Aims: Very high energy (VHE; E > 100 GeV) γ-ray studies were performed for 18 active galactic nuclei (AGN) from a variety of AGN classes. Methods: VHE observations of a sample of 14 AGN, considered candidate VHE emitters, were made with the High Energy Stereoscopic System (HESS) between January 2005 and July 2007. Large-zenith-angle observations of three northern AGN (Mkn 421, Mkn 501, 1ES 1218+304), known to emit VHE γ-rays, were also performed in order to sample their spectral energy distributions (SEDs) above 1 TeV In addition, the VHE flux from 1ES 1101-232, previously detected by HESS in 2004-2005, was monitored during 2006 and 2007. Results: As significant detections from the HESS observation program are reported elsewhere, the results reported here are primarily integral flux upper limits. The average exposure for each of the 14 VHE-candidate AGN is ∼7 h live time, and the observations have an average energy threshold between 230 GeV and 590 GeV. Upper limits for these 14 AGN range from <0.9% to <4.9% of the Crab Nebula flux, and eight of these are the most constraining ever reported for the object. The brief (<2.2 h each) large-zenith-angle observations yield upper limits for Mkn 501 (<20% Crab above 2.5 TeV) and 1ES 1218+304 (<17% Crab above 1.0 TeV), and a marginal detection (3.5σ) of Mkn 421 (50% Crab above 2.1 TeV). 1ES 1101-232 was marginally detected (3.6σ, 1.7% Crab above 260 GeV) during the 2006 (13.7 h live time) observations, but not in the 2007 (4.6 h live time) data. The upper limit in 2007 (<1.9% Crab above 260 GeV) is below the average flux measured by HESS from 2004-2006.
- Galaxies: active
- Gamma rays: observations