Under what circumstances can a hunter shoot a target when on private land? If you are on a hunting trip can you have a bit of an informal shooting contest with your mates, or alternatively can you engage in that fine old practice of ‘plinking’ at tin cans?
Now before you say come on Simon, we have always done this, you need to be aware that if you create an informal shooting range on private land, the range is not an approved range, you can be prosecuted for it. Shooters have lost their licence for this.
Just because you are engaging in this activity in the middle of nowhere, simply diminishes the risk of being caught, it does not diminish liability.
Remember, you are licensed to perform the activity that is your ‘genuine reason’ / ‘special need’ and no other.
While Registries acknowledge that a hunter may need to zero in his or her rifle on private land, (NOTE not allowed when on public land) there is a lack of acknowledgement that hunters need to practice on targets, with the result that all they can do on private land is zero in a rifle and hunt.
I believe this view to be incorrect, and is far too narrow. This remains a grey area that desperately needs clarification, here is my reasoning:
Sport/Target shooting and hunting and feral pest control are not defined in any of the Firearms Acts, and I believe that Sport / Target shooting can be distinguished from ‘target shooting’. Target shooting involves the shooting at targets for whatever reason, whereas sport / target shooting deals with the regulation of the sport of target shooting which has an inherently competitive, and club orientated nature.
Sport / Target shooting must be carried out on a shooting range, because of safety concerns related to the co-ordination of a number of shooters, whereas, I do not believe that this is necessarily the case with the former.
‘Shooting range’ is not defined in the Act or Regulations, the NSW Police website on shooting ranges defines it as ‘an area, provided with a firing line, targets and a stop butt for the controlled practice of shooting and is inclusive of the range danger area template’. A shooting range is defined in the Regulations to include a moveable shooting range, and pursuant to the regulations one may not operate a shooting range unless it is approved.
Shots taken at a target by a hunter in the field are not made at a place that would meet the definition of a shooting range. There is no firing line, although when any shot is taken a competent hunter would ensure that there was terrain present that served the purpose of a ‘stop butt’. Shooting is not ‘controlled’ because it is an area used for individual practice.
A hunter who shoots at a target, unlike a participant in the sport of target shooting, is not shooting competitively, and is merely seeking to keep his skills current and better his performance.
All shooters need to practice, because shooting is a degradable skill that becomes diminished if one does not practice, some experts maintain that a shooter needs to put at least 200 rounds through that firearm in practice a year in order to maintain ‘muscle memory’, because under pressure- including the pressure of a hunt, a person can loose up to 40% of their fine motor skills.
One one hunts a big game animal such as Sambar, one can go through an entire season without firing a shot at a Sambar. For this reason, when I had a Remington 7600 .35 Whelen as my Sambar rifle, I would practice snap shooting on running rabbits and foxes with reduced loads firing pistol bullets to ‘keep my eye in’- not that this did me any good, but that is another story.
At one stage I attended a couple of Big Game Rifle Club events as a visitor, but found that while this discipline was fun, as with other field target disciplines, it bore little resemblance to actual field shooting. The benches get in the way of improvised positions, and the absence of logs, trees and rocks on the firing line, and things obscuring targets means that there are not the kind of natural obstacles or aids that one normally finds in the field when hunting. One also cannot ‘work with the wind’ in the same way a field shooter needs to practice.
The presence of a flag and measured distances also removes two other variables that a hunter needs to carefully assess under field conditions.
If at all possible it is therefore highly desirable that a hunter undertake some practice under field conditions, because particularly if he only hunts larger species of game, he or she will not get enough practice from that activity for his or her skills not to erode. This practice, involves, of necessity in most cases, time spent shooting targets ‘in the field’.
In making such a shot the shooter would have to make exactly the same judgement as to safety that all of us make before pulling the trigger at an animal.
Sensible interpretation of the legislation needs to recognise that hunting and feral pest control include all activities necessary and proper to engage in that activity, including time spent sighting in a firearm, developing hand loads (if one loads their own ammo), and practicing shooting under field conditions as well as actual hunting.
If a shooter does not practice these field skills, the result will be an unsuccessful hunt and possibly wounded or injured animals, an outcome none of us desire.
So, to answer your question, I believe that a shooter can fire shots other than at game when on private land, however, this is a grey area, and if one does, one needs to take care to ensure that one does not create an unapproved shooting range, or be engaging in shooting targets outside of the activity of hunting and vermin control.
Any form of competition, be it formal or informal, is a no, and that what you are doing must form part of reasonable preparations for hunting.
Hopefully this article can generate a dialogue amongst Police and firearms groups that shall restore common sense, and if the Registry wish to respond in writing, we would be only too happy to publish their response.
Now, I have a favour to ask, I need your help.
I write these blogs with three purposes in mind:
- To highlight flaws in our firearms laws
- To help you understand and comply with the law
It may sound odd to some that I condemn many aspects of the laws and at the same time promote compliance, but this is not at all odd, for as citizens we have an obligation to know and comply with the law, but there is no reason why we cannot disagree with it and work actively toward changing it, indeed this is our democratic right and it is how our democracy works.
In writing these articles I receive ideas from readers, client’s, from my work, from other writers, editors, line Police, Licensing Sergeant’s, Game Management staff and on occasion Registry staff. All tips are treated with the strictest confidence.
I need some more inspiration to help keep these articles flowing, and to keep them focussed on what you want to read.
Please call or email me any suggestions- either now, or in the future.
National Firearms Lawyer
P: (02) 6299 9690
M: 0427 280 962
Simon Munslow is a lawyer who has a lifelong interest in shooting, having acquired his first firearm at the age of nine, and has had an active interest in firearms law since writing a thesis on the topic over thirty years ago at University.
Simon Munslow practices extensively in Firearms Law matters throughout Australia.
He is a regular contributor to the Australian Sporting Shooter magazine’s website on Firearms law matters, has published articles on firearms reviews and firearms law, and occasionally is asked to comment in the broader media on firearms matters.
This article is written for general information only and does not constitute advice.
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