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Cheney And Me

From this morning's Houston Chronicle:

She said Whittington had just shot a quail and went looking for it. "Being a diligent hunter, he stayed behind to find the dead bird while signaling for the others to go on ahead while he looked," said Armstrong.

Cheney and another man located another covey farther away and were flushing it out when Whittington came to join them without "announcing himself," she said.

Cheney was unaware Whittington had walked up behind him when he swung around to fire his .28-gauge shotgun at one of the birds rising from the grass. He was focused on the bird and did not see Whittington, who was wearing a hunter's "blaze orange" vest, she said.

I was about 12 years old, I think. 12 or 13. My dad used to take my brother and me hunting. I liked the shooting part, but the stinkin' cold and early mornings... those I used to hate. Plus being smooshed into cheap motel rooms with a bunch of smelly old men. Hmm. We will set that part of it aside for later review.

So I'm out in the middle of some farmer's wheat field. We were hunting pheasants and that basically involved everybody forming a long line with about, I dunno, 30-40 feet between each of us, and then moving through the field to try to flush up some birds in front of us. My dad's business partner was the hunter immediately to my right.

I remember this like it was yesterday morning...

So we're walking along, I've got my .12 gauge tucked under my right arm, pointing down at the ground, just like I've been taught to do. Suddenly there is the unmistakable staccato thuh-thuh-thuh of a pheasant taking panicked flight. The sound is to my right, and slightly behind me. I turn my head and from the corner of my eye I catch sight of the bird just taking off, heading back the direction we all just came from. Obviously we had walked right past him and now, foolishly, once we were about ten feet past him, he decided it was time to head for the hills.

Well, he was flapping furiously and climbing rapidly into the morning sky so I got busy in a hurry. I swung my gun around and...

Thing is, you don't want to be walking through a field with your safety off. You want to have your finger on the safety ready to flip it and then move your finger to the trigger the moment you raise a bird. The thing you don't want to do is be walking through a field with the safety off and your finger on the trigger.

So I swing my gun around and it goes off.

This image I have burned into my brain. This is years and years ago.

The pattern of pellets from my gun lays down the wheat in front of me just like an invisible giant foot had stepped on it. Just laid it down flat, and the "footprint" was pointed directly at my dad's business partner. I looked up from the footprint into the guy's face. He was just staring at me, widest eyes I've ever seen. After a brief pause, he just said my name -- without any emotion whatsoever. No scolding, no anger, nothing. Just... astonishment, really.

If my gun hadn't still been pointing mostly down, hadn't still been on its way up, I would have totally shot the guy.

I don't know what really happened after that. In my mind, what I remember is that I started crying, put the safety on my gun, walked back to the car and never went hunting again. That's how I finish the story in my memory, but I'm not sure how it really went and it's too late for me to check my facts with the parties involved.

It's a scary god-damned thing to almost shoot somebody with your shotgun. I can't imagine how much scarier it must be to actually shoot them.

I'm sure over the next few days we'll see signs of how upset Cheney is about this. I don't expect him to start bawling like a baby or anything like I did. I was only 12 or 13, after all. But I'm sure we'll see some sort of effect. You don't just accidentally shoot a guy and then say what a careful hunter you are.

I mean, come on. You shot the guy. How careful is that? Unless you are an idiot 12 year old like I was, you don't pull the trigger unless you know exactly what your gun is pointing at. The guy had an orange vest on, fer chrissake.

Okay, it was an accident. That's obvious. Here's another thing that's obvious. Accidents happen when people aren't careful.


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