Q. My neighbors and I have always had a friendly relationship, so I’m not sure what to do about the current situation. Recently, their 12-year-old daughter saw the movie ‘Hunger Games’ and became interested in archery. They have set up a target in their backyard that is flush against the fence we share. I’m a little concerned about wayward arrows, especially when coming from a younger person’s bow. Is it legal to shoot a bow in your backyard? We live in a residential neighborhood and the houses are fairly close to each other, about 20-30 yards between each house.
A. Your plight is probably shared by many; I’m sure there are parents nationwide who have been shelling out money for bows, arrows, and targets and shuttling children to the range for archery lessons since the ‘Hunger Games’ movie (and books) became popular with youths everywhere. While many cities and towns, especially those in rural areas, have designated archery ranges available for practice (often with a usage fee for non-members), sometimes archers choose to practice on their own properties. Whether this is legal may depend on state laws and local ordinances; whether it is safe depends on the knowledge and experience of the archer and the precautions taken.
To find out if shooting a bow is legal in your area, you must research your state, county and city codes, in that order. Generally, this is a regional issue so the county and city codes will be the best places to look, but just to be certain I’d suggest checking your state laws as well. California state laws do not prohibit you from shooting a bow in your own backyard, though there are laws relating to bows and other firearms used recreationally. Responsible archers will be familiar and comply with all applicable state and local laws. So, the next place to look is your county and city codes—these should be available online or in print at your local county public law library or at your local public library. To locate the public law library nearest you, go to www.publiclawlibrary.org.
Let’s use Sacramento as an example: performing a simple keyword search in the Sacramento County Code online, we find a couple of relevant sections. Section 9.36.060 prohibits a person from possessing, using, maintaining, and discharging a bow within park limits, and Chapter 9.41 "Bows and Arrows" gives us the answer we’re seeking. Upon reading we learn that it’s legal for an owner of real property (or someone with permission from the owner) to shoot a bow on his or her property as long as the arrows do not trespass onto adjacent property, when the adjacent property features a residential structure within 150 yards of the shooter’s property boundaries (Section 9.41.030). The code chapter stresses the importance of using adequate precautions to ensure that arrows do not leave the property from which they are shot, but because of the varying nature of properties it would be impossible to set forth arbitrary specifications for such precautions (e.g. the exact measurements between the target and nearby structures, backdrop materials, etc.).
To finish your research, you should consult your city’s code and, if applicable, your HOA restrictions. The Sacramento City Code has only one ordinance that restricts the use of bows: Section 12.72.060(L)(1) states that “no person shall…possess, discharge, or shoot…any bow and arrow in any park, except in areas designated for such use.”
If your county and city codes do not specifically prohibit an urban property owner from shooting a bow in his or her backyard, what other options might you have as a neighbor? If you’re concerned about safety, and rightly so, you should also make certain that your neighbors are equally concerned. It’s within your rights to discuss what precautions they’re taking in regard to target placement, backdrop size and material, visibility during practice sessions, and whether a parent is supervising the sessions. For more information on safety precautions and archery in general, you may want to contact a nearby archery range or store. If you find that your neighbors are violating a county or city ordinance, whether by simply shooting the bow in the backyard or shooting arrows into your backyard, you can contact your local code enforcement department. Archery is a fun and challenging sport, but even the most experienced archers know that accidents can happen to anyone, and therefore safety should always be the first priority.
Do you have a question for the County Law Librarian? Just email firstname.lastname@example.org. If your question is selected your answer will appear in next Thursday’s column. Even if your question isn’t selected, though, I will still respond within two weeks.