CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas (AP) _ An attorney hunting with Vice President Dick Cheney was accidentally shot in the face and chest with shotgun pellets when Cheney took aim on a quail during a weekend trip to a South Texas ranch.

Harry Whittington, of Austin, was in stable condition late Sunday at a Corpus Christi hospital, where he was flown after the shooting late Saturday afternoon at the Armstrong Ranch.

Hospital administrator Peter Banko said Whittington was in the intensive care unit because his condition warranted it, but he did not elaborate.

Whittington sent word through a hospital official that he would have no comment on the incident out of respect for Cheney. The vice president visited with Whittington and his wife before returning to Washington on Sunday.

Cheney ``was pleased to see that he's doing fine and in good spirits,'' said Cheney spokeswoman Lea Anne McBride.

Katharine Armstrong, the ranch's owner, said the accident occurred after Cheney, Whittington and another hunter got out of a car to shoot at a covey of quail.

She said Whittington went to retrieve a bird he shot. Cheney and the third hunter, whom she would not identify, walked to another spot and discovered a second covey of quail.

Whittington ``came up from behind the vice president and the other hunter and didn't signal them or indicate to them or announce himself,'' said Armstrong, who was in the car.

``The vice president didn't see him,'' she said. ``The covey flushed and the vice president picked out a bird and was following it and shot. And by god, Harry was in the line of fire and got peppered pretty good.''

Armstrong said the shotgun pellets broke the skin.

``It knocked him silly. But he was fine. He was talking. His eyes were open. It didn't get in his eyes or anything like that,'' she said.

The accident was not reported publicly by the vice president's office for nearly 24 hours, and then only after it was reported by the Corpus Christi Caller-Times on its Web site Sunday.

McBride said the vice president's office did not tell reporters about the accident Saturday because they were deferring to Armstrong to handle the announcement of what happened on her property.

Armstrong said everyone at the ranch was so ``focused'' on Whittington's health Saturday that it wasn't until Sunday she called the Caller-Times to report the accident. Her ranch is about 60 miles southwest of Corpus Christi.

Sally Whittington described the injuries to her father's face as looking like chicken pox.

``He is very, very lucky that nothing seriously was injured,'' she said in a story in Sunday's online edition of The Dallas Morning News. She said he was being observed because of swelling from some of the welts on his neck.

Emergency personnel traveling with Cheney tended to Whittington before he was taken first to a hospital in Kingsville and then transferred to Corpus Christi.

Whittington has been a private practice attorney in Austin since 1950 and has long been active in Texas Republican politics. He's been appointed to several state boards, including when then-Gov. George W. Bush named him to the Texas Funeral Service Commission.

Armstrong said Cheney is a longtime friend who comes to the ranch to hunt about once a year and is ``a very safe sportsman.'' She said Whittington is a regular, too, but she thought it was the first time the two men hunted together.

The 50,000-acre Armstrong ranch has been in the influential South Texas family since the turn of the last century. Katharine is the daughter of Tobin Armstrong, a politically connected rancher who has been a guest at the White House and spent 48 years as director of the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association. He died in October. Cheney was among the dignitaries who attended his funeral.

Cheney was legally hunting with a license he purchased in November, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department spokesman Steve Lightfoot said.

___

Associated Press writers Nedra Pickler in Washington and Paul J. Weber in Dallas contributed to this report.