Can I Hunt with an Air Rifle in the UK?

We all know the UK is strict when it comes to gun restrictions, but is it actually possible to go hunting in the UK using an air rifle?

Well the simple answer is yes, it is legal to hunt with an air rifle in the UK, provided you follow the law and regulations regarding licensing, age limits, where you can shoot, and what quarry you can hunt.

In this article we’re going to be sharing the key points you need to know about air rifles in the UK if you’re planning on going hunting.

What Are The Licensing And Age Requirements

If you’re 18 or over, you can purchase and use an air gun without a licence in the UK, provided the muzzle energy is under the legal limit (12 ft-lbs for rifles, 6 ft-lbs for pistols).

14-17 year olds can use an air rifle unsupervised on private property where they have permission, but cannot purchase one. And under 14s can only use an air rifle under the supervision of someone 21+.

When it comes to hunting pest species with an air rifle, you must comply with all firearms laws and have the landowner’s permission. You can shoot certain pest bird species, such as woodpigeons, crows, and magpies, under general licences issued by government agencies. 

These licences allow you to shoot the listed bird species to prevent damage to crops and livestock, conserve other wildlife, or preserve public health. You must abide by the terms and conditions of the relevant general licence.

General licences vary by country within the UK, so it’s important to regularly check the BASC website for the most up-to-date advice on general licences and how they affect you.

Power Limits On UK Air Rifles

As mentioned earlier, the maximum legal muzzle energy for an unlicensed air rifle in the UK is 12 ft-lbs (16.27 joules). This is quite different to the US where high powered air rifles are legal.

In Great Britain, if the rifle exceeds this limit, you’ll require a Firearms Certificate (FAC). However for most hunting purposes, something slightly under that limit is powerful enough.

Most hunters in the UK use a rifle with a power level just below 12 ft-lbs to ensure they’ve got the power without needing a FAC.

Where Can You Hunt?

You can hunt on land where you have permission from the landowner or tenant. It’s important to know the boundaries of the property where you are allowed to shoot, and get permission in writing to avoid disputes.

This is because trespassing with an air gun, loaded or unloaded, is an offence known as “armed trespass”. 

Also be careful when hunting near public roads or highways, as it is illegal to shoot a pellet beyond the area you’ve got permission in (unless you have the neighbouring landowner’s consent too). 

What Can You Hunt?

Air rifles are suitable for hunting small pest species in the UK, including:

  • Rabbits
  • Rats
  • Grey squirrels
  • Stoats
  • Woodpigeons
  • Crows
  • Magpies
  • And other pest birds

You cannot hunt game birds, deer, or other protected species with an airgun. It’s worth checking the current regulations and general shooting licences to confirm a species can legally be hunted, as this often gets updated

A Note On Humane Hunting

If you are planning on hunting in the UK, it’s important to only take shots within your ability and effective range of your air rifle (typically under 40 yards), and to target the head or vital organs for a quick, clean kill. 

So we’d advise practising and developing your marksmanship skills before hunting live quarry.

What Type of Air Rifle Should You Get for Hunting?

Not sure which rifle you should be taking out hunting? Here’s what you need to prioritise: accuracy, reliability, and ease of use.You’ll also want to consider the weight of the rifle too, as hunting can often be an all day job and it’s best not to be carrying a heavy gun.

Most hunting air rifles are either spring-piston or pre-charged pneumatic (PCP) powered. Spring powered air guns are usually more affordable and low-maintenance, while PCPs offer consistent power and higher shot counts. 

A good option is a repeating air rifle, which has a magazine that provides faster follow-up shots compared to single-shot models. This can be helpful when hunting fast-moving quarry or taking quick humane follow-up shots.

It’s also worth mentioning that a lot of hunters do not recommend ‎CO2 air rifles for hunting as their accuracy isn’t as good.

.177 or .22 Calibre

Most air rifles in Britain are available as either .177 or .22 – both of which can be effective for hunting small game.

There’s a lot of conflicting views when it comes to which to choose, but the general consensus is that .22 pellets hit harder, whereas .177 shoot flatter over distance. Meaning there’s pros and cons of each.

To be honest, with good shot placement, either calibre works so you shouldn’t worry too much. Although most of the pros will recommend .177 over .22 (providing your shooting a pellet that’s got some weight behind it).

Is It Worth Getting A Scope & Bipod?

A quality scope is highly recommended for air rifle hunting as it allows more precise aiming and clearer target identification. 3-9×40 or similar variable magnifications are popular choices as that’ll let you get a much more accurate shot.

And when it comes to bipods, yes they’re also very useful for taking steady rested shots in the field, especially when shooting from a prone position. Bipods are not essential but can help improve accuracy quite a lot.

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