One of the biggest and well-known stags in Britain has been shot dead by poachers desperate to get their hands on its prized antlers.
The 16-year-old red deer, known as The Monarch because of its regal stature, was gunned down in the New Forest.
The poachers fired at the creature with a rifle, hitting its skull, but the calibre of the gun was too low and the bullet ricocheted off.
Mortally wounded, the Monarch ran in agony for the safety of water, a natural instinct for deer.
Its lifeless body was found later floating in a lake where it is thought to have drowned.
It is likely the Monarch was shot by poachers wanting its head and impressive 16-point antlers to mount as a trophy and sell on.
The antlers alone are thought to be worth more than £1,000.
The Monarch was believed to have stood at around 8ft tall including his antlers and weighed 25 stone.
He was so well known and revered in the New Forest that gift shops sell souvenirs with pictures of him on it including mugs, clocks and jewellery.
The Monarch was the biggest of a herd of 40 red deer owned by farmer Dan Tanner and kept at Burley Park near Ringwood.
He was often spotted by visitors on the popular New Forest Deer Safari tours run by Mr Tanner.
Although there are other stags in the herd the Monarch was regarded as the head of the group.
Hampshire police have launched an investigation into the killing.
Mr Tanner, 65, said: "It is very sad but unfortunately it is not that unusual. Poaching is a real problem.
"The Monarch was about 16 years old and was a fine specimen of an animal. He was shot by a poacher but the bullet wasn't a heavy enough calibre to stop him.
"He ran to a river which he tried to swim through but he drowned there. The poachers never got their hands on him.
"Because The Monarch had such a fine set of antlers he would have been very attractive to poachers. They would have wanted his head as a trophy.
"His death is a great loss and waste of life."
A spokesman for Hampshire police said: "Police are investigating after a landowner reported a stag from his estate had been shot. The stag was found on Sunday, February 16.
"It is believed that the red stag, the biggest on the estate, was shot between Friday, February 14 and Sunday, February 16."
The red deer - Cervus elaphus in Latin - is Britain's largest land mammal and can live to around 18 years old.