Bow and arrow hunting in the UK is evocative of all things Robin Hood for sure, but also connects us with our historical past when the world was greener and woodlands and forests made up most of the landscape, and life was simpler. The idea of moving silently through the trees, bow and arrow in hand, hunting for our food still holds a lot of appeal. To some it might sound barbaric, but to others, making a bow and arrows on a bow making course, and then using it for real in the woods might be a dream come true.
If that’s your plan, you’d better read this article so you don’t find yourself the wrong side of the Sheriff of Nottingham.
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This article does not constitute legal advice. We are purely providing 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.
Bow and arrow licensing.
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.
Is a bow and arrow a prohibited weapon?
Prohibited weapons in the Criminal Justice Act
The bow is not listed as a prohibited weapon in the Criminal Justice Act (1988, section 141) which means that it is legal to make your own bow and arrow, and buy and sell archery equipment (but see exceptions for crossbows below).
There are unsurprisingly plenty of articles which 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, but bows are not on that list. If it’s not on the list, it’s legal.
Find out more: The Criminal Justice act 1988 Section 141 – see schedule to Article 1 (http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/1988/2019/made)
But, before your pick up your bow and arrow, and head for the nearest woods, read on, because there is also the issue of offensive weapons.
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.