Falling shot: a guide to responsible shooting
The legal and ethical responsibiities of shotgun users when it comes to falling shot
Whether it’s an air rifle, shotgun, small-bore or fullbore rifle, the fact remains that our pellets or bullets will eventually succumb to gravity’s pull. If you’re the owner of a grand estate or hundreds of acres of land, then falling shot probably isn’t a problem. However, it can become a contentious issue if you’re shooting close to residential boundaries. (Read the rules you need to follow when garden airgunning.)
Gough Thomas claimed that pellets from a 12-bore shotgun (almost certainly lead) could travel up to 220 yards or approximately 201 metres at optimal barrel elevation. This doesn’t seem like a great distance, but it wouldn’t take much for an innocently aimed shot to have a portion of its charge fall on someone else’s land or property. As most rough shooters, pigeon decoyers and wildfowlers likely know, this can lead to significant strife. (Read more on how to deal with spent shot and neighbours.)
Knowing the law
While I’m not a legal expert, I understand that it’s the shotgun user’s responsibility to ensure their spent shot lands only on ground they have permission to shoot over. Imagine rough shooting in an isolated five-acre sugar-beet field and your spaniel flushes a pheasant. In the excitement of the moment, it’s easy to overlook where your spent shot might land, but the potential consequences can be very troublesome.
While picking up, I’ve often heard spent shotgun pellets hit the roof slates of a nearby farm building. Although the pattering shot is unlikely to cause harm, it can lead to heated disputes. I wouldn’t want to be the shoot captain tasked with mediating such issues.
I must admit, I’ve been ‘rained’ upon by falling spent pellets on numerous occasions while picking up, beating, shooting, and even once when cycling home from school. While it’s usually just harmless No 6 shot falling to earth, it can be disconcerting, and I understand why the public might become irate. It’s challenging to explain to a non-shooter the difference between being ‘peppered’ and a relatively harmless incidence of falling shot.
A tense encounter
A few years ago, I was with a small shooting party that had just leased a new woodland drive near a village. The shoot captain sensibly instructed the Guns to only shoot approaching birds well in front and most definitely not to shoot behind the line to avoid dropping shot onto the urban sprawl. However, one experienced gent ignored this advice when a woodcock flew past, and he took his successful second shot well over his left shoulder.
About 20 minutes later, just as we’d finished picking up and were about to board the Gun bus, a police car drove ominously down the private lane towards us. Thankfully, the police officers were understanding and explained that they had received a complaint about shot falling on a residential premises just over the road. Our shoot captain proactively suggested we could alter the drive in the future, and the officers agreed it was an ideal compromise. We were fortunate that day, as the officers employed common sense and didn’t even ask to see our shotgun certificates. The guilty party never officially admitted fault, but our shoot captain’s advice was heeded from that day forward and there were no repercussions.
Even when shooting on your own land or on a legitimately hired shoot, falling shot can still cause problems. A few years ago, a farm shoot was underway when some ramblers ‘alleged’ they had been ‘shot at’ while crossing a rather distant footpath. The ramblers informed the police and complained to the parish council. The village magazine’s editor, a ‘good-lifer’ who had recently moved to the area, reported the incident with some enthusiasm. The farm owner explained it could only have been harmless falling shot but still apologised for any alarm it may have caused the unsuspecting ramblers.
After the incident, the shoot members moved the covercrop site a short distance and repegged the drive for the next season. This ensured no shot could fall near the footpath, and since then, there have been no further complaints from regular footpath walkers. (Read how close to a footpath are you allowed to shoot?)
Experience has taught me that it’s always wise to avoid upsetting the neighbours.