If you shoot somebody when you’re hunting, it’s your fault. Period. When you’re holding a gun, the margin of error is pretty slim (though it’s wider with birdshot than with a deer rifle). This means it’s fundamentally your responsibility where your pellets end up. Josh Marshall backs us up on this with feedback from his hunter-readers. The description from (landowner) Armstrong as paraphrased by Marshall sounds right:
The birds ‘flush’. Cheney picks out a bird and starts following it. In the process he basically wheels around doing a 180. So he’s spun around and is now firing backwards relative to the direction he had been facing. And Whittington was just, for whatever reason, where Cheney didn’t expect him to be.
Which is irrelevant or a lie. Cheney was in a group trying to flush birds, and that means you can’t assume someone isn’t behind you. “Doing a 180” means you need to be very, very, very careful, since that means you have or will end up facing your fellow hunters.
The comments provided by Mary Matalin are clearly just more Republican lies:
The vice president was concerned. He felt badly, obviously. On the other hand, he was not careless or incautious or violate any of the [rules]. He didn’t do anything he wasn’t supposed to do.
We don’t doubt that Cheney feels bad. He should. The reason he should, though, is that he did do something “he wasn’t supposed to do;” he didn’t keep his field of fire clear. He behaved carelessly. And as a result, somebody’s in the hospital. He’s very lucky — as is Whittington, who could easily been killed; we suspect his injuries are more serious than they’re letting on, though, since he’s in ICU. Hunting accidents are no means unheard of (though in a lifetime of hunting, we’ve never seen it happen), but when one does happen, an honorable man admits his fault — as he does with any accident. So our takeaway with the Cheney shooting is that, well, he’s not admitting fault. Make of this what you will.
Update: CNN has a bit more data. Apparently Whittington was about 30 yards away, and Cheney was shooting a 28-gauge. If true, these bits of data taken together suggest there wasn’t much danger of Whittington’s injuries being fatal (though, as we said, only one pellet needs to get lucky).
A 28 is <b>very</b> small. Most hunters just carry the all-purpose 12-gauge, which (when paired with the right load) can take anything from whitetail deer down to small game like quail or rabbit. Smaller shotguns (16, 20, 28, and .410) use progressively smaller amounts of powder paired with fewer pellets per load. Some people use 20s for birds or other small game -- they are lighter guns, and the recoil is easier to take -- but only very rich people carry 28s. There are no "utility" 28s like the $200 shotguns most of Red America buys at Wal-Mart. These are exclusively hand-made or hand-finished guns, probably over-and-unders, with price tags to match (more than $1,500 certainly; more than $10,000 isn't unheard of). Traditional American shotgun companies don't even make them; you have to go to Beretta or other high-end manufacturers.
That Whittington is apparently doing well (and never even lost consciousness, according to the story above) is the result of the small loads involved, his distance from Cheney (30 yards is a long way for a shotgun; it's hard to take any game at that range), the small gauge of the gun, and good luck.