This document does not constitute legal advice. We are not lawyers. It is purely a description of the law as it is at the time of writing. While we will try to update it with changes in the law we do not guarantee that it is current.
Forest Knights accept no responsibility or accept liability for any outcomes from using this document. If in doubt consult an archery society, lawyer or the police.
The information in this document covers only the law in England and Wales. Scotland and Northern Ireland have their own statute books. If you are not shooting in England or Wales you should check the relevant laws in the country you are in. Remember: the law that applies is the law of the country you are in, not the country you live in.
We have created this document to understand the law as it applies to Archery in England and Wales. Where relevant we have quoted the relevant parts of the law and provided a link to the source legislation or an official source. Beware of wikipedia and “my mate says.”
Definition of a bow.
We have been unable to find a legal definition of a bow in the law of England and Wales but for clarity this is what we mean by a bow:
- A flexible or sprung part (traditional bows are flexible. Compound bows have stiff limbs and are sprung)
- The ends of which are connected to a chord or string such that the bow can be flexed by a person pulling on the string
- Designed to propel a projectile which is usually an arrow but may be a hard ball when the string is released.
Bows are not licensed in England and Wales and there is no age limit for owning, keeping or buying a bow. Anyone can buy a bow in a shop or online with no lawful obstruction. The seller may have their own restrictions but they are not based on statute.
Prohibited weapons in the Criminal Justice Act
The Criminal Justice Act 1988 Section 141
weapons that are proscribed. The bow is not one of them.
Prohibited and Offensive Weapons
Prohibited and offensive weapons have different meanings in law.
The Criminal Justice act 1988 in in a schedule to Article 1 (http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/1988/2019/made) defines a number of articles it is illegal to manufacture, sell or hire or offer for sale or hire, expose or possess for the purpose of sale or hire, or lend or give to any other person.
It’s an interesting list. Part (k) would seem to apply equally to peashooters as to poison darts.
(k) the weapon sometimes known as a “blowpipe” or “blow gun”, being a hollow tube out of which hard pellets or darts are shot by the use of breath
That’s part of a wider discussion on how laws like this get drafted.
Back to archery. Bows are not on that list which is a relief so all that manufacture, sell etc is fine for archery equipment (but see exceptions for crossbows below.)
This is unequivocal, if it’s not on the list, It’s not on the list.
In 2019 that part of the Criminal Justice Act was taken into Offensive Weapons Act 2019 which adds some enhancements around corrosive products etc. Bows are still not included.
Offensive weapons are a completely different matter.
The term offensive weapon was introduced in the Prevention of Crime Act 1953 http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/Eliz2/1-2/14/introduction which sought to remove all weapons from public use without reasonable excuse. The definition in that act of an offensive weapon is:
The term “offensive weapon” is defined as: “any article made or adapted for use to cause injury to the person, or intended by the person having it with him for such use”.
There are two parts to that:
- Any article made or adapted for use to cause injury to the person
- Any article intended by the person having it with him for such use.
- Sharpened stick – Yes it is an offensive weapon because it is adapted to cause injury.
- Piece of 2×4 – If it is being carried with the intent to cause injury.
This makes the position of a bow a matter of intent. It also means it is open to the interpretation of the police and ultimately the court.
We live with paranoia over weapons, some is justified. WE might feel it is excessive but that is not what the police or the public think. Calling the Armed Response Squad or wrestling you to the ground and cuffing you if you are fully kitted up with a strung bow and a full quiver of arrows will not be regarded as excessive. Quite rightly. Putting an arrow on your bow and waving it around is quite reasonably going to get you tasered or worse.
Here’s our advice to avoid your intent being mistaken if you are carrying your archery tackle in public:
- If you can remove the string from your bow, do so. You shouldn’t leave a non compound bow strung anyway. Now you are just carrying a curly or straight stick. As long as you cannot be shown to intend to beat someone over the head with it you should be ok.
- If you can’t remove the string easily (on a compound bow for instance) make sure it is in a case or bag.
- Even if it is not a compound you are going to draw less attention if it is in a bow bag.
- Do not carry arrows in your quiver. An openly visible bag iof pointed sticks is going to draw all sorts of attention you do not want. Use a document tube or specific arrow case. Even a cardboard document postal tube.
- Especially for field archers: Make sure any knives or sharps are in a closed bag too. The Offensive Weapons Act 2019 was particularly addressed at sharp or pointed weapons in the Knife Crime Prevention Order. It could avoid you having to try and explain that you have reasonable cause to be carrying it. If you are asked by a police officer to open the bag and take out the knife, refuse. Allow them to do it if they wish. When they are done ask them to put the knife back where it was and return everything to where they found it.
- Likewise do not open your compound case and take the bow out. Or take you unstrung bow out of the bag. Avoid touching it at all.
- Be calm and polite however difficult it is. Shouting can only make things worse. You don’t want a “hello sir can I ask what you are carrying there” to escalate. “I’m on my way to an archery event” is a much better opening gambit than “What the f*ck do you want to know for plod”
- In all encounters with the police use:
- Am I being detained?
- Am I being arrested?
- Am I free to go?
- For what am I being detained or arrested?
- Say as little as possible
- Stay calm
It’s common sense and it shouldn’t have to be said but common sense is neither common or sensible. Try and use it yourself but never, never take it for granted from others.
And the overriding consideration in law is that shooting someone with a bow and injuring them intentionally comes under a number of Offences against the person act. The general rule is that if you point a bow with an arrow nocked at another person you better be sure you want to kill them and take the consequences. In that respect it is no different to a gun. Even for a laugh, even for a bit of fun. That’s why archery tag is fun but in our opinion a bad idea. It encourages the wrong frame of mind when you are using potentially lethal equipment.
Archery in public places
On your own property there is no lawful bar to you practicing archery. However see the section on Civil Liability.
If you are on someone else’s property, their rules apply. You must have explicit permission. At an archery event you have implicit permission but even so, if you act irresponsibly you will be asked, in no uncertain terms to leave. At most events there will be a registration process. You should not shoot until you have registered and your equipment and any memberships etc have been checked.
Public parks or other amenity areas might look inviting to set up a target or do some stump shooting but don’t. They might be public but unless you have permission because, for instance, you are running an event, just don’t.
As we’ve seen, archery is reasonably unregulated and if we want to keep it that way we need to be responsible. And that includes lending your archery equipment to little Johnny up the street who would like to ping a few arrows in his garden. There is absolutely no legal reason why not, but when he puts an arrow into next door’s nice new Tesla, expect to be answering awkward questions from their insurance company.
The Wildlife and Countryside Act http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1981/69/contents prohibits hunting of wild animals (including birds) by bow or crossbow in England and Wales. The relevant section is Part 1 section 11. Specifically:
uses for the purpose of killing or taking any wild animal any self-locking snare, whether or not of such a nature or so placed as aforesaid, any bow or cross-bow or any explosive other than ammunition for a firearm;
That includes vermin covered by the General License https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/general-licences-for-wildlife-management
The penalties are very severe 2 years imprisonment and £5000 fine for each offence. Don’t do it. France and Spain allow it (and probably a number of other countries so save up, contact the local chasse or caza and be very nice to them and they may let you join them. Or save up a lot more and get yourself a whitetail tag in America.
And please make sure you know exactly what you are doing and you are accurate. If you need training and a theory and practical test get in touch with a club affiliated with The International Bowhunter Education Programme http://www.britishbowhunterassociation.co.uk/page8.php
In the UK stick to field archery. It’s a bit like simulated hunting but the targets are not live animals.
The Countryside and Wildlife act covers wild animals. That does not mean that you can shoot your own animals on your own land with impunity.
You will almost certainly fall foul of one of the many cruelty laws. They are a bit beyond the discussion here because they do not specifically mention archery.
To be safe and to keep archery’s good name don’t do it. And try to make sure others don’t.
Possible civil liability
Not necessarily a criminal law consideration but every time you shoot an arrow you might want to consider civil liability.
Where there’s blame there’s a claim. If you accidentally shoot your mate in the arm, he might get it bandaged up and a tetanus shot and you’re still mates with a bit of a war story. If he has loss of earnings insurance and he tries to claim, the insurance company is going to be much less understanding. Expect them to try and recover losses from you.
And don’t think “I have £5,000,000 public liability insurance, they’ll make it right if I shoot my neighbour in his garden because practicing is covered,” they won’t. They will invoke the reasonable care clause. You’ll lose your house, car and anything you earn long into the future.
For public events the best way to demonstrate reasonable care is a very careful risk assessment listing all of the risks, their likelihood, impact and mitigation. Rolling up at the playing field, setting up a target at the local fete and letting people have a go is not showing reasonable care.
The law relating to crossbows
Crossbows are a special case. They are more akin to spring powered rifles and pistols than bows. Some can produce massive projectile energy. Not surprisingly there are special laws to regulate them, especially with relation to age.
All the above sections relate equally to crossbows. But more so. If you are out for a stroll and you are caught with a crossbow do not be surprised to be looking down the barrel of an assault carbine or having several thousand volts from a taser shooting through you. Stringing and unstringing a high powered crossbow is not easy but if it is worth doing to save you aggravation.
Also note that crossbows are also the poachers weapon of choice. If you are someone else’s land with one without permission then expect not to be made welcome and invited in for a cup of tea.
It’s important to not that crossbows are not licensable at the present time but you should know the possession rule
The relevant legislation is The Crossbows Act 1987 http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1987/32/contents
It’s indicative of how seriously they are taken that they have their own specific legislation.
- The legislation does not apply to draw weights under 1.4kgs (toys)
- It does apply to all pistol and rifle crossbows above this weight
- It’s an offence to sell or hire a crossbow or any part of it to any person under 18.
- The purchaser is also guilty of an offence.
- A person under the age of 18 may not be found to be in the possession of a crossbow or any part of a crossbow unless supervised by someone over 21.
- If you are advertising a crossbow for sale, the police are authorised to make a test purchase by someone under 18 as grounds for prosecution.
- If there is reasonable cause to believe that you intend to contravene the rules your premises can be searched and goods seized.
- Penalties are imprisonment or fine
The main implication is that if you are selling or hiring a crossbow or any part of it, then you must ask for proof of age. The acceptable documents are listed in the act. You won’t know if the police have set up a test purchase until they arrive to detain you.
Also, if you are under 18 make sure you have someone over 21 accompanying you.
And as ever, it’s a lethal weapon. If you point it at someone make sure you want to kill them and take the consequences. Even if they die of shock because they thought it was loaded.
National Archery Organisations.
There are a number of archery organisations in the UK. As far as we are aware they are UK wide and not just constrained to England and Wales. They are an excellent start if you want to learn safety and how to shoot. Most clubs affiliated to the organisations will have shooting grounds of some kind so they are by far the best places to shoot if you don’t own a safe area of your own.
Membership of one of these organisations gives you access to their events and public liability insurance. They are also the fount of all knowledge on legal matters. We urge you to find one that suits your philosophy and join. We’ve provided a link to the websites and they all have contact details if you have questions.
This list is not exhaustive. Google is your friend. So are local archers.
Archery GB is the national archery organisation and are focussed on target archery (although they run other events) and national and international events. The archers you see at the Olympics will be affiliated to Archery GB.
They have affiliated clubs all around Great Britain.
National Field Archery Society
Field archery is simulated hunting using paper or foam targets in the shape of animals. Usually in a woodland setting. On a normal event you can expect to walk a couple of miles through some pleasant surroundings and shoot 40 or so targets. The access to shooting grounds for practice depends on the club and their landowner.
The NFAS requires that you have had appropriate safety training and have been signed off by a club official before you are permitted to take part in open competitions.
International Field Archery Association and the English Field Archery Association
These organisations are also concerned with field archery and have a similar philosophy and aims.
The British Longbow Society.
The BL-BS is dedicated to the British Longbow. The very precise definition is on their website. You can only shoot with a bow and arrows that meet the specification. Don’t turn up with a fibreglass hunting bow.
Pay and Play.
If you are lucky you may be close to a pay and play archery centre. There are very few. Some archery shops have an indoor and outdoor range primarily for testing your purchases but some offer hourly rental. They may require you to be a member of a recognised organisation.
At Forest Knights we are pleased to offer courses and ad-hoc friendly competitions for 2 people and upwards when we can fit them into our course schedule. Our introduction to field archery day will prepare you if you wish to look for a club or if you just want a fun day in the woods. No previous experience is required and we can provide all necessary equipment. We will cover safety, coaching, scoring and etiquette so you don’t make a gaffe on your first day out. There is no classroom training. Everything is built around a walk around a short course and shooting arrows.