Me Man, Me Hunt!

Article excerpt

When you reach Sidney, Nebraska in the late summer, you've driven about two hours since you've seen anything green. Or any water at all. lust the brown of wheat fields during harvest, parched pasture, and a blue sky that goes on forever.

Then up looms an oasis: Cabela's, the giant hunting and fishing store. In front of Cabela's flagship Sidney store lies a lake of several acres. The broad lawn surrounding the lake is kept lush by enough water to supply a small town. Inside the cavernous building are enough boats on display (though we are in the heart of a great American desert) to launch an amphibious landing against a medium-sized country.

On the edge of Kansas City, Kansas sprawls the very newest Cabela's store and draws people not just to shop but also to gawk. Outside the store, visible from two expressways, stands a 19-foot-tall bronze statue of three trophy mule deer. The actual carcasses of those deer are on display inside the store--along with about 800 other stuffed animals. Not to mention the huge aquarium. Live trout swim in a stream tumbling out of a 35-foot mountain at the back of the store. Ducks swim in the indoor stream. And the museum displays what seems to be every trophy deer ever shot in a variety of superb naturalistic settings.

In the second-floor food court one can choose from buffalo burger to grilled walleye with wild rice. The gun library, where the more expensive firearms are sold, is located in a corner of the store. The weapons are displayed in beautiful walnut cabinets beneath a pressed copper ceiling. Six-foot-long elephant tusks guard the door. You can easily drop $20,000 on a shotgun, or buy a carbine once carried by a pony soldier.

These stores purveying rods, rifles, and other rudiments of the outdoor life are huge economic engines. They draw hundreds of thousands of people from hundreds of miles away, and support gas stations, restaurants, hotels, and other establishments in bubbles around their interstate exits. And they are just the front edge of a "huntin' an' fishin'" industry that is now one of the most thriving corners of American retailing.

In 2001, 34 million Americans over the age of 16 went fishing, and over 13 million hunted. The vast number were males. Though the number of female shooters is increasing rapidly, women still make up only 13 percent of those who hunt.

Although participation in small game hunting is falling, fishing and large game hunting have remained stable. Spending by sportsmen has increased 29 percent over the last decade. Overall expenditures by outdoor enthusiasts (including not only hunting and fishing themselves but also related activities like hiking, photography, and feeding wildlife) totaled over $100 billion in 2001, amounting to around 1 percent of GDP.

Despite these statistics, all is not well in the world of hunters. Like many activities and traits identified with men, and particularly men who live in rural areas, hunting is under attack on a number of fronts. Environmentalists say they don't like the way hunters invade the wilderness. Animal rights activists don't like the way hunters treat animals. Psychiatrist Karl Menninger has opined that hunting is a "socially accepted" form of sadism, with hunters under the sway of an "erotic sadistic motivation." Dr. Joel Saper also worries about the sexual aspect of hunting, stating that hunting "may reflect a profound yet subtle psychosexual inadequacy." Maybe it's because guns are so, well, phallic, but this theme is a constant in the anti-hunting literature. Clinical psychologist Margaret Brooke-Williams has postulated that "Hunters are seeking reassurance of their sexuality. The feeling of power that hunting brings temporarily alleviates this sexual uneasiness." No wonder lots of rifle-toting men have grown decidedly defensive about their hobby.

I'm pretty sure that most of the people I saw shopping in Cabela's on Super Bowl Sunday weren't worrying much about their sexual inadequacies. …