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10 questions about air rifles – and 10 answers

We're frequently asked questions about air rifles - what to buy, how to stay safe, how to follow the law … Mat Manning answers 10 of the most common queries

1. Do I need a licence to own an air rifle?

In England and Wales you do not need a licence to own what is regarded as a “legal limit” airgun. This is an air rifle producing a muzzle energy not in excess of 12ft/lb or an air pistol producing a muzzle energy not in excess of 6ft/lb. You must be 18 or over to buy or possess a legal limit airgun or ammunition for an airgun.


airgun laws

Although airgun shooting is very accessible you can still fall foul of the law if you don’t stick to the rules relating to their use and ownership.

2. What if I want a higher-powered air rifle?

Airguns producing muzzle energy in excess of 12ft/lb (often referred to as FAC-rated or high-power airguns) must be held on a Firearm Certificate. These airguns require the same secure storage as any other firearm.


3. Is the law the same in Scotland?

No, sub-12ft/lb air rifles and sub-6ft/lb air pistols now require an Air Weapon Certificate (AWC) in Scotland. An application must be made to Police Scotland on an AWL1 form. The process is similar to shotgun and firearm licensing, although it is the person who is licensed and not the gun. An AWC holder can, therefore, possess numerous airguns.


4. I live in England and want to take my airgun with me when I travel to Scotland on holiday. Do I need to apply for an AWC?

No, you can apply to Police Scotland for the grant of a visitor permit using form AWL3 on their website. The permit will cover the duration of your stay in Scotland.


5. What about Northern Ireland?

All airguns producing muzzle energy in excess of one joule (0.737ft/lb) must be held on a Firearm Certificate in Northern Ireland.

6. How should my airgun be stored?

If you already have a lockable gun safe for storing a shotgun or rifle, this is the best place to store your airgun, although it is not a legal requirement. In England and Wales, the law states that you should take reasonable precautions to prevent anyone aged under 18 from gaining unauthorised access to your airgun. This could be a lockable cupboard or an anchorage device which fastens the airgun to the fabric of the building.


Young Shot with air gun

Youngsters aged under 18 are not allowed to buy or own an airgun but they can use one under the close supervision of someone aged 21 or over.

7. Can I buy an airgun for my 12-year-old son?

No, the law in England and Wales does not permit him to own one until he is 18 but he can use an airgun under the supervision of somebody aged 21 or over. That means you can buy an airgun that he can use under your close supervision as long as it remains in your ownership and under your control.

8. I have been told that my 15-year-old daughter can use an airgun without supervision. Is that correct?

Yes, in England and Wales a person aged 14 or over can use an airgun unsupervised on private premises with the consent of the occupier. You daughter is, however, unable to buy or own an airgun or ammunition of her own until she turns 18.


Airgun backstop

Place a homemade sound muffler and solid backstop behind your target to keep your garden shooting within the law and maintain neighbourly relations.

9. Can I shoot my sub-12ft/lb airgun in my garden?

Yes, you can but you must ensure that no pellets are allowed to travel beyond your boundary because you’ll be breaking the law if you do. Ensure that you always have a reliable backstop in place. Fasten your targets to a cardboard box that is stuffed with rags and place it in front of a wall or a large concrete slab and you will have a safe backstop and something to muffle the sound of impacting pellets.


10. What pest species can I shoot with my air rifle?

Rabbits, brown rats and grey squirrels are regarded as airgun quarry. The control of pest birds is a little more complicated as you must comply with rules set out by General Licences. New general licences have recently been published for pest species including woodpigeon, feral pigeon, carrion crow, rook, magpie, jackdaw and jay. Check for updates and conditions on the Natural England website (or the relevant authority for where you live) and ensure that you stick to the terms of the relevant licence.

Whatever live quarry you are targeting, it is vital to ensure clean, humane kills. Put in plenty of practice on paper targets and always shoot within the limits of your own abilities.