Cheney Hunting Accident Spotlights Safety Issues

Hunters in groups increase chances of mishaps, expert says

MONDAY, Feb. 13, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- As the White House continued to deflect questions about why it took 24 hours to acknowledge that Vice President Dick Cheney had wounded a companion during a weekend quail-hunting trip, all involved agreed it was an unfortunate accident.

And though not commonplace, such accidents can -- and do -- happen, experts say.

"There are about 700 nonfatal hunting accidents each year in the United States and Canada," said Jim Wentz, a spokesman for the International Hunter Education Association. "In addition, there are about 75 fatal hunting accidents each year. That's out of the 15.7 million people who hunt."

On Saturday, Cheney wounded another hunter in his party -- Harry Whittington, a 78-year-old Texas lawyer and Republican fundraiser -- while they were pursuing quail at a south Texas ranch.

The mishap is being chalked up to carelessness on Whittington's part, and a case of a hunter concentrating on his target -- in this case a bird as it was flushed from cover and started to fly off.

Fortunately for Whittington, the ammunition used in quail hunting is small pellets that spray over a wide area at low velocity and lose momentum fairly quickly.

Cheney was using a 28-gauge shotgun, and Whittington was about 30 yards away when he was shot, the Associated Press reported.

At last report, Whittington was recovering from wounds to his neck, shoulder and chest at Christus Spohn Hospital Memorial in Corpus Christi, Texas.

According to Katharine Armstrong, the owner of the ranch where the accident occurred, the hunters were wearing bright orange vests. Whittington had gone to retrieve a bird he had shot as Cheney and a third hunter walked to another spot and discovered a second covey of quail.

Whittington "came up from behind the vice president and the other hunter and didn't signal them or indicate to them or announce himself," Armstrong told the AP. "The vice president didn't see him. The covey flushed, and the vice president picked out a bird and was following it and shot. And by god, Harry was in the line of fire and got peppered pretty good."

Wentz explained that the tiny pellets used in quail hunting "drop energy fast. If you get sprayed at 50 yards with quail pellets it would probably sting and that would be about it," he added.

Quail hunting accounts for about 26 accidents yearly, Wentz said. "In areas where you have bird hunting and groups of hunters together, accidents are more prevalent than in areas where it is primarily deer hunting or big game hunting, and people aren't shooting at flying targets," he said.

According to Wentz, in Texas, there were 35 hunting accidents in 2002, the last year for which data are available.

The most common causes of hunting accidents, according to Wentz, include: failing to correctly identify a target; careless handling of the firearm; the victim being out of the shooter's line of sight; the victim moving into the line of fire; the shooter stumbling and falling; and failing to check beyond the target.

Meanwhile, the White House press corps continued to ask why it took Bush administration officials 24 hours to acknowledge that the vice president had shot someone while on the hunting trip.

At a press briefing Monday, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said, "You know what [the vice president's] first reaction was? His first reaction was: Go to Mr. Whittington and get his team in there to provide him medical care."

More information

The American College of Emergency Physicians can tell you more about safe hunting.

SOURCES: Jim Wentz, spokesman, International Hunter Education Association, Wellington, Colorado; Associated Press
Consumer News