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What to do if you find a deer you want to keep

What to do if you find a deer you want to keep

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Shotgun season is over in Illinois and Iowa’s second season begins this weekend. However, hunters and non-hunters are likely to find injured or deceased deer in the coming weeks from hunting injuries, vehicle collisions, natural injuries and the normal winter die-off.

If you are driving a car and hit a deer, you are allowed to take possession of the deer. In Illinois, the process is pretty simple. You can go online and fill out the application for a salvage permit of the deer-car collision animal. This is for Illinois residents only and must be done within 24 hours of taking possession. In Iowa, a county sheriff can issue the salvage tag. For both states, the person who hit the animal gets first right to claim it, but any bystander can make a claim afterwards. In both states, it is illegal to possess a deer without the salvage tag.

There is no limit to the number of deer that may be possessed under these circumstances. No part of a deer salvaged can be bartered or sold.

If the animal in question is not from a deer collision, then there are a different set of protocols to follow. Illinois law states:

Any individual finding a dead or crippled deer, other than those killed or injured in a vehicle-deer collision, or legally taken by hunting methods, may not transport deer parts until permission is obtained from a Conservation Police officer. Permission will be granted if it is determined that the person requesting possession did not illegally kill or injure the deer. When retained, the head/antler and hide shall be properly tagged with an irremovable tag obtained from a Conservation Police officer. These tags must remain attached as long as the head/antler or hide remains in the green state, or while in a commercial manufacturing process.

The Illinois DNR website has all the phone numbers for your county Conservation Police officer.

In Iowa, the process is similar. When speaking with Luke Devers, an Iowa Department of Natural Resources conservation officer, he explained it in this manner:

“If you find a dead deer and you would like to keep it, contact an officer to get a salvage tag before it is moved. The entire deer must also be removed if a salvage tag is issued.

"Antlers still attached to the skull or any other parts of the deer can only be possessed with approval and a tag from an Iowa DNR Conservation Officer. DNR also prohibits transporting a head or whole carcass from a surrounding state where CWD (Chronic Wasting Disease) has been identified (such as Illinois). If an animal from one of these areas is to come into the state, the carcass must be deboned and the antlers must be attached to a clean skull plate from which all brain and connective tissue has been removed.”

Many hunters will continue their search for weeks if the animal is lost. Fortunately, deer are rarely wasted, as our area wildlife feed on any available resources they can find. In many parts of the state, you cannot leave a deer overnight, or you should count on coyotes having had their fill by the time you get there in the morning. Bald eagles along the river are also grateful for the easy meal.

However, it is a hunter’s duty to complete the process of retrieving their game, whether immediately or in the days to follow.

World Outdoors columnist Jeremiah Haas can be reached at


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