Okay, in response to my question below, I've gotten a slew of emails from hunters, many of them from Texas and longtime hunters of doves or quail. So let me try to summarize what they've said. Because, while the emphases are different, they all come back to the same basic points.
(ed.note: You hunters already know this information. So I'm going to try to take what I've heard and learned and summarize it in laymen's terms as best as I can.)
First, needless to say, hunting accidents happen. This may be particularly the case with quail hunting since the prey can rise into the air suddenly and unexpectedly and you're hunting in groups. So you have a lot of variables in play.
That said, one point that comes through really clearly from everyone is that when you're hunting and you hit a person -- that's your fault. Period. End of story. Outside of extreme cases of negligence or self-destructive behavior on the part of the victim, it's not his fault. You're responsible, as the shooter, for knowing no person is in your line of fire before you pull the trigger. So this stuff about Whittington being at fault for the accident just doesn't wash for any of the hunters we've heard from.
The other point that comes through in the emails we've received is that most of our emailers seem to have a pretty clear idea what happened here, based on the description provided in the AP article. Some find the facts as described improbable; but most seem to have a general sense what happened.
Again, I'll try to explain what's been described to me using laymen's terms.
You're out hunting for quail with a small group of people. For basic safety purposes you keep a clear mental picture of where your fellow hunters are at every moment. Based on that mental picture of where people are, you create a safe fire area, a range in front of you covering some number of degrees where you know no one else is.
Things can get chaotic and excited when a bunch of birds (I'll just try, as a blanket matter, not to use the jargon) come into range or rise up. But if you don't shoot outside that safe fire zone, then everyone should be safe.
Now, if you read the description provided by Katharine Armstrong, the Bush-Cheney fundraiser on whose 'ranch' this happened, what she seems to describe is this: The birds 'flush'. Cheney picks out a bird and starts following it. In the process he basically wheels around doing a 180. So he's spun around and is now firing backwards relative to the direction he had been facing. And Whittington was just, for whatever reason, where Cheney didn't expect him to be.
Now, this happens. One TPM Reader actually describes watching the same thing happen to his father-in-law. But when it happens it's a matter or carelessness and/or recklessness on the part of the shooter and it involves ignores some of the most basic rules of gun safety.
So, from the information available, Cheney screwed up -- a relatively common hunting accident, based (as most accidents are) by not following basic safety guidelines and being careless. Trying to blame it on the guy who got shot just doesn't wash.
Late Update: On the other hand, Mary Matalin told the WaPo: "The vice president was concerned. He felt badly, obviously. On the other hand, he was not careless or incautious or violate any of the [rules]. He didn't do anything he wasn't supposed to do."