Such must have been the case, because next morning all were present and accounted for in the lobby, even Karl and Felix—"We go some kilometers, then we come back," was the sole, thin communiqué the pair issued on their explorations of the previous evening. Time to head to the airport again, buy cowboy hats, take the short flight to Pueblo, where, unseasonably, 85° of sunshine was beating down.
"In this region is prairie dogs?" Franz asked eagerly, surveying the scrubby environs of the airport, but the question was lost as the group was greeted by the hunting outfitter, Art Cooper, and his wife. Cooper, a tall man with big, worried eyes and a defeated-looking mustache, had spent three years in Germany as a sergeant in the 4th Infantry, but his language skills had eroded in the 25 years that had passed since then.
"Meet mein Frau, Jeannie!" he invited the hunters exuberantly. "I was in Deutschland für drei years with the military!" His confusion as to Deutschland and Austria was politely overlooked by the group, which wished only to know its chances of bagging einen grossen schwarzen Bär, a big black bear.
"Uh, 50%," Cooper had to concede. "We can't use der Hunds, the dogs, this time of year. But we baited up the bears for you already. We put out der cantaloupe, der apples, der honey und der bacon, uh, the Schweinflesch!" he triumphed, dragging a word from the misty past. It was merciful, maybe, that the Austrians understood very little of all that. Not for some time would they learn what lay ahead—the long, cramping hours in tree stands sitting over reeking bear baits. They crammed happily into the vehicles, while Cooper, alone for a moment, confided, "Next year, I'm told, I got the Saudis coming. How do I handle them?"
"Ho, to the prairie," Franz exulted as he was driven through an outer suburb of Pueblo. "The rattlesnakes!"
Cooper looked at him, concerned. "No," he said, "we're heading for the K-Mart." The Americanization of the Austrians was proceeding apace.
Sadly, an aisle or so over from stacks of Pampers, the Austrians learned that their beautiful feathered hunting caps would be verboten in Colorado, where the Wildlife Division regulations insist that at least 500 square inches of daylight fluorescent-orange material—which must include a hat—be worn above the waist. "In Austria always in the green coats like the forest," Ernst said wonderingly. "We try to hide from the animals." But, disciplined as always, he lined up with the others at the K-Mart checkout with his flame-orange baseball cap, his flame-orange plastic vest.
Then, at last, they headed west, first through arid country ("Where are cows? Where go the children to school?" asked Franz), then, climbing steadily, into the foothills of the Rockies until the altimeter, yes the altimeter, on Cooper's dash showed a bit over 9,000 feet. "Quakin' trees only just turned," Cooper said, indicating the bright gold aspens with a tilt of his head. "Three weeks late this year." It was oppressively hot, with no fresh snow on the mountains to force bear and elk down to the accessible lower forests. But he pointed to the crest of a ridge.
"Men!" he said in a declamatory tone that would become familiar, "last season I kill six, uh, six..."—he held up one hand and then flashed an additional digit—"grosse bears from that place." He stopped the pickup, and six pairs of binoculars scanned the ridge for the bears of' 80, to murmurs of appreciation. "And the first two days of the elk season will be"—Cooper searched for a word from a quarter-century back—"prima!"
"Prima!" the Austrians echoed. Now the forest road had brought them to the town of Westcliffe, where, at the courthouse, they would buy their licenses.