One of my regular trail running routes goes past a pheasant shoot. The route is on a public footpath and the shooting is usually from the woods nearby towards the direction of the path (ascertained by the fact the path is lined with people and dogs waiting to pick up the kills).

When they are shooting I get quite nervous of being hit by falling shot so I pick up my pace through that section (one silver lining I suppose). How likely am I to get hit, and what could be the consequences? That is, would it be as bad as being shot directly? I think terminal velocity should come into play. Obviously, the people standing by to collect kills aren't bothered by it.

This is in the UK, and I imagine the guns are all shotguns rather than rifles. To be clear, I'm not so worried about people accidentally shooting me directly, by mistaking me for prey, as I am with shot taking a curved trajectory up in the air, and coming back down on me.

The only related news stories I could find talk about hunters blindly firing into crowds.

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    I'm not entirely sure, but I'm pretty sure they should not be shooting anywhere near a public right of way. You said they shoot towards the path but people stand on it waiting?
    – Aravona
    Commented Oct 30, 2019 at 14:26
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    basc.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/downloads/2013/01/… - see 'Shooting near rights of way' - so I'd say unlikely that you'd get hit by any buck as they're only supposed to shoot where they can see along the path (eg if they see you coming they should wait for you to leave)
    – Aravona
    Commented Oct 30, 2019 at 14:29
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    @Aravona Yeah. The path through a field, but is a public footpath (and part of a the Wye Valley Walk). I can't see the shooters, but at least one time last year there were four of five people space out in the field over a half-mile length, with dogs, so I could reasonably assume if they were expecting the birds to fall in the area that was the direction they were shooting.
    – Darren
    Commented Oct 30, 2019 at 14:31
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    One of the basic rules of etiquette at UK pheasant or grouse shoots is that you never shoot at a target unless you can see clear sky behind it. So your chance of being "mistaken for a target and shot" is zero, unless (1) you happen to be moving towards the guns over the crest of a hill and (2) somehow your head was visible but your body was not.
    – alephzero
    Commented Oct 30, 2019 at 23:30
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    @alephzero as per the question, that is not my concern.
    – Darren
    Commented Oct 31, 2019 at 3:18

7 Answers 7


Pheasant shooters will almost certainly be using shotguns, not rifles. A shotgun cartridge contains many small pellets, and they lose their velocity much more rapidly than bullets do. In fact, their range is comparatively short.

The typical shot size used for pheasant shooting is #4 to #6, as revealed in A Guide to Pheasant Hunting Ammo and Chokes, for a wide spread of situations.

Now, turning to a table of properties of different shot, in the National Rifle Association's Target Shotgun Training and Reference Manual, the safety distance shown in Table 2 is 275 or 300 metres for those sizes of shot.

Of course, if there are participants lining the path, they know what is safe, so there should be no problem. You can always ask one to confirm that shotguns, not rifles, are being used.

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    This is spot on, there is a specified safe distance for all kinds of projectiles since they all fly in a parabolic arc and will fall eventually. Of course this depends on what is being shot. If they are shooting at their own people out in the field even if they are to the side, standard safety procedures imply that they are beyond the range of the projectiles. They should be clearly marking or cordoning off the kill zone and you should insist that they do so (either tape or flags the visible from the footpath) although likely the participants in the field are effectively the cordon
    – crasic
    Commented Oct 30, 2019 at 19:18
  • For example, at our archery range we forbid crossbows and restrict draw weight. There are backstop bales at 100M (which you will never hit) and bright relfective tape on the back of the to prevent people from wandering in off the back side. This way you can shoot towards a path and everyone is safe.
    – crasic
    Commented Oct 30, 2019 at 19:20
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    I went dove hunting in the US a number of times as a kid. #7 shot which was shot from the opposite side of field but falling on you was a regular occurrence. It is hot when it falls down your neck. The only real danger would seem to be getting hit directly in an open eye.
    – MaxW
    Commented Oct 31, 2019 at 6:35
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    I don't think it is reasonable to assume that just because the participants are doing something that you can assume that they "know what is safe". I have been witness to lots of unsafe outdoor behavior (including gun use) by people who should have known better.
    – DQdlM
    Commented Nov 1, 2019 at 16:18
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    They were out shooting today and I almost got hit by a dead pheasant! That should have been what I was concerned with all along.
    – Darren
    Commented Nov 20, 2019 at 16:33

Falling birdshot stings a little, but I've never known it break the skin. It's no worse than having a 5p piece dropped on you from a couple of feet up.

If you're on a public footpath, guns may not legally be discharged within (IIRC) 50 yards, so shot shouldn't reach you - and the shoot organisers would be in serious trouble if they failed to prevent harm to people on a right-of-way.

  • Firstly, 50 yd is a very low distance and you really would not want to take a direct hit. Secondly: "In England & Wales it is an offence without lawful authority or reasonable excuse to discharge any firearm within fifty feet of ... and in consequence* a user of the carriageway *is injured, interrupted or endangered. [Section 161(2) of the Highways Act 1980 as amended]. It The discharge of a firearm is not prohibited in itself. It must also be proved that there was an injury, or that someone’s passage was interrupted or interfered with ..." Commented Oct 31, 2019 at 16:21
  • That is to say I know that falling shot cannot really harm you. But some people here keep suggesting it cannot harm you at al. At 50yd it certainly can and a lot. Commented Oct 31, 2019 at 16:42
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    Once it's falling (which I understand to mean near-vertical), then it makes no difference how far away the shooter is. I've been rained on by shot when I've been right next to the gun. (The question explicitly excludes non-falling shot). Commented Oct 31, 2019 at 16:45
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    I've been dove hunting often, which uses a similar light shot that you would use for pheasant, and I can say that in the unlikely event you were hit by falling shot, it is unlikely you would be hurt (or even feel it through a shirt). To be quite honest, using shot that light, if they were trying to hit you at 100m, you probably wouldn't get seriously hurt if you were wearing a sweatshirt. Of course if you have reason to believe they're using firearms in a dangerous way at all..just stay away completely.
    – rob
    Commented Oct 31, 2019 at 17:43

The likelihood of you getting hit is difficult to estimate, but it's very, very improbable that you'd be struck randomly by falling shot. It'd be hard to make that arcing shot of hundreds of yards even if the hunters were trying to hit you, so the odds of a random shot hitting you are even lower. There are likely more birds than hunters in your area, so I'd have to guess it's more likely that one of the birds will poop on you than it is for falling lead to strike you.

As for the danger, I expect that the hunters are using relatively small birdshot. Birdshot is often not deadly to humans even at muzzle velocity, and drag will slow the projectiles significantly over a long, arcing flight. It might sting a bit to get hit by falling birdshot, but the likelihood of serious injury is very low, and the probability that you'd be killed by it is practically non-existent. Larger projectiles will be slowed less by drag, but I don't expect that would be used to hunt pheasant.

  • I think the injury and likelyhood of getting hit is besides the point, this isn't quite the same as stumbling into a hunting party in the backcountry. There should not be people in the shooting area, but projectiles have limited range. Likely an issue of marking and communication between the user groups and the activity is safe as the projectiles will never make it that far.
    – crasic
    Commented Oct 30, 2019 at 19:22
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    Being kilked is one thing, getting blind is another. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… Commented Oct 31, 2019 at 8:52
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    @Darren Air resistance (or more generally drag) is proportional to the cross sectional area of the projectile, but the mass - and therefore the force required to slow it - is proportional to the volume of the projectile. A larger projectile will experience greater drag than a smaller one, but will not slow as much. Commented Oct 31, 2019 at 13:09
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    @NuclearWang There are too many variables for a calculation to be meaningful. The fact is it does happen, but when it does it's because the shot was fired at a pretty high angle and has slowed enough to be safe. Unless someone's firing directly at you, but then we're talking about something quite different Commented Oct 31, 2019 at 14:39
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    The probability is not that low, there are many shots and usually many shooters. At the ranges in Bisley there are footpaths roofed to allow a safe passage to certain areas and you can hear many and many shots landing on the thin roof above you. Also, people had been killed by random rifle projectiles from people firing into the air. It is very improbable and still can happen. You cannot play the probability of hit card at all unless you are out of range. Commented Oct 31, 2019 at 16:26

@WeatherVane is spot on, there is a specified safe distance for all kinds of projectiles, depending on what is being shot they simply cannot fly farther no matter how it was aimed.

If they are shooting at their own people out in the field, standard safety procedures would imply that they are beyond the range of any projectiles and you would be too.

However, Regardless of injury risk or probability of getting hit, there should never be a situation where anyone (member of public or hunter) is in the range of any projectiles, certainly not at an organized, regular range (as opposed to a backcountry hunting trip)

This is an issue that rightly concerns you. Obviously you are uncertain if the situatiion is safe, you are likely not the only one that feels so!

Since there are multiple users for an area that have conflicting requirements, I believe the hunting club may not be effectively communicating with other users and are not behaving in the most neighborly way.

I would approach the hunting club to open a dialog about signage and cordons to be installed at the far end of the field to prevent wanderers and to assure the other users of their safety.

Cordons can be simple, bright flags in the ground or marking tape on tree limbs every 10-20M and some laminated signs near the trail.

If you are uncomfortable doing this on your own, engage public lands management or a local hiking interest group for help

This is in your interest and in theirs, maintaing good relationships with other users is likely critical to their continued use of the field.

As someone who has organized archery ranges in shared environments where there are similar concerns (and we had to calculate and prove our safe distances) , I would want to hear all concerns from any member of the public on how we could improve our safety and communications and to assure that they are safe when we are sharing the space.

Otherwise they would be liable to complain and risk us losing access to the space in the future.


I performed a calculation using the Chairgun app, which includes ballistic data for a .177 round lead ball. Birdshot is even smaller than this, so it would lose energy even faster than the calculation suggests.

If fired from a shotgun at 1,200 feet per second, a .177 lead ball would have a muzzle energy of 25.58 foot pounds. At 90 yards, it would be traveling 526 feet per second with 4.91 foot pounds of energy. This amount of energy would be considered marginal for humanely killing a rabbit.

The maximum range would be 343 yards if fired at a 17 degree angle. Terminal velocity would be 91 ft/sec and it would impact with 0.15 foot pounds of energy. That's approximately as hard as the average high school baseball pitcher could throw it at you.


Just to add to previous answers. Mythbusters worked on this problem. They fired 9mm bullets in the air (which would be anywhere from 90-125 grains) and found that it would hurt but not injure you, and certainly not kill you, if it fell on you.

Now heavier bullets such .45 caliber pistol rounds (230 grains) and rifle rounds may kill you.

It's the mass and the velocity which injures/kills.

The mass of birdshot ranges from 1 grain to about 18 grain. You will not be injured by a falling buckshot, you may not even feel it, unless it hits your eye.


The chance of you getting hit depends on a lot of factors; without knowing where the guns are, which direction they are firing, which way the pheasants are being driven from, how far they are from the footpath they are, what angle they are shooting at, etc it is impossible to say how likely you are to get hit.

That being said, when beating or shooting birds/ clay pigeons directly overhead, it is not uncommon to get hit by falling shot. If you are in/near a wooded area, you will be able to hear the shot falling, it sounds a bit like a localised rain shower. It doesn't hurt, and feels a bit like a hail storm. I imagine if this hit your eye, it would be quite unpleasant but have no idea how much damage it would do.

Not asked, but steps I would recommend:

  1. Wear a cap - this will help protect your eyes. You probably have noticed most of the people out shooting wear flat caps, falling shot is one reason.

  2. Speak to the shoot directly - If you are nervous go and talk to them, they will be able to give you more information. As noted in here on the BASC website, they do not have a right to obstruct your right of way (at the same time, you have no right to obstruct them shooting if they are not putting you in danger).

  3. Don't run when they are shooting - Normally a shoot is once a week, try to avoid that path on the day of the week if you are nervous about falling shot.

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