So you've decided you want to start shooting. What area interests you? Do you want to shoot clays? Take up deer stalking? Game shooting? Or thinking about learning to use an air rifle? Here's some information to get you started.


Many shooters start off with an airgun, which have a variety of plus points. First off, they are relatively inexpensive to buy. Air rifles with muzzle energy levels of 12ft-lb or less and air pistols with muzzle energy levels of 6ft-lb or less do not have to be licensed in England or Wales, however in Northern Ireland and Scotland the laws are very different.  Take a look at the British Association for Shooting & Conservation (BASC) which has an excellent section on air rifles and the law.

You can use an airgun in the garden but before you fire your rifle think carefully about where the pellet could go. Be sure that no damage will be caused if you miss your target. Before you shoot, you should ensure that a safe backstop is in place to capture the pellets and stop ricchochets. Materials such as old carpets, plywood and newspapers make useful backstops.

The law on air guns and young people is complicated, and the Airgun Training and Education Organisation has an excellent website covering all aspects of airgun use.

get into shooting with instruction

Good instruction when starting is the key to progress

Clay pigeon shooting

You don’t need to have a shotgun certificate to shoot clays if you are at an approved clay ground or practice range, a game fair or a country show. In fact, these venues are a good way of discovering whether the sport is for you. You can read more about starting clay pigeon shooting here.

We would always recommend that you have some lessons from a professional shooting instructor to instil good habits from the word go. Even experienced clay shooters go back to having lessons to improve their technique and erase any bad habits that may have been formed.

Learning to shoot is like learning to drive, it’s always best to have a series of lessons from a professional coach to stop any bad habits forming.

The Clay Pigeon Shooting Association has a list of grounds across the UK so you can see what is convenient for you. Most will have professional instructors and welcome new shooters.

deer stalking

Deer stalking

For conservation reasons, deer need to be carefully managed and the UK has a thriving deer population that offers spectacular sporting opportunities.

If you are over 18, you are legally allowed to borrow and use a rifle provided you are under the close supervision of the certificate holder. Doing this is a useful way of seeing if deer stalking has an appeal for you.

There are many places to go deer stalking throughout the UK and Europe and if you look in the classified section of Shooting Times, Shooting Gazette and Sporting Gun you can peruse what is available. Take out a subscription to these and you can keep up to date with your shooting knowledge.

In addition, you should investigate the BASC website. It gives details of a deer stalking scheme.

Some books to read when you’re starting shooting

You’ll find these give good introductions to the main types of firearms used in sporting shooting:

The Deer Stalking Handbook – Graham Downing
Total Airguns – Pete Wadeson
The Sporting Rifle – Robin Marshall-Ball
The Sporting Shotgun – Robin Marshall-Ball
The Shotgun Handbook – Mike George
Firearms Law: Guidance to the Police 2002 – The Home Office

woman learning to shoot

Should I be insured?

This isn’t a requirement but we think it makes good common sense to have public liability cover. Insurance whilst shooting is not compulsory, but it is common sense to have public liability cover. Many shooting organisations, including BASC, offer insurance as part of their membership benefits.

What do I do about getting a shotgun certificate?  

If you are a UK resident, you apply to your local police force (more information on how to apply for a shotgun certificate here)

The certificate covers smooth-bore guns with barrels longer than 24″ which either do not have a magazine or a permanently fixed magazine which cannot hold more than 2 cartridges.

It can take several months to get your shotgun certificate through so remember to apply in plenty of time.

What about a firearms certificate?

Again, if you are a UK resident you apply to the police for this. A firearms certificate covers rifles and shotguns with magazines which hold more than 2 cartridges. Application and referee forms can be obtained from police stations or the forms can be filled in online and printed.

Applicants must give a good reason for every firearm they wish to acquire. The police will want evidence you have permission to shoot on land. There is no legal requirement to provide written permission, but this may speed up the process if you can.

You must supply the names of two referees, who must be resident in the UK (they cannot be members of your immediate family) who are of good character and who have known you for at least two years.

There is no legal requirement to pass any test or undertake any training prior to the grant of a firearm certificate.

A firearm certificate is valid for 5 years and a variation must be obtained before any firearm can be added to it. It will be issued subject to restrictive conditions.

Again allow plenty of time for your firearms certificate to come through.

Useful shooting associations

These will provide you with a variety of services including technical, legal and practical advice as well as insurance packages tailored for shooting and related activities. Some will provide legal costs to appeal against police licensing decisions.

The British Shooting Sports Council is the umbrella body for shooting sports in the UK and has an informative website.