Hunting and shooting in the United Kingdom

Hunting and shooting in the United Kingdom

Hunting and shooting have been practised for many centuries in the United Kingdom and are a major part of British rural culture.

In the modern day, game shooting is carried out in the UK, alongside deer stalking and fox hunting, although some aspects of the latter have been made illegal and drag hunting (following a trail, not a live animal) is growing in importance.

The British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC) says that over a million people a year participate in shooting, including game shooting, clay shooting and target shooting. [ [ BASC] ]


Hunting has been carried out for millennia in Britain, predating the formation of the United Kingdom itself. Hunting was a crucial component of hunter-gatherer societies before the domestication of animals and the dawn of agriculture.

During the last ice age, humans and neanderthals hunted mammoths and woolly rhinos by driving them off cliffs. Evidence of this has been found at La Cotte de St Brelade on the island of Jersey.

In Britain, hunting with hounds was popular in Celtic Britain before the Romans arrived, using the Agassaei breed. [ [,,1417570,00.html Ten things you didn't know ... | Special reports | Guardian Unlimited ] ] The Romans brought their Castorian and Fulpine hound breeds to England, along with importing the brown hare (the mountain hare is native) and fallow deer as quarry. Wild boar was also hunted.

The earliest known attempt to hunt a fox with hounds was in Norfolk, in the East of England, in 1534, where farmers began chasing down foxes with their dogs as a form of pest control. Packs of hounds were first trained specifically to hunt foxes in the late 1600s, with the oldest such fox hunt likely to be the Bilsdale in Yorkshire. [Ridley, Jane (Oct 1990), "Fox Hunting" (HarperCollins)] By the end of the seventeenth century, many organised packs were hunting both hare and fox.

Shotguns were improved during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and game shooting became more popular. To protect the Common pheasants for the shooters, gamekeepers culled vermin such as foxes, magpies and birds of prey almost to extirpation in popular areas, and landowners improved their coverts and other habitats for game. Game Laws were relaxed in 1831 which meant anyone could obtain a permit to take rabbits, hares and gamebirds.

Hunting was formerly a royal sport, and to an extent still is, with many Kings and Queens being involved in hunting and shooting, including King Edward VII, King George V (who on 18 December 1913 shot over a thousand pheasants out of a total bag of 3937) [ [ BBC - h2g2 - Common Pheasant and Relatives ] ] , King George VI and the present day Prince Phillip, although Queen Elizabeth II does not shoot. Shooting on the large estates of Scotland was particularly popular. This trend is generally attributed to the Victorians who were inspired by the romantic imagery of the Scottish Highlands.

Forms of hunting and shooting


The shooting of game birds, in particular pheasant and grouse, is a popular sport in the UK, on large, traditional driven principles on estates and on small-scale rough shoots. Shooting of game birds is carried out using a shotgun, most often 12 and 20 bore or a .410.

Game birds are shot in different ways: Driven Game shooting, where beaters are employed to drive game towards a line of standing guns through woods and over moors or fields, dependent on the quarry and time of year. The guns will have paid in the region of £25 per bird, and the total bag (number of birds shot) will be anywhere between 80 and 300, again dependent on quarry etc. The day will be very formal, and gamekeepers or a shoot captain will oversee proceedings. Pickers-up are also employed to make sure all shot game is collected. On such estates, large numbers of pheasants, partridge and duck, but not grouse, may be released to maintain numbers.

Rough shooting, where several guns walk through a woodland, moor or field and shoot the birds their dogs put up, is increasingly popular. It is often informal and may be funded by several people grouping together to form a "syndicate", paying a certain amount each year towards pheasants, habitat maintenance, etc.

Wildfowling is often a lonely and uncomfortable sport. A single gun sits in pursuit of wildfowl by a body of water, or on the coast, often at dawn or dusk, and waits for birds to "flight" in. This is sometimes undertaken in total darkness or by the light of the moon. Duck are also shot on the two former methods.

Deer Stalking

High powered rifles are used for shooting deer species, in a practice know as deer stalking. This may take place high on moors, or from a "high seat" in woodland. Venison is also a highly popular meat.

Politics of Hunting

Hunting should not be confused with the aforementioned methods. Hunting with dogs (including hunting for fox, deer, mink and hare coursing) was banned in Scotland by the Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act 2002 and in England and Wales by the Hunting Act 2004.

Fox hunting is often thought of as a primarily British activity in which trained dogs pursue red fox, followed by human hunters who are usually on horses but sometimes on foot. A traditional equestrian activity, many animal welfare campaigners object to it as a barbaric "blood sport", causing unnecessary suffering, while proponents and participants view it as a crucial part of rural history, vital for conservation, a method of pest control and question the welfare aspect of it.

The Hunting Act has been criticised as being "illogical and unclear" by the Countryside Alliance, although this view is strongly disputed by anti hunting campaigners like the League Against Cruel Sports.

Game animals

In the UK game is defined in law by the Game Act 1831. Other (non-game birds) that are hunted for food in the UK are specified under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. UK law defines game as including:

Deer are not included in the definition, but similar controls provided to those in the Game Act apply to deer (from the Deer Act 1991). Deer hunted in the UK are:

* Red Deer
* Roe Deer
* Fallow Deer
* Sika Deer
* Muntjac Deer
* Chinese Water Deer
* Hybrids of these deer

Other birds and animals which are shot in the UK include:

** Mallard
** Wigeon
** Teal
** Shoveler
** Pintail
** Pochard
** Common Goldeneye
** Gadwall
** Tufted Duck

** Greylag Goose
** Canada Goose
** Pink-footed Goose
** White-fronted Goose (England and Wales only)

* Wood Pigeon
* Woodcock
* Snipe
* Rabbit
* Golden Plover

Please note that this is the situation at the time of writing and close seasons etc are subject to change, and that the situation is in many ways different from that in Ireland.


The aforementioned species are those primarily pursued for game shooting. To this list can be added Feral Pigeon, Jay, Magpie, Carrion Crow, Jackdaw, Rook and Collared Dove, which are shot in the interests of vermin control rather than as game birds.

Black Grouse are no longer shot on a regular basis, due to an on going decline in numbers, and those that are most likely to be females mistaken for Red Grouse.

Capercaillie are no longer shot in the UK, as they are now protected due to a long term decline.

Eurasian Coot and Moorhen are also shot, but not as much as in the past, they have a closed season which follows the Wildfowl season and are classed as game.

ee also

* Deer hunting
* Hare coursing
* Hunting Act 2004
* Game Conservancy Trust


External links

* [ The Science and Sociology of Hunting: Shifting Practices and Perceptions in the United States and Great Britain] from [ The State of the Animals II: 2003] ISBN 0-9658942-7-4
* [ British Association for Shooting and Conservation website]

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