Exotics: Red Stag Cartridges

By Chuck Hawks

.30-06 Spfd. Illustration courtesy of Hornady Mfg. Co.

The red stag, or red deer, is a close relative of the North American Rocky Mountain elk and given the opportunity the two species can inter-breed. Elk may, in fact, be descended from red deer that migrated over the land bridge that crossed the Bearing Straits during the last ice age.

Red deer populations occur naturally across the Eurasian landmass and they have been imported into Australia, New Zealand, North America and South America. In the U.S. red stag are considered exotic game animals and are hunted on private game ranches from Maine to Texas.

The animals imported into the U.S. and New Zealand (in particular) have thrived and are generally larger than those found in their native lands. Red stag vary considerably in size, from maybe 250-600 pounds, but are generally smaller than Rocky Mountain elk. Perhaps 400 pounds would be a reasonable average for the exotic animals harvested in the U.S.

The general color of the European red stag is reddish brown in summer and grayish brown in winter. The rump patch is yellowish brown and there may be a dark stripe on the animal's back. Calves are spotted at birth, but after a couple of months the spots generally disappear. When mature an adult male develops large, heavy beamed antlers with 6 points per side, rather like our American elk. As the animals age they often develop atypical racks with extra points. Trophies with a total of 30 points have been taken.

Red Deer
Red deer, photo by Olivier Deme.

During the rut, the red stag uses a sort of roar used to challenge other males. Otherwise, the red deer is generally silent, but they often bark when alarmed.

The American exotic hunter will find that the calibers recommended for shooting elk are also appropriate for harvesting red stag. As a general guide, figure on using a bullet carrying 1200 ft. lbs. of energy at impact as a minimum. Bullet placement is much more important than kinetic energy, of course, but that 1200 ft. lb. figure will serve as an approximate guide to the maximum range at which a given load should be used.

Please bear in mind that in all cases and for all calibers I am assuming that the hunter uses a bullet of adequate weight, sectional density and expansion characteristics for the cartridge recommended. Red stag are large, but not armored, animals. Bullets along the lines of the Hornady InterLock, Remington Core-Lokt and Winchester Silvertip are appropriate. Because they are large animals, relatively heavy for caliber bullets are recommended. Examples would be 140-160 grains in 6.5mm, 150-160 grains in .270 and 7mm, 170-180 grains in .30 and .303, 180-220 grains in 8mm and 200-250 grains in the .338 and .35 calibers. I am also assuming that the hunter gets that bullet into a vital spot (usually the heart/lung area) of the stag.

It would be too cumbersome to list every adequate red stag cartridge and I would inadvertently leave out someone's favorite in any case. So consider the cartridges mentioned below merely as examples of satisfactory stag cartridges. If a cartridge is not listed it does not mean it is not appropriate. Look for a cartridge with similar ballistics. If you find one, then the cartridge in question is also probably adequate.

Here are some sample red stag cartridges:

6.5mm Remington Magnum, 6.5x68, .264 Winchester Magnum, .270 Winchester, the .270 Magnums, 7x64 Brenneke, .280 Remington, the 7mm Magnums, .30-30 Winchester, .308 Marlin, .300 Savage, .308 Winchester, .30-06 Springfield, the .300 Magnums, .303 British, .32 Winchester Special, 8x57JS, .338 Federal, .338-06 A-Square, .338 Win. Magnum, .358 Winchester, .35 Whelen, .350 Remington Magnum, 9.3x57, 9.3x62, 9.3x74R, .375 Winchester, .444 Marlin, .45-70 and similar cartridges.

Stay within the 1200 ft. lb. energy requirement at bullet impact and the maximum point blank range (+/- 3") of any of these cartridges and they should do the job on your red stag trophy as long as you do your part. Shoot from too far away or fail to get the bullet into a vital spot and you probably have a long chase ahead.

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Copyright 2006, 2016 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.