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Hunting Laws for Shooting Wildlife Animals

The rules for hunting and shooting wildlife animals during the open season (e.g. birds, mammals, or rabbits) are often controversial in the United Kingdom. Offenders of illegal hunting can be fined or jailed. Furthermore, you can also get a jail sentence if certain animals suffer 'unnecessarily' while you hunt and shoot.

Is Hunting Legal in the United Kingdom?

Hunting and shooting regulations are for safety. This UK hunting laws guide will help you avoid personal injury or imprisonment.

All hunters must obey specific hunting rules for open and closed season. As a rule, they are the breeding seasons for some birds and mammals in Britain.

The environment section explains more about wild animals, including foxes, deer, pheasants, mink, game birds, moles, and rabbits.

Note: There is extra information about firearm and shotgun laws for hunting and shooting wildlife. Learn how to use hunter’s equipment safely and chase with pack dogs at hunts around the British countryside.

Basic Rules for Hunting and Shooting Wildlife

UK hunting rules specifically apply to the:

  1. Species of wildlife that you can shoot or hunt.
  2. Dates of ‘open and closed season‘ for certain breeds of wild animals.
  3. Type of hunting equipment, firearm, or dogs (including pack dogs) you can use in pursuit.

Note: The landowner must give you permission for your participation in any hunting activity. A land owner may be an individual, a corporation, or the local council. Always check what animals you can hunt in the UK.

UK Laws for Hunting Mammals

Fox Hunting Rules UK

The invocation of a Parliament Act banned fox hunting in November 2004. UK Acts have forced legislation into law only three times since 1949.

Deer hunting (or hare coursing) with more than two (2) dogs is now outlawed. Another section has extra details about the fox hunting rules and associated legalities in Great Britain.

Important: Defra announced new legislation that will result in tougher sentences for people who commit cruel illegal hare coursing (e.g. chasing hares with dogs).

The bottom line is this:

You can hunt with packs of dogs for drag hunting (equestrian) and trail hunting (hound based). Even so, a fine usually results from hunting foxes with more than one dog. In most cases, the local authorities will confiscate your hunting equipment and dogs.

You can legally shoot any animal if it poses a threat to your livestock. But, the kill must happen as humanely as possible. You must not shoot within fifty (50) yards of a public right of way.

Deer Hunting Season Rules

You must obey hunting rules on when you can shoot deer. This includes what type of firearms and ammunition you can use. Much like birds, deer also have open seasons.

There is an exception for the muntjac deer (also called Muntiacini). The main reason for this is because they are animals that breed all year round.

It is illegal to hunt deer using vehicles, such as Land Rovers and quad bikes. UK legislation requiring a hunting licence to shoot deer helps to:

Note: You would need to apply for a licence to shoot deer (form A16 and form LR16) at night time or during the closed shooting season.

Rabbit Hunting Season Rules and Other Mammals

UK hunting laws allow you to hunt and shoot certain mammals including:

  • Rabbit, stoat, weasel.
  • Mice (excluding the common and hazel dormouse). The United Kingdom has been reintroducing dormice annually since 1993.
  • Mink, feral cat, brown rat, grey squirrel.

Note: Follow the hunting rules about when you can hunt or shoot and what equipment you can use.

Bird Shooting Laws UK

You can shoot vermin or pest birds, such as pigeons, all year round. But you must wait for the ‘shooting season’ to shoot game birds, quarry birds, and waterfowl. Open season varies for different bird species.

Wildfowling Seasons (dates are inclusive)

  • England, Scotland, and Wales: Above the mean high water mark from the 1st of September to 31st of January.
  • England, Scotland, and Wales: Below the Mean High Water mark from the 1st of September to the 20th of February.
    • You can only shoot duck and goose species below Mean High Water after the 31st of January.
  • Northern Ireland: From the 1st of September to the 31st of January.

The dates for bird shooting season are often timed to occur when their population is at its highest. This helps to avoid shooting birds during their breeding period. It is illegal to shoot any bird ‘out of season’ (e.g. during the closed season).

Falconry Hunting Laws

You do not need a licence to own a captive-bred ‘bird of prey’. But, you need a falconry ‘licence to kill wild birds for falconry‘. The hunting licence covers falcons and all other birds of prey.

Special Information about Bats

Note: Bats are not birds, they are mammals. Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 provides the bats protection law for all species of bat found in the United Kingdom. It is illegal to kill, or even disturb, bats in their roosts. You should consult the Bat Conservation Trust if bats are present and there is a possibility of you disturbing them.

Rules on Bird Shooting Equipment

The 12 bore shotgun is the most common firearm used for game shooting of birds. The barrel must be at least 24 inches long but no more than 40 inches in length. Other popular guns used to shoot birds are the 20 bore and 410 bore.

If you are shooting birds with a shotgun, the internal diameter must not be bigger than 1.75 inches. It is illegal (and considered ‘unsporting’) to use certain equipment when shooting birds, such as:

  • Semi-automatic weapons (including a 3 cartridge shotgun).
  • Night sight goggles (birds flying at night are more likely to be bats).
  • Artificial lighting.
  • Any firearm used to shoot a bird while it is roosting.

UK Law on Firearm and Shotgun Certificate

You must apply for a shotgun certificate if you want to use or own a shotgun or a rifle. The shotgun and firearms certificates may also apply to other types of guns.

In the United Kingdom a firearm certificate is not required for:

  • Air rifles with less than 12ft lbs power.
  • Air pistols with less than 6ft lbs power.

But, the UK rules for hunting and shooting state that it is illegal to use:

Note: You need a firearms certificate if the shotgun is capable of firing more than three (3) cartridges without the need to reload it. An example of this type of weapon would be a 5 shot semi-automatic shotgun.

Environmental Wildlife Management and Pest Control

Different rules apply to the way you manage wildlife on your own land or control common pests on your own property or land.

Related Help Guides

UK Hunting Laws: Rules for Shooting Wildlife Animals