Do You Need a License for a Bow and Arrow? | Owning vs. Hunting


Over the Shoulder of a Woman Shooting a Bow and Arrow at a Target

A few years ago, my wife and I were interested in getting started with archery. We joined a beginner’s class and were excited to purchase our first bow and arrows. We were unsure if we needed to get a license first, so I did some research, made some calls, and this is what I found out.

You do not need a specific license to own or possess a bow and arrow. However, use outside of a controlled archery setting can be impacted by local laws and regulations. Using a bow and arrow to hunt requires you to have a hunting license and follow hunting laws.

Now, let’s dive deeper into potential licensing requirements, possible restrictions you might face and answer a few common questions that you might have.

Bow and Arrow Licensing Requirements

You can legally purchase a bow and arrow in many countries; including, Canada, England, and the United States of America. Usually, you can legally walk into a store and come out with a bow and arrow without all of the extra paperwork required for other weapons. Even so, you may not be able to shoot an arrow right away.

Each country has different rules on what you can do with a bow and arrow in your possession. Restrictions often depend on the intended use of your archery equipment. Many locales have specific requirements that need to be met when bowhunting.

Each region has different terrains, game, and requirements for hunting with a bow and arrow. In the US, individual states are responsible for issuing hunting licenses. For example, New York requires bowhunters to apply for a hunting license and obtain a bow hunting privilege.

In fact, many states require an additional bowhunting license similar to New York. And, before getting your hunting license, you will usually have to sign up for a hunting education class. These classes will teach your safety and provide you details about hunting laws in your state.

Common Restrictions

Expect to find restrictions on bow size and weight. Certain bows will not be compatible for hunting, and knowing the requirements will save you time and money. It will keep you from purchasing a tool that cannot be used for its expected purpose.

Here is a good resource for getting a quick breakdown of bow ownership laws state-by-state.

Cities usually have more restrictions on shooting arrows in densely populated areas. It is important to pay attention to these to avoid breaking any set of laws. In contrast, those living in the country will find fewer restrictions.

Cool Tip: If you are not using a bow and arrow for hunting, federal and state law may state that you can legally fire your bow in your backyard. The legality of this will depend on your local city or town laws.

Before going out for target practice, please call your local sheriff’s department to ensure it’s okay. If it is allowed, you may also want to speak to your neighbors and handle any of their concerns. As you can imagine, it can be disconcerting for some to have arrows being shot next door. This is especially true for people who do not own any weapons or have not done any outdoor sports like archery or shooting.

Safety First: It is essential to be aware of your environment when shooting an arrow. There should be no one in a 400-yard radius of the direction you will be shooting. You do not want anyone to get hurt from a stray arrow.

Crossbow Licensing Requirements

As with bows, you can usually legally purchase a crossbow without needing a specific license. However, some states are more restrictive. Some allow their use year-round and others only during particular times. The dealer should be able to tell you the specific laws applying to your jurisdiction.

If you want to hunt with a crossbow, a hunting license and a specific crossbow license are usually required to operate this weapon. Usually, states only allow a narrow window to use crossbows. However, Tennessee, Georgia, Louisiana, and North Dakota allow crossbow use all season.

Interestingly, Massachusetts, South Dakota, Hawaii only allow disabled persons to fire a crossbow during hunting season. In Oregon, it is illegal to use a crossbow to hunt at any time. Twenty-eight states allow crossbow use during archery season, while eleven more make it legal during firearm season.

Here is an excellent resource to check the crossbow regulations of a particular state.

Is It Legal to Walk Around With a Bow and Arrow?

You can legally walk around with a bow and arrow in most states as long as you follow safety requirements. It is important to make sure that your state or town does not any have laws to the contrary. However, your bow should be unstrung when in public otherwise, people may consider you armed.

You also want to keep the bow wrapped in a sock or carrying case, and arrows can be held in a covered container. Follow common sense, and if questioned, be sure to explain the bow’s intended use.

Is a Bow and Arrow Considered a Weapon?

A bow and arrow is considered an offensive weapon in the eyes of the law since someone with ill intent can use a bow and arrow to hurt or kill someone. As long as you do not carry it around with an arrow nocked, threaten, or point it at people, you are usually not going to get in legal trouble.

Be sure to check with the local authorities to find out precisely what you can and can’t do with a bow or crossbow. Law enforcement knows that most archers use their equipment for hunting or sport and are used to answering questions like this.

Final Thoughts

Laws are much less strict for bows and arrows when compared to firearms. In fact, many children participate in the sport of archery, and there are usually no restrictions or laws stopping them from learning this skill.

If you are unsure what is allowed in your jurisdiction, I recommend contacting your local sheriff’s office for clarification. They will usually be more than happy to help you.

I hope this article has been helpful. Thanks for reading!

Jim James

Jim James spent most of his childhood outdoors fishing on lakes in his area. Due to his scouting background, he has always been interested in survival, camping, and the outdoors in general. Jim is a best-selling author and has a degree in History, Anthropology, and Music. He lives with his family in Charlotte, NC.

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