On a trip to West Virginia some years ago, a lone big-box store sat atop a carved out hillside, beckoning for miles around to the motorists speeding down I-70. 'Cabelas :World's Foremost Outfitter' read the room sized bill boards that we could see.
'They sell camping, fishing and hunting gear. Wanna take a look? We could stop by there for a little bit before getting back home', my inquisitive husband and son urged.
I was in the throes of an incipient migraine, which only intensified as we reached the place. I refused to set foot in a 'sanctuary of guns and hunting', preferring to sit on the rustic split log bench at the air-conditioned entrance (polyurethaned to high heaven- my sense of smell goes haywire when in migraine mode!) while the rest of the party went inside to take a gander (Bad pun intended.)
This time, the circumstances were different. As we drove up the hill, the lone big-box had expanded into a plateau covered with Targets, Penneys, restaurant franchises and all the trappings of big suburbia. The Cabelas was merely another among a sea of comparable lots.
I was curious to see this high temple of those who bitterly cling to their guns.
First sight on entry: a plastic water cooler filled with plush wildlife puppets, that M promptly went crazy over. We persuaded her to put back the squirrel puppet that she threatened us with and walked on into the guns and rifle section. Aisles and aisles of bullet clips, and gun supplies on one side, hunters' camouflage clothing on the other. One especially ingenious type had leaf shaped pieces sown all over the jacket and pant- making the wearer look like a giant pile of leaves. Hmmm....this gives me ideas for M's next Halloween costume, it would be easy to mimic the look with all the leaves that litter our yard around that time of the year.
It was camouflage gear everywhere, including camo-onesies and camo-pacifiers for your budding infant hunter and camo-overalls for the toddler demographic. There were rag dolls dressed in camo-pinafores and camo-overalls, even camo-outfitted baby dolls. Evidently in Hunter's Paradise, the angels go around in camo-togas rather than pearly whites.
Above us on the rafters were trophy heads of over a dozen variety of deer, antelope, even kudu and wildebeest. I'm not sure how many were real and how many were reproductions, given that they were placed to high for closer examination.
Deflecting an attempt by me to slip into the Bargain Cave to check out the el-cheapo items that probably weren't much cheaper than the original, my husband hustled us on to the piece-de-resistance of the place: a massive pseudo-rocky outcrop towering 2 storeys high, covered with stuffed deer, mountain goats, moose, even a wolf or two, all looking almost as good in death as they must have been regal alive. The larger displays even had plaques next to them "Taken by John Doe, 1971" and such. It was the epitome of the taxidermist's art, even more riveting than some displays that I had seen in the Natural History museum, more poignant because of its location in a place that sold the weapons of their destruction.
Walking around another side of the display yielded a huge surprise. Bears, polar bears! These were 'taken by Paul Yeager, 1964'. Apparently, it is still legal to hunt them, as I was surprised to learn. They are merely a 'threatened species' as opposed to being declared an 'endangered species'. So gruesome sights like this are not going away anytime soon.
Behind the polar bears, there was a massive brown bear posed roaring, full height, while a black mountain bear came down the slope and a pair of small grizzlies snarled over a dead moose. We were beginning to tire of the wildlife display, dazed into compliance with the hunting ambiance as we saw posed buffalo, kudu, antelope, even a couple of lions and lionesses snarling at hyenas (the display arranger surely had Disney's 'Lion King' on the brain), as we walked into the fishing section, rods and tackles, boat accessories galore.
Too overwhelmed to pay much attention there, I grabbed a copy of the free outfitter magazine, rife with hunting and fishing articles-'The fish that got away', 'Unconventional fly patterns for educated fish'(!!??), interspersed with loving ads for rifles, lipstick like arrangements of Winchester ammunition, articles on 'mentoring young hunters' to start with squirrels...It' s a whole new hunter's world out there, that I didn't know existed.
M chose the moment to seize a coonskin cap and try it on, dancing around in glee. 'Amma, can I have one, please, pretty please?'
'Are you sure you want a fur cap? It was a dead animal once, you know'.
M would not be dissuaded and insisted that we get it for her. I felt the cap in question: it appeared to be made largely of faux fur, evident from the knit backing inside, but the tail was suspiciously soft for faux fur. 'We'll pick it up, it's only 6 dollars, after all.'
Then it was up the stairs to the restaurant where we had two servings of excellent crispy French fries, followed by a brief walk through the toy, gift, home decor(including fake plush animal trophies for the kids' room!), furniture and electronics departments, right next to an arcade like rifle range and country store.
Downstairs again, a final walk past a large aquarium (No, not Fish Again!) which I couldn't get past fast enough, to the cash registers and out past an Amish couple seated at the entrance (Do the Amish hunt? I thought they were pacifist, but perhaps that doesn't extend to animals).
M has been running around with S, playing with toy wooden guns, rubber bands, wearing her new coontail cap (hopefully to shreds) pretending to be Davy Crockett, Daniel Boone etc. I have to think of a new place to take them to for this hunting game to come to an end, I suppose!