If you find snakes on your property or plan to go snake hunting, you might wonder if it’s legal or illegal to kill snakes in your state. Well, there are both federal and state laws protecting snakes. You need to know everything about these rules before you decide to kill a snake in your state.
Endangered and threatened snakes are protected by the Endangered Species Act of 1973. Killing these snake species is illegal. Most states regulate snake hunting and designate snakes as non-game animals, or impose strict bag limits on snakes. Snake killing laws vary by U.S. state.
We’ll start by explaining how the Endangered Species Act (ESA) is enforced in individual states. Then, we’ll look at each state’s laws on killing venomous and non-venomous snakes.
Can You Kill Snakes Legally?
You can legally kill some snakes, but not all snakes. The problem is that it can be difficult to identify an endangered and legally protected subspecies of garter snake, for example.
Many snakes are protected by state and federal law. You risk a large fine and/or prison sentence, as specified in the legislation, if you kill a species that is protected by law.
You have the right to defend yourself from attack from aggressive and venomous snakes.
Federal Laws on Killing Snakes
There are federal laws that stop people from killing endangered species, including some snakes. The 1973 Endangered Species Act (ESA) protects more than 1,600 plants and animals in the U.S.
Any animal that’s likely to become extinct can be included by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The USFWS considers them for inclusion based on how threatened they are. There are many snakes on the list, including:
- Indigo snakes
- Louisiana pine snakes
- Lake Erie watersnakes
- The eastern massasauga rattlesnake
- Several garter snake subspecies
Fines for Killing Snakes
There are two kinds of punishment that you might face. The first is for breaking the Endangered Species Act 1973, and the second is for violating state law.
The fine for breaking the Endangered Species Act is significant. The maximum penalty is $50,000 or one year in prison. In the worst cases, you’ll face a fine and a sentence.
As for the fines for breaking state law, the law varies substantially. If you’re caught, the maximum penalty is likely to be a few hundred dollars.
According to CBS Local, a group of young men in Maryland was fined $500 each for killing a rattlesnake. $300 was suspended.
Maryland has some of the strictest laws for protecting snakes. This means that the fine in other states would likely be less.
Snake Killing Laws by State
While federal law is clear, state law varies widely. Let’s take a look at each state in turn, and what requirements each has with regards to killing snakes.
The majority of snakes in Alabama are unprotected by state or federal law. However, it’s illegal to take, capture, kill, sell or trade several snake species. These are as follows:
- The black pine snake
- The eastern coachwhip snake
- The eastern indigo snake
- The Florida pine snake
- The gulf salt marsh snake
- The southern hognose snake
The eastern indigo snake is particularly endangered, and is protected by both state and federal law.
An exception does exist whereby if an animal attacks you. Then you have the right to defend yourself. But all of the protected snakes listed are non-venomous and non-aggressive.
Alaska isn’t known for its snakes. The only snake you can find there is the common garter snake. This is one of the northernmost snake species in the world. Killing snakes in Alaska is legal.
However, federal laws do still apply. Hypothetically, if you were to find an endangered snake in Alaska that’s protected by the ESA, then it would be illegal to kill it.
Of course, the range of snakes protected under the ESA doesn’t extend to Alaska, but it remains illegal under federal law.
Arizona is home to many snake species, both venomous and non-venomous. There are four protected snakes, as defined by the Arizona Game and Fish Department. These are the ridgenosed, twin spotted, rock, and massasauga rattlesnakes.
If you kill any one of these snakes, you could be liable for a fine or prison time. It’s also legal to kill other species of rattlesnake in Arizona so long as you possess a valid hunting license. If you hunt without one, you could be charged with violating hunting laws.
This can carry harsh penalties. A group of hunters who regularly killed deer illegally on Friday nights was sentenced to 120 days in jail, 100 hours of community service, a year of probation, hunter education classes, animal mistreatment offender programs, and $750 fines.
There are laws in Arizona which make it illegal to kill snakes in certain circumstances. For example, it’s illegal to fire a weapon within city limits (or into those city limits from the outside). There are exemptions, for example:
- If you are on a firing range
- If you are in an area approved for hunting by the Arizona Game and Fish Department
- In self-defense, or in defense of another person, against an animal attack
- If you’re firing blanks
- If you have a permit to hunt nuisance wildlife
So, if you were to shoot a snake outside of these exemptions, you could be charged under the law. Here is some further information on venomous snakes that live in Arizona.
It’s illegal to kill any snake unless they “pose reasonable threat or endangerment to persons or property.” This includes both venomous and non-venomous snakes.
According to AL.com, for example, a man in 2015 killed a rattlesnake when it attacked his dog. He was within his rights to do so because it was threatening his property (the dog).
However, if you kill a snake for no reason, this would be illegal. And under the state’s General Regulations, they aren’t permitted to be hunted, either.
Only animals that have a specified open season in the Arkansas Hunting Guidebook can be hunted legally. Snakes aren’t included.
In California, the legal status of capturing or killing snakes is clear and codified. According to the 2018 – 2019 Freshwater Sport Fishing Regulations, open season is all year round. Most species of snake can legally be hunted.
There are six species of rattlesnake in California, none of which are considered endangered. It is legal to capture or kill two snakes of any species at once. You can do so without needing a license (Fish and Game Code, section 7149.3).
The only rattlesnake that is protected is the red diamond rattlesnake, Crotalus ruber. Other snakes are also protected. The San Francisco garter snake, for example, is protected by the ESA. The giant garter snake is too.
It is legal to kill a rattlesnake, provided that it is a threat to your life or property. The method you use to kill them must comply with city and county ordinances. For example, it’s illegal to shoot a snake if it’s illegal to fire a gun within city limits.
However, all other snakes in Colorado are considered nongame wildlife. This means that they are protected by law, as are all other kinds of nongame wildlife. Hunting snakes is punishable as a misdemeanor.
As they aren’t specified under C.R.S.A. § 33-6-109, the most you would receive is a $50 fine and five hunting license suspension points.
There are fourteen species of snake in Connecticut, of which two are venomous. These are the timber rattlesnake and the copperhead.
The timber rattlesnake is endangered, and as such is a protected species. There are four snakes classed as species of particular concern, including:
- The timber rattlesnake
- The eastern hognose snake
- The smooth green snake
- The eastern ribbon snake
These snakes, as well as many other animals, are protected under the Connecticut Endangered Species Act (1989). Taking or killing an animal listed in this act could result in legal action.
The Delaware Code doesn’t offer protection to snakes. Title 7, Conservation: Game, Wildlife and Dogs, Ch. 7, Subchapter VI (Other Game and Fish) lists nongame species. It also regulates how certain species should be hunted, including raccoons and opossums, deer, and foxes.
However, there’s no mention of snakes. Elsewhere, the code regulates whether exotic snakes can be kept, but says nothing about killing native species.
Only federal laws apply. In Delaware, native corn snakes, eastern scarlet snakes, and redbelly watersnakes are considered endangered. They’re protected by the ESA, but all other snakes are free game.
In Florida, several snake species are endangered or threatened. These include:
- The eastern indigo snake
- The Florida brown snake
- The Florida pine snake
- The key ringneck snake
- The short-tailed snake
The eastern indigo snake is a protected ESA species. According to the Center for Biological Diversity, two snakes are being considered for inclusion. These are the Florida pine snake and the short-tailed snake. Even so, they currently have no protection.
There are also non-native species that are currently colonizing Florida, particularly the Everglades. The Burmese python is taking over the area.
This has resulted in large-scale destruction of the habitat and decimation of local species. It’s legal to hunt these snakes—there’s even a bounty for each one caught.
Georgia has quite strict laws when it comes to snakes. It’s illegal even to keep native non-venomous snakes as pets without a permit, let alone kill them. Killing any non-venomous snake is unlawful.
If you do kill a non-venomous snake, you risk a $1000 fine and up to a year in jail (O.C.G.A. 27-1-28—Taking of non-game species).
It’s still legal to kill venomous snakes, as these are dangerous. No venomous snakes in Georgia are listed under the ESA. You can, therefore, kill any native venomous snake.
The bimini blind snake and the yellow-bellied sea snake are both found on or around the island. Neither of these species is endangered or protected.
It is illegal to import or own any snake in the state of Hawaii. There are fines of up to $200,000.
In Idaho, you can kill rattlesnakes and other protected nongame species when your safety or property are threatened.
There are no endangered or threatened snake species in Idaho. According to the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, you can trap four snakes of any species without a hunting license.
There are many threatened and endangered snakes in Illinois, including:
- Great Plains Rat Snake
- Eastern Coachwhip
- Broad-banded Water Snake
- Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake
- Kirtland’s Snake
- Timber Rattlesnake
- Western Hognose Snake
- Mississippi Green Water Snake
- Flathead Snake
- Eastern Ribbon Snake
- Lined Snake
The eastern massasauga rattlesnake is the only one protected by the ESA. Under (510 ILCS 68/) Herptiles-Herps Act, killing any non-threatened or endangered snake is legal on your land.
In Indiana, you cannot kill, harm or take any snake from the wild without a permit.
With a hunting or fishing license, you can capture four of any non-endangered or non-threatened species. The federal laws about endangered and threatened species also apply. In Indiana, these are the copperbelly water snake and the massasauga rattlesnake.
In Iowa, the only federally protected snake is the massasauga rattlesnake. According to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, only garter snakes can be legally caught, collected and killed in every state county.
Timber rattlesnakes are protected in 14 out of 99 counties. However, they can be killed within 50 yards of an occupied residence. All other snakes are protected, and cannot be caught or killed without a scientific collector’s permit.
There are forty snake species in Kansas, of which six are venomous. In Kansas, snakes are protected by state law. You have to obtain a collecting permit to catch and keep one, e.g., at a prairie rattlesnake roundup.
Aside from that, a regular hunting license is needed to hunt for reptiles, snakes included. Open season is all year round. Five may be taken or killed at a time.
It’s illegal to harm or possess the copperbelly water snake in Kentucky. Aside from that species, snakes are unprotected. No native species are listed under the ESA, either.
Louisiana has relaxed laws when it comes to killing snakes. There aren’t any protected species, even under the ESA.
All you need to kill any snake you like is a basic fishing license. This lets you collect, possess and kill any native amphibians and reptiles that you want. The only exception is that you can’t remove or kill any animals that are nesting.
There are nine snake species in Maine. Unfortunately, there are no snakes protected by the ESA. The northern black racer is listed as endangered by the state of Maine.
It, therefore, cannot be taken or killed. The taking of snakes for export or commercial purposes is entirely prohibited.
However, killing snakes when they are on your property is legal (aside from the northern black racer).
It’s illegal to kill any snake in Maryland without a permit from the Department of Natural Resources. They’re protected by the Nongame and Endangered Species Conservation Act (MD Code, Natural Resources, § 10-2A-01-09).
This act is essentially an extension of the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA). Specific local species are protected, whether they’re included in the federal listings or not.
Breaking this law carries the same penalty as violating the federal ESA. You could be fined up to $1000, or even spend a year in jail. According to the Cumberland Times-News, a man called Charles Robertson found this out after clearing a copperhead from his yard.
Under the Massachusetts Endangered Species Act, you cannot legally kill, harass or possess a northern copperhead, a timber rattlesnake, a black rat snake or an eastern worm snake. Other species may be hunted and trapped up to a limit of two.
In Michigan, the massasauga rattlesnake is protected by the ESA. Several snakes are also protected by Michigan law.
These include Kirtland’s snake and the black rat snake (due to their declining numbers). They are on the Michigan Natural Resources Commission’s protected list, alongside Butler’s garter snake and the smooth green snake.
Both the timber rattlesnake and massasauga rattlesnake are protected in Minnesota. Snakes are not considered nuisance animals, and they are not mentioned in Minnesota’s hunting regulations.
It isn’t illegal to kill other snakes. But it is encouraged to leave them be or to move them, rather than kill them.
In Mississippi, it’s legal to kill a venomous snake if it poses an imminent threat to you. It’s also legal to kill non-venomous snakes provided that it’s on your property.
If it’s not on your property, then you’ll need a small game hunting license to kill one, as per Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries & Parks Public Notice 3201. Besides that, it’s illegal to kill any protected endangered species.
In Missouri, snakes are protected by state law. The Wildlife Code of Missouri classifies snakes as nongame animals, meaning there is no open season for them. It’s therefore illegal to hunt or kill them.
There are ten snake species in Montana, and of these, only the prairie rattlesnake is venomous. None of Montana’s snakes are protected by the ESA.
The plains hognose snake, the western milksnake and the smooth green snake are listed as ‘species of concern.’ This does not provide any legal protection, however.
There are no snakes native to Nebraska that are protected by the ESA. Since there are so few snake species in Nebraska, there are no state-specific laws here.
The timber rattlesnake is proposed to be added to the ESA in Nebraska at least, since the snake’s range is diminishing, and there are hardly any left there. But as of yet, nothing has been done.
In Nevada, the only venomous snakes are rattlesnakes, and none are protected by state or federal law. There are no nonvenomous snakes in Nevada listed on the ESA.
There are no snakes that live in New Hampshire and are protected by the ESA.
However, the laws enforced by the New Hampshire Fish and Game Commission specify snakes that cannot be taken or killed without a permit. This includes native black racers, eastern hognose snakes, smooth green snakes, and ribbon snakes.
There are no venomous or non-venomous snakes in New Jersey protected by the ESA. However, all New Jersey snakes are protected under the New Jersey Endangered and Nongame Species Conservation Act. This bill makes it illegal to either take or kill native snake species.
These species include the garter snake (the most common), the northern water snake, the eastern milk snake, the black rat snake, and the northern black racer.
The northern brown snake, the northern redbelly snake, the northern ringneck snake, and the eastern ribbon snake are all protected too.
Under New Mexico Statutes, Chapter 17, Game and Fish and Outdoor Recreation, Article 2, Hunting and Fishing Regulations, Part 3, the Wildlife Conservation Act, several snake species are protected.
This act protects any endangered species, and several snakes fall under that remit, including:
- Gray-banded kingsnakes
- Mexican garter snakes
- Plain-bellied water snakes
- Ridge nosed rattlesnakes
The above act prevents taking or killing these snakes.
There are only sixteen total native snake species in New York state. Of these, two are endangered species. These are the Eastern Massasauga rattlesnake and the Queen snake, which have small and shrinking populations.
According to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, you may not capture, kill or take any native snake at any time. There is no open season for snakes, lizards or salamanders.
It’s illegal to kill certain species of venomous and non-venomous snake in North Carolina, if they’re classified as N.C. Species of Special Concern.
These are species that are endangered, or are threatened with declining population numbers. You can’t collect them without a permit, and you can only kill them if they’re an imminent threat. These snakes include:
- Eastern diamondback rattlesnakes
- Eastern coral snakes
- Timber rattlesnakes
- Pigmy rattlesnakes
- Southern hognose snakes
- Pine snakes
- Carolina water snakes
- Outer Banks kingsnakes
Besides that, any snake or animal that’s in a national or state park is protected.
Two species of snake are classified as Level I Species of Conservation Priority in North Dakota. These are the smooth green snake and the plains hognose snake. There are no specific protections in place for these species.
To kill small game animals, it’s necessary to possess a predator/varmint license. However, it’s unclear whether snakes are considered to be small game.
In Ohio, there is no specified bag limit for any snake species. There is also no defined season. Only the massassauga rattlesnake and copperbelly are considered nongame animals. That means other species are fair game.
Furthermore, the massassauga rattlesnake is listed on the ESA list of endangered species.
It’s unlawful to take or possess any reptile, including snakes, unless you have either a hunting or fishing license (depending on whether you’re catching a water or land snake). However, there is no law against killing them if the snake is ‘creating a nuisance,’ e.g., by invading your property.
Aside from that, if you’re taking part in a rattlesnake hunting event, then you have to have a license to do so. The standard federal laws regarding endangered species also apply.
There are four snakes in Oregon that are listed as protected nongame species. This means that it’s illegal to kill them, or even catch them or possess them. These snakes are the common kingsnake, the California mountain kingsnake, the sharp-tailed snake and the western ground snake.
Every snake species in Pennsylvania is protected by the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission’s regulations. Any species not listed as endangered, threatened, or a candidate endangered species may be captured or possessed. The bag limit is one.
According to Rhode Island’s hunting regulations, the taking of any reptile or amphibian is prohibited. The only exception is by special permit, which will almost certainly not be allowed.
Furthermore, the timber rattlesnake where found is specially protected. You aren’t allowed to interfere with its nests or eggs.
In South Carolina, it’s illegal to kill or harm any animal unless you have a permit. The permits are issued by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, and they’re for designated Game Management Areas.
There are no snake species considered endangered in South Dakota. There is also no reference made to reptiles generally, or snakes specifically, in South Dakota’s hunting regulations. There seems to be no law prohibiting the killing of snakes.
In Tennessee, you can’t kill a wild snake without a permit. However, as is often the case, you’re within your rights to defend yourself if you are genuinely threatened by the snake. If you find a snake within your home, for example, you can kill it instead of calling pest control.
In Texas, native snakes are not listed as nongame animals. The only two that are protected are the eastern timber rattlesnake and the indigo snake.
However, they also aren’t specified as a game animal. There is no defined bag limit for snakes in Texas. Here’s some further information on venomous snakes in Texas.
The bag limit is specified on each native snake species in Utah. For example, the yearly collection limit on desert nightsnakes is 3, and the possession limit 9. The annual limit on wandering garter snakes, however, is 25. For a complete list, visit Utah DNR’s site.
According to their regulations, Vermont Fish & Wildlife require that a person fishing, hunting, trapping or taking any wild animal acquires a license. No bag limit is specified for snakes. The only exception is the timber rattlesnake, which is protected.
Virginia has intricate laws with regards to killing snakes. They’re classified as a non-game species.
This means that you can’t kill them in their native habitat, but if they threaten you or your property, you do have the right to kill them. This also applies to snakes that are threatening your livestock.
In Washington, the hunting season on snakes is year-round, and there is no limit.
In West Virginia, regulations introduced in 2014 set the yearly bag limit for all native snakes to 4. The only exceptions are the northern copperhead and the timber rattlesnake. These snakes have an annual bag limit of 1. The season is year round.
If you want to catch or kill a timber rattlesnake, it’s unlawful to do so unless it’s 42 inches or greater in length.
All native Wisconsin herptiles are protected, and have no open season. However, the level of protection to each snake varies. Eastern massasauga rattlesnakes, northern ribbon snakes, queen snakes, and western ribbon snakes are endangered. Butler’s garter snake is threatened.
None of these snakes can be collected except with a valid Endangered and Threatened Species Permit. These permits are only issued for education, research, and conservation activities.
Furthermore, black rat snakes, bull snakes, timber rattlesnakes, and yellow-bellied racers cannot be collected. They aren’t endangered, but are still protected.
Reptiles are considered nongame animals in Wyoming. The only exception is if ‘their take is beneficial to conservation or management goals,’ and that ‘the individual requesting a permit represents an educational institution, governmental agency, non-governmental scientific research entity or is determined to be a qualified person by the Department.’
Besides federal and state law, you also have to think about municipal law. Towns and cities across the country have different laws about killing snakes. Do your research or contact a local representative to make sure you stay within the law.