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They don't keep records of that kind of thing, but the visitation of the Austrians must have been the biggest day in a long while for the wildlife office in Westcliffe. And if Karl and Felix turned out to be as dedicated in the pursuit of elk and bear as they were of Miss Dawna Hobby, the personable young lady on duty behind, fortunately, the counter, then they would surely head home with all the trophies they could carry. Bearlike grunts and unequivocal gestures, as Karl made his play, showed that the mores of Peterskirchen, Austria were not those of Westcliffe, Colorado. Miss Hobby yielded ground, squealing, but it was Westcliffe 1, Peterskirchen zero.
By evening at the C5 ranch the gaiety had subsided a little on the discovery by the Austrians that the hunting season did not start until Saturday, this being Thursday. "So we kill nothing today or tomorrow?" Ernst asked disconsolately, and Cooper had to allow that this was correct. But there were things to do the next day. Zero in the rifles, freshen up the baits, catch some trout from the half-acre pond Cooper had dug out in the meadow. Also there would be entertainment.
And so there was that evening, but not before, from the hunters' rooms in the lodge, the clink of schnapps glasses and the sound of creamy-sweet Austrian music on tape. Then, downstairs came the promised entertainment: another tape, one made by Cooper on a previous hunting trip. Twenty minutes and more of the hysterical, high-pitched yelping of his hound pack, amid which could also be detected hysterical human screeching. "They got that ol' bear treed right enough," said Cooper, serving as voice-over, savoring the recollection of the recorded hunt. "Golden bear that was, one of them cinnamon types. Hounds think they got him killed already," he said over a chorus of yelps and growls. "But they was just keeping him up the tree till the hunter got there. Called him up on the CB, because not everybody can keep up with the hounds. Takes an hour sometimes till he gets up, so if the bear looks like comin' down we use sticks to poke him back up." Then, ending the tape, came the crack of a rifle and silence. "Get fired up every time I hear that," Cooper said. "Sells a lot of bear hunts too!"
"Weidmannsheil!" exclaimed Ernst, fired up too, raising his glass in a toast, an Austrian hunter's toast, he explained, and you had to be careful to raise your glass with the left hand "or one liter wine you pay!" Because, of course, you needed your right for girl-grabbing, something well known to Karl, whose plump arm had snaked out the minute Art's married daughter, Iris, appeared. Until Karl got worn out with hunting, it was clear he was going to be a one-man fleet coming to port in Westcliffe and the Wet Mountain Valley after years at sea, though now, elegantly suspendered, he led the retreat to bed. Jet lag, at last, was getting to the group. "Schweinflesch for breakfast in the morning," Cooper called after them, adding, sotto voce, that they'd better appreciate it. When the hunting started it would be 3:30 a.m. reveille and no time to sit over sausage.
Next morning, Wet Mountain Valley rang to shots as the Austrians zeroed in their weapons, and by midday they were in the vehicles, heading out to renew the bear baits. The dusty roads were deserted. Looking across the valley, Franz had one of his questions. "In this place there are skunks?" he wished to know. A wistful, plaintive note was creeping into his questions. So far there had been no rodeos, no mustangs, no rattlesnakes, no prairie dogs, no skunks to match up to the colorful Wild West reading he had plainly been indulging in for years. The first tree he'd seen, a stunted pine outside Pueblo, had elicited a "Ponderosa, nicht?"—and now there was not even a skunk around.
But the grudging fates had to give Franz a break sometime, and now, as the pickup he was riding in sped past some sere yellow ranchland, where, 300 yards from the road, a windmill powered the workings of a deep well, there came a shout from Cooper as he slammed the brakes on. There were a dozen small, tawny patches close to a trough fed by the well. Antelope. Rifle in hand, Franz was halfway out of the truck before he could be restrained and be told that antelope were verboten. But the sight had stirred him. He sat straighter. Something was coming true, after all.
A further reward awaited him when the convoy left the road, after an hour of jouncing and climbing had brought them to 11,000 feet, and a green silence as the forest closed in. The gray, ragged pulpits of rock could have hidden any beast in Franz' wildest dreams. "Bear country!" Cooper announced proprietorially, indicating blackened claw marks on aspen boles. "Old ones," he said, "but come look over here." The hunters followed him into the gloom. A rotten-ripe sweetness filled the air, drifting from dead boughs piled at the foot of a tree.
Closer up, they could see ancient, decaying melons, rank pieces of meat under the boughs of a sturdy aspen, and on the tree trunk itself, fresh white claw marks. "You men gonna kill grosse schwarze bear, hey?" Cooper exulted. "From right up there!" He pointed 25 feet up the tree trunk where, spiked and chained to the trunk, was a seat of sorts. "Afternoons," Cooper said, "every one of you gonna sit in a chair like that. Ain't gonna move, not even to scratch. Four, five hours you gonna sit, then maybe the grosse schwarze is gonna come rumbling out of the woods, and pow! you got a beautiful rug to take home."
Who could tell how much of this the hunters took in? Plainly, though, they caught the spirit, grinning eagerly, exclaiming in rapid German. The convoy moved on through the forest, checking other baits, other tree stands. Twice Cooper hammered in pitons as climbing aids on fresh trees, setting up new perches for his charges. Laboriously puffing and laughing, Felix and Karl checked them out, clambering up, posing for snapshots with rifles in hand. It was almost dark before they got back to the C5 ranch, not too dark, though, to prevent them from hauling some rainbow trout from Cooper's pond, to shouts and heavy Weidmannsheil-ing. Easy sport. The reality would come at dawn.
More precisely, in the predawn next morning, as the hunters moved blearily around the kitchen until the shout came, "Everybody into the ve-hicles!" Rifles upright at their sides, like motorized infantry, the Austrians moved out into the darkness of the Wet Mountain Valley. This first morning of the hunting season, elk was the target, and the party would split, three hunters heading north with Guy Cooper and Tony Supan, Art's son and son-in-law, respectively. The others would drive into the woods to the south as far as they could, then climb to rock ambush points that commanded meadowlike clearings at around 10,000 feet.