SI Vault
Clive Gammon
November 10, 1980
With the dollar a bargain, a new breed of hunter is on the loose in America. Come out to Colorado and meet Felix, Franz & Co.
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November 10, 1980

By Bears Gesmitten

With the dollar a bargain, a new breed of hunter is on the loose in America. Come out to Colorado and meet Felix, Franz & Co.

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Even before the first light defined the pines on the next ridge, Franz was lying out on one of the rock escarpments. "I must shoot only the man elk," he had confirmed with Cooper when he was left on station. The cold little wind that comes before dawn, noted by hunters and soldiers since Homer's time, passed over him, and then, as the sun came up, came big blasts of wind that howled like subway trains through the trees. Through the long morning, until the sun was high and hot, Franz covered the patch of grass below him, across which, had things gone right, a bull elk would have passed.

But nothing came. At about 9 a.m., from the north there was the noise of a small battle, 40 or 50 rifle shots, and later in the morning other, lesser fusillades. "There are other hunters?" Franz inquired, puzzled. Like the rest of his party, it emerged later, he had believed he was shooting on a private tract, as would be the case in Europe. Nobody had thought to tell the Austrians of the frenzy that typifies Opening Day in America.

At midday, Felix and Karl, Tweedledum and Tweedledee, hiked wearily onto the scene, lay on the sun-warmed rocks and started snoring gently, but not before saying, "We see no game, only many, many hunters." Heading downhill later, they saw enough pickups on the forest trails to call for traffic cops, two full and festive campsites and a game warden quietly going out of his mind checking licenses; and when they rendezvoused with the horsemen for lunch, they discovered that they, too, had seen no elk. The only bonus of the morning had been the sight of the high woods and the blazing gold of the turning aspens bordering the dark pines. "Mother Nature," Cooper said creamily, "sure knew how to put a beautiful frame on that picture, didn't she?" On this hunt there were moments when not knowing English could be a pure plus.

After lunch it was bear time, and that, too, for each of the hunters, turned out to be a long, wearisome, blank vigil. Except, in a small way, for Franz. "A skunk comes!" he said. "I ask him, go, go, go, because I wait for the bear." But you could detect a certain pleasure.

Back at C5 that night, the hunters were subdued, headed early to bed against another 3:45 a.m. call, and in the morning Cooper had them change style, walking them downhill through the dark timber in hope of a chance encounter with an elk scared by other hunters into movement. Once again, though, no morning elk. Instead, a bad tactical error by Cooper.

The previous day the hunters had carried lunch with them so that they could switch from bear to elk without loss of time, without returning home. On Day 2, though, Cooper allowed them to head back to the ranch for lunch, and as Jeannie Cooper cut sandwiches in the kitchen, there was time for schnapps to be poured upstairs, first consoling, then giving rise to Austrian thoughts of mutiny.

When they came downstairs, late and flushed, Felix seemed to have been nominated spokesman. More imminently explosive-looking than ever, he announced without preamble, "Austrian men do not climb up the trees. We wait at the bottom for the bear to come." The mutineers had other points: it was dangerous climbing down trees in the dark. Grunts of assent; also, Cooper himself had told them that the bears usually came at sundown, around 7 p.m., so why did they have to get in the ve-hicles at 2:30 p.m.? "We stand behind the tree at five o'clock," Felix said stubbornly. "Then we shoot the bear, easy." In the meantime, they all wanted a nap. Assenting grunts again.

At this classic guide's dilemma, Cooper's mustache drooped even lower. Do you make the clients happy by letting them do as they like, or do you discipline them for their own good? Weakly, he conceded and chose the former course. O.K., he agreed, they could nap.

Rarely have mutineers had their comeuppance so swiftly. That afternoon, as Guy Cooper led the first man to his tree stand well after the recognized time, they disturbed a bear licking out a can of bacon grease, a sure kill had a hunter been in position. And in another part of the woods, Josef had arrived to find a bear at the bait. But the biggest fiasco of all had come at Felix' stand, and after dark that night, as the pickup arrived to collect him, he raved out the tale. "Six o'clock comes the bear!" he yelled, "Ein grosser schwarzer bear! He comes from behind to the meat and there is trees, trees, trees! I cannot shoot," he ended tragically. Wafting from him on the evening air came the delicate odor of schnapps, the pear-flavored kind. Under grave and general suspicion of having brought a little something along to ease his vigil, Felix subsided into the truck, a mutineer no longer.

Only Josef turned out to have a small piece of luck. He'd gotten a coyote on the way home, leaping smartly from the ve-hicle for his shot. "This is a very young coyote," he had said dubiously, holding up the small beast by its tail, but the others, glad of anything, made a Fest of his success. Three bottles of California champagne were bought at the Westcliffe liquor shop and Josef soon shed his doubts. "Now you must cook the head for me," he told Cooper authoritatively, "so I may carry home the skull!"

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