Welcome to the host site for outdoor writer Steve Sorensen’s “Everyday Hunter” columns. For a complete index of all columns, go to EverydayHunter.com.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Why Cabela’s Is Coming to Erie (and other news)

by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, March 30, 2013.)

Road trip to Cabela’s? We can do this year’s Christmas shopping there because Cabela’s is finally coming to northwest Pennsylvania.

Cabela’s has announced plans to build a store in Erie, on the hill above the Millcreek Mall overlooking Interstate 79. Barring any disruption to its plan, it’s expected to be open by Thanksgiving.

Cabelas will be going head-to-head 
with Gander Mountain in those small markets.

Now that Cabela’s has placed huge stores in strategic locations all across the country, the giant sporting goods retailer is shifting its strategy to enter smaller markets. That’s good news for local Cabela’s shoppers who live a 4 to 5 hour drive from the nearest store, whether it’s in Hamburg, Pennsylvania, or Wheeling, West Virginia, or Dundee, Michigan.

The Erie Cabela’s will be a smaller-format “Outpost” store, reflecting Cabela’s new strategy in areas populated by roughly 250,000 people, with a high concentration of hunters and fishermen.

Cabela’s Outpost in Erie will be approximately 43,000 square feet. Their big stores are several times that size, but sales per square foot and profit per square foot in other new Outpost stores are running 30% to 40% higher than in their super-sized stores. That’s a lot, but the big stores have lots of square footage devoted to huge taxidermy displays, dioramas and aquariums, where the sales per square foot are virtually nil.

Cabela’s CEO Thomas Millner says the Outposts will also feature new store technology with “an innovative, flexible floor plan, which will provide our customers an ever-changing visual look at the center core of the store, complemented by a revolutionary digital signage concept.”  Customer experience will definitely be different from the big stores, but the Cabela’s brand will remain prominent.

A few readers might remember that back in 1999 Cabelas bought Gander Mountain’s mail order business – a deal which included a no-compete clause – and Gander Mountain became a small market retain chain. Now, Cabelas will be going head-to-head with Gander Mountain in those small markets.

The competition will likely be good for hunting and fishing consumers who shop the chain stores, but lots of smaller businesses fight for those customers, too. So unless locally owned sporting goods stores in the markets Cabela’s is entering have a unique niche with some kind of specialized expertise, or a devoted customer base, they may face some challenges.

What else is news? Harrisburg’s big Eastern Sport Show will be back.

Most sportsmen know the 58th year of Harrisburg’s big sport show was canceled. Explanations have been confusing and insufficient, but aside from possible lawsuits that’s all water under the bridge now.

Although the 2013 Eastern Sport Show never took place, its prospects for 2014 are bright. According to the Harrisburg Patriot-News, the Dauphin County Board of Commissioners anted up $58,000 to reserve the Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex for next year’s show, so the show is on for 2014.

Who will run it? Who will sponsor it? What might change? No one knows. But everyone – from those who shared in suffering the $80 million loss the show’s cancellation caused, to those who welcome the cabin fever respite the show offers – can thank the Dauphin County Commissioners for their foresight and action.

One more thing. Comcast, the cable company which was the only major sponsor of the Eastern Sport Show that didn’t pull out, has been pulling TV ads of companies that advertise guns. Not “assault rifles,” but common bolt action hunting rifles. It happened to an Athens, Georgia pawn shop and a few other stores.

The company explained that since the tragic December shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, Comcast no longer permits anyone using its services to advertise firearms. Comcast, part of NBC Universal, says it adheres to NBC standards.

Some are calling this censorship, but Comcast is a private company, and has a right to allow or prohibit the advertising of legal products of any kind. So, censorship is the wrong word.

The right word is hypocrisy – unless Comcast and NBC are planning to stop broadcasting violence involving firearms. Gun companies are often accused of being all about money, but the money flowing into the pockets of Remington, Winchester and other gun makers is pennies compared to the money the entertainment media makes by featuring the misuse of guns.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Do You See Glorious Green?

by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, March 16, 2013.)

Green is glorious.

Although my eyesight was better when I was a kid, I didn’t see then what I see now. With each passing year the changes I witness in springtime seem more and more impressive. Do you have eyes to see it? Do you see the things behind the things you see?

Why we don’t ooh and ahh at the 
variegated spring hills, like we do in fall? 

Are you seeing raggedy-looking deer feeding voraciously in fields along the roads? We see their coats beat up by three months of harsh weather. One reason those deer are so hungry now is that many of them, as the saying goes, are “eating for two” – or even three. Inside some of those deer, seen only by God, are fawn embryos – and their developmental pace is picking up speed. By the end of May, those fawns will start hitting the ground.

When you step out of your house in the morning, are you hearing songbirds composing sonatas for their mates? It reminds me that turkeys are strutting and gobbling as the gobblers try to catch the interest of the hens. Remarkably, the harsh winter seems to have had little effect on the feathered armor of the big birds – much less than it had on the hair of the deer as they shed the gray-brown winter coat for the red-brown summer coat.  

When you see baby robins in the nest, will you realize most animals have been programmed to bear young in the spring, when optimum conditions prevail? If fawns were born and chicks were hatched in November, they’d never survive. The young of coyotes and foxes are also born in spring, and their transition to solid food is timed perfectly – it’s the same time the offspring of prey species enter the world.

Prey species must be prolific because their young suffer high mortality. A turkey hen, for example, will hatch a dozen or more poults and is lucky if half of them still survive come fall. By then their flesh has nourished ravenous prey animals. Yes, predators gotta eat.

Have you noticed how much more profound the changes to the trees are in the spring than in the fall? The beautiful colors in the autumn landscape are hard to miss as fall gives us a show that peaks for only about a week. If we have eyes to see it, spring gives us a show that lasts from now to June, and beyond.

The hills around us will soon turn pink as the leaf buds on the hardwood trees begin to swell. Before long, those hills gradually transition from pink to seemingly infinite shades of green – from the palest that’s virtually yellow, to the deepest green of the primeval hemlocks.

Every hardwood species has its own vernal hue, and proceeds at its own pace to a mature, vibrant green. To me, the greens of spring put on a show just as spectacular as the brilliant reds and oranges and yellows of fall. Why we don’t ooh and ahh at the variegated spring hills, like we do in fall?

The prophet Ezekiel said, “Son of man, you are living among a rebellious people. They have eyes to see but do not see and ears to hear but do not hear” (Ezekiel 12:2). I hope our eyes aren’t failing to see the splendor of spring because we’re rebellious, or self-absorbed, or spiritually nearsighted. We tell ourselves to stop and smell the roses. Can we also tell ourselves to stop and soak in the beauty as we stand on the threshold of earth’s glorious green?

Jesus said in Matthew 13:13, “This is why I speak to them in parables: Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand.” Could there be a parable for us in those cryptic words? When glorious green breaks out all around us, will we see the trees of our hillsides proclaiming their praise for their creator in the way he made them to do? And will we join the chorus?

Saturday, March 02, 2013

One Good Shot

by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, March 2, 2013.)

“Bang....” After the echo died away, “Bang.”

“That must have been Steve,” Dad said to my brother Andy. A little while later I crossed paths with Andy as I was dragging an eight-point out of the woods.
“Why’d it take two shots?” Andy asked.

You're trying to figure out what went wrong --
kind of a post-mortem analysis
 without anything being dead yet.

I said, “Well, he went right down with the first shot, but when I walked up to him I grabbed an antler to hoist his head. He twisted the antler out of my hand and got up running, so I had to shoot again.”

True story. That was many years ago. When we were young, Dad and my brothers kidded me for always taking two shots. I connected on most of the first shots, but for one reason or another often had to send another bullet deer-ward. Usually it was because the deer didn’t go down quickly enough. A heart-shot deer can run a hundred yards or more.

OK. Maybe I did miss a few of those first shots. Like the first shot on one of my two 10-points last season. (Yes, you read that right. I got the first one in New York on Thanksgiving Day and the second one in Pennsylvania on opening day. Probably a fluke.)

When you miss a deer, it’s never a good thing but not necessarily the worst thing either. Often, they don’t know the meaning of a rifle shot, or they don’t know where it came from. They hear other loud noises. Thunder comes to mind. Trees snapping. Deer don’t recognize a loud noise, by itself, as a threat.

But when you miss that first shot, the second shot isn’t easy. The deer is alert. He might be confused. And he’s ready to take off like an Olympic hurdler.

Several things can go wrong with first shots. I was still-hunting last season on opening day, and when the buck got up about 70 yards away I had just stepped over a log and squeezed under the limb of a beech tree, rustling the dried leaves that still clung to it. He heard it, but he wasn’t sure where the sound came from. So, he froze while his eyes and nose gathered information to confirm what his ears heard.

It should have been an easy shot, but I was wearing a backpack with wide, padded straps. The straps prevented a good anchor into my shoulder, which affected my cheek weld against the stock. I was holding the rifle too loosely, and the crosshairs in the scope were wandering around on – and apparently off – the deer’s chest.

The second shot is a difficult mental and physical challenge. You’re not just cycling another round into the rifle’s chamber and pulling the trigger again. You’re watching the deer to see how he’s sizing up the situation. You’re trying to cycle the bolt as quietly as possible. You’re thinking about wind direction. You get tunnel vision, and become oblivious to any other deer that may be there. You’re trying to figure out what went wrong – kind of a post-mortem analysis without anything being dead yet. And you’re trying to correct what went wrong without even being sure what happened.

And the urgency of the moment tends to jolt you with an extra squirt from your adrenal glands – not what you need while you’re trying to remain calm.

On top of all that, when you’re trying to change your reputation as Second-shot Steve, you’re giving that ages-old monkey another piggy back ride.

Fortunately, my second shot connected. I prefer a high shoulder shot because it usually drops the deer in his tracks, but I hit him low. The bullet ruined his heart, and he had one last 80-yard sprint left in him.

When we hear other hunters fire off two or more rounds, we usually think, “There’s a deer that got away.” But not always. And for me, fortunately, not usually. Most of the time I make one good shot, but it’s not always the first shot.