Carrying a gun
Carrying and using firearms is subject to the Arms Act 1983. The law generally relates to being reasonable and safe.
- Careless use of a firearm, airgun, pistol or restricted weapon
- Discharging a firearm, airgun, pistol or restricted weapon in or near a dwelling house or public place to endanger property or to endanger, annoy or frighten any person
- Carrying a loaded firearm (whether in its breech, barrel, chamber or magazine) in or on a motor vehicle on a road or in any place to which members of the public have a right of access.
Our maps show the public access areas (PAA) on a range of different land types or easements.
Each type of PAA has different rights of access associated with it. Some provide for walking only, and others provide for other access types.
The most common types of PAA are:
Public Conservation Land and Reserve Land
A third of NZ is Public Conservation Land so it is particularly relevant to carriers of guns. Carrying a gun is sometimes allowed on Public Conservation Land, but not always. Check the local rules. If you are hunting on Public Conservation Land or Reserve Land you will need a permit.
Esplanade strips (alongside waterways) are easements established under the Resource Management Act and are managed by the local district council. The vast majority provide for walking access only - no bicycles, dogs or firearms.
Marginal strips (again, alongside waterways) are land parcels ‘owned’ by the Department of Conservation (DOC). They are public conservation land and managed by DOC. They all provide for public walking access, but other access types, such as carrying firearms, will vary from place to place. To find the rules for a particular marginal strip, you would need to contact the local DOC office. Some marginal strips permit you to carry a firearm, but any hunting on these strips would require a DOC permit.
Roads, both formed and unformed, provide for the public rights for all forms of access. Whether this access is practical or doable on an unformed legal road depends on the terrain. But the rights of public access remain. Carrying a firearm that is loaded, whether in its breech, barrel, chamber or magazine, in or on a motor vehicle on a road or in any place to which members of the public have a right of access is an offence. But hunting on foot on an unformed legal road is not an offence.
Shooting from an unformed legal road onto or across private land or other property without the relevant permissions or permits is an offence.
Remember, discharging a firearm on any public place that endangers property or endangers, annoys or frightens a person is an offence.
Other easements include public access easements under Crown Forest Licences, walkway easements under the Walking Access Act 2008, and access strips managed by local councils. The access conditions on these types of easements vary from one to the other, and some may permit you to carry a firearm. An example of this would be an accessway to get to a DOC hunting block.
The only PAA where hunting may be permitted is on
- unformed legal roads,
- DOC land (including some marginal strips) and
- regional forest parks.
DOC managed land and regional parks require hunting permits. Hunting without a permit is illegal. Hunting from an unformed legal road does not permit shooting onto or across private land without permission.
Committing an offence
There is a big difference between carrying an unloaded firearm on the way to a hunting block and hunting or firing it. For example, it is legal to carry an unloaded firearm along Main Street in town from the gun shop to home, or from a person’s home to a hunting block. It is quite another matter to fire it on Main Street.
Trespassing on private land with a firearm is a serious offence. Similarly, illegal hunting (whether hunting without a permit on DOC land, or without permission on private land), is a serious offence. Killing livestock without the owner’s permission attracts a range of serious charges.
The public access areas depicted on our maps show where the public has rights of access and what types of access (walking, cycles, horseback, vehicles, guns and dogs).
Enforcing illegal behaviour is a separate matter and is independent of public rights of access. Enforcing the law is the responsibility of a range of agencies. It is separate to the rights of access.
Straight shooting: advice from an expert
Access to New Zealand’s lakes, rivers, beaches and mountains is at the heart of our Kiwi way of life. It is part of our culture and heritage and an experience we are privileged to enjoy. That’s because this access frequently relies on landholders’ goodwill in allowing people to cross their private land.
Most landholders are happy to oblige yet sometimes they can be concerned about people requesting access for recreational purposes, especially when they are carrying firearms.
Hunters can put landholders at ease by understanding these concerns and respecting landholders’ rights and private property. Sam Fielden, a keen hunter, tramper and angler, agrees.
“In my experience, people are generally comfortable with anglers crossing their land but can be more anxious about hunters carrying firearms. It’s a good idea to ask permission first. A phone call to the farmer explaining why and where you want to go, and asking if that’s OK, shows courtesy and respect. Otherwise, if I were walking up to someone’s door, I’d leave the rifle locked in the car, somewhere I could clearly see it at all times, rather than over my shoulder.
“I’d also be open to the idea that I wouldn’t necessarily be given access on my first visit – sometimes it’s about building that relationship and swapping details. I have in the past taken a box of beer as a koha to say thanks…and in the event you are granted access, don’t stuff it up for the next person – leave gates as they are found and respect the landholder’s requests.”
Don Rood, communications manager at the New Zealand Fish and Game Council, says hunters should be courteous and respectful when crossing private land.
“It’s a good idea to keep dogs on a leash and load your firearm only when ready to fire. While you are entitled to public access on the unformed legal roads, hunters should check in with the farmer first.
Being aware that responsibilities go hand in hand with rights means it is more likely this privileged, free access to the places we love to go, will endure.”
New Zealand Mountain Safety Council chief executive Mike Daisley agrees responsible behaviour is the key.
All firearms users need to ensure they understand and comply with the seven basic rules of firearms safety.
What does the Outdoor Access Code say?
The New Zealand Walking Access Commission has published the New Zealand Outdoor Access Code that includes all the practical information and reminders you need about public access and hunting, which requires both the carrying and use of firearms:
- The right to carry firearms or to take dogs depends on the existing rights that run with access. For example, access by way of an unformed legal road is a public right and therefore people are legally entitled to carry firearms on these roads. However, you need a firearms licence, or to be under the immediate supervision of someone with a licence, to be in possession of a firearm.
- The New Zealand Mountain Safety Council‘s website includes the Firearms Safety Code and a link to the Arms Code - a downloadable firearms safety manual issued by the New Zealand Police.
- There is no legal right of access either to private land or across private land to public land, for the purpose of sports fishing or game hunting.
If you are carrying or using firearms you need to be responsible. It’s a good idea to refresh your knowledge of both the New Zealand Outdoor Access Code and the Firearms Safety Code to help reduce any landholder concerns and ensure appropriate, safe behaviour.
The seven basic rules of firearms safety
- Treat every firearm as loaded
- Always point firearms in a safe direction
- Load a firearm only when ready to fire
- Identify your target
- Check your firing zone
- Store firearms and ammunition safely
- Avoid alcohol and drugs when handling firearms