Utne Blogs > Environment

Cabela’s Takes a Bullet in Montana

 by Keith Goetzman

Tags: environment, wilderness, wildlife, hunting, fishing, Cabela’s, Republican, conservation,

Cabela's lionOutdoor retailer Cabela’s inspires an almost religious following among hunters and anglers who make pilgrimages to its humongous shrinelike stores filled with taxidermied trophy game. But New West magazine reports that Cabela’s lost some of its flock in Montana by acting like an 800-pound gorilla.

In New West’s premiere issue, writer Bill Schneider cites two reasons for a revolt among some Cabela’s customers. For one, Cabela’s got involved in a real estate business, Cabela’s Trophy Properties, that could reduce access to land used by hunters and anglers. For another, the store threw its weight around with “aggressive subsidy requests” from local governments in places where it wanted to build new locations. (The magazine’s affiliated website, NewWest.net, has covered the controversy online.)

The real estate blunder seems to have been the biggest misfire. After word got out, “The Montana Wildlife Federation, the state’s largest sporting group, told its 7,000 members to return or burn Cabela’s catalogs,” writes Schneider. “And they did.” Cabela’s backed off and started making concessions to its critics, but not before taking a shot to the flank.

I’ve long wondered how any truly conservation-minded hunter or angler could give money to Cabela’s. Not only does the store seem to glorify the worst elements of the hook-and-bullet crowd by focusing on spectacle and trophies over subsistence and conservation, it has strong ties to the environmentally destructive Bush administration. (The environment, it should be noted, is where game fish and animals live.) As Slate has reported, the Bush-Cheney campaign made a string of campaign stops in Cabela’s stores, and founders Dick and Mary Cabela “maxed out as donors to President Bush’s 2004 campaign and [have] given thousands of dollars more to other Republican candidates and organizations.”

Cabela’s may be seeing the limits of its influence, however. Bush is now a very lame duck, Cheney has distanced himself from any hunting affiliations for obvious reasons, and, Schneider reports, Cabela’s has announced a dramatic cutback in its store openings—including one proposed for Billings, Montana.

Image of lion at Cabela's licensed under Wikimedia Commons.