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"If this little bitty coyote gets three bottles of champagne," Guy Cooper asked nobody in particular, "then what would an elephant get?" Next evening he would have an approximate answer.
In the morning all the Austrians wanted to talk about was bear. They had written off the elk hunting, though they dutifully went out and scored another blank, but a bear, experience had shown, was more than a possibility.
Now there would be discipline. Lunch was chaste, schnapps-less. By 2 p.m. all six men were lined up, liveried in orange and ready for the ve-hicles, accepting the banter they had to take with resignation. "Karl," Guy said, "you gonna stay on the ground or go right up the tree where you belong?"
"Franz," Tony said, "ain't climbin' no tree, I swear!"
But Franz solemnly nodded his head. "Ja, I climb," he said. On the truck radio, as they rolled off, Willie Nelson was giving out with Midnight Cowboy. "Der Rock und Roll," Felix said. "I like. Please put me where I was last night. My bear will come back."
But it was to Franz the bear came that evening, five minutes before quitting time, at 6:55 p.m., the single shot echoing around the rocks of the hardscrabble country southwest of Canon City and the CB coming alive with Guy's voice crackling excitedly. "Franz got him a big black bear!"
And there he was, although diminished in death, undeniably a big black bear, 425 pounds of him, bloody-muzzled, shot through the lungs, lying in a small rivulet not 20 yards from the tree stand. If anyone had to kill him, maybe Franz, the oldest, the mildest man of the group, the Wild West romantic, was the just choice. Hans picked up some glory also. Paired with Franz on the stand, he had deliberately not fired, judging that Franz was in the better position for a clean shot, even though Hans had been the first to see the bear.
One day, when the taxidermist finishes with it, the great fur pelt will hang on the wall of an Austrian Gasthaus, but the first part of that last long journey was in the pickup, bouncing through the woods to retrieve Felix. "By the time we get to Felix, he'll be frozen," sang Guy in euphoric parody. In fact, Felix was sitting in the game warden's truck.
"I am asking him," Felix said later. " 'How many of these policemen like you are in this country?' " He was speaking back at the ranch as the company fought its way through the 10 bottles of champagne that Franz thought worthy of his bear. ("You sure you want 10?" the woman in the liquor store had asked. "I don't think I got 10." But she did.)
And so to a long, late night of Weidmannsheil-ing, linked-arm dancing and singing, first Austrian yodeling songs, but in the end, with nightcaps of schnapps and elk hunting canceled for next morning, the six, tutored by the guides, giving their all to She'll Be Comin' Round the Mountain.