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Hunter in Stable Condition After Being Accidentally Shot by Cheney

Austin attorney Harry Whittington was recovering Monday in a Corpus Christi hospital after getting peppered with birdshot by Vice President Dick Cheney.

Cheney, who accidentally shot his companion during a weekend quail hunting trip in south Texas, was back at the White House Monday morning while Whittington, 78, was said to be in stable condition, according to Christus Spohn Hospital Memorial spokesman Peter Banko.

"The patient rested well last night and was joking with staff this morning," Banko said, adding that because of Whittington's age, he was kept in the hospital's intensive care unit for a second night.

Hospital spokeswoman Yvonne Wheeler said Whittington had a "a great night. He slept throughout the night." She didn't say if Whittington would be discharged on Monday.

Whittington was flown to the hospital after Cheney accidentally shot him late Saturday afternoon at the Armstrong Ranch, which is owned by Katharine Armstrong.

According to Armstrong, who is friends with both the Cheneys and the Whittingtons and set up the two for the hunting trip on 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.

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 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.

"Mr. Whittington decided to join them. He came up from behind the other two hunters, and unfortunately, he did not announce to the hunters he was there and trying to join the line," Armstrong said. "The vice persident and other hunter believed that Whittington was 200 yards away, when, in fact, he was 30 yards and behind the line."

The vice president's medical team, which travels with him, immediately treated Whittington, who was hit on the right side of his face, neck and chest. An ambulance rushed him to the hospital, which is about 80 miles away.

The vice president's 28-gauge shotgun fired birdshot, which disperses a spray of small pellets rather than a single larger shotgun round, Armstrong said.

"It's important to understand when you're shooting a shotgun, you're talking about a shell that has a lot of pellets. They look like BBs, but they're smaller than BBs, and when you spray, you have a spray of little pellets that move through the air and that's what hit him," she said.

The vice president visited Whittington and his wife before returning to Washington on Sunday. Cheney "was pleased to see that he's doing fine and in good spirits," said Cheney spokeswoman Lea Anne McBride.

Whittington sent word through a hospital official that he would have no comment on the incident out of respect for Cheney.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said President Bush was informed about the incident on Saturday evening. The president received updates on Sunday, however, he and the vice president did not speak.

Asked why Armstrong had to reveal that Cheney shot a man rather than the White House releasing the information to the press corps, McClellan said the vice president wanted to make sure Whittington was getting the treatment he needed.

The very first priority was making sure Mr. Whittington was alright," said McClellan, who added that the press corps wasn't traveling with Cheney during his weekend trip.

McClellan added that "additional information was coming to light" into the middle of Saturday night. He said Armstrong and Cheney agreed that she would notify the local press. The Corpus Christi Caller-Times first broke the story.

The Armstrong ranch has been in the influential south Texas family since the turn of the last century. Katharine is the daughter of Tobin Armstrong, a politically connected rancher who has been a guest at the White House and spent 48 years as director of the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association. He died in October. Cheney was among the dignitaries who attended his funeral.

"The Armstrong ranch is one of the legendary ranches of Texas. It was founded by an old Texas ranger about a century ago," said Texas Monthly Executive Editor Paul Burka, explaining that the 50,000-acre ranch is equivalent to 80 square miles. "If you like quail hunting, that's the place to do it."

It's not the first time a member of the Bush administration has had a hunting mishap. In 1994, during George Bush's campaign for Texas governor, Bush took the Texas press corps out hunting in an effort to demonstrate his bona fides as a real Texan. He got more than he bargained for when he shot a bird that was on the endangered species list. Bush reported the incident to a local game warden and paid a $130 fine.

Cheney was legally hunting with a license he purchased in November, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department spokesman Steve Lightfoot said. Armstrong said Cheney is an avid hunter, an excellent shot and safety conscious.

FOX News' Kelly Wright and The Associated Press contributed to this report.