever you are in a public place you should carry the rifle in
a gun slip and always ensure that it is unloaded and not
From February 2011, the Crime and Security Act 2010 makes
it an offence for a person in possession of an air gun to fail to
take “reasonable precautions” to prevent someone under the
age of 18 from gaining unauthorised access to it.
The legal advice contained within this publication remains
unchanged e.g. 14 -17 year olds may still use air guns
unsupervised on private premises where they have
For further advice about reasonable precautions for storing air
guns not in use please contact BASC or see www.basc.org.uk
for a copy of our fact sheet Young People and Airguns.
Intentionally going onto private land, or water, where you do
not have permission is trespassing, and if you are carrying an
air rifle it becomes armed trespass. Whether the gun is loaded
or not, or whether you are carrying pellets, is irrelevant –
armed trespass is a serious criminal offence carrying heavy
Only shoot where you have the permission of the landowner or
Firing pellets beyond your boundary
It is an offence to fire an air rifle pellet beyond the land where
you have permission to shoot, unless the person holding the
shooting rights of the neighbouring land has given you
permission. Where someone under 14 is shooting, both the
young person and the supervising adult can be prosecuted.
It is also against the law to discharge any firearm (including air
rifles) within 50 feet of the centre of a highway (which consists
of or comprises a carriageway) IF in consequence a user of
the highway is injured, interrupted or endangered. These
offences could be committed, for example, when someone is
shooting in their garden close to a public highway and the
pellets ricochet onto the highway injuring someone.
Never guess at what the law allows. If in doubt,
local police firearms licensing department.