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Is a Bow and Arrow Considered a Firearm? | What To Know

Bows and arrows are fun sporting instruments that are growing in popularity among nature and sports lovers. However, since they’re historically war weapons, there may be some concerns regarding their legality. For example, is a bow and arrow considered a firearm?

A bow and arrow isn’t a firearm under most countries’ legislation because firearms, by definition, are weapons that use a chemical or explosive substance that expels a projectile. However, many countries and states consider it a deadly weapon as it can fatally injure a person.

Read on to learn about the legal considerations regarding owning and using a bow and arrow in different countries.

Man Aiming a Bow and Arrow at the Camera

Bow and Arrow Legal Classifications

The federal law doesn’t consider bows and arrows firearms by definition. Firearms include shotguns, rifles, and machine guns, as well as bombs, grenades, rockets, and mines. A firearm is any weapon that uses an explosive to expel a projectile.

Even that definition doesn’t involve antique guns that use gunpowder as a propellant. These guns include any centerfire or rimfire gun made before 1899.

So, based on these legal definitions, any weapon that doesn’t work with chemical propellants can’t be a firearm. As such, a bow and arrow isn’t a firearm because it uses mechanical and elastic power, instead of an explosive material, to discharge a projectile.

That’s why you can find a bow and arrow in every offline and online shop, including for kids, like this example found on Amazon. You could walk into a local store and purchase any type, as it’s more sports equipment than a firearm.

Most states follow this federal definition and don’t consider a bow and arrow a firearm. But to be absolutely sure, you should check with your local officials. 

The same rule applies in many other countries:

  • In Germany, firearms refer to weapons that discharge a projectile through a barrel. The law specifies that firearms use flammable liquid, solid, or gaseous substances for propulsion directed at a specific direction through a barrel.
  • In Australia, the law specifies that a firearm is a gun or any other weapon that uses an explosive substance to propel a projectile. This way, a bow and arrow can’t be a firearm according to the law.
  • In the United Kingdom, a firearm is any barreled weapon that can discharge a bullet, shot, or any other missile. A lethal weapon can cause injury or kill someone, but the decision about if the weapon is a firearm or lethal is upon the court of appeal.

Finally, any weapon with a portable barrel that discharges a projectile using an explosive propellant is considered a firearm in the European Union.

As you see, the above countries all require an explosive substance and a barrel present in the weapon to consider it a firearm. So now, we can safely assume that a bow and arrow isn’t a firearm unless there’s a country with highly strict laws that we don’t know of.

Is a Bow and Arrow Considered a Deadly Weapon?

Man Aiming a Bow and Arrow at the Camera

Technically, a bow and arrow is a deadly weapon because it can kill a person by fatally injuring their organs. After all, bows and arrows were war weapons before the invention of guns. 

However, the decision should be made by a court as some people believe the owner’s intention also matters because a bow and arrow is also a sports instrument.

The definition of a deadly weapon can be highly flexible depending on the state and jurisdiction. Generally, any object or substance that can fatally injure a person is a deadly weapon. So, even a rock can be a deadly weapon if it’s used to kill an individual.

Some states consider all weapons deadly under the “deadly weapon per se” term. In other words, if a tool is considered a weapon, it’s deadly by nature, regardless of the user’s intent. So, for example, even a tear gas pencil gun is a deadly weapon per se because it can disable or harm people.

Most of the time, it’s the court that can determine if a weapon is deadly or not. That’s why in some cases, courts have ruled a can opener, a key, and a garden hose as lethal weapons.

However, there’s an interesting case about a man in New Hampshire who was convicted of possessing a deadly weapon. He had killed a porcupine with a bow and arrow. But in the court of appeal, he managed to have his sentence overturned. The court ruled that a deadly weapon can kill or injure people, but the owner has to use or keep it with the intent of killing a person.

Do I Need a License for a Bow and Arrow?

In the US, you don’t need a license to own or use a bow and arrow. However, local and state laws may vary depending on the legislatures’ interpretation, leading to detailed restrictions. The best decision is to contact your local legislative officials and make sure you follow all the rules and regulations.

The most important items to check with your local officials are the bow’s size, weight, and style. For example, in Montana, you can’t use a bow shorter than 28 inches and less than 300 grains. Or, in New York, a bow must have a draw weight of over 35 pounds. However, some states, including Alabama, Arizona, and Georgia, don’t have any size restrictions.

Some states have age restrictions for the person who wants to buy and use bows and arrows. You can find these details in your city’s rulebook.

There are also different regulations regarding the minimum age allowed to own and use bows and arrows. For example, in most European countries, if you’re under 18, you can’t own a bow and arrow. In this case, you need to work under the supervision of a grownup.

Also, make sure to check the regulations for crossbows because they’re different from bows and arrows and, in many cases, are considered firearms.

However, you need to have a license for bowhunting in most states. Besides, each state has its own regulations regarding the type of bows you can use to hunt animals. For example, modified bows equipped with explosive heads or mechanical devices aren’t legal in New York.  

Can You Carry a Bow and Arrow in Public?

You can carry your bow and arrow in public as long as it’s in a case and unstrung. That’s especially important when you’re walking in the street. If your arrows are easily accessible, anyone can take and use them as a weapon to hurt other people. 

Regardless of the means of transport, you always need to enclose your bow and arrow in a case. So, the rules apply for parked, moving, and stopped vehicles or public transport vehicles. Besides, you need to make sure other passengers in the vehicle can’t access it.

To take your bow and arrow on an airplane, you need to package it safely and make sure everything is hidden. In addition, you can’t put it in your carry-ons. Instead, you check in your fully packed bow and arrow, giving them to the officials to send with other luggage in the aircraft’s hold. 

It also helps to securely wrap all the sharp edges because they’ll X-ray your luggage and do it for you if you haven’t. And always dismantle your bow and arrow if you can.

Don’t hide a bow and arrow under your clothes or a cloak, it’ll be classified as a concealed weapon, and you’ll be in trouble if caught by the police.

However, if you’re traveling abroad, the regulations may vary. For example, some people have reported that they couldn’t take their bows and arrows on board when traveling internationally.

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

Can I Use a Bow and Arrow in Public?

Federal law states that you can take your bow and arrow in public. But if you want to use it in public, you should be 50 yards (45.72m) away from any public highway and street and 100 yards away from recreation areas, buildings, airports, and managed waters.

Different jurisdictions may have additional regulations. That’s especially the case during non-hunting seasons, as people go hiking in national parks, and there’s no way to ensure safety. Plus, rules may vary during hunting and non-hunting seasons. Of course, you can ask the park ranger if you can practice archery, but it never hurts to know the local rules.

Many parks allow practicing archery in designated areas. So, you can look for them, check their websites, or talk to their managers to make sure you can use your bow and arrow safely and legally.

The rules may differ from country to county, though. For example, you can use your bow and arrow in the UK as long as you don’t endanger anyone’s life and ensure you’re 50 meters away from others. If you’re on another person’s land, ask for permission, and always make sure to have insurance.

In contrast, in Bulgaria, you can’t use your bow and arrow in public spaces.

Can I Shoot a Bow in My Backyard?

Small Woman Shooting a Bow at a Target

Generally speaking, you can shoot your bow in your backyard. However, check your local regulations because you may need to have it inspected and approved by an ordinance officer, or your county prohibits archery within city limits.

It’s best to check with a lawyer, local police department, or county commissioner to make sure you’re not infringing any laws. 

Plus, you may want to check with your homeowner association because they can fine or even sue you under certain circumstances. So, even if your local laws allow practicing archery at home, your HOA may see it as an infringement of their rules or covenants.

If the law allows you to use bows and arrows in your backyard, it’s always good practice to make it safe, no matter whether your ordinance officer requires it or not. For example, a backstop is always necessary as a basic precaution. You can use a plywood wall, rubber or foam mats, or hay bale and put them behind your archery target. This way, your arrows won’t hit anybody if you miss the mark.

Finally, you may want to check with your neighbors and let them know you practice archery in your backyard. There’s no regulation mandating you to do so, but it’s better for safety considerations, especially if they live nearby.

Is It Illegal To Have a Bow and Arrow in Your Car?

It’s not illegal to have a bow and arrow in your car. But you need to safely enclose your bow and arrow in a hard or soft case. Make sure to dismantle your arrows if possible and cover the sharp points.

In the UK, if you have your bow and arrow with you in the car, a police officer can stop you. So, you need to provide a good reason for carrying the equipment, such as a hunting license or a club membership. If you can’t convince the officer that you’re not doing any offense, they can arrest you.

Is a Bow Considered a Firearm in Canada?

In Canada, a bow and arrow don’t fall within the definition of firearms. However, a crossbow is regarded as a firearm.

According to Section 2 of the Criminal Code, a firearm is any type of barreled weapon that can cause physical injury or death to a person. In this definition, explosive fuel isn’t necessary to consider the weapon as a firearm. That’s why a crossbow is considered a firearm.

Do I Need a License To Own a Bow in Canada?

According to Canada’s Firearms Act, you don’t need any license or certificate to have a bow and arrow, no matter the type, including compound and recurve. But crossbows with one-handed operation and those that are up to 500 mm (19.68 inches) long need a license. 

On the other hand, if your crossbow is longer than 500mm, you don’t need a license.


While a bow and arrow isn’t a firearm under most countries’ laws, it may count as a deadly and dangerous weapon. So, you should take safety precautions when using yours.

Although the second amendment legalizes bearing guns and weapons, different states and cities have varying interpretations regarding the ownership and use of weapons, including bows and arrows.

So, always ask local authorities about the rules and regulations to make sure you won’t break any laws by using your bow and arrow.

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

For more, check out How Far Can a Bow Shoot? | Ranges by Draw Weight (With Chart).