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Be a man, Cheney

Be a man. You shot a guy.

That would be my unsolicited advice for Vice President Dick Cheney.

You shot a guy. At least stay in town until he's out of the hospital.

You shot a guy. Don't blame the sun or the wind or the rotation of the Earth. And for goodness' sake, don't blame Harry Whittington.

He's the guy you shot, and unless he pulled the trigger himself, it wasn't his fault. Unless he was invisible, it wasn't his fault. And it wasn't his fault that he didn't "announce his presence," either. He was supposedly 30 yards behind you. His only fault was being a human being standing on two legs.

He's in the hospital. You're in Washington. And others are making excuses for you.

You shot the guy.

I've been hit with pellets, and it felt like a swarm of bees coming upside my head. I didn't spend several days in the hospital. I've picked shot out of other people sitting on the tailgate of a pickup, and they didn't even have to go to the doctor. They went back out hunting.

They got peppered. Whittington got shot. By you.

As somebody who's shot a hole in the floorboard of his own pickup with a shotgun load and gone jelly-legged and speechless at the horror of that puff of smoke curling up inside the truck, I know exactly how easily the gun goes off when it shouldn't. I can't go holier-than-thou on the vice president's accident. That would be ignoring the reality of human beings afield with firearms. It happens.

Hunters know the truth. We've all done it. We've all gotten away with a moment of carelessness, usually with no more damage than a silent prayer and a promise never to make that mistake again. But most of us don't have to go public with our mistakes.

Hunters assume a huge responsibility every time they pick up a shotgun. For knowing whether a particular bird is a mallard hen or a mottled duck or whether it's a killdeer and not a mourning dove. (See previous presidential shootings.)

They also assume the responsibility for being as safe as possible and knowing where the gun is pointed.

All is not lost here, though. Cheney can use the opportunity to make a strong statement for hunting safety, for wearing hunter orange behind bird dogs, for honesty. It would mean a lot to youngsters, and to everyday guys who make the same mistake, that the vice president didn't try to shuffle the blame onto someone else.

Stand up. Take responsibility. Be a man. You shot a guy.

Mike Leggett is the American-Statesman's outdoors writer. His e-mail address is

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