Can You Shoot a Pellet Gun in Your Backyard Legally and Safely?

We’ve all seen the holiday classic movie, “A Christmas Story,” where Ralphie’s wish is to get a Red Ryder Carbine-Action 200-shot Range Model air rifle. And, yes, we’ll admit to watching it every year, faithfully. Around this time of year, Ralphie’s antics might bring out your inner child and lead you to wonder if you can shoot a pellet gun in your backyard.

Let’s do a deep dive and find out if you can as far as the law is concerned.

What is a Pellet Gun?

The question of legality and safety hinges on defining what a pellet gun is. After all, that’s usually the deciding factor even if it is a reaction instead of proactive action.

Technically, it is not a gun, per se, like a revolver or rifle. Air is the means of pressure and propulsion instead of combustible materials like gunpowder. That difference is huge because it affects the trajectory and distance along with accuracy or effective firing range.

Let’s talk numbers to put it in perspective.

A shotgun loaded with number 9 shot for hunting small fowl can fire up to 350 yards or more. Our Red Ryder can max out at 195 yards. But, then, you have to consider the effective firing range or how confident you can feel that you’ll hit your target. The former is 40 yards, while the latter is less than 10 yards.

That means you’re dealing with a gun that can shoot relatively far but not accurately.

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Projectiles

While we’ve cited the Red Ryder rifle, let’s discuss your ammunition. A pellet gun is technically an airgun that uses a specific type of ammo. The design and kind of barrel determine what you can use, whether it’s darts, pellets, slugs, or BBs – and they are different.

You’ll most likely see wasp-waisted diabolo pellets with its hourglass shape, which differ from BBs which are round balls. You can think of the former as a more accurate and aerodynamic shot versus the latter. 

Some models can shoot both, but it depends on the type of barrel, which also adds another layer of complexity to the question.

Last update on 2020-06-14 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API


Can You Shoot a Pellet Gun in Your Backyard Safely?

Let’s refer back to our numbers to get the answer to if you can shoot a pellet gun in your backyard. We think that it’s the most critical aspect of the two questions, which may put it under the Mom jurisdiction. There was a valid reason that Ralphie’s mother warned him of shooting his eye out, after all.

The difference between accuracy and range lies at the crux of this answer. If you’re shooting at something far away, you might not even hit that side of a barn. It also puts anything else nearby at risk from an errant shot, such as your buddy, non-targeted wildlife, and your dog.

Let’s think about this.

Is it Legal to Shoot a Pellet Gun in Your Backyard?

This question has two parts. First, there is the shooting aspect. Then, you must consider your ammo. Let’s dig into each one in detail.

Can You Shoot a Pellet Gun in Your Backyard?

Some municipalities may frown upon using a pellet gun no matter what your purpose. Even if you’re firing at squirrels chewing on your siding, you may have to get a permit or a license to take up the fight. That also applies to game animals. Although it is a small weapon, it still can dispatch wildlife, putting it under the jurisdiction of your state’s DNR or department of conservation.

Our advice is to check with the appropriate agency no matter if you’re after the upland game or nuisance wildlife like a possum. Don’t risk the fine. All it takes is a phone call. Besides, the permit or license is likely much less than the cost of finding out otherwise.

The second part of the question hinges on target practice, pest control, or hunting. It boils down to the type of shot that you use. Both BBs and pellets are often made of lead, which may improve your range. Steel, on the other hand, has a finer spread but it lighter and may wound instead of killing your target, making it less humane.

Then, you must consider what you’re hunting, if that’s why you want to shoot your pellet gun. Federal law prohibits the use of lead shot with waterfowl hunting no matter what the weapon because of the risk to predators like eagles that feed on the remains. It can also pollute waterways with far-reaching environmental effects.

Now speaking of birds, we also have to address the legality of shooting at non-waterfowl species. You can’t take aim at the bluejays waking you up every morning because they are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. We’re talking five-figure fines and possible jail time if you’re caught. There are much better—and legal—ways to deal with these avian pests.

Cautions

We all know that toy guns are tipped orange to help law enforcement officers from making fatal identification mistakes. That’s where you can run into trouble using a pellet gun. Most models resemble real weapons since they are, in essence, if not always viewed as such legally. 

That means that you should never brandish any kind of pellet gun even in jest no matter what the circumstances. On the one hand, these products are realistic-looking. Many parents give them to their children to segue into hunting as adolescents and adults. It’s not wrong to start with something less powerful to teach the basics and ethics before moving onto the center stage.

We get it.

But, a police officer witnessing someone using a pellet gun dangerously isn’t going to know what it is from a distance. Remember that they are trained to err on the side of caution.

Other Points to Remember

Just as a side note for a bit of trivia. The gun that James Bond aka Sean Connery has in all those marketing ads is not, in fact, a Walther PPK with a Brausch silencer but a Walther LP53 air pistol. We are betting he could shoot it wherever he pleased.

And we have to play Mom here, too. A pellet gun is still a weapon even if it can’t take down a deer. It is still dangerous, and yes, it can shoot your eye out if you don’t give it the proper respect. The gun fires a projectile that can injure someone. It is not a toy. The other thing to remember is that it’s not accurate at long distances. It becomes the proverbial loose cannon at that point.

Lest we forget, where Mom law rules, it’s likely not legal for you to shoot a pellet gun—ever.

We’d strongly urge you to use common sense when using one. Don’t point it at any person, object, or animal even if you think it isn’t loaded. Also, use it within its effective firing range to avoid hitting anything other than your target.

Final Thoughts About Pellet Guns

Pellet guns skirt the line between regulated firearms and toys. However, that doesn’t mean that they’re safe to use whether or not there is legal standing that says otherwise. Our advice is to start with your city hall to determine if you can use one on your property.

The legality question also rests with what you fire at and the ammo that you use, making it an essential consideration to answering can you shoot a pellet gun in your backyard. The keyword is also your yard. Respect your neighbors and keep your weaponry ambitions to yourself.