The deer is a surprisingly common tattoo image. It has recently gained a lot of popularity in the geometric, dot, and watercolor tattoo styles. Lest you think deer tattoos are strictly the domain of hunters or nature lovers, the possible meanings behind a deer image appeal to many people – maybe even you.
Keep reading to learn about deer tattoo meanings, different tattoo variations, and whether or not there are any factors to consider about a tattoo of a deer. You can also browse some images for inspiration – you might decide that a tattoo of a deer is a great fit for you.
Deer Tattoo Meanings
The deer has a long history with mankind. Figures of deer appear in early cave paintings and white stags have often appeared in myths, legends, and fairy tales. The male deer has long had a reputation as the noble, graceful, intelligent, and watchful “king of the forest.”
What a deer tattoo means depends somewhat upon the cultural context of the specific tattoo image. The deer carries some common symbolic meanings across cultures, but there are some cultural-specific ideas and concepts a deer represents that create a specific meaning for a tattoo.
Common Deer Tattoo Meanings
A male deer (stag) tattoo has different concepts in the meaning than a female deer (doe) tattoo, although there is some overlap between the two.
Male Deer Tattoo
The antlers and graceful bearing of a deer set a majestic and regal tone for a deer tattoo meaning. Male deer tattoos are often an homage to the animal and symbolize strength and fertility/virility. However, there is an implied warning in the meaning of a masculine deer tattoo — not of aggression, but a warning of defensive action against any threat that comes against the wearer or his loved ones.
Male deer tattoos can also mean regeneration or renewal. Stags shed their antlers every year to grow new ones that are bigger than the previous ones, so a deer tattoo can carry a meaning of self-improvement or “getting better with age.”
Female Deer Tattoo
A female deer tattoo takes on a gentler, softer meaning and usually represents peace, femininity, beauty, kindness, motherly love, innocence, and spirituality/magic.
Male and Female Deer Together
When the stag and doe appear together in a tattoo, the meaning changes slightly. The tattoo image represents a relationship and there is a message about protection of one’s mate or devotion to one’s mate.
Cultural Deer Tattoo Meanings
Native American Culture
A deer’s antlers are symbols for the sun, which represents the Great Spirit for Native Americans.When shown with Native American imagery, a deer tattoo’s meaning expresses Spirit/spirituality, femininity, grace and sophistication, gentleness, softness, and fertility.
Native Americans observed that deer know how to find water and hunt for herbs and food and they often followed deer to help locate these things. The deer represents intuition, therefore a tattoo’s meaning can be about the internal searches within oneself.
In Christian culture the deer symbolizes piety, devotion, and sainthood. In this context a deer tattoo meaning is about spiritual authority, spirituality in general, or spiritual renewal/rebirth.
In Celtic tradition, the deer tattoo has two possible meanings, depending on whether it’s the female or the male deer.
The red female deer, Eilid, represents femininity, grace, and gentleness. Eilid was able to take human form to lead men from the physical world to the world of magic.
The male deer, Dahm, represents independence, purification, and pride. The “royal stag” is the Celtic zodiac symbol for those born between December 24th and January 20th.
Buddha was believed to have been a talking golden deer in a former life, spreading his wisdom to people. A deer tattoo in this context has a meaning of happiness, peace, harmony, and long life.
Central/South American Culture
In many Central and South American cultures, deer are believed to be translators between the gods and humans and deer tattoos may represent the connection between humans and the divine.
Deer Tattoo Considerations
In general, there aren’t any negative connotations of deer tattoos, other than how certain people might interpret a tattoo depicting a deer as a stuffed and mounted hunting trophy. The deer skull tattoo might be seen as a dark image since it’s natural to associate skulls of any kind with death.
Deer Tattoo Variations
There are many designs for deer tattoos and they express slightly different concepts and ideas in their meanings. Tattoos of deer tend to fall into three main categories — tattoos of only the deer’s head, tattoos showing the full figure of the deer, and deer-related images that are alternatives to getting a tattoo of an actual deer.
Deer Head Tattoo Variations
- Deer With Exaggerated Rack
- Deer With Flowers in the Rack
- Naturalistic/Realism Deer
- Deer As Hunting Trophy: shows the deer head on a wall mount plaque, just as real deer heads are mounted by hunters, or the deer is shown with arrows piercing it.
- Deer Skull
- Deer With Spiritual Symbols: shown with pagan symbols, crystals, moon/celestial imagery, or Native American imagery like dreamcatchers.
- Deer With Symbols of Royalty: shows deer wearing crowns or framed by ornate borders.
- Deer With Other Animals or Nature Images
- Half and Half Deer: shows half of the deer head as a living animal with fur and an eye and the other half as a skull.
- Deer With Antler Variations: The antlers aren’t created in a realism style. Instead, they’re created in a geometric or abstract style or the antlers are tree branches with leaves or flowers.
Full Figure Deer Tattoos
- Realism Deer: shows the deer by itself or shown in a nature setting.
- Simplified/Minimalist Deer
- Silhouette Deer
- Doe Deer
- Fawn/Baby Deer
Alternatives to a Animal Deer Tattoo
- Deer Tracks
- Deer Antlers
Special Mention: Deer Couple Tattoos
Deer can be used to represent a marriage or romantic relationship.
- Separate Deer: The stag can be placed on one body part and the doe appears on the other corresponding body part.
- Stag With Doe: The stag and doe appear together, with the stag as the dominantly placed image and the doe appearing in a lower, “sheltered” place in the tattoo.
Deer Tattoo Placement
Most deer tattoos are medium- to large-sized to show details of the physical features of a deer. Medium-sized tattoos do well on the arms or legs and large tattoos are placed on the chest, torso, or back.
Small deer tattoos tend to be simplified designs — minimalist renderings of the deer form or small outline/silhouette designs of a deer head, for example. These can go on the wrist, ankle, hand, foot, neck, or head.
Deer Tattoo Styles
Deer tattoos tend to be elegant body art that reflects the natural grace of the animal (the only cartoon style deer tattoos seem to be Bambi and even he’s not really a cartoonish image). Many tattoo styles create stunning deer tattoo images.
Blackwork: Blackwork tattoos can be used for deer tattoos that run the range from detailed and complicated to minimalist or silhouette styles.
Realism: Realism tattoos can create deer images that are almost photo-quality.
Traditional/Old School: Traditional/Old School tattoos use elements like flowers, banners, and frames in the art style and colors of classic tattoos.
Geometric: Geometric tattoos emphasize the planes and lines found in the shape of a deer’s head or the overall body shape.
Dot: Dot tattoos create complex deer images.
Tribal: Tribal tattoos can have a Native American art feel or lean more toward Maori-style art.
Watercolor: Watercolor tattoos are a very popular style for deer tattoos; the watercolor style can even be used to create an image that looks like early cave paintings of deer.
Deer Tattoo Examples
There are a lot of forms a deer tattoo can take. Here are some images that can serve as tattoo templates or inspire you to work with a tattooist to create a unique image.
Black Ink Images
Example 1: A deer image in dotwork
Example 2: A geometric deer head image
Example 3: A deer skull image
Example 4: A minimalism deer figure
Example 5: A minimalism deer head
Example 6: Various deer silhouette figures
Example 7: A tribal deer head image
Example 8: A tribal deer head image
Color Ink Images
Example 1: A deer with a crown and crossed swords
Example 2: A deer skull with flowers
Example 3: A deer with a sun image behind it
Example 4: A deer with celestial imagery
Example 5: An outline of a deer with a nature scene inside the shape of the body
Example 6: A realistic style deer head image
Noteworthy Variations/Styles Images
Example 1: Different styles of deer antlers
Example 2: A deer “couple” image
Example 3: A baby fawn deer image
As you see, deer tattoos aren’t just for hunters or outdoorsy types (although you can’t deny that it is a great tattoo image for anyone who’s passionate about hunting or nature). Some deer images have meanings about peace, gentleness, kindness, love, innocence, grace, and the magical qualities deer seem to have. Other deer images emphasize the masculine aspects of the deer in the meanings and are about strength, power, virility, and protection of or devotion to loved ones.
If you feel a strong connection to any of these meanings, perhaps a deer tattoo is just what you’ve been looking for!
Have you ever wondered what other tattoo images mean? If so, click here for other blog posts in our “Tattoo Meanings” series.