Natural killer (NK) cells play a pivotal role in the innate immune response to viral infections, particularly marine cytomegalovirus (MCIMV) and human herpesviruses. In poxvirus infections, the role of NK cells is less clear. We examined disease progression in C57BL/6 mice after the removal of NK cells by both antibody depletion and genetic means. We found that NK cells were crucial for survival and the early control of virus replication in spleen and to a lesser extent in liver in C57BL/6 mice. Studies of various knockout mice suggested that γδ T cells and NKT cells are not important in the C57BL/6 mousepox model and CD4+ and CD8+ T cells do not exhibit antiviral activity at 6 days postinfection, when the absence of NK cells has a profound effect on virus titers in spleen and liver. NK cell cytotoxicity and/or gamma interferon (IFN-γ) secretion likely mediated the antiviral effect needed to control virus infectivity in target organs. Studies of the effects of ectromelia virus (ECTV) infection on NK cells demonstrated that NK cells proliferate within target tissues (spleen and liver) and become activated following a low-dose footpad infection, although the mechanism of activation appears distinct from the ligand-dependent activation observed with MCMV. NK cell IFN-γ secretion was detected by intracellular cytokine staining transiently at 32 to 72 h postinfection in the lymph node, suggesting a role in establishing a Th1 response. These results confirm a crucial role for NK cells in controlling an ECTV infection.