The States Where It’s Illegal to Kill Snakes

Oct 15th

2019

CategoryPosted in Wide Open Spaces

Here are all the places in the United States where it’s illegal to kill snakes.

Many people can’t stand the sight of a snake. Especially venomous snakes like copperheads, timber rattlesnakes, cottonmouths or water moccasins.

Some people say the only good snake is a dead snake, but that line of thinking could get you in a lot of trouble depending on the state you live in.

That’s why we’re going to do a complete breakdown of what snake species are illegal to kill and where. Keeping this in mind will help you avoid an uncomfortable encounter with your local DNR officer.

Federally-protected snakes

For sake of simplicity on this list, we’re going to list every species of snake here in the United States that is currently protected under the Endangered Species Act of 1973. We got this list directly from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Unless otherwise noted, every species on this list is protected everywhere regardless of what state law says about snakes. The list includes both venomous and non-venomous snakes.

Killing any of these snake species can potentially result in fines of $25,000 per violation and prison time, so you’ll want to leave these guys alone.

We’re also listing a few species in U.S. Territories like Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands to cover all our bases here.

  • Mona Boa
  • Puerto Rican Boa
  • Narrow-headed Gartersnake
  • Northern Mexican Gartersnake
  • Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake
  • New Mexican Ridge-Nosed Rattlesnake
  • Atlantic Salt Marsh Snake
  • Black Pine Snake
  • Copperbelly Water Snake (Protected in “Indiana north of 40 degrees north latitude, Michigan, Ohio”)
  • Eastern Indigo Snake
  • Giant Garter Snake
  • San Francisco Garter Snake
  • Alameda Whipsnake (aka: “Striped Racer”)

Like all pit vipers and rattlesnakes, we recommend just giving these species a wide berth to avoid any trouble. If you have one of these in your yard and you’re concerned about, especially if it’s a venomous species, call in a professional to relocate it. Most snake bites happen when people not trained in snake handling try to move or kill one themselves.

Is it illegal to kill snakes in Alabama?

You are not allowed to capture, kill, sell or trade any of the following species in Alabama: Eastern Indigo, Eastern King, Eastern Coral, Gulf Salt Marsh, Prairie King, Rainbow, Speckled King or Southern Hognose snake.

Other than those species, there are no laws protecting other species. And of those protected species, the only one you really need to worry about is the Eastern Coral, which is a venomous species.

Alaska

Technically, Alaska Fish and Game’s website lists four species of sea turtle as being the only reptiles in the Last Frontier. Some people say there are common garter snakes here, but it seems to be a subject of much debate.

In any case there are no laws on killing snakes in Alaska. Although we should mention, there are laws about illegally transporting snakes to Alaska, as a firefighter found out three years ago when he tried to bring five garter snakes home from Idaho as pets. He ended up being hit with a $500 fine.

Arizona

Many people get in trouble in Arizona not realizing there are some complicated regulations here. It doesn’t help that this info is hard to find on the Arizona Game and Fish website. In an effort to let them do the talking, we’ll link to it here.

To put it briefly, it’s illegal to kill a Mexican gartersnake, narrow-headed gartersnake, rock rattlesnake, twin-spotted rattlesnake, Massasauga rattlesnake and ridge-nosed rattlesnake in Arizona. You also can’t kill a milksnake in Cochise County. If you do want to kill a rattlesnake, make sure you have an appropriate hunting license because Arizona treats many snakes like game animals.

Also, make sure you identify the species first to make sure it’s not a protected one.

Is it illegal to kill snakes in Arkansas?

Some Arkansas residents might be surprised to learn that all snakes are protected in the Natural State. Now, some of you are probably saying: “Hey, wait a minute, what about that giant rattlesnake killed there a few years ago?”

Well, there is one exception to the law, and that’s for snakes that “pose reasonable threat or endangerment to persons or property.” We’re not legal experts, so we’ll leave it up to you and local law enforcement to determine if your situation fits this definition.

California

This one is a bit surprising. We’d expect the laws to be strict in the Golden State, but if anything, they’re some of the most lenient in the U.S.

Anyone can kill a rattlesnake at any time in California, with one exception: the endangered red diamond rattlesnake. There is some confusion here in the regulations. Mostly because California considers snakes game animals but puts its reptile regulations under the fishing regulations (for some odd reason). You’ll need a fishing license to legally take them.

There are some specific bag limits and other limitations on exactly which species you can harvest, and it varies from county to county. Read more in their regulations book, specifically Section 5.60. Oh, and don’t forget about federally protected species, because there are a few here.

Is it illegal to kill snakes in Colorado?

This is another state that may surprise people with its strict restrictions. The Centennial State makes it simple: they treat all snakes as protected nongame species. No season means no killing of snakes.

There is one exception for rattlesnakes, but it’s only if they pose a threat. Even then, we’d recommend not killing a Massasauga here, just so you don’t run into problems at a federal level.

Connecticut

This state protects four different species., including the Eastern Ratsnake, Eastern Ribbonsake, Eastern Hognose and the Timber Rattlesnake. Other than those four species, we dug through Connecticut’s regulations and could find no wording protecting other species.

Delaware

The First State is another place that is vague on their rules regarding snakes. They list three species as endangered, the Redbelly Watersnake, the Eastern Scarlet Snake and the Corn Snake. Other than these four, we went through both the hunting regulations and fishing regulations for Delaware and could find no specified seasons regarding the take of reptiles.

Florida

Florida is a snake’s paradise and the list of species living here goes on seemingly forever. As if there weren’t enough native snakes, there has also been an influx of non-native invaders like Burmese Pythons.

Those invaders are perfectly legal to kill on private property and will likely get you a pat on the back for a job well done by your local Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officer. Florida’s hunting regulations specifically states Florida Pine Snakes, Short-tailed Snakes, Key Ringnecks, Rim Rock Crowned, Red Rat Snakes, Peninsula Ribbons and Florida Brown Snakes are strictly off-limits for take, possession or sale.

Is it illegal to kill snakes in Georgia?

The law is simple and clear in the Peach State, snakes are off-limits. It doesn’t matter if the snake is venomous or non-venomous, possessing or killing them is a misdemeanor. People found in violation of the law could face jail time and a hefty $1,000 fine. Who would have thought?

Hawaii

The Aloha state is a lot like Alaska in that there’s nothing on the books against killing snakes because technically, there aren’t supposed to be any snakes there. They’re more worried about you illegally importing rather than killing snakes.

The only natural species considered to be on the island is the Yellow-bellied Sea Snake and sightings are rare. An occasional Boa has been found here, but the big one Hawaiian wildlife officials worry about is the Brown Tree Snake. This snake invaded Guam and has decimated native bird populations. If you kill one of these, the Division of Forestry and Wildlife will likely thank you.

Idaho

The Gem State has changed their rules back and forth a bit in recent years. The latest rules state you can take up to four snakes as long as you are in possession of a hunting license. This includes rattlesnakes.

The state used to have a rule about only killing rattlesnakes in self-defense like Arkansas, but it seems they did away with this rule. While you are allowed to sell the skins of snakes, you are not allowed to sell the meat.

Illinois

The Land of Lincoln is home to a surprising number of serpents, 39 different species to be precise. Of those, there are only four you really need to be concerned with and those are Copperheads, Cottonmouths, Timber Rattlers and Massasauga Rattlers. Remember that the last one is under federal protection.

As for the other species, it is fine to take or kill them, but only on private property where you have permission.

Indiana

This state has four venomous species. Of those four, three (the Cottonmouth, Massasauga Rattlesnake and Timber Rattlesnake) are all endangered and cannot be harmed. Indiana also has the Rough Greensnake, Smooth Greensnake, Scarletsnake, Southeastern Crowned Snake and the Red-bellied Mudsnake listed as either special concern or state endangered.

You can legally kill all other species, but you must be in possession of a fishing or hunting license to do so. Indiana is another state that buries their regulations on this, you can read more here.

Iowa

The only snakes legal to kill in Iowa are Garter Snakes. There is an exception. Fourteen counties allow for the disposal of Timber Rattlesnakes, but the Iowa DNR’s website says that is only for snakes within 50 yards of an active residence. Otherwise, serpents are under complete protection in the Hawkeye State.

Kansas

The Sunflower State is another one where you really need to dig to find the regulations regarding reptiles. It’s legal to kill snakes, but you must have a hunting license. But keep in mind they do have some federally protected species here like the Eastern Massasauga rattlesnake. The only rattlesnake that is legal to kill in Kansas is the Prairie Rattlesnake and people wishing to do so must purchase a $22.50 permit if they don’t already hold a hunting license.

Kentucky

This state does have a population of federally protected Copper-bellied watersnakes. These animals are strictly off-limits. Other than that, Kentucky seems to have a season and regulation for just about every animal you can think of. Except for snakes. We gave their hunting and fishing regulations a good once over and encountered nothing that said you can’t kill them.

Louisiana

Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnakes, Louisiana Pinesnakes and Black Pinesnakes are all protected species. Other than that, it seems Louisiana is wide open for the killing of snakes. I saw some people online saying you need a fishing license in order to kill snakes. But I was unable to confirm it going through their regulation books. We’d say get one. Better to be safe than sorry.

Maine

Northern Black Racers are protected in Maine. Other than that, the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife doesn’t list any specific seasons or regulations regarding reptiles in their state’s regulations.

Is it illegal to kill snakes in Maryland?

There are 27 species of snake living in Maryland and every single one of them is illegal to kill. Yes, that includes rattlers and copperheads. And yes, they will arrest you for trying to kill one, as one man found out in 2014.

Massachusetts

Four endangered species are completely off-limits. Those are Black Rat Snakes, Copperheads, Worm Snakes and Timber Rattlesnakes. Other than that, all other species in Massachusetts are legal to kill.

Michigan

The Great Lakes State only has one venomous snake species and that’s the Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake, which is federally protected. Don’t worry, I’ve lived here my whole life and I’ve never seen one.

Michigan also added the Butler’s Garter Snake and Smooth Green Snake to their list of protected species a few years ago. Black Rat Snakes are also protected. Other than that, all other species are unprotected.

Minnesota

Timber Rattlesnakes and Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnakes are both protected in Minnesota. Other species are not regulated by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and are legal to kill.

Mississippi

If you want to kill a snake in the Magnolia State, make sure you have your fishing, hunting or small game license up to date. There are a few endangered species that are off-limits and that includes the Rainbow Snake, Ringed Sawback, Yellow-blotched Sawback and the Southern Hognose.

Missouri

The Show Me State is another surprising situation in which all snakes are protected. Snakes are classified as non-game, but under Missouri’s laws that just means that without a season, they can’t be killed.

Like many other states, there is an exception for a snake that is on your property or is a threat. We’d recommend making sure you can prove it in case a Missouri DNR officer asks.

Montana

Montana Fish Wildlife & Parks have nothing in their regulations regarding the killing of snakes, only recommendations that people spending time in Montana be aware of the dangers of Prairie Rattlesnakes and a recommendation to avoid killing them unless they pose an immediate threat.

Nebraska

The Cornhusker State regulates the harvest of all reptiles and amphibians. The Western Worm Snake, Timber Rattlesnake, Prairie Kingsnake and the Specked Kingsnake are all on Nebraska’s list of protected species. There is a clause that allows the killing of rattlesnakes if they pose a threat to humans, pets or livestock. Other species have a bag limit of three per species.

Nevada

Nevada is home to no less than five species of rattlesnake, so it’s worth it to watch where you step! Rattlesnakes are not protected, but the Rosy Boa and the Sonoran Mountain King Snake are. All other snake species are classified as unprotected.

New Hampshire

This state has 11 species of snake and only one, the Timber Rattlesnake, is venomous. It’s also the only species classified as protected under New Hampshire’s laws. Although, New Hampshire Fish and Game asks residents to leave the other species alone.

New Jersey

The Garden State is another place that classifies snakes as non-game animals. But as such, that means without a season, it is illegal to kill them.

If you have a venomous snake in your yard, officials recommend calling up the Department of Environmental Protection’s “Venomous Snake Response Team.” This team is comprised of 80 professional volunteers who will safely remove a problem reptile for you.

New Mexico

Most snake species are legal to kill or harvest, but there are annual bag limits which vary from five to 30 depending upon the species.

Protected species include the Gray-Banded Kingsnake, Blotched Water Snake, Northern Green Rat Snake, Brown Garter Snake, Arid Land Ribbon Snake, Narrow-headed Garter Snake, New Mexico Ridge-Nosed Rattlesnake and the Mottled Rock Rattlesnake.

New York

All snakes are protected from killing or harassment in the Empire State. But there are only three venomous snakes here to worry about. One of these is the federally protected Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake.

Is it illegal to kill snakes in North Carolina?

It is illegal to even disturb an Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake, Eastern Coral Snake, Pigmy Rattlesnake and Timber Rattlesnake without a permit in North Carolina. So, you can probably guess how wildlife officials will react if you kill one!

You also aren’t allowed to kill or harass the Smooth Green Snake, Outer Banks Kingsnake, Carolina Water Snake or Southern Hognose.

Other than those, the rest of the snakes in the Tar Heel State are unprotected.

North Dakota

This state officially closed the take of turtles a while ago, but there is nothing in the North Dakota Fish and Game Department’s regulations regarding snakes or other reptiles. North Dakota officials generally advise leaving snakes alone, probably because the state has fewer snakes than many other places.

Ohio

The Buckeye State is home to the endangered Copper-bellied water snake and the Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake. Both snakes are under Federal and State protections. Otherwise, Ohio doesn’t regulate the taking of snakes in any way. The state is also home to Timber Rattlesnakes and Eastern Copperheads.

Is it illegal to kill snakes in Oklahoma?

Anyone killing a snake in Oklahoma must posses either a hunting license or fishing license. Oklahoma has an actual, defined season for rattlesnakes. It runs from March 1 through June 30. There are no limits and hunters can harvest Prairie, Western Diamondback, Timber and Massasauga Rattlesnakes. However, Western Mud Snakes, Wandering Garters and Gulf Crayfish Snakes are protected by a closed season. There is an annual bag limit of six snakes per year for every other species except rattlesnakes.

Oregon

This state classifies the California Mountain Kingsnake, Sharp-tailed Snake, Western Ground Snake and the Common Kingsnake as protected non-game species. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife doesn’t address snakes much beyond that other than to ask people to leave them alone if possible.

Pennsylvania

This state has a season for both Timber Rattlesnakes and Eastern Copperheads. But you’re only allowed one per year. For Timber Rattlesnakes, the serpent must be at least 42 inches long and possess 21 or more subcaudal scales. Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnakes, Kirtland’s Snake and Northern Rough Greensnakes are entirely off-limits to killing at any time.

Rhode Island

Rhode Island is a bit of an anomaly in the United States in that it hosts zero venomous snake species. Sounds like the place to go if you’re leery of these serpents. In any case, the killing of all snakes is illegal in this tiny state.

Is it illegal to kill a snake in South Carolina?

You can kill a snake in South Carolina. You just can’t do it on public land. Anyone who does is subject to a misdemeanor charge and possible jail time and fines.

South Dakota

You only need to worry about one venomous species here, the Prairie Rattlesnake. Much like North Dakota, snakes aren’t addressed much by South Dakota Game, Fish & Parks other than basic 101 info. That leads us to believe killing snakes is legal there.

Is it illegal to kill snakes in Tennessee?

The Volunteer State is one with rules that say in order to kill an animal, there must be a set season for them. There are no seasons for snakes, making the killing of them illegal. We double-checked the regulations handbook just to be sure.

Is it illegal to kill a snake in Texas?

It will probably surprise no Texan that the Lone Star State has few regulations for snakes. There are a whopping ten rattlesnake species that call this state home. It’s not a total free-for-all like you might expect, however. The Texas Eastern Indigo Snake is protected. Texas Parks and Wildlife knows Texans like killing snakes, but they also try to discourage it wherever possible, likely to avoid mishaps or misidentification.

Utah

Rattlesnakes are protected under state law here. Otherwise, the state has specified bag limits for many species of snake. Some species, like the Redracer have an “uncontrolled” status while others, like the Painted Desert Glossy Snake have a “controlled” status.

Utah hasn’t updated their information in quite some time, as some species still have “to be determined” status on the bag limit possession. We’d recommend not killing those snakes until a definite number is known.

Vermont

Neither the fishing nor hunting regulations books of the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department specifically address snakes, and we couldn’t find any other references to the legality of killing other than the Timber Rattlesnake, which is listed as state endangered on their website. We would recommend leaving Eastern Ratsnakes and North American Racers alone, too. Both are listed as threatened.

Virginia

Old Dominion isn’t just for lovers, it’s also for scaly serpents. There are three venomous species here, Copperheads, Cottonmouths and Timber Rattlesnakes. But killing them or any snake species in Virginia is illegal. Like many other states, there is an exception if the snake is presenting a direct threat to people or pets.

Washington

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife hopes you will leave snakes alone. Killing them is illegal here unless you feel directly threatened by them.

West Virginia

After combing over both the hunting and fishing regulation guidebooks, we were unable to find any references to snakes in either. Multiple articles say the state legalized the taking of Timber Rattlesnakes five years ago, but there isn’t much info beyond there being a bag limit of one per year and a minimum size of 42 inches. It appears it is legal to kill all other species.

Wisconsin

Wisconsin maintains a strict closed season on Queen Snakes, Western Ribbon Snakes, Northern Ribbon Snakes and Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnakes because all are either endangered or threatened. Wisconsin’s regulations seem to be focused more on possession of live snakes than dead ones, but the possession limits for Eastern Milk Snakes, Western Fox Snakes, Black Rat Snakes and Bullsnakes is set at two.

Wyoming

Faded Midget Rattlesnakes are illegal to kill in the Equality State. The Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s regulations say little else about snakes. The most common venomous species you’re likely to encounter here is the Prairie Rattlesnake and killing them is perfectly legal.

As you can see, the regulations vary from state to state and depend on the rarity of each subspecies. We know a lot of people don’t like snakes, but they are important wildlife resources because of how they kill pesky rodents and other small mammals that spread diseases. That’s why we recommend killing as a last resort.

For more outdoor content from Travis Smola, be sure to follow him on Twitter and check out his Geocaching and Outdoors with Travis Youtube channels

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