Dead as a ring-neck pheasant

Note to all Audubon Society recruiters: Save a stamp and cross our vice president off your mailing list.

This seems like an exceedingly safe call to make after reading a recent story about Dick Cheney and nine of his buddies getting together at a hunting ranch in Pennsylvania to blow off some steam, do a little shooting, maybe have a hilarious towel fight in the sauna, etc., etc., etc. OK, that’s all swell and good, and I don’t begrudge anyone in a high-level, high-stress position the opportunity to take a break from the grind now and then for some therapeutic R ’n’ R. But the item in the story that made it obvious that ole Dick is not a great candidate for Audubon membership was the tally of birds killed by Cheney and his crew that day. The operators of the ranch released 500 ring-necked pheasants in the morning; 417 of them were dead meat by the end of the day.

Your initial reaction here may be similar to mine; that can’t be accurate. It must be a misprint or something, with the real number of pheasants killed 41 or 47. But no, I did some double-checking via Pennsylvania newspaper accounts. 417 pheasants, an average of 42 per “hunter.” Dick himself was a bit more bloodthirsty, or maybe just a better shot. He personally bagged 70 pheasants.

Now, OK, I can see knocking off three or four pheasants if you’re a big shot putting on your best Hemingway facade for a boozy white-collar bird-blast, maybe even five or six if you’ve got to work out a savage case of accumulated road rage. But 42 pheasants apiece? I mean, do we have some issues coming to the surface here, gentlemen? I see body counts like these, and I get the feeling I’m dealing with men who got their asses and thighs lacerated regularly by belts and willow switches when they were youngsters.

I’m trying to imagine the mindset of the Cheney party that morning, after they had plugged, say, their 64th pheasant. At that time, wouldn’t somebody in the group pipe up and say, “Hey guys, after we bag about 10 more, how about we go back to the lodge for a few beers and some ping pong?” But no, as it turned out, they had 353 birds to go.

And I’m trying to imagine the mindset of a man who doesn’t get his rocks off at the killing of five, 10, or even 20 ring-necked pheasants, but finally calls it a day when the count hits 70. To tell the truth, I’m not too crazy about having a man like that involved with high-level policy-planning concerning important environmental and land management issues. I’m sensing a certain disconnect here, similar to putting a 19th century buffalo hunter in charge of the local natural foods co-op.

But I will say this: I sure know who to call the next time my ranch is overrun by hundreds of ring-necked pheasants.