October 21, 2004
Eight minutes from the heart of downtown Boardman, Ohio
Pool gathered and was swept at downtown Boardman Holiday Inn at 5:45. After waiting better part of 45 minutes, we moved out at 6:25. We bivouacked at Molnar Farm eight minutes later at 6:37. Four minutes later, the sun officially rose at 6:41, according to the Astronomical Applications Department of the U.S. Naval Observatory. It was misting so we were left to figure it was overcast, giving birds a few more minutes of shut-eye past sunrise - no hard feelings.
As we waited in the vans and on the short ride out into the wilderness, the realization settled over us that the heart of this would be nothing more than a grand photo op of Mr. Kerry walking out of the woods with a duck, or possibly without a duck, or possibly one that one of his staffers shot but he then swam out and retrieved and resuscitated. Anyway, we realized we weren't going to see any bloodshed. Patsy flipped open her phone, dialed up Loftus and valiantly expressed the communal outrage. Rapid response went into full swing. He said we weren't included in actual hunt because the AP would object to it for some reason. Not true, said Nedra, who sat beside her. Precedent, he said. Patsy reeled off the stats from every presidential campaign hunt since Reagan. "I mean, he's going out into the woods with men who have guns. We should have someone there," she reasoned. He split hairs. Patsy explained to Loftus that your pooler very much wanted to go hunting with the next leader of the free world. But for some reason, the thought of a reporter from The Washington Times observing Mr. Kerry revealing who he really is did not sway the campaign.
So, as Mr. Kerry trundled out into the wilds under a rising sun to hunt ducks eight minutes outside Boardman, we were left with nothing to do but hunt canards.
In lieu of actual information, we put our heads together and came up with some details for this pool report. The primary area of wager was whether Mr. Kerry would return with game at all.
HE WOULD NOT: Fearing a backlash from soccer moms and PETA freaks, he decides to return empty-handed with that age-old phrase employed by failed hunters: I don't do it to kill things; I just like being outdoors. But, that could undermine the manliness that he has so carefully cultivated since launching his campaign.
HE WOULD, DEAD: Be bold. Kill something. Come back holding limp ducks by their wrung necks in your bloody fingers. Win back those security moms. This would have been the strategy advised by Bill Clinton, whom Mr. Kerry talks to by phone very often.
HE WOULD, DEAD, CLEANED, DRESSED FROM FOOD LION: Return with several fattened (thought not for their livers as that would come perilously close to something French), beautifully yellowed birds that were purchased from the local supermarket last night. This would allow him to appear bold, willing to hunt down and kill the enemy, but wouldn't be too scarily unfamiliar to people who don't hunt. "You should always come dressed for dinner," he would explain.
HE WOULD, BUT IT ISN'T A DUCK: This theory developed into the most desirous. He returns victorious, but with Osama bin Laden, who had been hiding out in the backside of the farm. Turns out that immediately after President Bush outsourced the capturing of him in Tora Bora to the Afghan warlords, Mr. Bin Laden climbed into a container of poppy gum and arrived through a port in Newark. The container, of course, went uninspected. With so few police officers on the street, Mr. Bin Laden had no problem wandering America unmolested.
Ultimately, we'll just have to wait to find out. But one thing is clear: we'll never know for certain if Mr. Kerry can shoot a bird in flight.
Walking from the vans into the cozy little farmhouse where a mini-file has been set up, we asked Wade and Loftus for any details. They, inexplicably, were whispering. Kerry apparently marched out with Rep. Ted Strickland and a security detail to hunt from a blind set up on the edge of a marshy area beside a harvested cornfield. It is set up some 500 yards from here. Locals say the geese and ducks swarm the fields after harvest. He is wearing a camo jacket that was purchased in Boardman. They are hunting with a yellow lab named Woody.
But, again, all of this is second-hand information. There has been some speculation - based on similarly-unconfirmed reports - that this is actually a golf course and that Mr. Kerry is currently crouched in the sand pit behind the third hole. The geese are much easier to hit that way and no one would be offended if you killed them.
Will report back if details emerge.
Pool report #2
Kerry duck hunt
At 8:33, someone - hard to make out who it was for the camo coat - was frolicking with a yellow dog about 100 yards into a cut field. Pooler wandered over to edge of field and alerted photogs of the possible photo op. Pooler was quickly reigned in and herded back to the other side of house, which obstructed view. Was told that he wanted to hunt for another 15 minutes. For some reason, we were all still whispering.
Kerry hunt news flash
Geese flew overhead, a dozen shots fired.
Kerry just returned.
Four geese killed.
Kerry carried his own gun but had someone carrying his goose.
We're loaded up to move back to hotel.
Will file full report shortly.
Pool Report #4
Kerry duck hunt
At 8:49, still no shots heard from around the house. Nor did pooler ever hear any goose or duck calls.
Molnar Farms is owned by Rick and Jill Molnar who have a roadside fruit and vegetable stand. A sign out front advertises apples, sweet corn, pumpkins, cider and other things. Under fruit stand shed, various police and motorcade drivers gathered for coffee and hot cider. Three empty camo soft gun cases sat on a counter. Also, a still-boxed, broken down 12 gauge camo shotgun was in a cardboard box. Make unknown. Pooler did not reach to open box as most of the people under shed were armed and pooler feared them. Also: a box of 12 ga., three-inch steel shot cartridges was on the counter, legal ammo for shooting over water. But for all we know, Mr. Kerry may have been using lead shot, which would be illegal for waterfowl.
At 8:53, distant wails of geese could be heard from beyond tree-line to east of house, where as hunting party was to north of house. Roughly 60 large Canada geese emerged over tree line and - as if trained to do so if at the last minute no birds had been slaughtered in this great authentic moment of modern American politics - made a beeline for Mr. Kerry and his camo-clad comrades. Suddenly, an explosion of gunfire. It was enough to evoke flashbacks in your pooler, who really was in diapers when Mr. Kerry fought in Cambodia or Vietnam or wherever. There were so many shots in the course of 15 seconds that it was impossible to count the number. Certainly, everybody unloaded their guns and possibly even reloaded (Assuming they were not using some sort of large-capacity assault weapons, which would be thoroughly illegal. But we'll never know.). The honking of the geese changed from calm and plaintive to upset and confused as the flock hurried back to cruising altitude and separated into two still-large groups. A smaller - apparently smarter - group left the farm altogether. A larger group came back toward the house, where some 35 reporters and cameramen with fuzzy booms and long-lense cameras were snapping and whirring away. This appeared to further disturb the geese who flared in various directions, not to be heard from again - or so we thought.
Much relieved and even chirpy, staffers began herding us around the building to a hay trailer set up beside the cornfield from which we could view the moment of his emergence from the field. Not that it was staged or anything, Loftus explained: "He's going to walk down that line of corn. He'll turn down there and walk up this way. Then we will move with great dispatch up there." No questions were to be asked, we were informed. The four hunting men and yellow dog (a Democrat, pooler assumes) seemed to - from such a distance - crystalize out of thin air with all their camo on. They walked along the line of corn that was still standing. Each man carried a gun. Three men carried dead Canada geese. Mr. Kerry was empty-handed, but for his gun. A man walked far up ahead - outside a normal picture frame - carrying a fourth limp goose. Mr. Kerry's gun was an double-barrel, over/under 12 ga. shotgun. It was breached and he carried it in the crook of his arm, like a true gentleman. The other men, carried pump or semi-auto long guns that appeared to be 12 ga. shotguns as well. As they approached with the rust-colored trees as a backdrop, photogs snapped crazily and marveled at the perfect frame. Indeed, they looked like catalogue models on the cover of a Cabella's magazine. Their voices could be heard but not what they were saying. They were clearly animated and exuberant over their success. Woody, the yellow dog, was the only one who seemed to stray from stage notes. He kept running up to the man ahead carrying the fourth bird, then racing back to the four hunters, only to tag them and race back ahead. "The dog is out of position," sighed one shooter. Dog owner blew whistle and dog returned to a flurry of picture snaps.
Once in earshot:
Q: Did you shoot any geese, senator?
A: thumbs up.
Q: You get any?
A: Everybody got one. Everybody got one.
Q: Why aren't you carrying yours?
A: (laughter) Too lazy.
A: No, still giddy over the Red Sox. It was hard to focus.
(Thanks to Jim Malone of VOA Radio for exact quotes.)
In addition to Mr. Strickland, the hunting party included Bob Bellino, board member of local Ducks Unlimited, and Neal Brady, a state park manager. More information on these guys in included in morning briefing sent by campaign.
There is no information who Mr. Kerry's bird boy was.
Immediately after Mr. Kerry completed his "walk-by," we were rounded up and herded back around house to waiting vans. After a few minutes, the motorcade moved us back to hotel file center. We arrived at 9:15. As we got out of the vans, the lonesome calls of geese could be heard again overhead. It was decided that they had followed the motorcade, weeping over the casualties.
It's 10:53. We're loaded up for airport but haven't left yet. A note from photogs. Lots of blood on Kerry's left hand. Pooler suggested it was from fetching downed bird and possibly wringing its neck if it were still kicking, flipping and flopping, perhaps flip-flopping. Photog saw Mr. Kerry shaking his entire hand way up field as if he'd injured hand. When he walked by, he'd tucked his hand up into his sleeve so it couldn't be seen. Suppose we'll have to wait for after-action report, but as we all know, Purple Heart citations can be vague.
Report # 6
At 11:32, the candidate arrived for flight to Youngstown. He'd shed his camo for his barn coat. No injury was visible to his left hand from pooler's perspective on tarmac. He greeted several supporters. Jogging up steps, he was asked where his bird was. "Being cleaned," he said, waving his hands in the motion of bird cleaning.
Note: Your pooler was seated on press plane, unable to cover any gaggle that might occur on main plane. Will transcribe any recordings someone kindly supplies upon landing. Pooler told he'll be back on main plane for flight to Milwaukee.
Clarification: Staffers advise that Mr. Kerry broke no laws this morning with the type of shells he used to kill his goose. He was not "breaking the law by using lead bullets," S. Cutter emailed. "They were steel shots."