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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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The Problem With ‘Bambi’ The Rules And Knowledge Of Hunting Deer Are More Complicated Than The Film’s Fans Realize

Ric Villalobos Special To Staff writer

Hunters have become accustomed each fall to the inevitable question from friends, family or co-workers: “Are you going to go shoot Bambi?” I hadn’t watched the 1942 animated classic since I was a kid, but I’ve heard that question for as long as I’ve been a hunter.

This year, Disney released “Bambi” on video, which I purchased and watched again, this time with my family.

My perceptions of the movie are much different than when I was a youngster.

If the producers of “Bambi” had to be accountable to biology or the 1997 Washington hunting regulations, the story would have been much different. Certainly, the rules and knowledge involved in hunting deer are much more complicated that “Bambi” fans realize.

Let’s start with the basics.

Bambi is a white-tailed deer, although this isn’t always easy to ascertain. Walt Disney provided two live deer as models for his animators. However, it’s clear from studying factors such as habitat, antlers and running style that the artists still didn’t know their subject.

Many of the deer in the movie are minus the eyeguards typical to a whitetail. Their antlers have the branching look of a mule deer.

Bambi’s father has eyeguards on his antlers and his tines branch off one beam, as a whitetail’s should.

Bambi is what Western hunters would call a two-pointer. It appears as though he had two points after the first year. This could be OK as long as the habitat was right, but most yearling bucks are spikes.

However, it’s inaccurate to show the young Bambi with spots for most of the first winter. Deer fawns lose their spots by fall to blend into the environment for survival.

According to Washington hunting regulations, Bambi would be off-limits to hunters in many Eastern Washington game management units, where whitetails must have at least three points on one side of their antlers to be legal game. Mule deer must have at least three points before they can be hunted throughout the region.

Bambi’s father, the great prince of the forest, is what hunters would consider a trophy buck. He is a four-pointer that could score between 150-175 points on the Boone and Crockett scale, according to official scorers from the Inland Northwest Wildlife Council. That’s big enough to be a Washington record.

Randy Schmidt and Larry Carey, Spokane men trained to measure antlers for the record books, noted the big buck’s antlers change somewhat in the movie. The antlers have abnormalities and sometimes resemble those of a mule deer.

Perhaps the most blatant inaccuracy in the movie is the scenes of deer mating during spring. In real life, deer become “twitterpated,” as the wise owl called it, in the fall.

Spring breeding may be accurate for birds and small game, such as Thumper the rabbit or Flower the skunk. But not for deer.

Deer are in the rut in late October through November. Their fawns are born in the spring.

Incidentally, one can’t underestimate the friendship between the owl and Thumper, considering that bunnies are a prime food source for large forest owls.

Scenes involving hunters’ dogs chasing Bambi and his girlfriend, Faline, would be an illegal practice in Washington, said Mike Whorton, Washington Fish and Wildlife Department regional enforcement officer.

The law says, It is illegal to allow dogs to chase deer or elk while you are hunting.

The hunters in the scene are shooting at anything that moves. They shoot at a deer running over hills. This is called skylighting, a practice that’s dangerous, unethical and discouraged in hunter education courses.

Good hunters avoid running shots if for no other reason than the meat isn’t as good in an animal that has been pushed to strenuous exertion before being dispatched.

Although the movie was made in 1942 and they might have had open season during the fall and spring in California, Washington’s modern firearm hunting seasons are in October and November.

Bambi’s mother is shot in the spring. Only poachers would be pursuing deer during the spring in Washington.

The state and sportsmen’s groups, such as the Inland Northwest Wildlife Council, offer rewards for people who offer tips that convict poachers.

The state has a hotline number for reporting illegal hunting activity: (800) 477-6224.

The movie’s forest fire scene also has illegal implications.

Rhette Bidstrup, Department of Natural Resources administrative assistant, notes that if investigators prove a fire is set by negligence, the people who left the campsite unattended would be responsible to pay for the firefighting costs.

She estimated the blaze in the movie scorched 5,000-10,000 acres. The bill could have been as high as $425,000.

The movie featured habitat conducive to whitetails, but not for the numbers of deer in the scenes. Wildlife managers try to control the numbers of deer in harmony with the “carrying capacity” of the range. Most hunters get tags for bucks-only because one buck will breed with numerous does to produce the next crop of deer.

The movie shows about twice as many bucks as does. This would be considered terrible wildlife management.

Furthermore, why would a hunter want to shoot Bambi’s mother when the hunting was so great for bucks?

Since all the deer are in one meadow, disease and starvation could be a major issue. Good wildlife management through hunting could prevent an eventual collapse in the deer population.

The movie shows springtime with all kinds of vegetation. In the long, cold winter, deer are seen eating bark high off the trees. This indicates the habitat was not good for deer. In a tough winter, such as the recent one in the Inland Northwest, sportsmen spend huge amounts of time and money hauling hay and feed to help deer avoid starvation.

“Bambi” would be an excellent addition to any hunter education program for students to critique in terms of hunters’ ethics and the many inaccuracies in natural history.

If nothing else, the movie would prepare new hunters for the inevitable question they’ll hear each fall.

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