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Stag antlers: what makes a stag a Royal, an Imperial or a Monarch?

What creates the number of points on a stag's antlers?

Q: How many points on stag antlers can a red in the wild be expected to grow when it is in good health with a good food supply? And what then makes a stag a ‘Royal’ and an ‘Imperial stag’? 

Many things have an impact on the number of points on stag antlers (also known as tines) that a stag will grow and develop.

Genetics, the animal’s environment and surroundings and nutrition all play a part. (You might like to read ‘Where am I most likely to find deer antlers?’)

Red stag

A red stag in parkland

Points on stag antlers

Our native reds are a subspecies of wild European red deer which rarely exceed 16 points. However some reds with 18 tines or more do turn up. So in the UK those with a wild lineage will follow this rule, with animals that have the benefit of genetics, nutrition and environment producing trophies of up to 15 points and occasionally more than 16 points.

They can be found in parts of Scotland, northern England and the South West. The norm is somewhere between eight to 12 points, as found among our hill stags of the Scottish Highlands. However the influence of improved or park animals also comes into play. These are physically larger than our natives and have the potential to grow trophies in excess of 18 points.

Royals, Imperials and Monarchs

If a 12-pointer is a Royal and 
a 14-pointer is an Imperial, what’s the correct term for one with 15?

This question often pops up. Stags with an even 12-point head are called Royals. To secure this status, they should have three points present on the beams, plus three crown tines on each side.

From the coronets up, the points are named as the brow, the bez and the trez. Not all stags have bez tines, sometimes they are absent on one or both sides, and in some animals a fourth tine is present on the upper beam, which is called the Sur Royal.

Similarly, some stags have 12 points on their heads unevenly — say seven on the left and five on the right — and they would not be classed as Royals but as 12-pointers.

In previous centuries, various names were given to 14- and 16-point heads, namely Imperial and Monarch. As bigger heads were encountered, such as 20 and even 30 points, the names of Double and Treble Royals were used. These, however, had no formal status in the titles given to various deer heads where Royal was the top title available.

A 15-point head has no specific name other than a Royal, provided all the beam points are present on both sides and it has more than three points on each crown, which it has.

red stags

Red stags in Scotland


Q: If a sika is multi-pointed (so more than eight points), is it an indication that it is a hybrid animal between a sika and a red deer or some other species?

A: The common view of sika is that when mature they have heads of six, seven or, more likely, eight points. When stalkers talk about sika, they are, in my experience, referring to what they think of as Japanese sika, though there are a number of subspecies, with up to 15 being recognised by some authorities. There is a considerable difference in the characteristics of these, from physical size to antler structure.

There has been concern about the ability of the sika to hybridise with red deer, and examples of cross-breeding are well known and relatively easy to identify. Some subspecies of sika are known to produce heads in excess of eight points — for example the Formosan sika — and the measuring formula for sika takes account of this.

Additionally, as well as hybridising with red deer, sika will also hybridise with other sika of different subspecies, and this may well be a factor in heads being developed in excess of eight points. Deer from Ireland, particularly from Wicklow, often have heads with more than eight points, which is probably a reflection of the genetics they carry.

A wild sika head from the UK with more than eight points is not necessarily a reflection of a hybrid animal between two distinct species, say sika and red, but might be a reflection of mixed sika genetics in that individual. (Read more on sika deer here.)

Sika stag

Sika stag

What are the terms for red deer heads?

A second-year stag is known as a knobber, spiker or pricket, while a third year animal is a brocket. A troup of three tines on the top is known as ‘the cup’.

Stags that remain without horns throughout their lives are called hummels, a term that derives from the Old English hamelian, which means to mutilate. Stags that grow a pair of long, single antlers above the brow tine are called switches.

‘Going back’ and deer antlers

The term “Going back” refers to the presentation/condition of the deer’s antlers. As deer mature, the size and structure of their antlers generally improves. They develop more points on their head if they belong to a species which is multi-pointed — for example, red, roe, sika or fallow — and the antlers get bigger.

After the animal reaches the peak of its maturity, the head it grows becomes less strong and often the number of points it carries reduces as well.

For example, we can expect a normal roebuck to have a six-point head and for it to reach peak maturity at around six to seven years old. In the years that follow, we can expect the antler to become thinner towards the top, with most of the weight being towards the base. Later, it might perhaps lose a back point on one or both sides and, if it attains great old age, say 12 years old, only the main beams with poor short front tines may be left.

So ‘going back’ comes with age in every deer species, as indeed it does with all animals.