Is it legal to shoot squirrels with an air rifle?

3 Comments22 January 2024  |  Air Arms

Is it legal to shoot squirrels with an air rifle?

Squirrel hunting is popular in many countries, including the United Kingdom. With their cute and bushy tails, squirrels may seem like harmless creatures, but they can actually cause significant damage to trees, gardens, crops and homes.

Shooting squirrels with air guns may seem like a simple solution to a pesky problem, but it is important to recognise that there are laws in place regulating this activity. In this blog we’re going to take a look at the rules and regulations surrounding gun laws in the UK and find out if it is legal to shoot squirrels with air rifles.

Understanding UK Laws on Air Rifles

Before we can determine the legality of shooting squirrels with an air rifle, it's essential to understand the laws surrounding air rifles in the UK. The use of firearms is strictly regulated in the country and this includes air rifles, which can be classified as firearms depending on their power under UK law. This means that anyone using an air rifle must adhere to rules and regulations.

In England and Wales, air rifles with a power limit of 12ft/lb can be freely purchased without any kind of licence or permit (provided the buyer is 18 years of age). However, for higher-powered air rifles - air rifles with power over 12ft/lb, individuals must obtain a Firearms Certificate (FAC). In Scotland, the laws are different and individuals require an Air Weapon Certificate or visitor permit to use, possess, purchase or acquire an air rifle.

Air Arms S400

The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981

Under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, all wild animals in the UK are protected, including squirrels. However, there are distinctions between red and grey squirrels.

Red and Grey Squirrels

Red squirrels are classified as a threatened species in the UK, mainly due to competition with grey squirrels and the introduction of squirrel-pox virus, which is carried by grey squirrels but does not affect them. 

Grey squirrels, on the other hand, are considered invasive and are known to cause damage to trees and bird populations. Let us take a look at the differences between the two, so we know which type of squirrel is legal to shoot in the UK and which isn't.

The protection of red squirrels

The red squirrel is protected under the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981 (WCA), specifically listed in Schedules 5 and 6. The WCA has been amended over time, most recently by the Countryside & Rights of Way Act 2000 (CRoW) for England and Wales. Let's take a look below at the information that is outlined regarding red squirrels:

  • Intentionally killing, injuring, or capturing a red squirrel is an offence. Damaging or destroying structures or places used by red squirrels for shelter or protection or disturbing them while occupying such sites is also prohibited. 

  • Possessing a dead or live red squirrel, or any part of one, is only allowed if it can be demonstrated that the animal was obtained legally. 

  • Additionally, selling or offering for sale a wild red squirrel or any part of it is illegal.

  • Under Section 11 of the Act, it is also unlawful to employ certain methods that may cause bodily harm to a red squirrel, such as using traps, snares, electrical devices, poisonous substances, or mechanically propelled vehicles.

Exceptions for Grey Squirrels

Now, let's look at grey squirrels - and how the regulations differ.

The grey squirrel is considered an invasive non-native species, as classified under Schedule 9 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act (WCA). They are also listed as one of the 100 worst invasive non-native species by the IUCN. This recognition highlights the significant damage that grey squirrels can cause to native flora and fauna, a problem acknowledged on a global scale.

Due to their status as a pest species, grey squirrels do not receive any protection under the WCA. Therefore, it is illegal to release a grey squirrel into the wild or allow one to escape, as stated in Schedule 9 of the WCA. If you happen to trap a grey squirrel, it is your responsibility to dispatch it in a humane manner. Releasing it would be considered illegal according to these regulations.

Control of Grey Squirrels

GOV UK has highlighted how Grey squirrels have been identified as a significant threat to woodlands in the UK, causing damage to both broadleaved and coniferous trees. The estimated annual cost of this damage ranges from £6 to £10 million in Great Britain alone. This destruction serves as a deterrent to the planting and management of valuable trees, negatively impacting biodiversity and the economic value of the crop. Additionally, it limits the diversity of woodland planting, reducing resilience to pests, diseases, and climate change.

Efforts to control grey squirrels in woodlands need to be more effective, utilising best practices and implementing coordinated and sustained approaches. These measures are necessary to protect and enhance the vulnerable red squirrel population and reduce the negative impacts on woodlands, allowing them to thrive for the benefit of both biodiversity and economic interests. 

Grey Squirrel Laws

Let's take a look at the regulations regarding grey squirrels below:

  • For population and land protection, shooting grey squirrels in the UK is legal.

  • It is against the law to release captive grey squirrels into the wild, subject them to acts of cruelty or abuse, or keep them in captivity without a licence. 

  • Any trapped grey squirrels must be humanely destroyed. Drowning is considered an inhumane method.

  • When trapping for grey squirrels, it is required to check the traps once every 24 hours. However, if there is a risk of catching non-target species, such as red squirrels, traps must be checked twice daily to comply with legal requirements.


As it's not against the law for grey squirrels to be caught and killed, including live-catch cage traps or approved spring traps - if you're using a live-catch trap, check it several times a day and kill any captured grey squirrels humanely.

It is against the Animal Welfare Act 2006 law to cause unnecessary suffering to wild animals under human control, e.g., while caught in a trap.

It is worth noting while it is legal to shoot and trap (as long as they are approved traps), there are methods which are not allowed. You cannot use the following control methods for squirrels:

  • Self-locking snares.

  • Bows and crossbows.

  • Explosives

Suppose you do decide to proceed with the lethal control of squirrels. In that case, it is recommended you contact a reputable pest control contractor who's trained to carry out these measures legally and humanely. If you decide to use an air rifle and control the squirrels yourself - always make sure you know the firearms laws and only shoot when you are in control.

Air rifles as a method of pest control

If your chosen method for killing grey squirrels is shooting, you have to familiarise yourself with the laws. Always make sure you stick to these rules, highlighted by the British Association for Shooting and Conservation:

  • Prior to shooting, always obtain permission from the landowner in advance.

  • Confirm with the landowner which animals you are allowed to hunt.

  • Respect the landowner's property, crops, livestock, and fences, and adhere to the Countryside Code.

  • Treat an air rifle as if it were loaded at all times, and keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction.

  • Upon receiving or picking up an air rifle, immediately check to ensure it is unloaded, un-cocked, and without a pellet in the breech. Take extra caution when checking pre-charged pneumatic air rifles.

  • Before taking a shot, consider the potential path of the pellet. Ensure that no damage can occur if you miss your intended target.

  • Remain mindful of the possibility of a ricochet.

  • Never leave a loaded air rifle unattended, and avoid setting it down without proper precautions.

  • The use of a sound moderator can minimise disturbance to wildlife, livestock, and other individuals enjoying the countryside.

  • Remember that your conduct reflects upon all shooters, so maintain exemplary behaviour. Encourage your shooting companions to do the same.

Importance of understanding your quarry

Always stay within your skill level and shoot within your capabilities. It is crucial to practise shooting on targets rather than live animals. This will help you determine the maximum range at which you and your rifle can consistently hit the intended target for a clean kill. Typically, the point of aim is the head, with a maximum diameter of approximately three centimetres (1¼ inches).

Regularly practice your shooting and stalking skills to improve your overall marksmanship. Consistent practice will enhance your ability to hit targets accurately and make ethical shots during hunting or shooting activities.

Types of Air Rifles

To ensure a humane and ethical kill, confirming that your air rifle has sufficient power for your intended target is important. Avoid attempting shots at distances greater than 30 metres (98 feet). An ideal air rifle power level is slightly above 11ft-lb. It's worth noting that if your air rifle exceeds 12ft/lb in power, you must possess a firearm certificate. This certification ensures responsible ownership and usage of higher-powered air rifles.

A wide variety of air rifles are available on the market, each designed for a specific purpose. Some of the common types include:

  • Break barrel air rifles: These are the most popular type of air rifle and use a single cocking motion to compress air or gas for propulsion.

  • (Pre-Charged Pneumatic) PCP air rifles: These use a pre-charged cylinder to provide power, making them more potent than break barrel ones.

  • CO2 air rifles: These use CO2 cartridges as a power source and are known for their accuracy and consistency.

  • Spring air rifles: These use a spring mechanism to compress air or gas, making them one of the most powerful air rifles.

When selecting the best air rifle for small game hunting, it's important to consider certain factors. Avoid air rifles with lengthy charging, loading, and firing processes, as these can hinder your hunting experience. 

It is also crucial to properly maintain your air rifle per the manufacturer's recommendations. If you have any uncertainties, it is advisable to consult your local dealer for guidance.

To maximise effectiveness, choose pellets specifically designed for hunting. These pellets are designed to provide a cleaner kill than those intended for target shooting. Always have a dedicated target practice - home made or at a club. Never practise on live quarry.

Safety Considerations

Air rifles, like any other firearm, must be handled with care. Some important safety considerations to keep in mind include:

  • Always treat an air gun as if it's loaded.

  • Keep the barrel pointed in a safe direction at all times.

  • Without proper knowledge and guidance, do not modify or tamper with any air guns.

  • Store air rifles unloaded and out of reach of children.

Final thoughts

In summary, while owning and using an air rifle in the UK is legal, shooting squirrels with an air rifle may not always be. Shooting and killing red squirrels is illegal as they are an endangered species in the UK. However, if grey squirrels are causing damage to property or natural habitats, using an air rifle for pest control is legal. It's essential to adhere to all laws and regulations when using an air rifle and always to use it safely and responsibly. 

Whether you're a seasoned hunter or just looking to protect your garden, understand the laws surrounding air rifles and their usage before aiming at those pesky squirrels. Make sure you have the perfect air rifle and ammunition to guarantee a clean kill. If you plan on shooting squirrels with an air rifle in the UK, make sure to do so within the confines of the law. Happy hunting (or pest control)!

Many leading manufacturers will offer high quality pellet guns for pest control. Here at air arms, we deliver airguns of a high standard across our website. You can check out the delivery service options for our stock on the website and for any questions or enquiries, please contact us.

André Rogulski
06 May 2024  |  10:42

I have a grey squirrel problem in my garden and woul like advice on which fire arm to purchase . I'm not a hunter and require the gun for pest control only . My garden is only small approx 10mtrs square but I have an alottment approx 418sq mtrs and would like the fire arm to be adequate should I get a problem there too . Also to include telescopic sights please .
I am not looking to purchase a top of the range product , just something that will do the job please . Any help appreciated. Thank you .
Kind regards

Fergus Nicolson
08 June 2024  |  17:02

I use a Gamo Shadow DX. Gamo pro -hunter pellets. BSA telescopic sight. I have shot several grey squirrels. I set up a target at the desired range then practice regularly.

29 May 2024  |  14:51

I use a Kral .22 puncher breaker. Does the job very well. Not to expensive