BB’s have gotten a lot of press recently.

Daisy Outdoor Products announced last week the 120th anniversary of its celebrated Red Ryder BB gun. And Vice President Dick Cheney, who probably started his hunting career as a kid like the rest of us, with a Red Ryder air rifle, accidentally peppered a hunting companion with birdshot during a quail hunt in Texas.

As expected, the media, which never seemed to warm to Mr. Cheney and doesn’t seem to know a 12 gauge from a 30-30, is having a field day. First reports had the injured hunter hit with “buckshot.” Cheney is identified repeatedly on the news as “the shooter,” which makes the Vice President sound like a Texas serial killer.

Talk show hosts and late-night TV comics are milking this for all its worth. What seems to be escaping most reporters is that this was an unfortunate accident. If Al Gore had put a golfing buddy in the hospital with an errant three wood off the Pebble Beach fairway, there would be expressions of sympathy from media. Nothing like that for Cheney, who is even being accused of covering up his mistake.

Reasonable people, especially sportsmen who have hunted upland game birds, are not chortling. If you hunt enough birds or ducks in your life, you will eventually run into a hunter who has taken a BB or two. That is why gun safety practitioners emphasize the importance of shooting glasses. Cheney’s buddy is fortunate that he didn’t lose an eye. Back in the duck-hunting heydays of Merrymeeting Bay, opening day was invariably risky. Being rained upon by free-falling loads of No.4’s from across the bay was not that unusual. A few years ago, while fueling my garden tractor one Saturday in October, a shotgun report from my back 40 was followed by a charge of bird shot that splattered on my garage roof and dribbled off the eaves and down upon my baseball cap like heavy hailstones.

“Hey,” I yelled into a faceless woods, “what the hell are you doing?”

To my surprise, a hunter responded, worked his way to me, and apologized profusely. Accidents do happen, whether on the golf course or in a grouse cover. But the nature of upland gamebird hunts make for split-second shot decisions. Gunners who don’t maintain a constant awareness of the big picture before the bird flushes will get in trouble sooner or later. From the news accounts of the Cheney incident, it sounds like the classic hunting accident scenario in which two participants both made errors in judgment, the lines of happenstance connected, and BANG!, an accident.

Some states get tough, justifiably so, on sportsmen involved in gun accidents afield. License revocation and mandatory hunter safety courses are often imposed. Regardless of Texas law, it wouldn’t hurt for both Dick Cheney and Harry Wittington to sign up for a hunting safety refresher course. In fact, it wouldn’t hurt any sportsman, no matter how woods-seasoned or gun savvy, to take a hunting safety refresher course.

What remains to be seen, once the hapless quail hunt is long forgotten, is whether the Vice President will continue to hunt pheasants in South Dakota and ducks in Arkansas, or will he put his hobby on hold until retirement from public life? I hope not. As for Mr. Wittington, doctors say he should fully recover from his BB bruises (and a mild heart attack). The Austin attorney will have some tall stories to tell his hunt buddies and his grandkids. It isn’t everyone who gets to share a quail covert with the second most powerful man in the world. Or have the scars to prove it.

V. Paul Reynolds is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal. His e-mail address is [email protected]


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