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At Cabela’s, the great outdoors is indoors

Thu., Oct. 25, 2007

If your freezer smells like fish eggs. If you would consider buying an unsuitable house just because it’s on Winchester Drive. If you’ve imagined your wife in a camo teddy.

If any of those statements apply to you, there’s no question where you’ll be the second weekend in November.

Not stalking whitetails. Not drifting shrimp for steelhead. Not shivering in a muddy duck blind, though that’d be fun too.

You’ll be shopping. And you’ll enjoy it.

Because that Friday is a different kind of opening day.

It’s opening day of the new Cabela’s store in Post Falls.

Of course, you’re familiar with Cabela’s – been getting their phonebook-size catalogs for as long as you can remember. The fall hunting catalog, the spring fishing catalog, the Christmas wish book, the special boating catalog …

There’s one on your nightstand, one beside the La-Z Boy, one in the bathroom. There’s one hidden in the garage, so you can read it when you’re “tuning up the car.”

And you always thought, someday you’d like to visit a Cabela’s store, maybe even the flagship – the biggest tourist attraction in all of Nebraska. (The primary competition being the Museum of the Fur Trade and the world’s largest ball of postage stamps.)

Now, Cabela’s has come to you.

Still, you’re the outdoors type and not used to spending an autumn day in a store. It can be disorienting.

So, here’s your Hunter Dan guide to shopping at Cabela’s, where workers are still putting the finishing touches on displays, but on Wednesday hosted media.

Like you, Hunter Dan is an outdoorsman, as you can tell from his blaze-orange vest and LaCrosse boots, not to mention his ever-present deer rifle. But since he’s a Cabela’s action figure ($19.99, plus $5.99 for the optional black Labrador retriever), he also spends a lot of time in stores.

•Get your bearings.

Your GPS won’t work under the roof, so take a look around when you enter. The suspended flock of Canada geese is setting in the east; the actual Piper Super Cub airplane appears to be rising in the west, before an alpine backdrop. To the north is the giant aquarium, where fish will be tended by an in-store biologist. To the south are the guns, including some valued in the tens of thousands of dollars that will be kept in the mahogany-trimmed “gun library.”

And rising mid-store is Conservation Mountain, which has its own stream and bristles with more than 75 mounted animals, including the polar bear that used to greet visitors at Spokane International Airport before it was moved to Walk in the Wild zoo, Gonzaga University and the Davenport Hotel. Many of the store’s other animals have regional significance, too, including wild sheep shot by Jack O’Connor, a famed outdoor writer who spent the last 30 years of his life in Lewiston.

•Read the signs.

We’re not talking signs like deer tracks and scat. But signs as in those designed to help you find your car. Because, according to company spokeswoman Kari Blankenship, there could be 15,000 visitors a day during opening weekend, and every mud-splattered SUV starts to look alike.

Blankenship should know. She travels the country helping with store openings, which keeps her especially busy these days – Post Falls is one of 11 new stores in the works for the company that traditionally has done most of its sales by mail.

•Bring the essentials.

Every sportsman knows about the 10 essentials – those things one should carry for wilderness survival: compass, matches, extra food, flashlight …

At Cabela’s the essentials are Discover, MasterCard and Visa. About 20 percent of purchases are made with Cabela’s Club Visa cards – one part of the company’s finance-services arm, which helped Cabela’s gross $2 billion last year, according to its annual report.

•Take care of your body.

The average Cabela’s visit lasts 3 ½ hours, according to Blankenship. You’ll be spending that time on your feet, so wear proper footwear – the Adventure X4 walking shoe with polyurethane cushioned footbed and midfoot bridge sounds about right. (Available in men’s or women’s sizes for $79.95.)

Keeping fed and hydrated shouldn’t be a problem.

“In our White Pine Café, we have wild game,” said Blankenship. “We have venison bratwurst, bison bratwurst, ostrich, wild boar,” as well as tamer fare, like pizzas and salads.

Above all, know when to call it quits for the day. Unlike deer season, Cabela’s is open year-round, with exceptions for Christmas and a few other holidays.

•Ask the locals for advice.

Walk over to the hunting department, for instance, and ask John Serrano for a duck-calling demonstration. You’ll wonder why Eckart Preu hasn’t tapped him for the Spokane Symphony.

But Serrano’s real talent is narrating the response of an imaginary flock while his colleague, Pat McCormick, plays music on a goose call. It’s like sitting in a blind in the Kootenai River Valley – except that your feet are dry.

They’re fairly typical employees, said Blankenship, who grew up fishing and hunting in Missouri.

“Customers expect them to be experts,” she said. “We want people to be very passionate about everything the outdoors has to offer.”

• It’s not all about you.

Let your kids enjoy the shooting gallery, where hitting a target with a laser gun causes an unexpected reaction – water squirting at the marksman, a bee hive dropping from the ceiling, an animal stepping out of the bushes.

And pick up something for friends who prefer life indoors. Might as well be something you’ll enjoy, too – a camouflage teddy, for instance.

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