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k0125 BC-IA-Huckabee’sHunt 12-26 0641

Huckabee bags bird, describes lifetime of hunting

AP Photos

By MIKE GLOVER

Associated Press Writer

OSCEOLA, Iowa (AP) — Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee took to the frozen fields of southern Iowa on Wednesday, bagging a pheasant and offering an image of a lifelong hunter relishing a respite from the campaign trail with shotguns blasting and hunting dogs braying.

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"This is probably selfish on my part because I’m not getting to go hunting," said Huckabee. "Maybe it will show that I certainly understand the culture of being outdoors. It’s not something we had to go out and get a primer in. It’s very much ordinary to me."

Had Huckabee been back home in Arkansas, he would have been duck hunting on the day after Christmas, but he said pheasant hunting in Iowa was a good substitute. And he offered a lecture on the value of hunting.

"The truth is hunters are the ones who preserve the species," said Huckabee, noting that license fees pay for conservation efforts and that hunters have a vested interest in preserving wildlife. "In many cases extinction comes from not having some level of hunting. It’s the hunters who actually keep the wildlife alive. A lot of people think that when you hunt you’re destroying the wildlife."

After offering his views on hunting, Huckabee led a motorcade of photographers along gravel roads in hilly southern Iowa. Wearing a bright orange vest, Huckabee climbed out of a pickup truck and tramped slowly across a snow-covered field with three companions and a hunting dog, Dude.

They began firing their shotguns within minutes.

Of four birds flushed by the party, three were felled. Huckabee claimed the third bird shot with his .12-gauge shotgun. Huckabee proudly displayed the birds and offered some mock ferocity. Gesturing toward the birds he said "See that’s what happens if you get in my way."

He joked about Vice President Dick Cheney’s 2006 hunting accident, in which Cheney shot a fellow hunter. Asked why Cheney hadn’t been invited, Huckabee chuckled, "because I want to survive all the way through this."

Huckabee’s folksy approach and familiarity with hunting offered a contrast with leading rival Mitt Romney, who claimed at one point to be a lifelong hunter, then later had to clarify that he’d usually hunted only for "small varmints."

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Huckabee said he began hunting at the age of 11.

"It’s an opportunity to experience Iowa at its best," said Huckabee. "Hopefully we’ll just shoot pheasants and not each other. We’ll name the pheasant for the other candidates. It gives us a real incentive."

Polls have shown Huckabee moving ahead of Romney in Iowa, where the Jan. 3 caucuses kick off the nominating process. Much of his momentum comes as evangelicals begin coalescing around the former Southern Baptist minister.

Huckabee also is seeking to add a homespun touch to his campaign.

"The people of Iowa don’t want to be forgotten when someone goes to the White House," said Huckabee. "People in middle America feel like folks will come and campaign in Iowa and then they get elected and they forget that people out here in flyover land still exist. Some of us grew up in the middle of the country and still live here."

Huckabee said that connection is the key to his rising fortunes. With his rise in Iowa polls, Huckabee also has become the focus on criticism from other candidates.

"I’m betting the farm that people in Iowa want a positive campaign, not a negative one, and that’s what they’re going to get from me," said Huckabee, "I also bring a level of authenticity and credibility to the campaign."

After his hunting swing, Huckabee headed for a fundraiser in Florida.

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