Battle of the Mega-Store Outdoor Retailers

It doesn’t seem like that many years ago when I was “cutting my teeth” on the outdoors and I simply could not get enough viewing pleasure out of the periodic Herters mail order catalogs.   I literally wore the pages out of each issue as I dreamed of new trapping, fishing and hunting gear that for the most part was still way out of my price range.   You see, I was a young teenager at the time and disposable money for such expenditures was still several years down the road in my life.

Adding insult to injury, I lived 43 miles from the famous Herters Store in Waseca, Minnesota, but back in those days I was too young to have much mobility to get there…in fact, I only visited the Waseca store once before it eventually closed its doors…sometime back in the late 70’s, I believe.   Back then being a young sportsman in southern Minnesota meant you either ordered your supplies via mail order…or, if you were lucky to be heading to one of the larger cities…maybe a fancy Twin Cities store, such as a Burger Brothers, was on the itinerary for the trip.

Oh, how times have changed…and I could not have imagined in my wildest dreams the situation as it exists today.   Now there are so many sporting goods store options that it feels almost gluttonous to be a sportsmen who fondly remembers when life meant far fewer choices and equipment possibilities.

Today, the famous Herters no longer exists.   Fact is, I’m not so sure George L. Herter would be too proud of how things have evolved in the business, either.   Even though I believe George L. Herter passed on long before the advent of the Internet…today if you type in it will take you directly to the Cabela’s web site.   Hmmm…I’m told Cabela’s actually bought out the Herter’s good name.   Go figure…once arch rivals for the sportsman’s dollar is no more.   Could this possibly be indicative of how the future might trend?

But lamenting the old Herters store is not exactly what today’s blog is all about.   Nope, instead it’s about the expansion of the outdoor superstores and the battles that are being waged not only in the sales tabloids…but also soon to be at the Minnesota legislature in the form of tax incentives and breaks.   Seems not all stores feel they’re being treated fairly, and this is not sitting well with their competition as the gloves are about ready to come off.

Before I get into the main controversy let me say this.   Today within about an hour’s drive of my house there are two Cabela’s Stores…nine Gander Mountain Stores…three Dicks Sporting Goods Stores…several Mills Fleet Farms…one Scheel’s Sports…and one Bass Pro Shops (coming soon)…not to mention the dozens and dozens of local gun shops and private sporting goods retailers all within a short drive.   Indeed, the first critical decision when making the trek out to purchase some new hunting or fishing supplies is often which direction do I turn when leaving the driveway.

It’s important to point this out because never has there been so many options as there are today for purchasing outdoor goods.   Most definitely this has also created an economic battle grounds for these sporting retailers the likes of which have never been seen before…and I dare say could not possibly have been conceived of a few decades ago.

You can read more about the battle between the big superstores here and how it is shaping up…but suffice it to say we are certainly living in a cut-throat competitive world where these stores will use any political, as well as economic, advantage available to get a chance at our open wallets.   On one hand it makes me feel positive that sportsmen and their dollars are in such high demand that all these stores would pop up on the landscape…but on the other hand, it makes me wonder seriously about what lies ahead.

In the short run I think most sportsmen will be the big benefactors of the increased competition and lower prices…but I remain concerned about the little guy.   What about those little sporting goods shops that rely largely on customer service to differentiate themselves from the mass retailers?   Can they continue to survive with shrinking profit margins that must accordingly get smaller each year as these big behemoth superstores seemingly fight it out in a survival-of-the-fittest.   As one store out-maneuvers the next…where will it all end?   More importantly, how healthy does all this battling leave the outdoor sporting goods industry in general?   Seems to me, at least in my area and I suspect this is true in many others as well…we’ve reached a super-saturation point where they all can’t possibly continue to thrive and survive.

Who knows…perhaps ol’ George L. Herter would be utterly disgusted today by witnessing the recent trends of the sportsman’s retail industry that he once not-too-long-ago helped to pioneer.   Then again, for the man who authored the famous sportsman’s book “HOW TO GET OUT OF THE RAT RACE AND LIVE ON $10 A MONTH,” he might just think these stores deserve what they have coming to them…no matter what that fate might eventually be.

© 2006 Jim Braaten.  All Rights Reserved.   No Reproduction without Prior Permission.

A Deadline Sportsmen Can’t Afford To Neglect

COregsAlright, so you have dreams of going big game hunting out west but realizing those aspirations are still a few years off, you say.   Okay.   But are you actually serious about carrying through on those plans or are they just a perennial pipe dream you share with your hunting buddies that reoccurs year after year?   It’s time to decide…and possibly you must start acting now even if you won’t be hunting out West this fall.

Planning for a western big game hunt is something that often takes years to accomplish…especially if you’re not familiar with the rules and permit application procedures for the desired state.   Take, for instance, Colorado…in many areas of the state you need to accrue several preference points in order to get selected for the desired permit for a bull elk.   That means even if you don’t plan to hunt until…say, 2009 or 2010…it might require you to begin earning preference points NOW to achieve that ultimate goal.

So, what are you waiting for?   Do you know the rules of your specific dream hunt state?   If not, shame on you…it’s probably time for you to decide once and for all if this is a dream you actually want to someday realize.

I’m going to focus on Colorado because this is the western state that I’m most familiar with for big game planning.   In fact, just this past week I got the current copy of the big game regs in the mail which spurred me into planning out my strategy for future hunts in that state.   It’s been a few years since I’ve been out in Colorado hunting…and it may be another year or two until I am hopefully back there, but that doesn’t mean I won’t be placing an application into the permitting process THIS YEAR.

Truth is even on most years when I’ve not been planning to hunt out in Colorado I’ve still been applying for the permits—both for mule deer and for elk.   What this does for me is ensure that when it finally comes time to get serious about planning a hunt back to that state…I will have the necessary preference points accumulated to make my hunting dreams come true.

Colorado is somewhat unique in that you can apply for a preference point to hunt even though you are not serious about hunting in that particular year.   In the past the cost of doing so was only a few bucks per license…and the loaning of your money to the Division of Wildlife for a few months until it’s returned by late summer.   This year there has been a slight change to that process…which means if you don’t meet certain requirements (detailed in their regs) it will now cost a fee of $25 to earn preference points…but in the whole scheme of things that is still a small price to pay for the future hunting experience.

The main point I want to emphasize is planning for the future hunt and doing so now.   There is no better time to tackle such activities than this time of the year when everything else is usually a bit slower in the sportsman’s life.   Plus, all worthwhile adventures require that “first step,” so it takes some introspection to determine if the desire to go on a big hunt is important enough to begin planning or just a pleasant thought that keeps rolling around in your mind each year.

The first step is to explore your desired state’s web site and begin learning about the hunting rules in that particular state.   Next, carefully examine how the licensing process works to determine if you may need to plan years in advance for permitting, such as in Colorado.   Then request several copies of the current game rules and regs to share with your friends.   I might even suggest that planning a meeting some night with your hunting pals is a great way to determine if similar goals and interests are shared with others about the hunt.   It’s also a great way to split up the work for planning…because there is lots of early planning that must go into each trip.

Once you start solidifying your future big game hunting plans that is when the fun begins…assembling the equipment, getting the maps, calling guides or local game officials for information, essentially doing all that is necessary to pull the dream hunt off.   It all starts, however, with some initial footwork and a desire to make things happen.

Check your deadlines closely…in fact, it may be too late already for some states to apply for this year.   In Colorado, the deadline for applying is still about a month away (April 4th).   Don’t wait until it is too late…or you become pressed for time.   Start viewing the whole process of planning the for the hunt as an activity that is almost as exciting as the actual hunt trip itself.   Planning can build anticipation…and if you funnel that excited energy appropriately the real hunt will not just last a week…but it could last for months or years beforehand.

I’ve gotta go now…it take some intense concentration and study to properly fill out these applications so no mistakes are made.   Plan on spending more time applying for the hunt than you do sighting in that new rifle for the hunt.   These days, that’s the way it goes to do things the right way.

© 2006 Jim Braaten.  All Rights Reserved.   No Reproduction without Prior Permission.

The Mysterious Moose Meltdown In Minnesota

A few weeks ago one of the local Twin Cities TV news stations was promoting a special feature that teased, among other things, “What is happening to the moose in Northern Minnesota?”   I had meant to watch it live…but somehow put it out of my mind.   Now another news outlet has recently printed an article bemoaning the same happening.   Fact is, there is a serious die-off of moose in northwestern Minnesota and I think for the most part sportsmen (except for those who live in the upper Midwest) have been largely unaware of this devastating occurrence.

It seems that while we have been enjoying slightly warmer than average temperatures the past couple decades this climatic effect has proven to be detrimental to our natural world in several different ways.   I urge you to spend five minutes and watch the video piece on the TV news link shown above.   It does a good job laying out the possible consequences of how increased temperature has affected the environment and what possible changes could be in store for the outdoors in the future.

Now understand that I am not a staunch believer in global warming and the political fire-storm associated with that theory, but I am a believer in trends and how the weather seems to get into ruts at times.   Indeed, this blog has already chronicled how the warm temps of this past winter have adversely influenced many of the activities us northern folks wish to enjoy during the wintertime.   Moreover, unusually warm winters have seemed to be occurring on a much more frequent basis over the past few years.   Still, you can’t gauge climatic evolution on just a few decades of temperature data or on short-term trends…you need centuries-long data to really tell the tale.

But be that as it may, the point remains we are losing moose in northern Minnesota.   A herd that was healthy and once large in the 80s (population est. around 4,000 animals) is now down to about 250 or less animals remaining.   Experts tell us that there is no one logical answer for this population decrease…but temperatures on the increase are certainly a major culprit.   It appears when the temperature gets above 67 degrees Fahrenheit that is the point when these animals start getting more stressed from heat exhaustion.   It also increases the parasitic activity in their brains which causes the animals to “lose their minds” and forget about food.

The bottom line seems to be that northwestern Minnesota is no longer being viewed as hospitable for moose to inhabit.   What a shame!   The Minnesota DNR, in fact, concedes that within the next two decades the once thriving population of moose in Minnesota’s Northwest could actually completely disappear…and not much is able to be done to prevent that prediction.   It’s also pertinent to point out that about six years ago moose research in this area took a big hit when Minnesota’s main moose researcher and a conservation officer pilot died in an airplane crash while studying the area.   Visit their memorial page here.   Not that the two situations go completely hand in hand, but in some ways it almost seems their deaths were a major set-back to achieving any hope for change with the moose population currently in trouble.

Fortunately, there is some brighter news to report for the moose in a different part of Minnesota.   Currently there are two distinctly different herds of moose in northern Minnesota and the population found in the arrowhead region (north of Duluth close to Lake Superior) does not seem to be experiencing the same devastating troubles…or at least not to the same extent.

You know, even though I have never gone moose hunting nor have I had a passion to someday trek after this majestic animal…there’s a certain iconic like mystique about being “up-north” and being in “moose country.”   It’s certainly sad to hear this animal is having its challenges just to survive…and maybe with a little luck the outlook for their survival will begin to improve.   Let’s keep our fingers crossed.

© 2006 Jim Braaten.  All Rights Reserved.   No Reproduction without Prior Permission.