I had a rather stupid moment of panic recently. Like all shotgun owners, every five years I have to renew my certificate. If, like me, you don’t have the exact expiry date in mind (who does?), it makes sense to have a quick look at your certificate just to check — in my case as I was zipping my gun in its sleeve at the end of a fabulous final day of the shooting season.

I knew in the back of my mind that 2009 was a meaningful year in the lifespan of my certificate, but as with my car’s MOT I couldn’t tell you for toffee until looking at it whether it expires in January, June, or December. There’s a world of difference between those dates. A January expiration would have made me, in February, a negligent and illegal holder of shotguns if I’d failed to renew, while anything else leaves me plenty of time to do something about it.

As it is, my certificate’s still got a good few months to go, but the message is that it pays to think ahead especially when dealing with renewals. Ostensibly, 12 weeks prior to the expiry of your certificate the issuing police force should contact you with a notice of renewal, complete with a Firearms Form 103. But don’t bank on it. They’re under no obligation to do so and it is most definitely your responsibility to avoid being in possession of a shotgun without a valid certificate. If a Firearms Form 103 doesn’t come winging its way in the post to you, you can download one here

So take the time to have a quick look at your certificate’s expiry date. It may just save a bit of embarrassment and difficult conversations with the law. And if you are renewing, don’t be caught out by a slow response from your issuing police force. Demand a Section 7 permit authorising possession of your shotguns if the certificate is not renewed on time. That way you won’t fall foul of the law.