Essential Guide to Air Guns in the UK: 15 Critical Things To Know

Unlocking the mysteries of air gun ownership in the UK reveals a world where precision meets responsibility. From the power limits that define legality to the nuances of where and what you can hunt, navigating the UK’s air gun regulations demands attention to detail. 

Join us as we delve into the top 15 things you need to know about air guns in the UK, clarifying licensing, hunting permissions, and the key factors that ensure safe and enjoyable air gun ownership.

Top 15 Questions About Air Guns in the UK

Discover the top 15 questions about air guns in the UK, from power limits to hunting permissions. Get clarity on air gun ownership laws:

1. How powerful can an air rifle be in the UK?

In the UK, the maximum legal power for an air rifle without requiring a Firearms Certificate is 12 foot-pounds (ft-lbs) or 16.27 joules. This restriction is part of the UK’s stringent gun laws that balance recreational use with public safety. If an air rifle exceeds this limit, it is classified under the same regulations as a firearm, necessitating the same legal paperwork and safekeeping as a conventional firearm.


Air rifles are used for various activities, including target shooting and pest control. Still, users must ensure that their air rifles comply with this legal standard to avoid penalties, including fines and imprisonment.

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2. Are you allowed to shoot an air rifle in your back garden in the UK? 

Shooting an air rifle in your back garden is permissible under UK law, provided that you have taken precautions to prevent any pellet from going beyond your property boundary. It’s crucial to respect neighbours’ peace and privacy and to ensure the absolute safety of those around.

This means setting up a proper backstop to catch pellets and confirming there’s no chance of pellets escaping your property. While there is no specific law prohibiting the discharge of airguns in private gardens, misuse leading to endangering public safety can attract legal consequences.

3. Can I shoot my air rifle in the woods of the UK? 

Using an air rifle in UK woodlands requires explicit permission from the landowner. It is illegal to fire any gun, including air rifles, on land where you do not have permission, which includes most public and familiar lands.

When shooting on private land, it’s also a legal requirement to ensure that no pellets cross the land’s boundaries and that you are more than 50 feet from a public right of way to avoid nuisance or danger to the public.

4. What can you legally hunt with an air rifle in the UK? 

In the UK, air rifles can be used to hunt certain species, such as rabbits, rats, grey squirrels, and pigeons, but there are restrictions to ensure humane hunting. For example, it’s illegal to hunt deer or foxes with an air rifle as the power is typically insufficient for a humane kill. It’s also essential to have permission from the landowner and to ensure that hunting does not occur near public spaces or roads. Hunting must align with the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and other relevant legislation.

5. Do I need permission for air guns in the UK? 

You do not need a specific permit to own an air rifle in the UK if it falls below the 12 ft-lbs energy limit. However, to use an air rifle for any purpose, including target shooting or hunting, you must have permission from the landowner where you intend to shoot. You will need a Firearms Certificate if you possess an air rifle with a muzzle energy exceeding 12 ft-lbs. It’s also worth noting that the landowner’s permission is legally required to discharge a firearm, including sub-12 ft-lbs air rifles, on their land.

4. Can you shoot foxes with an air rifle? 

Shooting foxes with an air rifle or air guns in the UK is generally not legal or humane. The power of most air rifles is insufficient to ensure a humane kill, which is a legal requirement. In cases where pest control is necessary, landowners are urged to seek professional pest control services that use appropriate methods to deal with foxes. While air rifles can be used for vermin control, they should only be used against species where a humane kill is guaranteed with the power of the air rifle being used.

5. What is the most lethal air rifle?

The term “lethal” in the context of air rifles is associated with the rifle’s power, calibre, and the type of pellet used. In the UK, any air rifle that complies with the legal power limit of 12 ft-lbs can be considered lethal in terms of its potential to kill tiny pests or quarrels when used correctly and humanely. However, deadly force must be justified and is subject to legal constraints, including the necessity for humane pest control. Choosing the right air rifle and ammunition type for the intended use is critical to ensure effectiveness and legality.

6. Do you need a license for a .25 air rifle in the UK? 

You do not need a .25 calibre air rifle license if the muzzle energy is 12 ft-lbs or less. However, if any air rifle, regardless of calibre, exceeds this limit, it is classified as a firearm and requires the owner to possess a Firearms Certificate. This is irrespective of the calibre, whether it is .177, .22, or .25.


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7. What guns can you own without a license in the UK? 

In the UK, you can own low-powered air rifles and air pistols without a license, provided they meet the legal power limits: 12 ft-lbs for air rifles and six ft-lbs for air pistols. All other types of firearms, including shotguns and rifles, require the appropriate licenses. The legal framework ensures responsible ownership and use of air guns, balancing the sport’s enjoyment with public safety considerations.

8. How many joules is a legal air rifle in the UK? 

A legally permissible air rifle in the UK can have a maximum muzzle energy of 16.27 joules (or 12 ft-lbs). It’s a specific limit to classify which air guns can be owned without a Firearms Certificate. If an air rifle exceeds this energy limit, it’s categorized as a firearm and requires proper licensing. This energy cap is thought to balance the air rifle’s capability for sport and pest control and the safety of the shooter and the public.

9. Can you carry an air rifle in a bag in the UK? 

When transporting air guns in the UK or a rifile, it must be in a securely fastened case that does not permit the airgun to be fired from within the case. The legislation aims to ensure public safety and reduce any risk of accidents or misuse. The case should also avoid attracting undue attention because you are transporting a gun to avoid public alarm. It is illegal to carry an air gun, loaded or not, in a public place without lawful authority or reasonable excuse, emphasizing the importance of responsible transportation of air rifles.

10. What is the legal FPS for a pellet gun in the UK? 

The UK doesn’t set a specific FPS limit for airguns, but the muzzle energy must not exceed 12 ft lbs for rifles and six ft lbs for pistols. The FPS will vary depending on the pellet weight and the airgun’s power. Calculating the FPS based on these factors can ensure compliance with the legal limit while providing a guideline for the airgun’s effective range and accuracy.

11. How far will a .22 air rifle shoot? 

The effective range of a .22 air rifle is often up to around 30 meters or more. However, it can travel much further if unobstructed. When considering the shooting distance, it’s essential to consider the purpose, such as target shooting or hunting, and the accuracy and energy retention required for a clean and humane shot. Over long distances, factors such as wind and pellet drop become increasingly significant, affecting accuracy.

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12. Can you shoot deer with an air rifle in the UK? 

In the UK, it is illegal to shoot deer with any air rifle. The law reflects the need to ensure a humane and swift end to the animal, something that low-powered air rifles cannot guarantee. The welfare of wildlife is paramount in UK law, and using an air rifle on deer is likely to be considered cruel, resulting in legal penalties.

13. How many rounds does it take to break in an air rifle? 

The break-in period of an air rifle can vary significantly depending on the make and model. It typically involves firing several hundred pellets through the gun. During this time, any manufacturing residues in the barrel are cleared, and mechanical parts may settle into a more consistent operating pattern, improving the rifle’s shooting accuracy and performance over time.

14. How accurate are air rifles? 

The accuracy of air rifles depends on various factors, including the rifle’s design, the quality of the barrel, the type of ammunition used, and the shooter’s skill. When used with the appropriate pellets and by skilled shooters, good-quality air rifles can achieve impressive accuracy at their effective range. Regular maintenance and practice can further improve precision. Competitive shooters often invest in higher-end rifles and optics to achieve the best accuracy for their sport.

15. How long do air rifles last?

With proper maintenance, air rifles can last many years. The lifespan of an air rifle is influenced by factors such as the frequency of use, storage conditions, and the quality of its construction. Regular cleaning and servicing are essential to preserve the rifle’s condition and functionality. High-quality air rifles, when maintained well, can provide reliable performance for decades.

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Summing Up

Learning the ins and outs of air guns in the UK opens up a world of sport and pest control with a strong emphasis on safety and respect for the law.

Understanding the legal limits, licensing requirements, and proper handling techniques is crucial for enjoying the benefits of air gun ownership while ensuring your own safety and that of others. By following these guidelines, you can embark on your air gun journey confidently and responsibly, contributing to a thriving and responsible air gun community in the UK.