A heterologous (zona-free hamster oocytes) in vitro fertilization (IVF) system was used to evaluate the relationship between sperm factors and penetration capacity of epididymal red deer spermatozoa. The sperm parameters evaluated in 36 sperm samples obtained postmortem from stags selectively shot during the rutting season were sperm motility, functional integrity of plasma membrane by means of the hypo-osmotic swelling test (HOST), and, simultaneously, viability and acrosomal status via a triple-stain technique. Zona-free hamster oocytes were used to evaluate the capacity of the different sperm assays to predict in vitro penetration. In order to increase the variability in sperm quality, we recovered samples from stags at different intervals between the death of the male and the collection of the genitalia. All measures of sperm quality declined progressively (P <.001) with increasing intervals between death and sample collection. In addition, many sperm parameters were related to penetration ability in vitro. Subsequently, sperm samples were rearranged in 2 categories according to the interval that had elapsed between death and the collection of the genitalia (group 1, short interval = 0-12 h; group 2, large interval = 18-40 hours). When samples were grouped, less correlation achieved significance, especially for group 1, than when samples were not divided. Also, correlation between the number of sperm per oocyte and sperm parameters for group 1, which had the highest values of sperm quality, failed to reach significance. It is concluded that the classical parameters accepted in assessing the viability of deer spermatozoa can be good predictors of the penetrating ability of the spermatozoa when satisfactory in vitro conditions are used for the development of the IVF system. Also, this study demonstrates that compatible heterologous gamete interaction allows thorough assessment of sperm function in a wild deer.