Agriculture & Rural Property

Publish date

3 November 2022

What are shooting rights, and how do they work?

The turn of autumn brings with it crisper mornings, leaf covered paths and the start of the shooting season. But what can you shoot, and when?


Wild birds, being any bird or species which is resident or a visitor to the United Kingdom and their nests and eggs are protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (the Act). The protections afforded by the Act make it an offence to intentionally kill, injure or capture any wild bird or damage, destroy or take their nests and eggs. The penalties that can be imposed for such offences include an unlimited fine, up to six months’ imprisonment or both. There are exceptions to this prohibition if you have a general or individual licence which permits the protections to be breached for the purpose of preserving public health or safety, conserving plans and animals and preventing the spread of disease or damage to agricultural land.

However, the Act does not include protections for poultry and game birds. Game birds are protected by the Game Act 1831 (the Game Act) and includes pheasants, partridges, grouse, heath or moor game and black game. One of the purposes of the Game Act is to afford game birds a period of time during the year, the close season, during which they cannot be legally taken. The close season provides time for the game birds to move between wintering and breeding grounds and ensure that they can breed successfully so that the populations flourish.

The open season, when shooting of game birds is permitted, differs depending on the breed as follows:
Pheasants – 1 October to 1 February
Partridges – 1 September to 1 February
Red Grouse – 12 August to 10 December
Black Grouse – 20 August to 10 December
The only times shooting is not permitted during each of the open seasons is on Sundays and Christmas day.

Brown Hares

Brown hares, whilst also protected by the Game Act, are not subject to a close season so may be shot at any time save for Sundays and Christmas day. However, the Hare Preservation Act 1892 (the Hare Act) makes it an offence to sell, or expose for sale, any hare or leveret (a young hare in its first year) between the months of March and July in an attempt to remove the commercial incentive to kill them during the main breeding season.


In a similar way to the Game Act and the Hare Act, deer including any hybrid of different species of deer are protected by the Deer Act 1991 (the Deer Act). The Deer Act creates an offence for taking or intentionally killing deer of any species during the prescribed close season with the exception of Muntjac deer which is not subject to a close season. Again, the purpose of the open and close seasons is to allow populations to replenish through breeding and for movement for finding food. The closed season, when shooting of deer is prohibited, differs depending on the breed as follows:
Chinese water deer – 1 April to 31 October
Fallow deer – 1 May to 31 July (to 31 October for doe (female deer))
Red deer – 1 May to 31 July (or 1 April to 31 October for hinds (female deer))
Roe deer – 1 November to 31 March (1 April to 31 October for doe)


Rabbits which are considered pests are treated differently to the above. All occupiers of land in England (excluding the City of London and Isles of Scilly) have a continuing obligation to kill or take any wild rabbits living on it. This is due to the rabbit clearance order imposed under the Pest Act 1954. Provided you are the owner of the shooting rights for your land, shooting of rabbits may be done during the day and you may authorise one other person (subject to restrictions), in writing, to do so.

Night shooting

The shooting of game at night is not permitted. Ground game which includes rabbit and hare may be shot at night (subject to a close season in Scotland) provided you are the owner or occupier of land with shooting rights, you are a landlord who has reserved shooting rights, a shooting tenant not in occupation who has derived shooting rights from the land owner or you are an occupier, or have authorised one other person, in writing, where you have the written authority from someone who possesses the shooting rights.

This article provides an introduction to shooting rights in England and there are many laws applying to other species which are not covered here. This area is complex and the onus is on each person carrying out shooting to ensure they are complying with the relevant legislation.

Heathervale House reception

Keep up to date with our newsletters and events