Where does a shooter stand?
Q: I was walking up a woodland ride, which is also a footpath, shooting grey squirrels, when I was accosted by a woman I had never met before, who said it was against the law to shoot on a footpath and that she was going to report the matter to the police. I am assuming she didn’t, or that the police weren’t interested, because they haven’t been in touch. Am I allowed to? There are so many footpaths in my area that it is almost impossible not to shoot over and on them.
A: The woman you met is incorrect. It is legal to shoot over a footpath or public right of way, but you must not inconvenience the user when doing so.
Common sense when shooting on or near a public right of way is usually enough to avoid any trouble. Stop shooting if you see someone coming, allow people to pass unhindered, be polite and engage them if possible and make sure there is no shooting-related litter such as spent cartridges lying about.
Many people have been converted to our way of thinking by an unexpected meeting with someone out shooting who took the time to explain what they were doing and why.
Q: I am quite new to shooting and have been told that firing a gun with 50ft of a road or highway is banned. Is this correct?
A: No it is not, There is, however a caveat. In both England and Wales it is an offence if, when shooting within 50ft of the centre of a highway, someone is injured or endangered.
A highway is defined as any road on which the public has a right to drive a vehicle, but does not include bridleways, footpaths or cycle tracks. Nevertheless it is sensible and a matter of courtesy not to shoot close to any of these routes when they are being used by the public. It is also, of course, an offence to shoot on a public highway or from the verges.
In Scotland one may shoot from a highway, but an offence is committed under common law if anyone is disturbed or inconvenienced. It is far better to be sensible and shoot well away from a highway.
Shooting near a footpath
Q: Where a field is bordered by a public footpath, what is the minimum distance at which one can safely and legally shoot a shotgun?
A: The law lays down no minimum distance in relation to shooting near to a footpath. Legally, you may shoot as close to it as is safe and sensible.
If a footpath is rarely used you are unlikely to have a problem. However, if the footpath is popular with the public then on shooting days you need to bear in mind, not only the safety issue, but also the one of public perception.
It is important for the future of shooting we maintain cordial relations with other users of the countryside. Whatever the legal situation don’t shoot close to, or over, a footpath if there is any risk you might cause offence and get bad publicity for our sport.
In some circumstances it can be a good idea to station a stop or picker up on a footpath to chat to any walkers who may come past. It’s a good way of creating a dialogue with the non-shooting public and many walkers will happily stop and watch the drive for a few minutes, if asked nicely.
There are plenty who will applaud if they see a dog doing a good retrieve. Footpaths are an ideal PR opportunity but should never become a battlefield with the public.
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Shooting close to homes
Q: Can you tell me the law regarding where you are allowed to use a rifle for rabbiting in proximity to housing and roads and shooting towards populated areas?
A: Your authority to use a rifle, whether for shooting rabbits or any other quarry, will be controlled by the condition on your firearm certificate (FAC) defining the land over which you are permitted to shoot. This may restrict you to land approved by the police for the class of rifle that you are using, or it may be an “open” condition that does not place any territorial restriction on your use of the rifle.
Either way, the onus will be upon you, the user of the rifle, to ensure that at all times your bullet has a safe and suitable backstop. Ideally, this should be of soft earth. Moreover, you must ensure that elevation from which your shot is fired is such that your bullet does not ricochet off stones or hard or frozen ground in such a way that causes a danger to others. When shooting anywhere near other members of the public, you should also take into account their potential reaction to what you are doing.
There is no legal limit on the proximity within which you may shoot around houses or populated areas. When shooting in these situations you must simply take extra care regarding both safety and the possible alarm or annoyance that your shooting may cause to others. Always use a sound moderator if you have one and, if appropriate, advise the police that you will be rabbit shooting, using the 101 number. This will help if a member of the public sees you and calls the police.
In respect of a highway, remember it is an offence under the Highways Act 1980 if you shoot within 50ft of the centre of a highway, leading to a road user being injured, interrupted or endangered.