How many antler points can a stag grow? And what are they called?

Credit: P Quagliana

What creates the number of points on a stag's antlers? And what are the correct terms for stag heads?

Q: How many points can a red stag in the wild be expected to grow when they are at their best in this country? And when it comes to stag antlers, what makes a  a ‘Royal’ and an ‘Imperial stag’? 

There are many variables which impact on the number of points on stag antlers (or tines), that individual stags will develop. These include the animal’s genetics, the environment it lives in and its access to good nutrition.

A Royal 12 point stag

Genetics, nutrition and environment

Wild European red deer, of which our natives are a subspecies, rarely exceed 16 points though those with 18 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. This is less easy to define when the influence of improved or park animals comes into play. These are physically larger than our natives and have the potential to grow trophies in excess of 18 points.

Definition of points on stag antlers

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.

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

Q: Can you tell me what ‘going back’ in deer means? Does it affect all types of deer and how do you spot it?

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.