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.

We owe a lot to the humble air rifle. For many of us airgunning is a gateway to the sport, such is its accessibility. Through an airgun we learn the basics of safe gun handling, how to zero a scope and the art of shooting straight.

There is nothing more fun than a plinking session in your backyard and with pellets being relatively cheap, it is an economic way of keeping your shooting skills sharp. Even now I return to my spring gun to ensure my marksmanship is up to scratch.

airgun pellets

You need to use decent ammo that suits your barrel if you want to get the best from your airgun.

Airguns are also a very useful tool for pest control. A sub. 12ft/lb. precharged pneumatic air rifle will deliver a precise and deadly despatch to a rat or a squirrel in a confined space and can also help control larger species such as rabbit or corvids.

Some of us move on to other kinds of shooting and some of us stay loyal to our shooting roots. But either way, it can be agreed that the airgun has earned an important place in our sport. The fact it can be enjoyed throughout the year is a wonderful bonus.

Matthew Clark, Editor Sporting Gun magazine

Responsible airgun shooters eat any edible quarry and do their best to make use of fur and feather

A noble sport

Air rifle shooting demands an extremely high level of fieldcraft and marksmanship and many airgunners provide a free pest control service, which can provide free-range meat.

An airgunner needs to get extremely close to the quarry to take a shot, within 30 metres. An airgun may be quiet, but it’s useless at extreme range, and an airgun shooter needs to be a skilful stalker.

The successful airgun user also needs to be a crack shot. The species targeted are very small with a tiny kill zone. Responsible airgun shooters should limit their maximum shooting distance to a range at which they can confidently and consistently group pellets within a circle the size of a £1 coin.

That level of accuracy is challenging enough over a fixed range, but airgun pellets also have a distinctly curved trajectory so the shooter needs to understand the ammunition’s downrange performance.

Airgun bags tend to be modest. Half a dozen rabbits or three or four woodpigeon is a good result on most airgun outings and for that reason edible quarry is always valued.

Camouflage clothing

Camouflage patterns help with concealment but you can still enjoy success with your airgun without them

Looking to buy an air rifle on a budget? Our reviewers have researched different airgun brands and models to see which represent best value for money, whether you are buying new or second hand.

Bargain air rifles

Matthew Clark, editor of Sporting Gun comments: “There are some real bargain air rifles out there, especially on the second-hand market. Some high quality PCPs from Air Arms, Weihrauch and Daystate are a fraction of their original price if bought second-hand.

“If you want a new PCP, then there is plenty of choice from makers such as Hatsan, Webley and Cometa that really offer great value for money and stunning accuracy.

“If you prefer the simplicity and self-sufficiency a spring-powered airgun gives you then you have a wide range of quality air rifles, both new and used. These sort of airguns, being relatively simple mechanically, can be kept going for decades if looked after properly.”

Tips for successful airgunning

1. Spend time on the practice range punching paper and it will pay off in the field.

2. Go on a reconnaissance mission. Looking around where you have permission to shoot will help you to target the right places but all wildlife observation will pay benefits. Fieldcraft includes watching and understanding wildlife and the changing seasons.

3.  Be patient. Take your time and don’t expect too much too soon. If you stand still your quarry will find it harder to spot you, so have long periods of inactivity.

4. Being invisible is an important part of hunting with an air rifle. Which doesn’t mean you have to invest in camouflage netting and clothing. Using natural cover is better because you aren’t making a change to the landscape. Hide yourself in shady areas, one of most effective places to remain unseen.

5. Avoid having any suspicious smells around you. Quarry species like rabbits scent danger from the human world. Stalking with the wind in your face will help to carry odours away from twitching nostrils, but it’s better if you can eliminate them. Don’t wash your shooting clothes unless you have to and don’t use washing powder when you do. Avoid using deodorant and aftershave immediately before you head out shooting and don’t have strong air fresheners in your car.

6. Keep going out in the field – don’t be disheartened by failure. You will learn from every experience – whether it’s why a rabbit bolted into a hedgerow or why the pigeons refused to land near your decoys.

Air rifles in Scotland

In Scotland residents need to have airguns included on their firearms certificate (FAC). Other UK citizens visiting Scotland who want to take an air rifle must apply to the Chief Constable of Police Scotland for a visitor permit. 

However if the visitor holds a valid firearm or shotgun certificate, they may possess an air weapon in Scotland without a visitor permit for as long as the certificate is valid.

FAQs about airguns

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.

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.

Inexpensive airguns | Air rifle reviews | PCP air guns | Pest control 

Spring-powered airgun or a PCP?

Should I buy a spring-powered airgun or a PCP?

Choosing the right airgun isn’t an easy decision. Once you’ve decided on your budget you will have to think about the power source and it’s this that most buyers usually have the most difficulty over. Years ago the only option was a spring-powered airgun but in the last 15-20 years…

airgun laws

Air rifle questions we’re often asked

  Q: Do I need a licence for an air rifle?  If you live in England or Wales and have an air rifle with a muzzle energy level of 12 ft lb or less or an air pistol with a muzzle energy of 6 ft lb or less you don’t…

clear pheasant pens of rats

How to use an air rifle to clear pheasant pens of rats

One evening that really sticks in my mind is a ratting session with my friend Kev Hawker in February. As the pheasant season had drawn to a close, we were allowed to shoot inside the release pens on a local estate and the early signs suggested that we were 

Summer squirrel shooting with air rifle

Airguns and summer squirrel shooting

Squirrel shooting with an air rifle can be very tricky over the summer months. The trees are covered with dense foliage which makes your quarry almost invisible in the treetops. Lure of the pheasant feeder The colder months are an easier time for squirrel shooting with an air rifle. Hungry…

most powerful air rifle

Powerful air rifles that don’t need a firearms licence

Which is the most powerful air rifle under the legal limit? Legal limit airguns (air rifles that are under the 12ft/lbs power limit) are the easiest and cheapest way to get into shooting. These types of rifles do not require a licence (except in Scotland) and after the initial expense…

crow control with rifles

Shooting crows with rifles

Crow shooting isn't just for those who possess a shotgun. Bruce Potts investigates the relative merits of centrefires and rimfires for a safe and humane despatch

FAC Airwolf

Here’s why you should consider getting an FAC air rifle

A firearms certificate air rifle – known as an FAC air rifle – is over 12 ftlb in power meaning that the owner needs to have a Firearms Certificate to own one. If you’re already a conventional air rifle user and considering upgrading to something bigger you might be wondering…

garden airgunning

How to enjoy a spot of garden airgunning safely and legally

Provided you follow some sensible safety rules, garden airgunning is a great way to improve your target skills. Any garden with a range of above 20m will make for interesting shooting and allow enough room to set up an air rifle shooting range. Garden airgunning safety Although airguns are low-powered…

Spring-powered airgun or a PCP?

10 PCP air rifles from £430 to under £1000

We’ve looked around for some cheap PCP air rifles that still do the job, for budgets of up to £500 and under £1000. Once you’ve bought the airgun you’ll be able to enjoy relatively cheap and accurate shooting, whether you’re a target shooter or need to do some pest control.…