Deer legislation


Wild deer in Ireland are protected by the Wildlife Act 1976 to 2012 (“the Act”), which provides for Open and Closed Seasons during which licensed hunters may hunt deer on land over which they hold valid shooting permission. Deer Hunting Licences are applied for annually, are currently free of charge and are issued under section 29 of the Act through the Wildlife Licensing Unit of the Department of Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs (National Parks & Wildlife Service). The basic requirement is for the Applicant to have written shooting permission over not less than 100 acres (42 hectares) of land where deer are known to exist in numbers sufficient to justify culling by shooting. If the Applicant is applying to hunt deer on his or her own lands, the 100-acre (42 hectare) requirement does not apply. From 1st January 2018, all new Applicants for the licence will be required to be certified under the provisions of the Deer Alliance Hunter Competence Assessment Programme (HCAP) or equivalent. Persons holding a licence before this date will have a period of grace of three to five years during which they will be required to become HCAP-Certified before grant of licence.

The licence is granted under section 29 (1) of the Act and runs for the duration of the Open Season, which currently runs from 1st September to 31st December each year for male deer and from 1st November to the last day of February for female and antlerless deer.

Licences to hunt deer for control purposes, where agricultural or silvicultural damage is evidenced, are granted under section 42 of the Act. Applicants for a section 42 licence must be the owner of the land on which damage is claimed, who may then nominate a person to exercise the licence. Licence to hunt deer. Section 23 (6) of the Act provides for the grant of a licence to hunt deer to capture or humanely kill, or capture and humanely kill at any, time deer for an educational, scientific or other purpose specified in the licence.

Definition of hunting (Section 1, Wildlife Act)

To “hunt” means stalk, pursue, chase, drive, flush, capture, course, attract, follow, search for, lie in wait for, take, trap or shoot by any means whether with or without dogs, and, except in sections 28 and 29, includes killing in the course of hunting, but does not in this Act include stalking, attracting, searching for or lying in wait for any fauna by an unarmed person solely for the purpose of watching or of taking or making photographic or other pictures, and kindred words shall be construed accordingly.

Current Open Seasons


Hunting period

Where in the state

Male Fallow Deer1 September to 31 DecemberAll counties
Female and Antlerless Fallow Deer1 November to 28/29 FebruaryAll counties
Male Sika Deer1 September to 31 DecemberAll counties
Female and Antlerless Sika Deer1 November to 28/29 FebruaryAll counties
Male Red Deer1 September to 31 DecemberAll counties except Kerry
Female and Antlerless Red Deer1 November to 28/29 FebruaryAll counties except Kerry
Muntjac Deer1 September to 31 AugustAll counties

Antlerless deer are construed as including any male deer without antlers, of less than on year, i.e. a calf.

No Close Season is specified for Muntjac because they breed all year round

The calibre of firearm to be use for hunting deer is not specified by law but is a condition of the hunting licence. The minimum legal calibre is a bullet weight of not less than 55 grains and a muzzle energy of not less than 1637 foot-founds of energy; effectively the .22/250. However, the minimum recommended calibre is a bullet weight of not less than 100 grains and a muzzle energy of not less than 1900 foot-pounds of energy. The legislation relating specifically to firearms is to be found in the Firearms Legislation Best Practice Guide. This includes such topics as Use, possession and carriage of firearms and ammunition, certification, and firearms offences.

Section 12 of the Animal Health and Welfare Act 2013 provides a prohibition on animal cruelty which can be applicable in cases of poaching, for example illegal hunting of deer with dogs. The section provides that a person shall not—

(a) do, or fail to do, anything or cause or permit anything to be done to an animal that causes unnecessary suffering to, or endanger the health or welfare of, an animal, or

(b) neglect, or be reckless, regarding the health or welfare of an animal.

This section does not apply to the destruction of an injured deer in an appropriate and humane manner, for example following a road traffic accident. For the purposes of preventing suffering, an injured or diseased deer may be taken or killed out-of-season or at night. Although not provided for in law, it is generally accepted that a person may use any reasonable means to kill a deer if it is reasonably believed that the deer has been so seriously injured, otherwise than by his unlawful act, or is in such condition, that to kill it is an act of mercy. “Any reasonable means” in this context means any method of killing a deer that can reasonably be expected to result in rapid loss of consciousness and death and which is appropriate in all the circumstances.

Use of dogs

Section 3 of the Wildlife (Amendment) Act 2010 amends section 23 of the Principal Act and provides that it shall not be an offence for a person on foot to hunt deer with two or more dogs, under and in accordance with a licence granted under section 29 of this Act, or a permission granted under section 42 of the Act. The current section 29 licence stipulates that “hunting deer with the use of dogs for the purposes of tracking and carcase recovery is permissible”. There is no specific prohibition on hunting deer in the more general sense with two or more dogs set out on the licence, although a prohibition may be inferred. It is a condition of the standard Coillte licence that a licensee or nominated stalker must have access to a trained tracking dog for purposes of recovery of shot deer.

Shooting from a vehicle

Section 36 of the Act provides that the use of mechanically-propelled vehicles, vessels and aircraft in hunting is prohibited. It is an offence to shoot deer from a vehicle, moving or stationary. This includes the use of a car bonnet (for example) as a rifle rest.


It is an offence under section 44 (1) of the Act for a person, without the permission of the owner or occupier of the land involved, to hunt on the land using a firearm or other weapon, or a trap, snare or other device (including a lamp); or to move or drive deer off the land for such purpose; or to carry on the land any firearm or other weapon; or to shoot over or onto the land.

Ownership of wild deer

Deer which can roam freely are wild animals (“ferae naturae”) and are not owned by, or the responsibility of, anyone. A wild deer becomes property when “reduced into possession” i.e. killed or captured, thus a culled deer becomes the property of the person who lawfully kills it. “Lawfully” in this context includes being licensed and having valid shooting permission on the land on which the deer is killed or captured, and otherwise being compliant with all relevant legislation and permissions.

Disposal of gralloch

The gralloch of a shot deer is deemed an animal by-product, disposal of which is regulated by European Union (Animal By-Products) Regulations 2014 (SI No 187 of 2014). The gralloch of a wild shot deer will generally be classified as Category 3 (Low Risk) under the legislation, except where suspected of being infected with a disease that humans or animals could contract. Category 3 by-products may be disposed of only by specific means, including incineration or co-incineration. Prosecution under section 39 of the Waste Management Act 1996 may follow unlawful disposal of waste, including animal by-products. Regulation EC 1774/2002 governs animal by-products. The Regulation lays down strict rules for the collection, transport, storage, handling, processing and use or disposal of all animal by-products. Article 2 of the Regulation defines an animal by-product as any part of an animal carcase or any material of animal origin not intended for human consumption. The Regulations are transposed into Irish law by the Animal By-Products Regulations 2003 (SI 248 of 2003) and by the Animal By-Products (Amendment) Regulations 2005 (SI 707 of 2005). The Animal By-Products Regulations are a separate legislative entity to the Waste Management Act 1996. However, it should be noted that wastes from agriculture, horticulture, aquaculture, forestry, hunting and fishing are not defined in the European Waste Catalogue (the reference point for application of the Regulations) as “hazardous wastes” and an exemption may be deemed to exist so far as disposal of the gralloch is concerned. This is an as-yet untried legal argument in Ireland. The disposal of offal, including burial of the gralloch, on Coillte forest property is prohibited under the terms of the standard Coillte licence.

Notification of diseased deer

Bovine tuberculosis (bTB) is a notifiable disease under the provisions of the Diseases of Animals Act 1966. The local District Veterinary Office (DVO) must, by law, be notified if a culled deer is suspected of infection with bTB.

Epizootic Haemorrhagic Disease (EHD) in deer is also a notifiable disease, and the local DVO must be notified if it is suspected in a culled deer.

Onus of proof

Section 71 of the Act provides that in any proceedings under the Act it is up to the Defendant to prove that there was no offence because of the existence of an Open Season Order, a licence or permission, or because the act complained of was either otherwise lawful or the consequence of an otherwise lawful act. This is a reversal of the ordinary rule at common law, which requires the Prosecution to prove, beyond reasonable doubt,  that the offence occurred and was committed by the Defendant