It's always open season when it comes to shooting magpies. Unlike game birds, such as pheasant and grouse, which may only be hunted during open season, magpies are grouped with crows and woodpigeons in the category of pest and may be controlled at any time of year.
You don't need to apply for a licence to shoot magpies, as they are covered by general licence issued by government. However, if you don't already know the details, you should familiarise yourself with the licence so you know where you stand. The licence stipulates certain conditions and is a permit to landlords, occupiers, and authorised persons only, so if you are not the owner or occupier, you will need their permission.
The licence allows for the control of magpies to prevent damage to specified items only, which include livestock, crops, timber and fisheries. So quite apart from safety considerations, you'd have some difficulty in justifying shooting magpies in a small town garden. You can find further information about licensing on the Natural England website at www.naturalengland.org.uk.
Once you've established there are magpies in a particular area, find a suitable place to lure them to near to a spot where you can settle down to wait. An ideal place to wait for magpies would be close to trees adjacent to a clearing or open field. Dawn and dusk are when you're likely to see birds displaying bolder behaviour, as it is generally a quieter period in terms of human traffic.
One of the best ways to get a good shot at a magpie is to catch it while it is eating. Entice the magpies to within your range by leaving out a food supply such as a freshly killed rabbit or squirrel. Alternatively, you could make use of a decoy magpie bird. Magpies are highly territorial birds so will often come down to investigate an unknown magpie in their area. Artificial magpie decoy birds are a good option, as they are realistic and easy to transport.
You may need to spend several hours to get a shot at a magpie, so consider using a portable hide. If you plan to shoot early in the morning you might prefer to set up the hide the day before to avoid disturbance when you arrive for shooting. Use a good quality camouflage hide net and peg it down at the base so that it won't rustle in the wind.
It sounds obvious, but make sure you stay on the right side of the law. You must comply with the requirements of the Firearms Act as well as the Animal Welfare Act. If you use live decoy birds, be sure to treat them in accordance with legal requirements. This is an area currently under review by European legislators, so keep abreast of any changes which might be introduced in the near future.
Magpie numbers have tripled over the last three decades and are considered by many to be the vermin of the bird world, but even though they are not the most popular bird, you never know who might take umbrage with seeing them being shot. As with all hunting, be respectful and make sure you kill quickly and cleanly. If you know the law and work within it, you will have no cause for concern when controlling the burgeoning magpie population.