Hunting and Shooting Wildlife


Hunting and shooting wildlife

  1. Overview
  2. Birds
  3. Mammals

1. Overview

You must follow the rules for hunting and shooting wildlife including:

  • what you can hunt or shoot
  • when you can do it
  • what equipment you can use

You can be fined or jailed for hunting illegally or causing unnecessary suffering to an animal.

You must have permission from the land owner.

Firearms and shotgun certificates

You must get a certificate to use a shotgun, rifle or other firearm.

You don’t need a certificate for:

  • air rifles up to 12ft lb in power
  • air pistols up to 6ft lb in power

You can’t use:

  • bows or crossbows
  • explosives (other than the legal ammunition for a firearm)


2. Birds

You can shoot certain species of game birds, quarry birds and waterfowl but only during the shooting season.

Sometimes you can only shoot in certain locations, for example you can’t shoot some waterfowl above the high water line.

You can’t shoot birds in the closed season.

You must get a falconry licence to hunt birds with a falcon.


If you’re using a shotgun to shoot birds, the internal diameter of the shotgun can’t be more than 1.75 inches.

You can’t use:

  • a firearm that can hold more than 2 rounds of ammunition in the magazine (such as an automatic or semi-automatic weapon)
  • artificial lighting
  • a sighting device for night shooting, or a device for lighting up targets

3. Mammals

There are different rules for foxes, deer and other mammals.


It’s illegal to hunt foxes with a pack of dogs. You can use dogs to simulate hunting, for example ‘drag’ or ‘trail’ hunting.

You can use up to 2 dogs to chase (‘flush’ or ‘stalk’) foxes out of hiding if the fox is causing damage to your property or the environment.

Your dogs can’t go underground to find the foxes unless they’re threatening wild or game birds kept for shooting – only one dog can go underground at any time.

You must:

  • shoot the fox quickly after it’s been found
  • carry proof you own the land you’re shooting on or written permission from the landowner

You can be fined, and your dogs or hunting equipment taken away, if you break the law.

There are other ways you can control foxes if they’re causing damage to your property or the environment.


You must follow the restrictions on when you can shoot deer and what type of firearms and ammunition you can use.

You need a licence to shoot deer:

  • in the closed season
  • at night (at any time of the year)
  • You can’t use a vehicle to chase deer.

Other mammals

You can hunt or shoot some other mammals.

There are rules on when you can hunt or shoot and what equipment you can use.

Managing wildlife and controlling pests

There are different rules about what you can do to manage wildlife on your land or control pests on your property.

Managing wildlife on your land

You may need a wildlife licence to kill, cull, remove or disturb the habitats of particular species if they’re legally protected. You’ll usually need to have a good reason too (eg they’re attacking your crops or causing a public health problem).

Wildlife protection laws are different in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Contact the organisation in your area to find out which species are protected and what you can and can’t do.


Contact Wildlife Management and Licensing at Natural England for advice on dealing with birds and animals on your land.

Wildlife Management and Licensing
0845 6014523
Monday to Friday, 8.30am to 5pm
Find out about call charges

Report any suspected poisoning of a bird or animal to the Wildlife Incident Investigation Scheme.

Wildlife Incident Investigation Scheme
0800 321600
Open 24 hours a day
Find out about call charges

Northern Ireland

You’ll need a licence to:

  • remove bats from your building or disturb their habitat for development work
  • kill or move certain birds, or take their eggs
  • keep or breed some birds of prey


You can apply for a licence online from the Biodiversity Unit, part of the Northern Ireland Environment Agency. You can also get advice on related topics, such as using rat poison on your land or photographing wildlife.

Biodiversity Unit
028 9056 9605
Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm
Find out about call charges


Find out your legal responsibilities for the protection of wildlife.

Scottish Natural Heritage also has information on activities that need a licence and how to apply for one.


The Welsh Assembly Government can advise on managing wildlife, eg badgers on your land.

If moles are causing damage or harm to agricultural land (eg damaging plant growth or grass-cutting machinery), you can only control them by trapping them or gassing them using aluminium phosphide.

Report any suspected poisoning of a bird or animal to the Wildlife Incident Investigation Scheme.

Wildlife Incident Investigation Scheme
0800 321600
Open 24 hours a day
Find out about call chargesShotgun and firearm certificates


Shotgun and firearm certificates

Apply for a licence


You need a firearms certificate issued by the police to possess, buy or acquire a firearm or shotgun. You must also have a certificate to buy ammunition.

How to apply

You can get a firearm or shotgun certificate application form from the firearms licensing unit of your local police force.

You must:

  • complete an application form
  • provide 1 passport photograph
  • have 2 referees for a firearm certificate and 1 referee for shotgun certificate
  • pay the fee for the certificate you are applying for

You can get the fees from your local police force. The fee amounts can be found from the firearms licensing unit of the police force where you live.

You must also prove to the chief officer of police that you’re allowed to have a firearms certificate and pose no danger to public safety or to the peace.

A shotgun certificate won’t be given or renewed if the chief officer of police has a reason that you shouldn’t be allowed to have a shotgun under the Firearms Act. Or if they don’t think you have a good reason to have, buy or acquire a shotgun.

A certificate usually lasts 5 years from the date it was issued or renewed.


Your certificate will include a photograph of you and information about the firearm(s) or shotgun(s) you have in your possession.

You must:

  • follow any condition attached to the certificate (the chief officer of police can vary these conditions at any time by giving notice in writing)
  • be able to show your firearm or shotgun certificate if asked by the police

You must have a European Firearms Pass if you want to travel within Europe with your guns. You can apply for this at the same time as your firearms certificate.

European firearms passes are normally valid for 5 years or the length of your firearm certificate – whichever is shorter.

You can renew a European firearms pass by applying to the chief officer of police in your local police force.

Certain firearms are completely prohibited. You won’t be able to get a licence for them and it is an offence to possess, buy or acquire them without the authority of the Home Secretary.

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