Gun laws – How is rifle hunting affected?

David Barrington Barnes explores the various ways in which different branches of gun laws can impact rifle hunting.

How do gun laws effect hunting?

My regular readers will have been reminded in my last three articles that they are always subject to the law and likely to be held liable for any mishap. This month I want to look at the various ways in which different branches of gun laws can impinge on the activities of rifle hunting.

Read more from David Barrington Barnes here

The overarching legislation of importance is health and safety law. I know full well that the reaction of many countrymen to the mere mention of the dreaded “elphin safety” is to groan and say we should all man up. Say what one likes, the Health & Safety Executive calls the shots. It has the power to investigate and prosecute and its prosecutions can lead to eye watering fines.

Not everyone is aware that the health and safety legislation covers not just employees but also visitors and volunteers. More often than not, the H&SE will wheel out other enforcement proceedings after there has been an accident.

In one incident a shoot operator instructed a volunteer not to go out lamping. Defying the instruction, the volunteer went out and, in the course of the night, fell off the back of a pickup truck. In so doing he suffered an injury. H&SE prosecuted the shoot operator successfully notwithstanding the volunteer was not an employee and had disobeyed the instruction to stay at home.

I have always thought this judgement was flawed but it should make all deer managers very careful about whom they engage to assist them and how they handle volunteers. The same applies to land owners and farm mangers who could be caught by this legislation.

It’s worth adding that H&SE does not restrict itself to the primary complaint it has come to investigate. In one case H&SE went to a farm to investigate a deer larder accident. Whilst on the farm they demanded to be shown how and where poisons were stored.

Then they checked the farm high seats. They used their findings on these other activities to build and expand their case against the operator. Apart from the health and safety legislation, there is separate law affecting the storage of poisons and the use of high seats is caught by the regulations on working at heights.

H&SE may also be interested in how a land owner’s deer management is conducted. Specifically it may be concerned about stalkers operating alone. The land owner or deer manager operator should have a ‘Lone Worker Policy’. This document will stipulate procedures to be adopted by rifles when they are conducting deer management as a lone stalker.

In this context a lone worker is a single stalker operating unaccompanied on the land owned or controlled by the owner or operator as the case may be. The procedures may vary but, whatever they involve, the lone stalkers must be clearly and fully briefed, including details of what is to happen should they be overdue back at base at the end of their outing.

The actions that will be taken need to be stipulated and the responsible persons need to be nominated. A kit list should be insisted on, including such items as a fully charged mobile phone, first aid kit with tourniquet and torch.

As with so much law relating to safety matters, the general obligations and responsibilities are covered in the written legislation but the detail is not included in this.

It’s therefore incumbent on the land owner or operator to discuss detailed dangers with the stalker particularly when he is visiting and is otherwise unfamiliar with the ground, deer larder, transport and so on.

In my last article I touched on several, sad accidents caused by the use or more likely misuse of firearms. After such accidents have occurred, the H&SE will of course investigate and, if appropriate prosecute.

However, that is far from the limit of the actions that can be instigated against the offending shooter. Under the criminal law the shooter may be prosecuted for assault or, in the event of a fatality, manslaughter.

In one of my cases, my client was a walking gun in a spinney on the right hand side of which was a raised railway embankment. The railway was disused and the path on top of it was a public right of way. My man engaged a hen pheasant which, having been flushed in front of the line, made to escape over the embankment.

He fired and hit a walker, who was approaching on the path, concealed behind a leafy screen. Prosecuted for assault, the question for the court was whether my client should have foreseen the accident. In spite of the age old axiom “Never shoot where you can’t see!” he was acquitted. After the acquittal, his shotgun certificate was returned to him.

Other cases of accidental shooting have been dealt with under the same offences against the person legislation. There was one sad example in 2019 after a grandfather discharged a loaded air rifle directly at his grandson with fatal consequences.

The court decided that as firing the air rifle at his grandson at such close range could foreseeably have caused injury or death, the grandfather should have been more careful: “Never, never let your gun, pointed be at anyone!”

Quite apart from activities with rifles and shotguns that may be deemed criminal, injured parties have recourse to civil law by bringing an action for damages. In short, they are entitled to sue the perpetrator for his negligent shot and seek compensation for the injuries caused in the same way as does a person injured in a road traffic accident.

Damages in such civil claims can be enormous, so the land owner and/or operator should ensure he has adequate public liability insurance. All sporting rifles should be fully insured and membership of BASC or the BDS includes such cover.

After this sorry list of accidents and the law related to them, I will close by reminding you to comply with the wild game handling regulations. So it is that from start to finish, the law at large has a hold on the land owner, deer manager and even the sporting rifle. 

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