Teen tagging a free-roaming, 300-pound red deer…in Alabama

Phillip Taylor of Rock Mills, Alabama, got tired of looking out his window and seeing the same deer eating fruit from his apple and pear trees every week. So he challenged his 16-year-old grandson, Coye Potts, to use his crossbow to put things right. When Potts first saw the stag, he realized it wasn’t your average Alabama buck, but a 10-point red stag.

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

Potts went to his grandfather’s field on November 3 and settled into a homemade ground screen. When the stag came out, Potts initially struggled to get the shot due to the stag having a forage pouch in its antlers that was interfering with its vital signs. But eventually Potts shot the deer through the heart from 100 yards, much to the excitement of his grandpa and hunting buddy Hudson Vowell. After all, this was Potts’ first successful hunt.

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

Deer are native to Europe and Asia, not the United States. Their antlers resemble those of a moose, and their bodies put American white-tailed dwarfs to shame. Their exotic appearance and extreme adaptability to their surroundings make them a popular animal in high fence hunting and in the game farming world.

The fact that a red deer was roaming through east-central Alabama could only mean one thing: There was a hole in a fence somewhere. According to Marianne Gauldin, a conservation education specialist with the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, one or two hunters take a deer deer each season in the Cotton State. There are about a dozen hunting lodges and game farms within 25 miles of Rock Mills, and while none of them advertise red deer hunting, reports of a roaming red deer in Georgia made headlines last year. Despite this, Potts, Taylor and Vowell are still thrilled.

“It’s a one-time thing,” Vowell said. “I don’t think I’ll ever see a deer that big again, or any red deer in general, that someone roaming free in Alabama didn’t pay for.”

East Alabama Deer Processing owner Justin Benefield drove to his shop early to help Potts put the deer in the cooler. Benefield told the Ledger-Enquirer he and some friends had only spoken about the red deer the night before 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, that’s the happiest kid in the world. You just don’t get that opportunity in the state of Alabama, like winning the lottery,” Benefield said. “With a paid hunt, you can’t tell how much it would cost.”

Potts is particularly looking forward to the meat and shoulder animal he will be hanging in his family’s home.

“It brings back memories every time you walk past it,” he said. “You just feel an accomplishment.”