Firearm and shotgun certificate holders have such things for two reasons: the first is that they enjoy game shooting, clay shooting, stalking or target disciplines as a hobby; the second reason is that they need firearms as part of their work. In the latter instance, certificate holders may not necessarily be employed as a gamekeeper or deer stalker – it also includes pest controllers and those doing vermin control for farmers, shepherds and conservation bodies.

Losing their certificates could mean that people end up unemployed, potentially leading to housing difficulties, and this is especially true for full-time gamekeepers (their employment relies on them having access to shotguns and firearms). Even us hobbyist shooters have a lot to lose if a certificate is revoked. For human beings, recreation is almost more important than work. In times of recession and hardship one of the last things that people surrender is their recreation time. We still attend football matches, still want to go to clubs, and things that help us relax are valued more and more. Leisure time is super important for our wellbeing, and the mental benefits of shooting are all too often overlooked. All shooting disciplines are important to the shooter that takes part. No matter what your preference be it Trap, game or Sporting, you benefit both socially and physically. Although shooting is not necessarily an aerobic exercise it does give you a good excuse to get out into the fresh air, walking and mixing with people.

One incident is all it takes to run the risk of having your guns seized or certificate revoked. The National Gamekeepers’ Organisation have a dedicated firearms advisor who deals with these sorts of problems on a weekly if not daily basis, for both keeper and non-keeper members. The NGO are seeing more malicious and possibly fictional reports to the police of shooters being threatening. We suspect this is a result of Covid which meant more people have ‘found’ the countryside and now seem less sympathetic to those of us who earn a living from Britain’s beautiful green spaces.

One very recent case shows just how quickly things can escalate. Late one Sunday afternoon, a gamekeeper in Hampshire was called out to dispatch a wounded roe doe close to a footpath on the estate he works. Off he went with his helper with the intention of ending its suffering; they quickly located the animal and discovered the beast had been brought down by a dog. As they approached the deer, a pointer came running down the hedge in hot pursuit of another deer. A short while later, a man strolled along the footpath with a lead around his shoulder and no dog. The keeper asked the gentleman if he had lost his dog. “No, it’s just having a run,” was the reply. The keeper explained that the dog shouldn’t be out of sight and he showed him the consequences, a now dead deer that had been dispatched because his dog had chased and wounded it beyond recovery. The man didn’t care and walked off. It was all a fairly innocuous meeting. People allow their pet dogs to run wild in our countryside all the time, at times oblivious to the damage caused.

The following day the keeper was at home when one of the beaters called to see if he had seen the local village Facebook group. It had a post, published by the dog owner who had barely exchanged a word the day before, saying how he was threatened by a gamekeeper whilst he was just out with his “fur baby” for a nice afternoon walk. The keeper was obviously concerned, so checked the group and there were a series of pretty awful comments from members of the group being nasty and personal to the gamekeeper. He contacted the NGO who advised that he should probably place the guns and rifles that he wasn’t immediately using with a registered firearms dealer because the police would probably get involved. This advice was mainly because nothing really had occurred, and the keeper had a witness to corroborate his story. If the police came to speak to him they should quickly see that there was nothing to answer to, and the case would be closed due no further action being necessary.

In this case, that is not what happened. The police did visit the keeper and asked to see his guns, so he showed them the receipts for the storage. The police then decided that they couldn’t confirm that he had actually taken them to an RFD (this could have been solved by a simple telephone enquiry) but instead they carted him off to a police station! This particular keeper is over 70 years old and had never had any dealings with the police before. Understandably, this was very unnerving for him. He was locked in a cell for around 12 hours before the police even deemed to speak to him. During that time they still made no effort to speak to the RFD or the witness, they simply contained the keeper in his cell.

After eventually conducting the interview, the keeper was released with no further action to be taken. He was then told a police car would be escorting him back home. He waited in the foyer of the police station for three more hours for his ride home. Then, to top it all, they told him he had to wait outside because the station was closing for the night. It then took yet another 30 minutes for a car to arrive to return the innocent man home without charge. This is just one example of what can happen as a result of a malicious accusation directed at a certificate holder.

This is not a one-off case; we are open to accusations as shotgun and firearms owners and the consequences could be life changing. We can’t blame the police in every instance – they have a duty of care to the public, after all, and let’s remember there are always two sides to every story, but a couple of phone calls or visits could have resolved this whole debacle. Maybe if we still had local rural police, we would be in a better position to serve both certificate holders and the general public.