Is It Legal to Have a Pet Deer? Yes, in Some States

If you’ve been following me since the days of my old blog (I commend you on your obscene level of dedication), you may recall the story of me feeding a wild pet deer by hand at my friend Donn’s house in West Virginia.

This was one of the coolest moments of my cross-country van trip. I was shocked when I drove up to their place and saw his dad literally petting a deer in the yard. What kind of weird world had I entered?

beeper the pet deer
Beeper, the pet deer

They essentially had a “pet deer,” although it wasn’t a pet in the traditional sense, because it lived outside.

Many people wonder if it’s legal to own a pet deer. The answer is yes, maybe, depending which state you reside in.

It turns out that each state has its own laws regarding whether you can have a deer as a pet. So let’s rundown the current regulations!

Where It’s Legal to Own Pet Deer in the USA

As of this writing, it is illegal to keep a pet deer in most U.S. states. Deer are wild animals with natural instincts, and it’s not easy to domesticate a wild deer.

However, some states do allow people to keep deer as a pet. In some cases, permits are required, and in some cases, only specific types of deer may be owned as pets.

can you keep a deer as a pet
Can you keep a deer as a pet? It depends where you live and what kind of deer!

The laws on these matters are often quite vague. Some states make no mention of deer whatsoever in their laws, so deer are considered the same as other wild animals.

Some states specifically ban owning one kind of deer, but don’t mention other kinds, creating a legal gray area where it would seem to be legal to keep the other kinds of deer.

We are not legal experts, so do not take this article as legal advice. We are passing along the regulations regarding deer ownership which are currently available online.

The following states appear to allow some degree of ownership of some types of deer under some conditions: Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Nevada, North Dakota, Ohio, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, and Washington.

If your state is not listed, that doesn’t necessarily mean that owning deer is illegal. Most other states simply don’t have any specific regulations regarding the possession of deer as pets. So it’s possible that it may be allowed, but you’d need to consult a local legal expert to be sure.

Here are some of those rules and regulations for certain U.S. states regarding keeping deer as pets. The states that do not mention deer specifically in their laws are not listed:

Alaska: Alaska allows residents to own domesticated reindeer, but reindeer are not traditional deer. Reindeer are actually caribou. Alaska regulations state that “Permits can be obtained for using certain game (including deer) for the purposes of teaching and preserving historical Alaskan traditions.” This regulation appears to apply only to native Alaskan peoples.

Arizona: The state specifically prohibits owning deer.

Arkansas: Pet deer are allowed, but only if they were captured prior to July 1, 2012.

Colorado: The state allows pet reindeer and European fallow deer.

Florida: The state specifically bans owning whitetail deer, which is the main breed that lives in Florida. This seems to create a loophole where other types of deer may be allowed.

Idaho: Idaho law specifically prohibits owning red and sika deer without a permit, but does not mention other kinds of deer.

Maine: The state specifically prohibits owning or keeping deer as pets.

Minnesota: The state specifically prohibits owning or keeping deer as pets.

Nebraska: The state prohibits deer from being kept as pets if they were captured after 1986. Since deer can’t live longer than 20 years, this is a de facto ban on owning deer.

Nevada: The state specifically bans owning Axis deer, Rusa, Sambar, Sika, Roe, and white-tailed deer. It does not mention other kinds of deer.

New Hampshire: The state specifically bans owning deer as pets.

North Dakota: The law states that “License and import permit is required for certain animals…” Deer are one of the animals mentioned under the heading. Hence, it can be surmised that owning deer is permitted, with the proper permit.

Ohio: Ohio has very detailed laws regarding animals. It appears as though deer may be kept as pets, as long as you secure a “noncommercial propagating license.”

Rhode Island: The state specifically prohibits keeping white-tailed deer as pets but does not mention other kinds of deer.

South Dakota: South Dakota prohibits keeping Red deer, Sika deer, Sambar, Pere David’s deer, Axis deer as pets west of the Missouri River. They can be kept legally if you live east of the Missouri River. The justification is that deer could theoretically mate with animals more commonly found west of the river, such as goats, elk, and sheep.

Tennessee: The state prohibits owning Class IV animals as pets, including white-tailed deer. No mention is made of other kinds of deer, so it’s possible that owning those would be allowed.

Utah: The state specifically prohibits keeping mule deer as pets, but does not mention other types of deer.

Washington: Washington bans owning fallow deer as pets, but does not mention other kinds of deer.

The Story of Beeper, the Friendly Neighborhood Pet Deer

Back to my friend Donn. How did his family end up adopting a wild deer?

The back story is that a couple years earlier, Donn’s family noticed that a mother deer had been killed on a nearby highway, leaving her baby to fend for itself.

On top of that, they discovered the baby was nearly blind. This story did not look like it was going to have a happy ending.

Normally, I agree with those who say it’s not right to interfere with nature. But this blind, orphaned baby deer had no chance of surviving.

So they intervened. They began feeding the deer, whom they dubbed Beeper, and it began hanging around in their yard.

They had to move really slowly to avoid startling Beeper, because with her limited vision she could apparently still make out shapes moving, and she would get spooked and run off if she saw something moving too fast.

During the winter, they set up a little house for Beeper under their back porch, with food and insulation to keep her warm.

Beeper got to know the family, and eventually would let them pet her and feed her by hand. I got the same opportunity when I visited, and it was very cool. Beeper the pet deer loved grapes!

me feeding deer as pets legal

I contacted Donn recently to get an update on the story. It turns out that while Beeper had some physical limitations, she also had womanly needs. She ended up getting pregnant and giving birth to twins who were totally healthy. Another set of twins followed a year later.

Finally, earlier this year, after four years of rarely venturing far beyond the yard, Beeper disappeared and has not been heard from since. Her youngest fawns hung around until they were fully grown before taking off as well.

Perhaps Beeper’s time has passed, but at least her circle of life was able to continue. Four more mini-Beepers are out there in the West Virginia forest thanks to a family armed with grapes and a winter porch.

This was the first time I’ve heard of someone keeping deer as pets, and it had a mostly happy ending.

Should You Try to Domesticate a Wild Deer?

No, it’s not likely to go well. Deer are skittish and unpredictable. There may be limited circumstances, like the one with my friend’s deer Beeper, where it makes sense, but in general, trying to take a wild deer as a pet is not likely to work out.

It’s generally better to leave them out in the wild and let nature take its course.

Want to read more about wildlife adventures? I saw wild sloths while visiting Central America and wrote about the best places to see sloths in Panama.

Read about some places where deer are common in the wild, including Roosevelt National Park, Denali National Park, the Grand Canyon, and the forests of south Florida on the drive from Miami to Key West.

And for more on West Virginia, read about my visit to Cheat Summit Fort.

Have you ever gotten to pet a deer?