Can You Get COVID-19 from Whitetail Deer?

As the entire world has gone crazy about covid in the last year, you may be wondering what it all means for deer season. Well, the good news is that there are zero restrictions on deer hunting as it relates to covid. Although there are still some precautions that you should take. We know that whitetails can get a variety of diseases, and some are transferable to humans. So let’s take a closer look at whitetails and Covid-19 and see exactly what you need to do to stay safe this season.

Can Whitetail Deer Have COVID-19?

We have to start with the basic question, can whitetail deer have covid-19? Well to answer that question a department of the USDA called the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) performed a study.

To see if whitetails could get covid, APHIS collected a total of 481 samples between January 2020 and March 2021 from Illinois, Michigan, New York, and Pennsylvania. With those samples, they looked for antibodies to the SARs-Cov-2 virus, which causes Covid-19.

If a deer has these antibodies, it means that they have or had the SARs-Cov-2 virus and their immune system fought it. After analyzing the samples, APHIS found that 33% of the deer they sampled in those four states had antibodies that correspond to covid-19.

So in short, yes, according to the USDA whitetail deer can have the covid-19 virus. Although they do not experience covid-19 the same way humans do. Let’s look at what covid actually does to deer.

Can We Spot COVID-19 in Whitetail Deer?

The good, or bad, part is that whitetails seem to show zero signs of clinical illness from the SARs-Cov-2 Virus. Whitetail deer act as a reservoir for covid-19. They are not affected by it, but they carry it. The same is true for most other mammals.

The APHIS team even purposely infected some captive whitetails to see what sort of effects it would have. After observing these deer for some time, there was still no sign of illness.

This is a major component that would make it so difficult to completely eliminate the virus. There will likely always be a population somewhere carrying covid-19. Although thankfully they will not be harmed by it.

So this is not the next wave of CWD in the form of covid. Whitetail deer are going to be just fine, but are hunters going to get covid from whitetail deer?


Can We Get COVID-19 From Whitetails?

On to the most important question, can we get covid from whitetail? In their study, the APHIS team had this to say about the transmission of covid from deer to people,

“There is no evidence that animals, including deer, are playing a significant role in the spread of SARS-CoV-2 to people. Based on the available information, the risk of animals spreading COVID-19 to people is low. “

They do not elaborate on what they mean by “low”, however, they do say that deer are not playing a significant role in spreading the virus. To me, this means I am not going to be freaking out about covid while in the stand this year.

They do go on to say “There is no evidence that people can get COVID-19 by preparing or eating meat from an animal infected with SARS-CoV-2, including wild game meat hunted in the United States”. Which is great news!

If we can not get covid from eating whitetail, the low chance must be from when we are processing it. There are always inherent risks when hunting, and there are plenty of diseases that whitetails can technically pass on to humans. As long as you are doing the basic things to stay safe while cleaning a deer, you should be fine.

Steps to Stay Safe

If you want to stay as safe as possible while cleaning and consuming deer, I have laid out a few guidelines that I always abide by.

  • Wear rubber gloves while cleaning game
  • Do not process a deer that seems sick or is found dead
  • Do not eat anything that comes in contact with spinal fluid, do not roast the neck with the spine still in it.
  • If you cut through the spine, wash your knife thoroughly
  • Do not consume brains…
  • Do not eat raw meat, like a heart.
  • Do not drink blood from wild game, or put it on your face.
  • Clean all of your equipment thoroughly after use
  • Make sure all meat is cooked to at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit before eating.


All and all, whitetail can have the covid-19 virus. Although there is not much of a threat of getting it from whitetail. They are able to carry the virus without illness, so there is also no threat to the whitetail population. Just because you have a low to zero chance of getting covid from a whitetail you shoot does not mean you can not get another disease. There are always very important steps you should take while handling whitetail. Stay clean, stay safe, and do not worry about covid-19 from the deer stand this season!

Written by Patrick Long of Omega Outdoors

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