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BLOOMINGTON - The hunting accident involving Vice President Dick Cheney may not add ammunition to the debate over guns, but both sides hope the incident helps underscore the need for hunter safety.

"Make sure of your target and what is beyond," said Richard Pearson, executive director of the Chatsworth-based Illinois State Rifle Association, quoting an oft-said phrase at hunter safety classes. "It applies to the vice president and everyone on down."

"We encourage people to be safe and responsible," added Thomas Mannard, executive director of the Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence, based in Chicago.

"It can happen so fast," said Larry Dowden, a longtime hunter safety educator in McLean County. "In some ways, it may make the issue more visible when someone like this has a problem. It's another opportunity for people to stop and think and plan what they are doing."

Cheney was hunting quail on a ranch in Texas on Saturday with two other hunters, including Harry Whittington, 78, a major Republican contributor and fund-raiser. Ranch owner Katharine Armstrong said Whittington retrieved a bird he shot and then came from behind to rejoin the group when Cheney and the other hunter flushed a covey of quail.

Cheney sighted a bird, followed it and fired his 28-gauge shotgun, hitting Whittington from about 30 yards away.

Whittington was listed as stable in a Texas hospital on Monday.

Pearson said he was once "peppered" in a similar incident when a hunter turned while firing at a pheasant. Pearson was not injured.

But, he said, that type of mishap stems from a common mistake when hunters are unaware of the location of other hunters and shoot at birds that are flying low, he said. Hunters should be sure never to fire at an angle less than 30 degrees to the ground, he said.

"It's possible it could add fuel to the fire (over gun control)," Mannard said, though his organization will not be among groups who might capitalize on the accident. "There is a lot of difference between a young child who found a gun left out on the bed stand by one of his parents who shoots himself or a sibling accidentally and the accident involving the vice president. Risks are inherent (in hunting). - It's unfortunate, but I can say for our organization I would not want to jump on the band wagon (to use the incident to push for greater control on hunters.)"


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