WASHINGTON – Late night comedy stars are probably planning a slew of new jokes after news broke Sunday that Vice President Dick Cheney accidentally shot and injured a hunting buddy.
Harry Whittington, 78, was hunting quail with Cheney on Armstrong Ranch in south Texas when Cheney sprayed his friend in the face and chest with the birdshot from a 28-gauge shotgun. Birdshot disperses a spray of small pellets rather than a single larger shotgun round.
According to Armstrong, who is friends with both the Cheneys and the Whittingtons and set up the two for the hunting trip at her property, a group of hunters was traveling in a vehicle on the ranch when it spotted a covey of quail in the late afternoon.
Armstrong, who remained in the car, said Whittington shot a bird and went to look for it in the tall grass, while Cheney and a third hunter walked to another spot and found a second covey.
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 Associated Press.
Armstrong told FOX News that Cheney, thinking he was the last hunter on the right of the party, turned and fired at a quail. Whittington was standing 30 yards away on lower ground with the sun to his back. He was knocked to the ground, but not knocked out. All members of the hunting party were wearing blaze orange, she said.
"The vice president didn't see him," Amstrong told The AP. "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.
The shots "broke the skin," Armstrong said. "It knocked him silly. But he was fine. He was talking. His eyes were open. It didn't get in his eyes or anything like that."
The shooting was first reported by the Corpus Christi Caller-Times.
"It was just one of those things that unfortunately happens quite often when hunting," said Kathryn Garcia, who broke the news for the Caller-Times.
Armstrong said the vice president's emergency personnel team responded more quickly than she would have.
"Fortunately, the vice president has got a lot of medical people around him and so they were right there and probably more cautious than we would have been," she said. "The vice president has got an ambulance on call, so the ambulance came."
Texas Monthly Executive Editor Paul Burka told FOX News that the area where the men were hunting is well-removed from major medical centers, and the hospital in Corpus Christi is about 80-100 miles from the ranch, which is in the coastal south of Texas.
"The country down there is mostly brush, it's not open country at all, it's mesquite, cat claw, everything down there sticks or stings. So you're going through difficult country and you can't see for very large distances so it would be a situation where something like that would occur," Burka said.
Peter Banko, a spokesman for Christus Spohn Memorial Center said Whittington was brought in around 8:15 pm local time on Saturday night where he was treated by the trauma unit. He said Whittington is in stable condition, as he was when he arrived, and he is aware of no major injuries. Banko added that Whittington was alert when he saw him earlier in the day.
Cheney's spokeswoman, Lea Anne McBride, said the vice president visited with Whittington and his wife at the hospital on Sunday afternoon. After the visit, a vice presidential spokesman said Cheney is "pleased Mr Whittington is in good shape and good spirits."
Whittington sent word through a hospital official that he would have no comment on the incident out of respect for Cheney.
Armstrong said Cheney was very apologetic after the shot, held Whittington's face and cleaned up the blood.
"This is something that happens from time to time. You now, I've been peppered pretty well myself," said Armstrong.
The shooting is unlikely one of a dispute over politics as Burka said Whittington has strong Republican credentials. However, he is also known as an exemplary individual.
"He's the kind of person who when he got an appointment it wasn't because he was a crony but because he was somebody of extraordinary public service," Burka said.
Roll Call Executive Editor and FOX News contributor Mort Kondracke said since Whittington wasn't hurt badly, it's unlikely much damage would be done to Cheney's reputation as a politician or a hunter. He added that Americans are likely to be deluged with late-night jokes in the coming days.
"This will just play into 'Dick Cheney is a meanie kind of guy, but we didn't know that he shot people too.' That sort of thing, but all fun and games," Kondracke said.
Already heading down that path, Weekly Standard Editor Fred Barnes added that he didn't think the accident would serve as a distraction from Cheney's problems over the 2003 CIA leak and reports that his former chief of staff, I Lewis "Scooter" Libby testified Cheney permitted him to leak classified information from President Bush's daily briefing to justify war in Iraq.
Cheney was legally hunting with a license he purchased in November, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department spokesman Steve Lightfoot said. The vice president flew back to Washington on Sunday evening, according to his office.