Do You Need A License For An Archery Bow In The UK?

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Whether you’re interested in competitive or recreational target shooting or field archery, archery is a sport and past-time that is both very traditional and currently very popular in the U.K. In 2015/2016; a reported 63,700 people participated in archery in the U.K. Whatever type of archery you’re engaged in, you have at least one piece of equipment in common — a bow. Depending on your activity, you may use a longbow, recurve bow, compound bow, or even a crossbow. But do you need a license for an archery bow? 

No. Archers in the U.K., whether they are participating in competitive or recreational target shooting or field archery, do not need a license to purchase or own an archery bow. There are many regulations and laws relating to the sport, offensive weapons, and crossbows, but none require a license for any archery bow.  

The sport of archery and equipment are subject to significant and precise laws and regulations in the U.K. Complying with them to participate in the game lawfully and safely is essential. Here’s everything you need to know.  

Do you need a license for an archery bow? 

There are no legal requirements in the U.K. that someone has a license to own an archery bow. Having said that, whether you are participating in target or field archery or intending to hunt by bow, this is a sport that can be dangerous if you aren’t trained and prudent. 

New archers are strongly encouraged to join one of the U.K.’s national governing bodies: Archery GB, the English Field Archery Association, or the National Field Archery Society. Each governing body offers coaching, training, recreation opportunities, and functions protected by insurance and experienced organizers. Insurance coverage for potentially dangerous activities like archery is essential.  

You can become a member of each organization through their websites. The websites also provide resources, including directories, to find clubs and ranges near you. The governing bodies generally establish codes of conduct, regulations, and Rules of Shooting that govern the sport under their jurisdictions.  

Household insurance policies may not apply to injury or property damage related to bows use. The national governing bodies regulate and license archery ranges and clubs that feature certified coaches, tournaments, leagues, and championships — all protected by appropriate insurance and risk mitigation measures.  

The regulation of archery and bow-hunting in the United States is subject to state-by-state laws. Generally, in the United States, no one requires a license to own or shoot a bow and arrow. 

Is hunting with a bow legal? 

Unlike in many countries, it has been illegal to hunt with a bow in the U.K. since 1965. The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, which regulates hunting and fishing in the U.K., has been updated since then, bow-hunting remains illegal. Hunting and shooting wildlife generally in the U.K. is a highly restricted activity.

You can find information about those legal restrictions on the government website regarding hunting and shooting wildlife. Those laws identify animals that may be hunted, stipulate seasons when hunting may occur, and establish firearm laws related to hunting.  

The U.K.’s prohibition of bow-hunting is different than in many other European countries. In Denmark, France, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Hungary, Finland, Bulgaria, and Slovenia, bow-hunting is legal. Bow-hunting is generally legal in the United States, although subject to state-by-state regulations on weapons, wildlife, and hunting seasons.  

Can I carry a bow in public? 

The U.K.’s 1953 Prevention of Crime Act made it an offense to carry an offensive weapon in a public place “without lawful authority or reasonable excuse.” Under the Act, an offensive weapon referred to a weapon made for causing an injury to a person; something adapted to injure someone, or something else intended to be used as a weapon. The 1953 Act was updated with the Offensive Weapons Act 2019. What’s the relevance of all this? 

If a bow (and arrow) is an offensive weapon, then the legislation may make it an offense to possess it in public. Specific legal interpretations aside, here’s things to keep in mind. 

A strung bow together with sharp arrows being transported in public for no legitimate purpose, i.e., going to a target range or club licensed by one of the national governing bodies, may amount to an offensive weapon contrary under the legislation. Keeping that in mind, archers are well-advised NOT to carry sharp arrows in public, to NOT carry a strung bow in public (instead, unstring it), and not to carry any archery equipment in public unless for a verifiable, legitimate purpose related to the recreation or sport of archery.  

Are crossbows legal? 

Unlike bows, crossbows are horizontally mounted and include a cocking device permitting the bow (rather than the archer) to hold the string in a loaded position with the bot or quarrel in place. Conversely, an archer must pull and maintain a bow’s draw manually while aiming for a shot. Crossbows are subject to different regulations in the U.K. Crossbows are legal. No one may hunt with a crossbow or any bow for that matter.  

The U.K.’s Crossbows Act 1987 controls the possession of crossbows with a draw weight of 1.4 kg or more. Selling or letting on hire a crossbow or crossbow parts to anyone under 18 is an offense. Likewise, it is an offense for anyone under the age of 18 to purchase or hire a crossbow or the parts of a crossbow. Also, it is an offense for anyone under the age of 18 to possess a crossbow capable of firing and discharging a missile or of having parts that can be assembled into a crossbow that can do so.  

Despite the specific regulations relating to crossbows, no license is required to own a crossbow in the U.K. In the United States, ownership of crossbows are legal, albeit subject to state-by-state regulation. 

Are compound bows legal? 

Compound bows usually have draw weights that are half that of a crossbow or less. Compound bows are legal in the U.K., but they may not be used anywhere except for a dedicated club. As stated elsewhere, hunting with a bow — including a compound bow — is prohibited in the U.K.  

As a result of the U.K.’s Offensive Weapons Act, transporting a crossbow, compound bow, or any bow in public requires consideration of the definition of an offensive weapon. Best practices include: considering storing your equipment at the range or club where you shoot, wrapping all equipment tightly, placing arrows or bolts in their own sealed and rigid container, and not transporting equipment except for valid, legitimate purposes such as traveling to a club or range.  

Can I practice archery on public land? 

With appropriate training, equipment, and supervision, archery is a safe past-time. The risks of practicing archery on public land are significant. Most regulators prohibit archery practice in parks and public areas unless they are structured, organized, and maintained as an archery range. With a large number of ranges open to the public and governed by regulating bodies in the U.K., taking risks is unnecessary.  

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Hi, I'm Sam, and I love archery! I used to work as a caregiver, and I'm in medical school now. I started this blog to help people like my parents get healthier in fun and exciting ways, more than just going to the gym. If you like one of my articles, I'd appreciate it if you share it with your folks and help them get healthier too!

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