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Lessons from the Cheney hunting mishap.

2.14.06

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SAFETY LESSONS
Re: Lawrence Henry's Elementary -- and Appalling:

While Mr. Henry is quite right to lash the press about their self-important whining about this issue, and to ding the Vice President's gun handling, his article also implies that Mr. Cheney had fired a shot at quail running along the ground.

He's correct that that would be very unsportsmanlike behavior if it happened. But there's no evidence of this in any of the accounts I've seen of the incident. To the contrary, Whittington was sprinkled by Mr. Cheney's birdshot in the face, not the feet. That's entirely consistent with a flushed bird flying along at six or seven feet above the ground -- something I've seen them do several times.

Unless there is some reason to accuse the Vice President of bad sportsmanship, I hope Mr. Henry will refrain from giving the administration's enemies this kind of ammunition. They're considerably less responsible with it than is Mr. Cheney.
-- Clint Taylor
Stanford, California

When the news broke about the hunting accident the Vice President had it brought to mind a number of things... the first of which is to know where all your hunting party is at all times, and secondly, if you were separated never never walk up on someone without calling out first. Clearly, there was a mistake. Thankfully, Mr. Whittington will be fine. I am certain the MSM were so worried about his health, considering the tone of the news conferences yesterday and the badgering they did of Scott McClellan about it all. So very worried they were... right! They were only hoping someone had been killed so it could feed their frenzy.

Having been raised on a ranch I once went dove hunting with my Dad. I was a grown woman and while I had deer hunted with him, I had missed the opportunities to ever go bird hunting. We hid behind a water tank (that is pond to folks outside Texas), and ever so often Dad would point out the birds as they flew in. I shot several and was so elated. I told Dad... gee, I cannot wait to tell my husband how many I bagged today. Dad sat up slowly and grinned and said, "Just don't tell him you shot them on a high-line (utility lines)!" Until that moment I hadn't known I was doing anything wrong. We still laugh over that in my home.

I feel for Vice President Cheney. I know he hurts from the mistake he made. I only wish the MSM cared about this rather than making mockery of him.
-- Beverly Gunn, East Texas Rancher

...Truly, this incident is a non-event, except to the people involved. There was no cover-up. No one is currently vacationing in some remote exotic location, locked into a mental hospital or otherwise being kept from the press. The media simply became complacent and missed a breaking story. But the responsibility for the news media's failure to learn of this in a timely manner does not reside with the White House. This is a wake-up call for journalists. It should be taken as such. Before a truly significant story slips by.
-- Michael Tobias

While pretty much in agreement with Lawrence Henry's piece on the Cheney quail shoot flap, I find he omits one critical part of bird hunting gun safety dogma that applies: chiefly the responsibility of all in the group to know each other's location at all times during the shoot. As a kid, if I heard that dictum repeated once in the field, I heard it a thousand times. "If you don't know where your partners are, don't ever fire until you do."

Yes, the Veep was in error to shoot while his partner was off the group's plane of advance. His partner, however, was equally, if not more at fault, for failing to make his location and line of approach known to the others. This was, in my humble opinion, a group fubar* in which there was sufficient error and judgment lapses to go 'round.

That said, the self-important jihadi reaction of the WH press corps over this matter Monday was both excessive and indicative of why the people hold these blokes in such dim esteem. They are not, in spite of their inflated view of their own importance, a "priest-class" whose presence must be worshipped at all possible times.

*fubar � fouled up beyond all recognition.
-- Frank Stevenson
Williamsburg, Virginia

I don't know how long Lawrence Henry has hunted, or if he has ever done any bird hunting outside his "road hunting" adventures; but I have been doing it a little over 50 years. In many group hunting situations it is not all that unusual to get "peppered" with light loads; and I don't care how experienced the hunters are. Once, on a dove hunt I got dusted twice, and on the second occasion I threatened to return fire!

I am sure the VP regrets the incident, and I am also sure that the peppered hunter shares a little of the blame for placing himself in the line of fire. In short LH, back off a little. You sure as hell weren't there; and I question your second-guessing.
-- JK
Blue Springs, Missouri

I have been hunting for over 40 years and I have never heard anything like Lawrence Henry's quote, "That means that, when hunting birds, you should always carry your gun with the muzzle pointed downrange... and up," which you published today in his column. If you are taught and practice proper gun handling and safety, you hunt with the muzzle pointed down toward the ground and away from other hunters, with the safety always on until you are ready to shoot. It is not uncommon practice to shoot a shotgun with the barrel nearly level with the ground or pointed at an upward angle if the bird has been flushed and is headed away from you. He also appears to assume that the gentleman hit by the pellets was close to where the Vice President was standing when the Vice President fired the shot. In fact the gentleman could have been a substantial distance away from the Vice President and the pellets could have been on their downward flight as their energy and velocity was dissipated.
-- Patrick R. Spooner, P.E.
Windham, New Hampshire

Mr. Henry begins his article by listing possible questions concerning the shooting accident. He ends up by chastising Vice President Cheney for violating what is indeed a cardinal rule of hunting: know what you are shooting at and what is beyond the target. He does not refer to the story as has been told, specifically that Mr. Whittington had rejoined the party without announcing his presence.

From my experience of field hunting rabbits and birds (without dogs) in a line of hunters, each hunter has a responsibility to know where the hunter is on either side. Each hunter also has a responsibility maintain their place relative to the other hunters and not move into the line of fire. A hunter shooting at a bird or rabbit on the move expects to have a certain field of fire based on these premises. It is no different from target shooting at the range. The "range safety officer" checks that the range if safe, declares the range is hot, and give permission to fire. This applies equally to a group of fifty military personnel or a group of two in the backyard. If another person knows you are shooting and wanders onto the range without notification, that person is liable to be shot. Not deserving to be shot, but it is a mistake to move into the line of fire. The inherent danger of upland bird or rabbit hunting versus deer hunting or target shooting is that the bird or rabbit is on the move, rapidly on the move.

This particular type of accident has happened many times to many people. Either a hunter moves out of position into the line of fire or a hunter turns and shoots outside the zone into the line of hunters. I do not believe that Mr. Whittington is guilty of anything more than a lapse of caution and good sense. As humans we are unfortunately prone to this sort of thing, whether is be while driving, using a power tool, or standing on a ladder. Most of us anyway, apparently not columnists and reporters. I think that far too much has been made of this. If my brother shot me under similar circumstances with similar results it would not make the local six o'clock news. I doubt that we would go out of our way to even tell other family members. Certainly a good story for the reunion but not worth a long distance call.

I am glad that Mr. Whittington did not suffer serious injury. I would also hunt with him or Vice President Cheney anytime. They would probably be more safety conscious than me. We tend to get that way for a while after a tragedy or even a close call.
-- unsigned

Mr. Henry commented on Vice President Cheney's hunting behavior, apparently without checking for all the facts. The Texas Parks and Wildlife reports that Mr. Whittington stopped to retrieve a downed bird, and was not in his position in the hunting line, nor did he let anyone know he had changed position and fallen behind. When I hunted, I wanted to know exactly where everyone in my party was, and I made sure that they knew where I was. Mr. Whittington, it seems, might be as much at fault as the Vice President.
-- Charles Nightingale
Liberty, South Carolina

Perhaps Mr. Henry's comments are valid but my "bone" is the outrageous behavior of the White House press corps. I seem to have forgotten their tough questions to their buddies Clinton and Kennedy when Clinton lied about Monica and Teddy baby told unbelievable stories after the "bridge" incident. Surely they went after these two, not! I also don't remember the press corps asking stiff Al Gore very many searching questions after his laughable "No controlling authority" remarks re using the White House phone system to make campaign cash calls. I realize I'm "beating a dead horse," but one gets so damn mad.
-- unsigned

The news about the Vice President's hunting accident has led to a bunch of folks telling me about the time they shot someone or were shot while hunting. It seems to be a fairly common event and while unfortunate, it is hardly a repeat of Watergate.
-- Mike Bergsma

Lawrence Henry has a fundamental error in his argument. Quail hunting is not pheasant hunting. When you flush a pheasant it will fly up and away. A quail will usually fly to the next nearest brush pile when it flushes. I have hunted quail for some years. I have never seen a quail fly higher than six or eight feet above the ground. Quail are often taken while the bird is flying only a few feet above the ground. To do so while quail hunting is not ground sluicing as Mr. Henry suggests.

What my experience quail hunting suggests to me is more probable is that the Veep was being safe. Every time a groups of quail hunters approach a new brush pile, for safety sake because of the way quail do flush differently than any other bird, all of the hunters will announce where they will be and what fields of fire they will take when the birds flush. Since, unlike pheasant, you can never guess where a quail will flush, indeed I have had them fly right at me when coming out of a brush pile, gun safety suggests that all of the hunters always know where it is safe for them to shoot.

While quail hunting, one way for all of the hunters to announce where they will be and what fields of fire they will take is to organize that information at the outset of the hunt. With that knowledge in mind, the media has unwittingly provided us with the information that we need to understand in order to understand that the Veep was being safe. The media has told us the hunters were in a line. Unlike pheasant hunting where a line of hunters will walk a field and each hunter will shoot whatever bird flushes in front of each hunter, a quail line is established at the beginning of a hunt to specifically assign fields of fire to members of that line. If someone leaves the line, fields of fire are re-assigned. If someone re-joins the line, fields of fire must be readjusted. All of this is done for safety and it is a much more paramount procedure while hunting quail than it is hunting any other bird because quails do fly low where it is possible to shoot a fellow hunter when a quail is flying a typical flush. Apparently, from the news reports, the Veep was performing this safety procedure in the field.

While it is true that the Veep did pull the trigger and is ultimately responsible for the outcome of his shot, it is also true that communicating where you are to fellow hunters while you quail hunt is vitally important. Apparently, the communication broke down. That is a terrible thing to happen and I am sure that the Veep feels very bad. But, I am pretty sure, based on my experience hunting quail, that safety was being considered during the hunt and that we don't need to be appalled as Mr. Henry seems to suggest.
-- Morgan Groover

First the MSM blended news (Who, What, Where, When, How), with the editorial, (Why and What We Think about It). Now they have added the gossip column into the mix they call still call news. What else will they add next?

I don't mean to demean editorials or gossip columns. The Washington Prowler being outstanding for DC gossip. I just don't believe that so called "news" organizations such as CBS News, NBC News, ABC News, and newspapers should mix them and still call them news.

BTW. Thank you for having this letter section where I can rant and read the views and rants of others. Also thank you for bringing John Batchelor to your blog. He is excellent.
-- Geoff Bowden
Battle Creek, Michigan

I am not a hunter but as a Life Member of the NRA I know a little bit about shooting.

VP Cheney was using a .28 gauge shotgun, probably an over/under or side-by-side.

The quail is a little bird and they fly in all manner of direction when flushed and not always up. As I said, I am not a hunter, but I do a little sporting clays shooting down here on the Eastern Shore of Maryland and have many friends who are hunters. Sporting clays stands are set up to mimic the flight of geese, ducks, quail and even running rabbits; usually 25 stands per course, 2 shots on each.

I have been on many a stand where the shot is taken at chest high height, right to left or the reverse. If you break the clay before it hits the ground you get the point, same as honest hunting on a live bird and you always use bird or target shot. I use a Browning .12 gauge which can be loaded with the lightest of birdshot to the heaviest of buckshot. A hunter will tell you if you want to eat quail, duck or goose go light as you can and VP Cheney has been doing this for years so I would expect he knows what he was doing.

Apparently, according to everything I have been able to glean from reports, Mr. Whittington, Harry, if you will, violated one of the cardinal rules of shooting and stepped in front of the shooting line, as stupid a move in hunting as in targets. The shooter and his companions should always know where they are in relation to each other. I suspect when this all comes out of the wash, Harry might just possibly say he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. You might read Mrs. Armstrong's original comments to the Corpus Christi reporter.
-- Jim Woodward
Fruitland, Maryland

Lawrence Henry's article about childhood pheasant hunting in South Dakota and hunting etiquette was quite right up to the point where he assumes Cheney did not observe the elementary precaution by firing a shot level with the ground. Ring-Neck pheasant hunting in South Dakota is not quite like Bob White quail hunting in south Texas.

A flushed pheasant takes off from the ground and its instinct is to go for speed and altitude. Most shots are made when the pheasant is eight feet or more above the ground. You generally have a bit of time to set your target and rarely have to worry about hitting another hunter.

Quail, on the other hand, explode in numbers from a bush several feet off the ground, do not seek altitude and stay low to the ground hoping for confusion in all directions. You really have to focus quickly to get a good shot. It's very exciting and can be frustrating as well. I've seen great wing shooters watch five birds slip away, unscathed, in seconds.

That said, the quail hunter must be doubly cautious, especially knowing that he will be shooting level with the ground. There is simply no excuse for peppering another hunter. A good hunter like Dick Cheney does not need to be reminded of this by the hand-wringers in the press. I assure you, he feels very bad about this accident.

And it was an unfortunate accident that all responsible hunters try hard to avoid and hope never happens to them. But every long-time hunter probably has a chilling story like this to tell. It goes with the territory.
-- Don Biddle
Rocklin, California

Enough already! It is one thing for the liberal media to be upset about not knowing more timely about the accident, but it is another for Mr. Henry to call Cheney's "behavior and judgment into question" all the while admitting that he knew nothing of the facts. There is no excuse for one hunter peppering another, but it does happen without the country asking if this person should be a national leader. It is not a moral failure. Even conservative commentators need to get on with more pressing matters of national concern.
-- thwhiteside

When Mr. Henry describes his hunting experiences as a child in South Dakota, he describes what is commonly known as "road hunting." I don't know if that was legal in South Dakota, but it was sure as h--- illegal in Michigan. Thank you.
-- C. Marl Gilson
Seneca, South Carolina

I am not up to speed on all the particulars of the Vice President's hunting mishap. However, if I may be so bold and put this as respectfully as I can, the one with the improper attitude towards firearm safety might be Mr. Henry himself.

To insinuate that hunting accidents only happen to rubes is akin to suggesting that traffic accidents only happen to rubes. With any type of accident those who think it can't happen to them are the ones most susceptible to such.

And just as not all traffic accidents are comparable, neither are all hunting accidents. If Mr. Whittington walked into Mr. Cheney's field of fire, from behind, just as Mr. Cheney was pulling the trigger, then that is comparable to a pedestrian darting out into traffic from between parked cars with no time for the oncoming motorist to respond.

We can count on the liberals to try to make a scandal out of this event, whether or not it is one. If indeed Mr. Cheney was yahooing it up that is one thing. But if not, I trust the conservative press won't join the MSM in manufacturing a story. After all, there are truly appalling things with which to concern ourselves. For example, it seems there are a certain boy ex-president Ahab and his wife Senator Jezebel who are intent on returning to power. Please target them instead.
-- R. Trotter
Arlington, Virginia

As with the author, I am disappointed with our vice president's actions. He simply should have been more careful, and shame on him for not doing so.

But what is also appalling is the MSM being shocked -- SHOCKED!!! -- that they were not told right away. After looking at the coverage, you have to wonder what they are more outraged about: Cheney's misfire, or the fact that a local newspaper was told about it first. Talk about living in a bubble!

And yet, the MSM have virtually ignored an even bigger story: former vice president Al Gore went to Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of 15 of the 19 9/11 terrorists, to denounce President Bush's alleged mistreatment of Guantanamo detainees. Just think of how big a story this really is: when was the last time we saw such a high-ranking politician -- let alone one who so nearly became president -- commit such a treasonous act? Talk about aiding and abetting the enemy!

So, what do Gregory, the New York Times and the rest of the MSM have to say about this real outrage? Not a word.

Once again, selective outrage takes the day.
-- Greg Hoadley
Boca Raton, Florida

I liked Mr. Henry's column on hunting quail. Everyone should read it who's not familiar with the activity. It's the last few sentences I have a problem with.

He wrote: "That means that, when hunting birds, you should always carry your gun with the muzzle pointed downrange ... and up. That Vice President Cheney did not observe this elementary precaution, that he apparently turned and fired a shot level with the ground, I find appalling.

"It is not my job to call for his resignation. But I can certainly call his behavior and judgment into question."

The descriptions of the accident by others indicate VP Cheney was acting properly and Mr. Whittington was not. I think Mr. Henry should wait to hear from the two men before he "apparently" reaches a conclusion not supported by the facts.
-- Tim Tilden

A big ho-hum.
-- Dondra Murphy
Atlanta, Georgia

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