Here’s what lockdown means for shooting sports. On 6 January 2021, shooters were resigned to the new coronavirus lockdowns stopping most UK recreational shooting for the rest of the season. However, the anglers in England negotiated an exemption for their sport on 7 January and, later in the day, the shooters in England did the same. We can now go roughshooting, wildfowling and recreational deerstalking. The rule changes do not apply to Wales.
There are still tough provisos. We can’t hold driven game shoots and we can’t travel far. But where the government ruled on 4 January 2021 that you could only leave home in England for exercise with a dog lead or a bicycle – no other equipment. Three days later it is allowing guns and fishing rods.
BASC says: ‘You should only travel locally to shoot which is to “stay local in the village, town, or part of the city where you live” as defined in government guidance. When shooting you should only meet with people you live with, your support bubble; or when on your own, with one person from another household.’
Scotland already ruled that roughshooting, wildfowling and recreational deerstalking is allowed.
The CPSA says that claygrounds are closed. It says it is ‘striving to get shooting open again’
Shooting organisations’ reaction to the original rules:
Boris Johnson set out the new lockdown in England on 4 January 2021. As with every set of new rules, there was confusion until the civil servants made up their minds what the rules mean. After 24 hours of trying to find out, the shooting organisations agreed on 5 January 2021 that these are the rules:
‘Shooting for leisure or recreational purposes is prohibited. Driven game shooting or other group shooting activities are not permitted during the lockdown.
‘Shooting-related essential work is permitted in England and it is reasonable to travel outside your local area to carry out that essential work. This includes essential bird and mammal pest control to protect crops or livestock such as the shooting and trapping of pest bird species under general license; the management of rodents and rabbits; deer management as part of a plan agreed with and requested by the landowner. It is advised that you keep a copy of your shooting permission and a written request to undertake essential work with you so that you can present them if challenged by the authorities.
‘Everyone shooting during the Covid-19 pandemic must consider the impact of their actions on the image and reputation of the sport.’
Under the old tier 4 rules in England, you could only travel locally and only shoot with members of your household, so gameshooting was effectively banned. You could still do pest control such as pigeon shooting, deer management and gamekeeping.
The news is better for fishing. Under tier 4 rules in England, angling for single day’s only and only in your local area remained a permissible activity and a ‘reasonable excuse’ to be outside of your home.
As of 7 January 2021, the Angling Trust confirms that fishing is still permitted. After consultation with the government, the Angling Trust says that fishing will not follow the likes of golf and tennis in being banned throughout the third national lockdown.
Later in the day, BASC announced that the government had backed down on some solo shooting sports.
All hunting with hounds remains suspended, orders the Hunting Office. It says: ‘Hounds should be exercised from the kennels, but this should be done by Hunt Staff only (or regular volunteers genuinely needed for the safety of the hounds) and for the purposes of the routine daily care of the hounds. Horses can continue to be exercised from the stables, but only as part of their routine daily care and maintenance of fitness.’
Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have brought in similar rules for hunting, shooting and fishing.
Most of the main countryside and shooting organisations have set up coronavirus minisites. You can find them here:
The major mistake the government made was to be vague about which recreations it was banning. In 2020, Boris Johnson started by banned all recreation except bicycling, then went through various bans until ruling that feeing the ducks at the municipal pond in a group of more than six was banned, but going grouseshooting was allowed. The lowest point was when the Johnson and the civil servants left it to local police firearms enquiries officers to make up their minds about what shooting was allowed.
The world of gameshooting reacted by cutting driven days by around a quarter. Many family shoots that let a few commercial days stopped their commercial lets. Most of the commercial shoots continued at the same rate they were going in 2019.
Eventually, police constabularies and government lawyers across the UK got a grip. In May 2020, Deputy Chief Constable Dave Orford, the national lead on firearms licensing, has provided clarity on shooting under the current Covid-19 guidance following concerns raised by BASC, other shooting organisations and police forces.
DCC Orford said: “When considering outdoor shooting, police should view it in the same way they would for golf and fishing.”
Northern Ireland followed with advice from the attorney general’s office allowing outdoor activity.
Advice from the NI attorney general’s office
BASC Scotland set out the route out of lockdown for Scottish shooting here.
The local Christmas lockdowns restricted driven gameshooting at the height of the season, incurring costs for shoots that had to find extra feed for birds while bringing in no income. It remains to be seen how many survive the 2020/2021 season.
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