In the USA, archery is a hugely popular sport. Whether archers are taking part in competitive tournaments or are heading out into the wild to practice bowhunting, there are estimated to be almost 8 million archers in the country.
Unfortunately, not all of these people have the luxury of being able to shoot whenever the urge takes them. Once hunting season is over or when you cannot get to a shooting range, it can be frustrating trying to find somewhere to practice.
But a lot of people have a decent-sized backyard which would be perfect for archery. However, one of the major concerns for backyard archers is whether they will be penalized for doing the sport on their own property. You could be forgiven for thinking that it is your land and therefore, your choice as to what you do on it. But in reality, there are laws surrounding shooting a bow and arrow in your backyard.
In this article, we are going to be looking at the laws on this and giving you ways that you can still enjoy shooting your bow without getting into trouble with the cops.
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Am I Legally Allowed To Shoot In My Backyard?
The answer to the question of whether it is illegal to shoot a bow and arrow in your backyard is unfortunately a very hazy one. There is no clear answer and this is what frustrates so many archers all over the country. In short, the best answer you might get is ‘sometimes.’
Whether or not this activity is illegal will depend on several factors, primarily, your location. Across the United States, there are federal laws that apply to everyone in the country, however, there are no federal laws that discuss backyard archery.
That being said, each city, town, and state is required to have their own laws and regulations surrounding the issue. So, depending on where you live, you may or may not be allowed to practice archery in your backyard.
A bow is classed as a weapon, and as such, could cause some significant damage, even if you only intend to hit your archery target. However, this means that the use of a bow must be restricted and as such, some states have outlawed backyard archery entirely.
In contrast, there are other states that allow the practice but with a strict set of rules which must be abided by at all times. Furthermore, city laws may also place restrictions on shooting a bow and arrow in your backyard.
The only way to be certain of whether this is permitted in your area is to contact your local courthouse. You can read articles like this one online and ask friends and family, and this is a great source of information but it would be impossible for us, or anyone else to know the exact current rules for your place of residence.
A quick phone call to your local courthouse will be all it takes to find out what you are allowed to do. Once you are aware of this, you can begin to plan what you will do next.
Why Is Backyard Archery Illegal?
A lot of people are immediately annoyed when they find out that they cannot shoot their beloved bow in their backyard. After all, this is your private property and you should be free to do as you please here, right?
To a degree, this is true. You do have certain rights surrounding things that you can do on your own property. However, when things may be a potential threat to the safety of yourself and others, that is when the authorities have a right, and more importantly, a responsibility to intervene.
As we have already mentioned, a bow and arrow is a weapon and if shot at a living thing, including humans, can do some significant damage, potentially causing death. This is why this type of weapon is so effective for hunting; a single arrow can take down a huge buck with very little effort when aimed in the right place.
Therefore, it is not too difficult to understand that an arrow could have a devastating effect if it were to hit another person. We realise that many of you reading this will be experienced archers who very rarely, or never, miss your target. But that doesn’t mean to say that there won’t ever be any accidents.
As humans, accidents are part of our nature and the risk of hurting someone, simply isn’t worth it. Furthermore, there are many stories of archers who have encountered frightened passersby when they are shooting in their yards. While you may not have any intention of harming them, how are they to know that?
How To Make A Backyard Range Safe
If you discover that you are legally permitted to shoot your bow and arrow in the backyard then this will surely be an exciting time. Gone will be the days of having to pack your equipment into the car to head to a shooting range; you can now do your favorite pastime from the comfort of your own home.
That being said, it would be impossible to prepare your bow and head straight outside; you will need to secure your range and have all the necessary safety aspects in place before getting started.
One of the first, and most respectful things you can do is to speak with your neighbors. While they may have no legal right to prevent you from shooting in your backyard, they will likely be very grateful for the warning that it will be happening.
What’s more, this is just as much for their safety as it is for anything else. This is especially important if you have neighbors who are likely to let themselves into your yard. If they were to enter without being aware that a bow was being used, there would be a significant chance of being harmed.
This is also an excellent opportunity to give your neighbors some peace of mind. Finding out that something as deadly as a bow and arrow will be being used next door could be a little terrifying, particularly if the neighbors are unfamiliar with the equipment.
Talking to them and showing them what safety precautions you have put in place is a great way to let them know that you have their safety as your main concern.
Checks And Rules
Before you even think about picking up your bow to shoot in your backyard, you should be sure to perform certain checks on your equipment. You must make sure that nothing is faulty and that everything is in good working order.
This doesn’t just apply to your bow but to anything else that you will be using, including your targets and backstops.
Furthermore, you should have a strict set of rules that must be observed by everyone who enters your yard while archery is taking place. One of the most important is that there should be a shooting line which nobody is permitted to cross while the bow is out, even when it is not being held.
You might consider keeping pets and children inside the house or at the very least, having pets on a leash and children holding the hand of a responsible adult, well behind the shooting line.
Always Have A Backstop
If you have been practicing archery for a long time, you may become complacent and feel that you do not need to take this kind of precaution. But building a backstop should never be omitted, regardless of how good a shot you think you are.
Everyone can misfire, even the most skilled and professional archers will miss a shot from time to time and the last thing you want is to accidentally injure, or even kill someone. Aside from having to deal with the legal ramifications, you would have that hanging over your head for the rest of your life.
A backstop will prevent arrows from flying past the target and hitting a passerby but it will also save you money. This is because it will catch arrows allowing you to collect them without a risk of them being lost.
Think About Your Direction
This is something that we know you will be familiar with but it is worth highlighting; you should never shoot your bow and arrow in a direction where there may be people.
There are laws surrounding backyard archery in different places but for the most part, you will not be permitted to shoot your arrows across a public walkway or road. Furthermore, your archery practice must take place a certain distance from any dwellings; this information will be provided to you by your local authority.
Place your target somewhere that there won’t be a chance of anyone walking behind it, such as on a rear boundary fence and only ever shoot in this direction.
Before firing each shot, scan the surrounding area to make sure that it is clear.
What Do I Do If It Is Illegal?
On the other hand, many people find that they are not legally allowed to practice archery in their backyards and while this can be massively frustrating, it is vital that you adhere to the laws to avoid incurring a penalty.
But don’t be left feeling downhearted just yet because there may be other things you can do that allow you to continue with your archery.
Heading to a shooting club or range is one of the best alternatives to backyard archery and while this might require a little more effort, and often a fee, there are several advantages to this.
Primarily, you will have access to all of the necessary equipment including targets that are already set up and prepared for you to start shooting. You won’t need to worry about getting into any sort of trouble with the law since these shooting clubs are fully licensed and regulated.
But one of the greatest things about going to a shooting club is that you will have the opportunity to meet other like minded people with just as much of a passion for archery as you.
This is excellent for meeting new friends but will also give you the chance to swap tips and try out new equipment. You never know, you might learn something that will change how you shoot for the good.
If the thought of going to an archery club really isn’t for you, then there is one more alternative. The only issue is that you will need plenty of indoor space. Of course, we are talking about setting up an archery range inside your home.
Now, the average length of an indoor range is typically around 20 yards, so you will need at least this much room. Preferably, you should add another five yards onto this so that you can have enough room to comfortably draw your bow without being restricted by the back wall of the range.
A lot of people will use a garage or basement for archery indoors but sometimes more space is required. There is nothing stopping you from building a garage port to extend the indoor space, giving you the freedom to practice archery as much as you would like.
But before you grab the hammer, it is also important to keep in mind that you will need to comply with building regulations. One of the main considerations will be the distance of the indoor range from other structures. In most cases, there will need to be a clearance of between five to ten feet.
You can contact your local authority who will give you more information on this. You may also need to receive planning permission in order to build your range, even if this is merely an extension of your garage. But again, your local authority will be able to tell you what you need to do. In some cases, the building may also need to be inspected before it can be used.
Shooting On Public Land
So, you can’t shoot on your own private land, nor do you have the facilities or permission to erect an indoor shooting range – now what? Well, there is one more thing that you might consider; shooting on public land.
This is, once again, a very grey area and the laws may vary from place to place. For this reason, we would always suggest checking with your local courthouse or even a passing cop who will be able to give you all the information you will need to know.
When we talk about public land, we are referring to wetlands, woodlands, parks, or any area which is designated for public use. In the USA, there are more than 220 million square miles of this public land so that’s a lot of potential shooting ground. Unfortunately, you won’t be able to use all of it.
Many areas of public land host bowhunters during hunting season and this is perfectly legal. But once hunting season ends, this land may be used by hikers, cyclists and other members of the public; this could be dangerous if there are arrows flying about.
For this reason, you may be asked what you are doing when shooting on public land, particularly if you are aiming at a target rather than an animal. This is why it is always best to only practice on public land during hunting season.
Even if you are not a bowhunter, you could be there lining up a shot with the full intent of hunting; nobody would be any the wiser.
In terms of turning up at a city park where there may be families, people doing sports and other day to day activities, common sense would tell you that shooting here is not a good idea. That being said, there are many public parks that have a dedicated archery range, so it is worth investigating if there are any such facilities near you.
Archery is an extremely enjoyable and rewarding hobby and millions of people across America do it in their spare time; some even do it as a career. However, it is not always possible to get to a club or an outdoor location to practice so a lot of people try their hand at backyard archery.
The problem is that this is not always legal and even when it is, there are restrictions. It is therefore vital that you check with your local courthouse what you can and cannot do.
If you find that you are allowed to shoot your bow in the backyard, there are still important safety considerations that you must follow for the most enjoyable and safe experience.