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February 14, 2006

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EDITORIAL: The Cheney hunting accident: a Texan's view of the so-called "Texas hunting protocol"

Doug Pike is a Field & Stream contributing editor who covers the outdoors for the Houston Cheney_hunt_lg1Chronicle. Here's what he has to say about reports suggesting that bird hunters in Texas follow different gun safety rules than bird hunters anywhere else.

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Upland bird hunters everywhere knew exactly what had happened when word spread this past weekend that Vice President Dick Cheney shot a quail-hunting companion in South Texas, but some media reports made it sound as if the victim were to blame.

A quail flushed. Vice President Cheney swung his 28-gauge shotgun on the bird and tugged the trigger. His 78-year-old buddy, Austin attorney Harry Whittington, took a piece of the shot string in the upper body and face. Luckily, they were about 30 yards apart, far enough that pinhead-sized quail shot did minimal damage.

Reports from the owner of the ranch where the VP was hunting that Whittington violated some sort of ``Texas protocol'' requiring hunters to make formal announcement of their comings and goings in the field were a bit misleading. Everywhere that upland birds are hunted, the drill is pretty much the same. It makes sense to let other hunters know when you're moving to the left or right, or that you're back after visiting a nearby tree, but there's no requirement to do so. The onus is on everyone who carries a gun not to shoot at anyone else.

Cheney shot another hunter. Sooner better than later, he should own up to his mistake.

-Doug Pike

Think the VP's mistake will do significant damage to the public's perception of hunters? Let us know by taking the latest F&S poll on the home page (it's near the bottom left of the page).

And we'd like to hear more from you about what you think of this incident, so write in your comments below. We may publish them in our May 2006 issue of the magazine.

Comments

Bob

Thank you so much for the editorial. While making sure that fellow upland hunters know where you are is certainly a good idea, it is ultimately the responsibility of the person discharging thier firearm to KNOW THIER TARGET AND WHAT'S BEYOND. This is a basic tenet of hunter safety (at least it was in the classes I took). Hunting is an inherently dangerous activity and we should never fire if there is any question over the safety of the shot.

Kenton

I sure hope Mr. Whittington gets better. Let's hope he's out and about soon.
I'm not a hunter but I think it's an important activity for several reasons, mostly related to conservation.

Having said that, I think this should be treated as any other shooting incident. The local police should do a "by the book" investigation and if any evidence meets or passes the test, charges should be laid. Otherwise the "appearance of justice" could be seen to be two teered.
I personally cannot think of a more serious threat to any democracy.
Especially one based on equality and justice for all.

Here in Canada when a police officer discharges a firearm during the course of their duty there is an investigation. If a death results from that "discharge of a wepon" that officer is suspended and charged with homicide. I think it's the only way or the best way to maintain the public trust and the authorities credibility.

Doug Pike is correct Cheney should admit his mistake. And he should ask for an impartial investigation and cooperate fully in public.


Thanks for your time.
Good luck to y'all,

ky

Jim

They sure do things different in Texas. Announcing your presence??
That's a new one for me,I wonder how the dogs announce their's? Maybe they're trained to bark constantly when they're around Cheney, I saw Alan Simpson on "HardBall" last night, and he tried to defend Cheney by telling Matthews what a "GREAT SHOT" Cheney was! Great Shot? Maybe, SAFE hunter? HELL NO!

Tom

I am amazed at how everybody can be judge and jury when they weren't even there. Yes, there are the rule of thumb safety protocols that all hunters should follow, but were you there? How do you know exactly what happened?

Tim

Cheney screwed up and should be treated as anyone else in the same situation. When in the field, myself, my son and anyone else we are hunting with are fully aware as to where everyone else is in the area, including people that are not in our party. We do get a little loud at times, not only spotting and calling out to others the positions of birds or an occasional " Nice Shot" but it also helps to keep everyone aware. This has annoyed some other hunters while out hunting but where safety is concernered isn't it "Better safe than sorry, (or dead). As far as this incident is concerened, I hope the gentlemen is O.K. and Cheney take responsibility, not only for himself but for the betterment of the way sportsmen are viewed by everyone.

Mike Quinn

"Luckily, they were about 30 yards apart, far enough that pinhead-sized quail shot did minimal damage."

Not exactly... The victum was a bloody mess acording to witnesses... I'm sure that you've heard by now that he's had a heart attack... Mike

Vincent Cutino

This is an ordinary hunting accident. Sure it was irresponsible for the VP to shoot in the direction of another hunter,but that should not increase the importance of the situation. This sort of stuff happens for whatever reasons may be present whether it be poor judgement, lack of judgement, or pure accident.

Vincent Cutino

This is an ordinary hunting accident. Sure it was irresponsible for the VP to shoot in the direction of another hunter,but that should not increase the importance of the situation. This sort of stuff happens for whatever reasons may be present whether it be poor judgement, lack of observation, or pure accident.

Rebecca Reagan

I have to agree with Doug Pike. My husband's hunted safely in groups for over 25 years. The responsibility of shooting rests with the man or woman who holds the gun.

Sure, there are hunting accidents. But there is a bit more involved here.

The Vice President of the United States was involved. The man who could be president.

His office delayed notifing the President of the United States for several hours. His office delayed notifying the Sherrif's department. Apparently the Sheriff's office found out only when the ambulance was called.

The investigating officers were not allowed to conduct interviews with the those involved until the NEXT morning. Well over 18 hours after the event. In fact, the deputy who arrived at the ranch to do an interview was turned away at the gate by the Secret Service This is not what Texas law requires.

Instead of the Vice President's office making a public statement or even a public apology to the wounded man, the owner of the ranch made a phone call to a local newspaper.

Now, really. Is this how a typical hunting accident unfolds?

It is not.

Robert Wrinkle

Now that you know that Mr. Whittington has had a heart attack due to lead shot lodged in his heart, and that he was hit by over a hundred of the little projectiles in the chest and face, do you think the Vice President was really 30 yards away? I haven't hunted in quite a while, but that seems like a pretty tight pattern for 30 yards. This in no way meets my understanding of someone being peppered. My understanding of being peppered, is when shot hits someone on its fall to earth. It feels more like sleet at the mildest, stinging but not breaking the skin at the most severe. Penetrating the heart, is not "peppered". I would love to read the update to your article taking into considerations the latest revelations. Thanks.

Jack Martin

We have here a lot of mistakes. Whittington probably should have told the others where he was. Cheney should have probably seen what was beyong his target. But a quail flying fast and you swing fast, its hard to always see everything. I've gotten shot in quail hunting, not by a mistake but pellets somehow richocehting off a tree infront and to the side of me. No, I don't think this will hurt hunting, but remember muzzle placement and always look beyong your target and be sure of your surroundings. I hope Whittington gets better, and the best whishes for Cheney, as its hard knowing you shot someone and one mistake can lead to all that press.

Jack Martin

We have here a lot of mistakes. Whittington probably should have told the others where he was. Cheney should have probably seen what was beyong his target. But a quail flying fast and you swing fast, its hard to always see everything. I've gotten shot in quail hunting, not by a mistake but pellets somehow richocehting off a tree infront and to the side of me. No, I don't think this will hurt hunting, but remember muzzle placement and always look beyong your target and be sure of your surroundings. I hope Whittington gets better, and the best whishes for Cheney, as its hard knowing you shot someone and one mistake can lead to all that press.

Nora

I can't imagine anyone associating general hunting with this incident. No accidental shooting during a hunt that I ever heard of was hushed up for a full day, with sheriff's questions deflected by Secret Service agents.

Perhaps no one will want to go hunting with the vice president, and maybe the community will endorse pulling his hunting license, but I foresee the aversion stopping there.

curtis french

I don't believe this should put a darkened light on hunting and the conduct of hunters. My family and I have hunted together for many years. We always know where everyone is. In bird hunting we are never quiet. We always cut up and play and make fun of people when they miss. This is to have fun and know where others are. Bird hunting shouldn't be quiet because it is a time for groups to hunt and hang out.

I believe the VP should be held responsible just like I would have to be held responsibls. But at the same time it was a mistake, an unfortunate mistake, but still a mistake. People may use this in the future to put harsh laws on hunting or may try to use it to get ride of hunting because it is an important person. I don't like that idea because you are using someones misfortune for your own good. That sounds a little selfish to me.

Luigi Long

I do not wish to suggest that I am judging the VP, however, when I was in the Army, we were always taught not to point weapons (loaded or otherwise) at anything or anyone; also, when shooting live ammunition, rule 1: never pull the trigger until you have identified the target as the enemy. Clearly, if the day was foggy and visibility was low, more reason not to fire. Just my 2 cents - I guess we have different guidelines in England.

thegools

When I learned to shoot I was forced to learn 10 golden rules of riflery. The one that sticks out above all else, "Know your backstop." I.E. know where that shot is going.

We all make mistakes, but God help any of us from shooting a friend (or anyone else) accidentally!!

Unsafe practices can catch up with anyone, even the VP. Lets hope his buddy survives, and that he (and all of us) learns from this mistake.

Whether he likes it or not he is a roll model for sportsmen around the country. He is a vocal supporter of outdoor sports. So his misteps will reflect some on the whole community.

.... Including us democratic voting sportsmen.

tito reyes

I have been a Hunter Safety Instructor in Michgan for 5 years and upland game hunter for 50 years. Cheney violated a very simple hunter saftety rule: Know what your target is and WHAT IS BEYOND. It was clearly his responsibility to determine if there was any reason not to shoot.

O yes then there is the problem with not having the quail stamp. It's called "poaching" here in Michiigan not matter who you are and ignorance for the law is no excuse.

And to add injury to insult does Texas require a Hunter Safety Certificate for out of state residents?

VP may have more problems that thought

andrew

Cheney should be charged with involuntary manslaughter- one must know what he is aiming at when he pulls the trigger- Cheney is just as guilty as a motorist who causes an accident that results in personal injury

Bret Wiseman

This entire accident is another reminder of how out of touch mainstream media people are. Watching newsmen talk about hunting as if it were a mysterious cult activity is truely amazing. This story is getting so much attention because of the nature of the accident. If VP Cheney had hit someone in the head with a golf ball, this story would be over and done with.

Russell Jessee

(a) To the commenter who suggests that Mr. Cheney be charged w/"involuntary manslaughter," please understand that he would have had to have killed someone before being charged with any type of manslaughter.
(b) To the commenter who equates shooting someone with hitting them with a golfball, you do our sport no favors by making inapt comparisons. We have to accept that hunting demands more of its participants in terms of attentiveness and judgment precisely because the consequences of carelessness could be much more dire than in other sports.

Ric Chambers

Contrary to the comments that it was the responsibility who was approaching from behind to 'announce' his presence, the responsibility lies firmly on Mr. Cheney's shoulders. No matter the type of hunting, it is the shooters' responsibility to know where he is aiming and what lies beyond his intended target before he pulls the trigger, releases an arrow etc. No shot at a bird, deer or other game is worth the risk if the shot cannot be made safely without putting others at risk.

Bob Johnston

I heard Cheney was drunk as hell, which is why he waited 14 hours to talk to the cops. I heard they waited 22 hours to go public because they wanted to see if Whittington was going to live and if he would take one for the team and not talk about what really happened. Clearly, by the spread pattern and penetration, he was shot at close range. Furthermore, I heard this wasn't hunting. They were shooting hand-raised quail with clipped wings, released from pens, and that associated humans with feeding time, not predators. They could basically get out of their cars, walk up and blast the birds like they could a family pet.

Matt Licking

Rule #2- Never let the muzzle cover anything you are not willing to destroy. Sorry Mr. Cheney there are NO excuses for "accidentally" shooting someone.

Gary Cheris

This incident should be treated as if the parties involved were normal citizens. In other words, normal citizens wouldn't receive all of this attention. LET IT GO!!!! It was an "accident", not an intentional act nor a crime. I'm surely not perfect and have no right to expect perfection from another - accidents happen to imperfect people - it does not lessen their true worth.

GEORGE  MARTIN

AS A HUNTER SAFETY INSTRUCTOR WE TEACH TOO KNOW WHERE YOUR HUNTING PARTNERS ARE AT ALL TIMES. ALSO KNOWING YOUR FIELD OR ZONE OF FIRE. THIS MISHAP COULD HAVE HAPPEN ON A DEER DRIVE. REMEMBER SAFETY SAFETY SAFETY. PASADENA. MARYLAND




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