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What Coronavirus Means for British Shooting Sports

The UK government’s new rules on movement are affecting shooting sports, as they take place during March and April.

What are closed:

  • Clay grounds
  • Gunshops
  • Competitions are cancelled
  • Police firearms licensing departments are likely not to accept new applications. Police Scotland already says it will return applications.

Professional pest control and deerstalking can take place, though many shooters are choosing to stay at home. Pest control and deerstalking are jobs carried out as paid work or for free by the UK’s 600,000+ shotgun and firearm licence holders. They protect crops or public health, provide welcome exercise, and they are usually carried out by people singly or in pairs. Where people stalk or shoot pest birds and animals in pairs, it is easy for them to keep an appropriate distance from each other. None of this is banned by the UK government.

In his speech to the nation on Monday 23 March 2020, Boris Johnson exempted bicycling as a form of exercise. The shooting and angling organisations are urgently trying to find out if the more solitary sports of pigeonshooting, deerstalking, and fishing are also exempted.

The British Deer Society says: “It is the opinion of the BDS that recreational stalking, and its associated travel implications, are not essential and should therefore not take place at the current time. Professional Stalkers should seek the advice of their employers, line managers, or landowners. We are aware that a number of organisations, including SNH, FE, and FLS, have ceased all culling operations.”

The Angling Trust says: “We have been in contact with the Government regarding its view on fishing as a permitted activity and hope to update you all shortly.”

The decision on shooting appears to rest with local police. Some constabularies are banning some shooting. Devon & Cornwall Police advised one viewer (25 March 2020) who asked if he could go shooting: “Sorry to say we have been advised that this would not be acceptable only farmers, landowners and professional gamekeepers are able to go out shooting at this time.”

In Kent (26 March 2020), a firearms enquiry officer told us over the telephone that Kent Constabulary is happy for shooters to protect crops and livestock, but they consider ‘recreational or one-for-the-pot shooting’ not essential… yet (they still have a sense of humour). Deer for the freezer is questionable unless you are shooting over your land. Kent Constabulary asks shooters to call 101 to let them know when they are going shooting.

Shooterking has offered 500 protective suits to the NHS for free.
Shooterking has offered 500 protective suits to the NHS for free.

On 23 March 2020, shooter Lewis MacFarlane contacted his firearms enquiry officer (who shoots) at Lancashire Constabulary. He reports: “Lancashire police have stated that deer stalking and management is not essential. No case can be made to justify it as essential.

“There are a few things that I asked relating to shooting to clarify some grey areas. This is what she said:

“Predator control during lambing is essential and critical to livestock management and protection. Foxing, crows, and magpies, you can go and shoot for this purpose. However, she suggested that you do it quietly so not to get the public calling the police.

“Humane dispatch is essential. ‘I’ve nipped out to Scotland to stalk for a day/few days’ is not humane dispatch. However, if a farmer calls and says ‘there is a deer hung up in a fence,’ that’s essential humane dispatch.

“If you are stopped by the police going, foxing explains the critical need for livestock protection. If you are stopped by police while going stalking, you could get a fine, which you would have to inform your local police about, and they could use ‘misuse of firearms.’ In her words, ‘if someone’s local FEO wanted to be an ass, he/she could use it to put a black mark against you.’”

BASC released a statement saying it was “seeking further clarity” in relation to countryside management. It said, “essential work such as ensuring food production” was vital, which could include pest control and wildlife management provided by the shooting community.

Countryside Alliance advised against going fishing as a form of “isolating” or looking for “loopholes” in the government guidelines, such as “stalking is my exercise.” It quoted the British Horse Society as saying, “everyone should make their own individual decision as to whether riding is necessary.”

Many deerstalkers and pigeon shooting guides face cancellations. In this item about the new Sako S20, deerstalker Paul Childerley explains how he is coping:

Most of the main countryside and shooting organizations have set up coronavirus minisites. You can find them here:

Until the new restrictions closed gunshops, some shooters stocked up on ammunition. Watch our film here:

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