February 17, 2006

The Quail on the Grassy Knoll, Part 3

Harry Whittington did something today that confounded millions. He apologized:

"This past weekend encompassed all of us in a cloud of misfortune and a sadness that is not easy to explain, especially to those who are not familiar with the great sport of quail hunting," said Austin attorney Harry Whittington, who was discharged from the hospital Friday. "We all assume certain risks in whatever we do ... accidents do and will happen and that's what happened."

He added: "My family and I are deeply sorry for all Vice President Cheney and his family had to deal with this week. ...We hope he will continue to come to Texas and seek the relaxation he deserves."

Once upon a time, such an honorable speech would have been notable. In these days, however, honor seems hardly understood.

Harry Whittington and Dick Cheney both made mistakes one week ago that ended with the Vice President felling his Whittington in the Texas brush country. Many experts - some real, some imagined - hold the Vice President solely responsible for accident. This is not right, as hunters - all hunters - have a responsibility to know where their companions are and should be, and this lack of knowledge not only led to Cheney shooting Whittington, it put Whittington in a position where he could be shot.

Luckily, both men survived with a harsh lesson learned. In this sue-happy culture, some expect and even hope for a lawsuit because personal responsibility is not something they understand. Harry Whittington could sue and would probably win in court, but as a sportsman afield, he understands that he bears at least partial responsibility for his wounds, as Cheny bears the other part. As the media and the ever-aghast howl about non-existant conspiracies, there is something about honor and personal responsibility to be learned from this tragedy.

* * *

Tying Up Loose Ends
As for the many conspiracy theories floated, most were “reality-based,” but far from having any basis in reality. Of those potential theories that did appear even slightly plausible, only two seemed worth exploring because of apparent discrepancies between different versions of stories told by actors in this series of event at one time or another.

The first item of interest was the question of shot size. While pundits right and left proved their basic firearms illiteracy by not knowing the difference between buckshot and birdshot, a more subtle question emerged when it was stated by the attending physician that Harry Whittington suffered a very minor heart attack as the result of a pellet traveling through his bloodstream and stopping in his heart. The doctor claimed that the pellet was "roughly 5mm" in size.

While inconsequential to most, I knew that the #7/ 1/2 shells fired by the Vice President do not contain pellets nearly that size, and after a little bit of digging, determined that the size shot claimed by the doctor isn't even made for the relatively uncommon 28-gauge cartridge favored by the vice president. Obviously there was a discrepancy here, as lead pellets don't grow.

The shot size issue has faded away, and profile pictures of Mr. Whittington today clearly show various small wounds that indicate he could not have been hit by the large-caliber “roughly 5mm” shot the hospital original claimed, putting this inconsistency to rest as a mistake in estimating shot size on the X-ray.

The second question was a question of position, which I will readily acknowledge that after reading various conflicting accounts, I still cannot claim to understand. All accounts I've read establish the Vice President as being on the far right side of the group of hunters, but accounts vary as to whether he tracked the quail left or right on the way to firing the shot that hit Harry Whittington.

I still don't understand all the details, but the Kenedy County Sheriff's Department investigators on the scene surveyed the accident site, and felt informed enough to close the case. That they and the victim are in agreement makes me feel comfortable with the outcome even if I don't get it.

* * *

When all is said and done, this was a horrible accident brought about by a lack of communication and situational awareness between two hunters. Hopefully, both men with learn from this and recover to enjoy the sport the both of them and so many others obviously enjoy so much. If we are very lucky, other hunters will learn from this near tragedy as well.

The Quail on the Grassy Knoll

The Quail on the Grassy Knoll, Part 2

Posted by Confederate Yankee at February 17, 2006 10:01 PM | TrackBack

As far as these things go, are you sure some of the shot couldn't have hit bone and spread? X-rays are 2d after all- no way to tell between a streched pellet and an intact one.

Posted by: Jeremy Nimmo at February 18, 2006 02:00 AM

A very valid question, Jeremy, but the doctor stated (I wish I could find the exact quote) that the pellet in his heart wasn't in any danger of hurting him further because it was not sharp. That would seem to suggest that it held it's shape and did not deform.

Posted by: Confederate Yankee at February 18, 2006 09:03 AM

I still would like to know the shell maker's brand-name. Bismuth makes 28 gauge shells up to #4. As far as hunting accidents are concerned, my father was an avid duck and goose hunter, and I grew up going out with him and his WW11 buddies setting up blinds on long island sound. One time another hunter (not of our group) shot my next door neighbor. It was nothing serious, the only shot that penetrated the skin was in his face and neck and was picked-out and band-aids applied. The shooting victim only required that the shooter pay his medical expenses, and stay the hell away from his blind for the rest of his natural life! I miss the good old days of the WW11 veterans; who needs so many lawyers!

Posted by: Tom TB at February 18, 2006 09:19 AM

look at the photo.These are very shall shot holes, consistant with the #7 1/2s Cheney was shooting.

Posted by: Confederate Yankee at February 18, 2006 09:21 AM

I don't think your analysis is correct CY. I took a birdshot shell in the arm at 5-10 ft, and it obliterated my upper armbone (since healed). I mean it was totally gone. However, none of the 150+ bb's still in my arm are sharp. One worked it's way to the surface, and appeared to me to be solid lead, since it was so soft (could be wrong though).

Strangely enough, lead poisoning is not an issue to the doctors, though I don't understand why (that's a heads up in case someone starts speaking on long-term damage). Also strangely, I can make it through airport metal detectors unchallenged every time.

Posted by: Kevin at February 18, 2006 10:35 AM

CY, if I may propose a modification of your positional reconstruct that might explain how Whittington got hit in the right side and yet was still to the right of Cheney?

Assume Whittington wasn't stationary when he was hit. He approaches Cheney from the right rear, sees where Cheney is and what he's doing, and decides to move to the center rear between Cheney and Willeford, correctly figuring that this will put him in a position less likely to get fired upon. He turns to his left and begins walking, perhaps angling a bit more to the rear to increase his distance. At that moment, the quail flushes. The rest of your reconstruct is just fine, it's just that Whittington isn't facing dead ahead, he's facing full left, exposing the right side of his body to Cheney's direction of fire.

What'cha think?

Posted by: Ric James at February 18, 2006 11:18 AM


Sorry about your injuries, that must have been a horrible experience, Still when shooting something with as light a mass as #7 1/2 shot, there is a massive difference in velocity from 10 feet to 90 feet.

I've been dove hunting on public field hunts twice, and all total between those two hunts, I was peppered or near peppered probably by no less than four or five hunters (explaining why I don't dove hunt any more). Luckily, we were all spaced 50-60 yards apart, and so it was more like being pelted with BB guns. When it comes to shotguns shooting field loads, distance adds (relative) safety.


Your scenario works for me.

Posted by: Confederate Yankee at February 18, 2006 12:57 PM