Teen Tags a Free-Roaming, 300-Pound Red Stag…in Alabama

Area hunters think the deer escaped from a nearby high-fence farm
Katie Hill Avatar
red stag
Coye Potts shot a red stag with his crossbow in eastern Alabama on Nov. 3. Tiffany Potts

Phillip Taylor of Rock Mills, Alabama grew tired of looking out his window and seeing the same deer eating the fruit off his apple and pear trees every week. So he called on his 16-year-old grandson, Coye Potts, to remedy the situation with his crossbow. When Potts saw the deer for the first time, he realized it wasn’t an average Alabama buck, but instead a 10-point red stag.

“Golly, that thing is huge,” Potts told the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer about his first thought after seeing the deer. “It don’t look like no whitetail.”

Potts took to his grandpa’s field on Nov. 3 and set up in a homemade ground blind. When the stag came out, Potts at first struggled to make the shot, since the stag had a feed bag trapped in its antlers obstructing its vitals. But eventually, Potts arrowed the deer through the heart from 32 yards, much to the excitement of his grandpa and hunting buddy, Hudson Vowell. This was, after all, Potts’ first successful hunt.

But the story of red deer in Alabama—and this one particular stag in Randolph County—was far from over.

Red deer are native to Europe and Asia, not the United States. Their antlers look similar to those of an elk and their bodies dwarf American whitetails. Their exotic appearance and extreme adaptability to their surroundings makes them a popular animal in the high-fence hunting and game farm world.

The fact that there was a red deer roaming east-central Alabama could only mean one thing: there’s a hole in a fence somewhere. According to Marianne Gauldin, a conservation eduction specialist with the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, one or two hunters bag a red deer every season in the Cotton State. There are about a dozen hunting lodges and game farms within a 25-mile radius of Rock Mills, and while none of them advertise red deer hunting, reports of a roaming red stag in Georgia made the news last year. With that said, Potts, Taylor, and Vowell are still ecstatic.

“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing,” Vowell said. “I don’t think I’ll ever see another deer that big or a red stag in general that someone didn’t pay for, walking around in Alabama freely.”

East Alabama Deer Processing owner Justin Benefield drove to his shop early to help Potts get the deer in the cooler. Benefield told the Ledger-Enquirer he and some friends had been talking about the red stag just the night prior, and that the deer had been known in the area for seven or eight months. When he learned Potts had shot it, he was blown away.

“Man, this is the luckiest kid alive. In the state of Alabama, you just don’t get that opportunity, a hit-the-lottery type of thing,” Benefield said. “There’s no telling on a paid hunt how much it would cost.”

Potts is mostly excited about the meat and the shoulder mount, which he’ll hang in his family’s home.

“Every time you walk by it, it will just bring back memories,” he said. “You just feel an accomplishment.”