The pheasant, in better days.
by James Oliphant
OSCEOLA, Iowa--The fortunes of Mike Huckabee are soaring. The pheasants'? Not so much.
It's a tribute to how far the Arkansas Republican has come that he managed to draw more than a dozen mostly underdressed journalists to the middle of a snow-covered field in order to hunt pheasants on a frost-filled morning the day after Christmas.
Huckabee, garbed in full hunting regalia, complete with an orange-accented jacket and cap, appeared more than ready for the conditions. He also had a Benelli Black Eagle 12-gauge camouflage shotgun in hand. "I'm just talking about taking care of business," Huckabee announced, before locking and loading.
Huckabee's primary business these days is warding off Mitt Romney to win next week's caucus. And without ever mentioning Romney by name, it's clear who Huckabee's real target was, with the unlucky pheasants along to serve only as metaphors (and, eventually, dinner).
In a direct shot at Romney before the hunt, Huckabee said he brings "authenticity and credibility to the campaign."
Romney, Huckabee, said, "is focused on telling people why I shouldn’t be president. I've been here focused on telling people why I should be."
Nobody wanted to argue. The man was armed. And it was very, very cold.
With that, the hunt began. Led by an English pointer named Dude, Huckabee trudged into a field along with his campaign manager, Chip Saltsman, a local official from the National Rifle Association, and a hunting guide.
Pheasants are rather ungainly birds that stick to the low-lying brush. Dogs flush them out and the trick is to shoot them down before they can climb too high. It wasn't long before one emerged.
The bird flopped to the ground. Had it been Huckabee? The media throng was too far away to be sure. Watches were checked. Time of death: 9:54 a.m. Initial press accounts had Huckabee nailing the first pheasant, but soon there was controversy. His safety was on, someone said. Another suggested checking the video in Zapruder-like fashion for the slo-mo truth.
Huckabee's party drew farther and farther away, circling their targets. POP! POP! Another pheasant down, the killer unknown. The journalists shivered and stomped their feet. Checking BlackBerrys is tougher with gloves on. Another hunter explained that pheasant is usually cooked with the buckshot still in the body. "You just spit it out," he said.
The party was still circling, coming back toward us. The reporters edged out to try and make out the scene. Another bird surfaced and it flew, and flew, and flew.
Right toward us.
POP! POP! POP!
We ducked our heads and scattered. "That was too close," a cameraman said. Nobody was wearing orange anything. The hunting expert said the buckshot wouldn't hurt us if it landed on our heads.
Huckabee's party drew closer and he seemed pleased at our discomfort. He produced three slain pheasants. Huckabee said he had shot one of them, but of course, there was no way to know.
"You like to speak in metaphors, governor," one reporter asked. "What's the metaphor for this?"
"Don't get in my way," Huckabee said. "This is what happens." He looked down at the three lifeless birds, now laid out in the snow. Someone asked which bird was named Romney. "Each of these three birds made a sacrifice for the campaign," Huckabee said. "We're just asking Iowans to make much less of a sacrifice on caucus night."
Pushing the metaphor to the limit, the candidate went on, "A lot of people don’t think we were in the game. We proved if we stay out in the woods and keep the gun ready, things will turn out okay."
The back of his hat read: EAT, SLEEP, HUNT.
With that, Huckabee, to the dismay of the gathering, decided to go back out and hunt again. Apparently, he didn't know that this was supposed to be just a photo-op. He was there to enjoy himself. It left the bone-chilled reporters in a quandary.
"Do we gotta stay here?" one cameraman asked another.
"What, and get the same video again?" his colleague responded.
It was all that needed to be said. The show was over. The reporters left Huckabee hunting in peace and headed off the next event, preferably very much indoors. Maybe even with some coffee.