Hunters generally consider quail hunting safe — at least for humans — despite the negative stigma attached to it by Vice President Dick Cheney’s shooting accident Saturday. Cheney accidentally shot his hunting companion, Austin attorney Harry Whittington, in the face, neck and chest with birdshot while hunting on a private ranch in south Texas.
Whittington, 78, remained hospitalized in Corpus Christi, Texas, on Tuesday.
The only reason the hunting trip has generated international headlines is because of Cheney, said Bill Lagusis, range manager for Rio Salado Sportsmen’s Club in Mesa.
“People have accidents. What’s the big deal?” he asked.
“Just like there’s automobile accidents, motorcycle accidents, bowling accidents, fishing accidents. I don’t know why the media is making such a big deal out of this thing,” Lagusis said. “If it had been my brother hunting with my cousin and he was accidentally shot, would there have been anything said about it? No. It’s still a man with another man hunting and there was an accident.”
Serious accidents are uncommon among Arizona hunters, according to the Department of Game and Fish.
Last year, the state issued 72,000 general hunting licenses, which permit quail hunting.
Yet, there were just three reported hunting accidents last year. Two involved selfinflicted wounds, none was fatal and none involved quail hunting, said Anthony Chavez, the department’s shooting sports coordinator.
Overall, hunting accidents have been decreasing. The state recorded three hunting accidents each year since 2002 after logging eight accidental shootings in 2001, he said.
The most recent fatality occurred in 2002 when an elk hunter fatally shot another in northern Arizona, Chavez said.
Every hunter should follow basic safety rules, he said. Among important protocol:
• Enroll in a hunter safety course.
• Don’t hunt in cities, where hunting is illegal anyway.
• Know what’s behind targets.
• Keep guns unloaded until ready to shoot.
• Always treat firearms as if they’re loaded.
• Always point weapons in safe directions.
“Whenever something happens or one of those is forgotten, then you always want to make sure you come back to those safety rules,” Chavez said.
Quail present a somewhat unusual hazard for hunters. They are “flushing” birds, meaning they fly near the ground where other hunters can find themselves in the crossfire, Chavez said.
“The bird is going to stand still as long as he can, until he feels threatened, then he’s going to flush or take off,” he said.
In contrast, doves and ducks generally fly high overhead, meaning less risk of hunters shooting each other.
Chavez is unfamiliar with details of Cheney’s accident. However, he said all hunters should be aware of their settings.
“If you follow the hunter safety rules and you know exactly what you’re doing as far as you know what your target is and what is beyond your target, it will minimize any accidents,” he said.
Adherence to safety protocol would have prevented all three of last year’s Arizona hunting accidents.
In one instance, a deer hunter was uncasing his gun when it discharged in the cab of his truck. A bullet fragment lodged in his leg. No further details were immediately available Tuesday, Chavez said.
In another case, an elk hunter accidentally shot himself in the ankle.
In the final instance, a hunter accidentally shot another person not wearing a bright orange hunting vest.
Cheney apparently wasn’t as certain as he should have been about what was beyond his target, said David Hoyle, president of the Chandler Rod and Gun Club, a familyoriented organization with about 300 members.
Cheney might have gotten caught up in the moment, Hoyle said.
“You just have to react so fast and things can happen so fast and you’ve just got to be absolutely sure where that muzzle is and where you’re pointing it and what’s down range,” he said.
Fatal hunting accidents are so infrequent in Arizona, the state Department of Health Services does not keep specific statistics for them, said Christopher Mrela, assistant registrar of vital statistics.
The most common causes of accidental deaths are motor vehicle collisions, drug overdoses and exposure to either heat or cold, he said. Accidental gun deaths are less frequent.
There are more than 800 shooting deaths in Arizona every year, but they rarely involve hunting accidents, said Mrela, who has compiled death statistics for more than 19 years.
“Arizonans tend to kill themselves using firearms. The No. 1 use of firearms in the state of Arizona is suicide. The second one is assault, homicide. Accidents account for a tiny fraction,” Mrela said.
“Arizonans don’t make mistakes in the use of firearms, evidently. They use them on purpose,” he said.