The simple answer is that there isn’t one.
It’s less a matter of what the law says, but more a case of the youngster’s physical strength, mental maturity and practicality.
By the age of six most children are ready and able to spend a day with the beaters. There’s lots of good clothing available in the right sizes nowadays and if your son or daughter is properly kitted out they’ll be a really useful part of the team.
It’s the finest possible introduction to shooting – in fact there are many who seldom pick up a gun but spend the rest of their shooting lives in the beating line.
As a change children can spend time on the game cart or with the pickers up. There’s a great deal more to shooting than just standing around with a musket.
In my view the best adult Guns are the ones who learned at the coal face when they were younger. You’ll enjoy the actual shooting much more if you have a proper understanding of the work done by the keeper and by all the folk who turn up to help on the day.
As a parent you should think carefully about the age at which to start your child off with a gun.
ABOVE: In most cases, as a parent, if you hold a certificate your child can borrow your shotgun but must be supervised in your presence.
Most pre-teens will find anything bigger than a 28-bore or .410 too awkward to handle. The downside is these are small guns and can be difficult for the beginner to use well.
There’s nothing more dispiriting than starting your shooting career with a load of misses or, worse still, pricked birds that are difficult to recover.
A few children as young as nine have shotgun certificates and there are more still who start at 10 or 11.
However, my preference would be to wait another year or so until the child is able to handle a 20-bore.
It’s a serious piece of kit with a reasonable range of loads and you stand a much better chance of hitting and killing game birds and duck than you would with something smaller. Indeed, a 20-bore will serve you for the rest of your shooting life.
You don’t need a shotgun certificate to be able to go shooting.
Anyone can borrow a shotgun from the occupier and use it in his presence.
In most cases if Dad shoots he will count as an occupier. As you have to be supervised by someone over 21 until you are 15, borrowing off Dad is often the best way to start. Furthermore it saves the cost and hassle of getting a certificate.
However, members of wildfowling clubs are generally thought not to be an occupier for this purpose so you need a certificate if you plan to shoot below the seawall.
Likewise a youngster who needs to travel to shoot, perhaps with Mum who may not have a certificate, needs his own.
If you want to shoot with a rifle the story is very different.
You have to be 17 before you can borrow a rifle and use it accompanied by the occupier. The minimum age for having a firearm certificate is 14 and you can use the rifle unsupervised at that age. So any 14+ wishing to borrow Dad’s rifle and shoot bunnies, foxes or deer needs a certificate.
The traditional way into shooting used to be with a low power air gun but the legislation surrounding their use has become even more restrictive than for rifles or shotguns.
Under 14s can only use an air gun on private premises and must be supervised by someone over 21. From 14 to 17 you can use it on private property without supervision but if you are in a public place you must be accompanied by someone over 21.
I can see that in some circumstances 14 to 17 year olds would be better off with a high power air gun on an FAC.