February 14, 2006
By Nicholas Riccardi and James Gerstenzang, Times Staff Writers
CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas - Although he was not cited with breaking any
laws, Vice President Dick Cheney did not have proper hunting credentials
when he accidentally shot a fellow hunter at a private ranch over the
weekend, authorities said Monday.
Cheney, an experienced outdoorsman who had a valid out-of-state
hunting license, will receive a formal warning for failing to purchase
the required $7 stamp for bird hunting, the Texas Parks and Wildlife
Department said in a statement. The stamp is a new requirement, and the
department has issued verbal warnings to hunters, who were apparently
unaware that they needed it.
The vice president's office said in a statement Monday night that his
staffers had not known about the stamp requirement and that Cheney had
sent a check to Texas to cover the cost.
The accident occurred on a ranch Saturday when the vice president
wheeled to shoot at a covey of quail and accidentally sprayed his
hunting partner, 78-year-old lawyer Harry Whittington, with shotgun
pellets, authorities said.
Whittington, who is being treated for head injuries, was moved out of
intensive care at a hospital here Monday and was reported to be in good
"This was a hunting accident," said Gilbert San Miguel, chief deputy
of the Kennedy County Sheriff's Office. "There was no alcohol or
But the incident has reverberated worldwide: "Cheney Bags a Lawyer"
was the headline in the Herald of Glasgow, Scotland.
And it has forced a White House already under fire for secrecy to
explain why it made no mention of the shooting until the ranch owner
disclosed it to a local newspaper, 18 hours after the incident.
White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan said Monday that the
"first priority was making sure that Harry Whittington . was getting the
medical care that he needed. And I think that's where everybody's
attention should have been focused, and was focused, when the hunting
accident took place."
Still, McClellan deflected the blame away from the vice president,
noting that Whittington left the hunt line to retrieve a downed quail
and was approaching Cheney from behind.
"The protocol was not followed by Mr. Whittington when it came to
notifying the others that he was there," McClellan said. "And so, you
know, unfortunately these type of hunting accidents happen from time to
But hunting experts said that although Whittington should have made
his location clear, the vice president should have been keeping track of
"You're hunting together; you need to know where everyone is," said
Lawrence G. Keane, general counsel of the National Shooting Sports
Jeff Hart, an Austin lawyer who hunts quail in Texas, said: "If you
pull the trigger, you're responsible for it, no matter what.. In
hunting, the shooter is responsible for knowing where the shot is going.
That's the bottom line."
Cheney - known for having testy relations with the media - on Monday
came under criticism from Democrats and Republicans who said the White
House should have disclosed the incident immediately.
"It's news, and it reflects an attitude in this White House of
holding back information, of being too clever by half and being
secretive," columnist Robert Novak said on Fox News.
"On the face of it, this looks like something the administration felt
the public had no right to know," Joe Lockhart, who was President
Clinton's press secretary, said in an interview. "I don't think there's
going to be a bunch of people sitting around saying: 'I wonder why they
waited to tell us.' But what they will be saying is: 'I wonder what else
they're not telling us.' "
Whittington, a prominent Austin lawyer, and the vice president
arrived for a weekend hunting trip Friday night at the 50,000-acre
Armstrong Ranch, a well-known retreat for wealthy Texas Republicans 95
miles southwest of Corpus Christi.
The party of 11 hunters set out in two trucks Saturday morning,
driving around the mesquite-dotted property and shooting quail until
about 12:30 p.m., said Anne Armstrong, co-owner of the ranch. Then they
broke for a lunch of antelope, jicama salad and camp bread, washed down
with Dr. Pepper.
After lunch, the group split up. Cheney, Whittington and Pamela
Pitzer Willeford, U.S. ambassador to Switzerland, went with two of
Armstrong's daughters and pursued quail for several more hours. It was
at dusk that Whittington shot a bird and went to retrieve it, taking him
behind the vice president.