Off target

Cheney’s bad shot sets an even worse example



It’s likely that Vice President Dick Cheney will never hear the end of the jokes about his shooting of his partner this week while hunting quail on a private ranch in Texas. And truth be told, some of them are hilarious—especially the spoofs in which mock-Cheney claims “faulty intelligence” led him to believe that Harry Whittington, the 78-year-old Texas millionaire lawyer he blasted with bird shot, was actually Osama bin Laden. But while East Coast pundits rail on about why the incident wasn’t reported immediately and why the White House deferred to the ranch owner to contact local media, those of us in the West, where hunting is part and parcel of our lives, find ourselves wondering what kind of example the vice president is setting for young hunters.

Surely we all remember that when Bush and Cheney were campaigning, they promised to restore “dignity and decorum” to the office. Of course they were referring to Bill Clinton’s sexual escapades with intern Monica Lewinsky—and his foolish and failed efforts to cover it up by lying to the American people. Like Cheney’s bird shot in Whittington’s face, however, Clinton’s DNA on Lewinsky’s dress proved beyond a doubt that, yes, President Clinton did indeed have “relations” with his White House intern.

But let’s get back to the issue at hand and take a look at what Cheney’s latest misadventure says about the vice president’s regard for the laws of the land. Right out of the chute, Cheney violated one of the first rules of hunting: You always get the proper license if you’re going hunting or fishing. Apparently Cheney, despite his unequaled access to the necessary resources, didn’t take the time to check out the requirements for quail hunting in Texas, or he would have found the law requires a new $7 stamp.

Then, as we now know, “accidents happened,” and Cheney’s hunting partner wound up in the intensive care unit while they plucked bird shot out of his face, neck and chest. While it is highly unlikely the vice president would ever have seen a game warden while hunting on a private ranch, once the shooting was reported, it was discovered that Cheney was hunting without the proper stamp, he was cited with a warning, and paid the seven bucks to the state’s wildlife agency.

To be fair, it’s worth noting that the bird stamp just went into effect last fall—hence the issuance of the warning instead of a fine. But then again, most people who hunt, especially those who hunt as much as the vice president, know that regulations change from year to year, and it’s our responsibility to know what’s required and to make sure we’re in compliance with the regulations and laws. Cheney didn’t.

And unfortunately, Cheney’s bad example doesn’t stop there. Right after knowing the regulations and having the proper license and/or permits comes the most basic of gun-safety rules: always know what you’re shooting at. Every year inexperienced hunters accidentally shoot each other because they “heard something rustling in the brush” and decided to blast away. The rules of hunting safety are unbending in this regard. If you can’t clearly see your target and what’s behind it, you absolutely do not take the shot.

The vice president, however, ignored this cardinal rule in his urge to blast a quail out of the air and pulled the trigger while his hunting partner was in the line of fire. Even worse—but perfectly in character for the Bush-Cheney White House—once the story was out and a cover-up became impossible, Cheney’s office tried to blame someone else. In this case, they said the fault lay not with the guy who did the shooting, but with the victim who “didn’t announce his presence” while standing behind Cheney.

Finally, there’s the question of taking responsibility for your own actions. Making a bad shot or losing a wounded animal is a terrible feeling. But it is incumbent upon all hunters to take responsibility for their actions and do their best to mitigate the mistake. If it means tracking into the night, so be it. If that means contacting wildlife officials to report that you shot a doe by mistake in the bucks-only area, that’s the way it goes. You pull the trigger, you take responsibility for what happens afterward.

But not Dick Cheney. After blasting his hunting partner and seeing him helicoptered off to intensive care, Cheney simply went into hiding. So here’s the guy who is arguably the second most powerful man on the globe, surrounded by his phalanx of Secret Service bodyguards, and he decides there’s no need to tell anyone how his bird shot came to be in his friend’s face.

Only when the owner of the ranch decided to release the news of the shooting, which didn’t happen until the next day, was the story told. And even then the story was issued not by the White House press corps, nor by the vice president’s own press secretary, but by a local newspaper sourcing a third party. Even worse, when wildlife law enforcement officials came to the ranch to interview Cheney about the incident, they were rebuffed by his Secret Service guards.

Given the fine example Vice President Cheney has set for the millions of young hunters in America, about the only thing that could vindicate him now is to fess up, take responsibility, and issue a full apology for his actions. That, however, may be some time in coming. In the meantime, Cheney’s disregard for the rules of responsibility remain in the public eye—further hurting the hunting tradition and setting the worst of examples for young hunters everywhere.

When not lobbying the Montana Legislature, George Ochenski is rattling the cage of the political establishment as a political analyst for the Independent. Contact Ochenski at


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