Just a campaign gambit? "Maybe it will show that I certainly understand the culture of being outdoors," Huckabee said. "It's not something we had to go out and get a primer in. It's very much ordinary to me."
The former Arkansas governor said back home he would be duck hunting on the day after Christmas, but pheasant hunting in Iowa - eight days before the state's leadoff nominating caucuses - was a good substitute. He also offered a lecture declaring that hunting is good for wildlife.
"The truth is hunters are the ones who preserve the species," he said, since hunters have an interest in preserving wildlife and their license fees pay for conservation efforts. "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."
Huckabee led a motorcade of photographers along gravel roads in hilly rural Iowa, hopping out of a pickup truck to take to a snow-covered field wearing his bright orange vest along with Dude, an energetic hunting dog. Huckabee and three hunting companions tramped slowly across the field and their shotguns were blasting within minutes.
Of four birds flushed by the party, three were felled. Huckabee claimed the third with his .12-gauge shotgun. He proudly displayed the birds and said jokingly, "See that's what happens if you get in my way."
He also jested about Vice President Dick Cheney's hunting accident in which a fellow hunter was shot. 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, who said early in the campaign that he was a lifelong hunter, only to have an aide say he had been hunting on only two occasions. Romney later said he had hunted more than twice but only for "small varmints" and that he did not own a gun or have a hunting license.
Huckabee said he began hunting at the age of 11.
"It's an opportunity to experience Iowa at its best," he said. "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 indicate Huckabee has moved ahead among Republicans in Iowa, and he's offering contrasts to the very wealthy Romney.
"The people of Iowa don't want to be forgotten when someone goes to the White House," he said. "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."