Are Compound Bows Legal in the UK?


Archery has been a prominent part of human existence for thousands of years, though in the last few centuries, it has transitioned from a food-gathering practice to a popular sport or hobby.

In the United Kingdom specifically, compound bows themselves are legal, but the use of them anywhere other than a dedicated club is illegal with few exceptions. Bowhunting, in general, is illegal in the United Kingdom as of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.

If you’re interested in archery as a sport or hobby and have embraced the modern enhancements to the activity, chances are you own or have at least considered owning a compound bow.

But this isn’t the dark ages anymore. People can’t bring their bows and arrows with them everywhere they go, and they can’t shoot them anytime they like. In the modern age, we have regulations for activities such as archery, and those regulations differ geographically.

The UK’s Problem with Compound Bows

There are a lot of theories as to why the United Kingdom isn’t a fan of compound bows or bows in general.

Perhaps the most credible theory comes from the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 itself.

In the act, there are several specified ways in which one cannot kill or take a wild animal from its habitat in addition to the use of a bow or crossbow.

These include self-locking snares, decoys, explosives, nets, automatic or semi-automatic weapons, artificial light, gas, or smoke.

These provisions also frequently mention the “intent” or “purpose” of killing.

Bows, especially compound bows, fall into this category because they are clearly made for hunting and killing wild animals.

Extrapolating on the information in the act, many people have posited that bowhunting was outlawed because it is viewed as inhumane.

Though many hunting experts disagree, it has been suggested that it takes more than one arrow to kill an animal like a deer, resulting in much pain and suffering for the animal.

It has also been wisely speculated by outdoorsmen of the UK that there simply aren’t many safe, wide-open spaces in which to hunt without the threat of harming a human being.

Though undoubtedly a very important world power, the United Kingdom is made up of physically small pieces of land with a high saturation of human residents.

Experts have come to the conclusion that there are simply no more wooded areas where the wild game would dwell that are larger than 450 meters. Well-known wildlife habitats are very nearly always surrounded closely on all sides by privately owned, human-populated land.

Even ignoring the possibility that a hunter could accidentally harm a human being, the legal complications of accidentally straying onto privately owned land is enough to deter most would-be hunters from attempting to break the UK’s laws on bowhunting.

It seems that parts of the United Kingdom’s government, if not all of it, are concerned not only for the safety and comfort of the islands’ wild animals but for their longevity.

Once again, the United Kingdom does not comprise a large surface area of the planet, and so does not have overly abundant stores of deer and other wildlife.

Unlike North America, where deer, elk, and other huntable game are considered a pest in some areas, the United Kingdom has to keep a close watch on its wildlife populations.

The least credible but most interesting theory explaining the United Kingdom’s reluctance to lift its ban on bowhunting recalls the rebellious exploits of a historical figure whose use of the bow created a taboo for the weapon and all of its descendants.

Whether the individual who inspired the tales of Robin Hood really scarred the British government deep enough to warrant anti-bow legislation this long after his disappearance is unlikely, but one can never be sure.

How to Legally Use Your Compound Bow in the UK

While you can’t use your compound bow to hunt in most of the UK, you can join clubs and societies that have dedicated areas for the legal use of your bow, compound or otherwise.

A quick search on the internet should provide you with plenty of nearby establishments that will allow you to shoot your bow in a range environment.

However, you can’t just sling your quiver over your back and pick up your bow like an Elven Lord of the Rings character.

The strict bow laws in the United Kingdom are enforced by the authorities, and they will not be kind to you if you’re carting around a dangerous weapon.

So whether you’re walking, driving, or taking the tube, you’re going to want to wrap your equipment up tight and make sure it’s not in a convenient location or configuration for you or anyone else to use against others.

Typically, this will entail a case for your bow and arrows. But other hunters have hit the internet with some techniques for making sure any encounters with the police go smoothly.

Though perhaps the bow is the essential element for archery, it is the less threatening element of the two required to shoot either an animal or a target.

One user suggesting placing the arrows in their own bag, and then placing that bag at the bottom of another bag in which you can store your bow.

This is a logical suggestion given that it would be easier for you or someone else to stab an unfortunate passerby with an arrow than it would be to cause extreme harm with the bow itself.

Even so, many who commute to archery clubs and back also suggest that you unstring your bow if you can.

Whatever you decide to use to transport your bow and arrows in, just be sure that it is, essentially, out of reach and impossible to be perceived as an immediate threat to anyone you may come into contact with.

As far as using the bow on your own property, this is not advised. While it technically isn’t illegal, it’s a very good way to get the neighbors angry, and they may even call the cops on you.

Even in a case where an archer has gotten the permission of his neighbors and gone to lengths to ensure the safety of individuals and property, there is a chance that, eventually, something will go wrong, resulting in a legal fiasco and thousands of dollars lost.

It is generally agreed upon by most internet-savvy archers that the lengths one must go to, to practice archery on his own property in the UK are not worth the trouble.

There are generally enough archery clubs in a given area to provide a quick commute from a variety of locations, making them the best option when it comes to practicing archery.

Resources for the British Compound Archer

The archery clubs available in the United Kingdom generally provide more than just a place to practice your hobby or sport with the peace of mind that you aren’t liable to get slapped with a lawsuit or a pair of handcuffs.

Many clubs also offer camaraderie with the other archers and, more often than not, an opportunity to join an established archery society.

These organizations and governing bodies can provide resources and learning opportunities for both new and seasoned archers, as well as a community that shares your interest.

There are societies for every kind of bow activity imaginable. Here are just a few:

  • Archery GB (Grand National Archery Society)
  • NFAS (National Field Archery Society)
  • English Field Archery Society and International Field Archery Association
  • British Longbow Society
  • Fraternity of St. George
  • British Blind Sport Society
  • British Wheelchair Archery Association

Some of these societies would easily accommodate those with a compound bow, and many might teach you to enjoy the characteristics of other kinds of bows!

To find out more information about these societies and their membership fees, you can go to bow-international.com.

If you’re serious about becoming a renowned compound archer, you’d be wise to look further into the Grand National Archery Society, which is the main governing body of the sport.

They also select the individuals that compete as part of the United Kingdom’s team at the Olympics and other international competitions.

Havilah Halcyon

I am a copywriter from Portland, Oregon. I love all outdoor things but have a special proclivity for rock climbing. Best movie of all time: A Knight's Tale.

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