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What’s the law on carrying a knife for hunting?

Can you be prosecuted for carrying a knife on your way stalking or rabbiting?

carrying a knife for hunting

Avoid falling foul of the law on knives in public

Carrying a knife for hunting – some questions

Q: I keep being told by shooting friends that it is illegal to be carrying a knife for hunting with a locking blade. If this is so, why are they allowed to be sold?

folding knife

A safety mechanism would constitute a defence, but only if the locking knife is carried in the appropriate environment.

A: Section 139 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 deals with carrying knives in a public place. There is a statutory defence at Section 139(2) for carrying a knife with a folding blade with a cutting edge less than 3in long in a public place. However, settled law says that the knife must be capable of folding at all times, which precludes knives with locking blades. (Read our list of best hunting knives put to the test.)

Section 139(4) offers the general defence of ‘good reason’ for carrying any knife in a public place. There is no definition of what good reason means as each case is subjective and has to be judged on its merits. The locking mechanism on a knife is a safety feature to protect the fingers from a blade that suddenly closes. It would seem to me that carrying a knife incorporating a safety mechanism would constitute a ‘good reason’ in itself. If you carry a lock knife while shooting, always make sure you take it out of your coat pockets when you get home. You don’t want to be found with it in a shopping centre three days later. Your ‘good reason’ defence would probably not stand up there. (Bill Harriman)

Read how to make an antler handle knife here. 

Taking a knife hunting or fishing

Q: My son and his friend recently returned home with some unpaunched rabbits. When I asked him why he said they were concerned about carrying a knife in case they were arrested. He sometimes walks on public highways to get to the fields and has adopted a no knife policy when going fishing for the same reasons. We live in the central belt of Scotland. Where does he stand legally with taking a knife hunting or fishing?

A: The UK government website has a very clear section on knife law which states: ” It is illegal to carry a knife in public without good reason, unless it has a folding blade with a cutting edge 3 inches long or less”.

It is illegal to have any sharply pointed or bladed instrument (think scissors, screwdrivers, Stanley knives etc as well as ordinary knives) in your possession in a public place without good reason or lawful authority. The only exception to this is the traditional penknife with a non-locking, folding blade less than three inches long.

What is a public place?

A public place is anywhere the public has or is permitted to have access. The land on which your son ferrets may or may not be a public place but it is virtually certain he has to travel via a public place to get there.

If your son is carrying a knife for the purpose of paunching rabbits or gutting fish then he has a good reason for having the knife with him and is acting entirely within the law. That covers your son for travelling to and from the place where he ferrets or fishes and also covers him if he stops off in a shop for a pint of milk or whatever on the way home.

However, if he were to go to the cinema on a Friday night and find he had forgotten to remove the knife from his pocket before leaving home he would be liable to prosecution.

What about deer stalkers and shooters carrying knives?

A public place includes public footpaths and privately owned land to which the public are permitted access. It follows that some shoots are public places and others are not and also that part of a shoot may be a public place whilst another part isn’t.

You would have good reason for carrying a knife in a public place if you are a farmer, fisherman, gamekeeper, stalker, rabbit controller, picker-up or other person who might reasonably expect to have to use a knife in the course of their work or recreation.

If you are travelling between your home and the shoot that would also constitute good reason, even if you stop off to do some shopping on the way.

However if you inadvertently left the knife in the car or in your pocket on another occasion and then went shopping in the supermarket you would be committing an offence.

In short, if you have a good reason for having a knife with you you are covered but you must be careful not to take it unless you have a reasonable expectation you might need to use it.

I carry a knife in my game bag – which I am careful to remove from the car at the end of a day’s shooting.

BASC has a good section on the law concerning knives here. 

In summary – the law on carrying knives in England, Scotland and Wales

  • It is ILLEGAL to have any sharply pointed or bladed instrument  in a public place without good reason or lawful authority.
  • Estate land to which the public have access is a public place even if it is privately owned.
  • A car or vehicle is classed as a public place whilst on the highway, and the police have search and seize powers without warrant with respect to knives.
  • Occupations which would show ‘good reason’ for carrying a knife could include: farmer, estate manager, recreational stalker, gameshooter, angler.
  • Leaving a knife in a car, or in your pocket in readiness for a forthcoming trip shooting or forgetting it is there is breaking the law.
  • Folding pocket knives must have cutting edges of less than three inches and do not lock. A court case ruled that a folding pocket knife “must be foldable at all times”.


This article was first published in 2014 and has been updated.