I had a friend who got shot in the face while hunting.
Luckily, I didn't see it. I heard the shot, heard the scream and ran toward the sound.
My friend lived, but never recovered, not to the way he was. Having looked into the eyes of the 16-year-old shooter, I can't believe his life returned to normal.
I have been in the woods hundreds of times since then during hunting season for work and pleasure. It hasn't been the same.
Dick Cheney should never take a gun into the field again.
I don't say that lightly. Being out in the woods is a joy. It is a privilege.
But Cheney abused that privilege. He violated a cardinal rule, just as that teenager in New Hampshire did more than two decades ago.
Simply put, you don't shoot unless you know what's beyond the target.
The Cheney story has been told countless times, but in case you just tuned in ...
Briefly, one of the vice president's hunting partners, Harry Whittington, brought down a bird and went to look for it in tall grass. Cheney and others walked on. As Cheney turned to shoot a bird, Whittington came up from behind and absorbed a load of shot.
Now, I don't give a lick whether the veep and his staff notified the Washington media in a timely fashion. That's for the Sunday morning gas bags to pick over. Cheney and his party got Whittington help and informed law enforcement. That's the important stuff.
But this could have been Cheney's teachable moment. He could have 'fessed up right away, described the mistake and talked about the importance of hunter safety classes.
In a society increasingly intolerant of hunting, that would have been a class move worthy of a national leader.
Instead, Cheney went to the bunker for several days and allowed all sorts of folks to pick over the details. In the vacuum, some Capitol Hill cronies had the gall to blame Whittington for putting his face in the path of Cheney's birdshot.
Finally, when the White House smoke-and-mirrors guys realized that Deadeye Dick was dragging down the agenda - whatever that is - the vice president went on television. Having stopped Whittington's bleeding, it was time to halt the political variety.
"I'm the guy who pulled the trigger that fired the round that hit Harry. You can talk about all of the other conditions that exist at the time, but that's the bottom line, and it was not Harry's fault," Cheney said in a Fox News interview. "You can't blame anybody else. I'm the guy who pulled the trigger and shot my friend."
Some folks are trying to cut the vice president some slack: Mistakes happen, he learned his lesson, he has suffered enough.
This isn't the first time that Cheney has acted like nature exists for his pleasure (OK, and maybe for the profit of his oil baron friends).
In 2003, the Second Hunter and nine friends killed 417 farm-raised pheasants during a one-day hunt at a private game club in Ligonier, Pa.
News reports said 500 birds were released within blasting distance of Deadeye Dick, who personally ended the lives of about 70 in a display of poor sportsmanship unmatched since Roberto Alomar spit in the face of umpire John Hirschbeck.
The birds, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, were released from hills on the 10,000-acre farm while Cheney and Co. hunkered in blinds below, ready to blast them from the sky. Birds that made it to cover were flushed by dogs, a clear violation of double-jeopardy laws. Of course, those only apply to humans.
Members of the Cheney party were exempt from state game laws because they were on private property. They apparently also were exempt from any consideration of hunting ethics.
When asked last week in the TV interview whether he would continue hunting, Cheney said he'd ponder it.
"The season is ending," he said. "I'm going to let some time pass over it and think about the future."
Step away from the gun, Dick, and no one else gets hurt.