Bow and arrow law – offensive weapons
The definition of an offensive weapon is
“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”.
Find out more: Offensive Weapons, Knives, Bladed and Pointed Articles
The law was changed to include mention of offensive weapons in 1953, with the aim of removing all weapons from public use where people did not have a reasonable excuse for carrying them.
Find out more: Prevention of Crime Act 1953
The term offensive weapon was introduced into law in 1953 with the aim of removing all weapons from public use without reasonable excuse. The definition in that act of an offensive weapon is:
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.
That means that even a sharpened stick is an offensive weapon because it has been adapted to cause injury. Even a piece of 2”× 4” wood from Wickes – if it is being carried with the intent to cause injury – is an offensive weapon.
So when it comes to a bow and arrow, it’s all about your intentions. 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. If you enjoy wood carving and forest crafts, you’ve carved your own bow and are interested in field archery, for example, you might feel the concerns are 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.
Bow and arrow law – how to stay on the right side of the law.
Here’s our advice to avoid your intent being mistaken if you are carrying your bow and arrow 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 of 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?”
- 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
And the overriding consideration in law is that shooting someone with a bow and injuring them intentionally comes under a number of offences (Offences Against the Person Act).
The general rule is that if you point a bow with an arrow nocked at another person you are showing the intent to injure or kill them. Just never do it.
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 stop. 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, avoid the temptation.
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.
Bow Hunting in the UK
It is prohibited in England and Wales to hunt wild animals, including birds, by bow or crossbow.
Find out more: The Wildlife and Countryside Act
The penalties are very severe, including two years’ imprisonment and a £5,000 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
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, but 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 do it either.
Possible civil liability
This is not necessarily a criminal law consideration but every time you use a bow and 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 have several thousand volts from a taser shooting through you. Stringing and unstringing a high-powered crossbow is not easy but it is worth doing to save you aggravation.
Also note that crossbows are also the poacher’s weapon of choice. If you are on 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 note that crossbows are not licensable at the present time but you should know the possession rule.
Find out more: The Crossbows Act 1987
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, you are demonstrating the intent to injure or kill them, and you will be treated accordingly.
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.
Back to the disclaimer
We’ve provided this information to you in good faith with the intention of making archery a safe practice for all. Please note that Forest Knights accept no responsibility or accept liability for any outcomes from using this article. If in doubt, always consult an archery society, a 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.
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 to make sure everyone learns in the best possible conditions. There is no classroom training. Everything is built around a walk around a short course and shooting arrows.
We also offer a range of bow making courses in the UK, where you will learn to craft your own wooden bow and arrows in beautiful woodland surroundings, with friendly, knowledgeable and safety-conscious trainers.