Hunting catalogs are part of the game


It is the final week of the two-week shotgun deer hunting season. Judging from the echoes of shots throughout the woods and check station reports, hunters are having success.

The shotgun season ends on Saturday. The black powder season begins on Monday. The difference is that the shotgun hunter generally carries a weapon capable of firing five shells while the muzzleloader nimrod is restricted to one shot.

Deer will not be able to munch the Island landscape unmolested until one half hour after sunset on Friday, Dec. 31.

For those considering the benefits of the sport of deer hunting — the opportunity to be outdoors and if successful fill the freezer with high quality, hormone-free meat — I point out an added bonus: the catalogs you can expect to receive as a new member of the hunting fraternity.

The first hunting catalogs were cave walls. Early Paleolithic hunters wanted to display their trophies and communicate about the newest innovations in hunting weapons. In that regard they had much in common with their modern counterparts.

Not much has changed some 35,000 years later. Instead of cave walls we now have glossy magazines and computer screens

Hunting catalogs encompass more than gear. They reflect an outdoor culture and lifestyle that is uniquely American. For example, if you lived in France and wanted to purchase a camouflage bikini to shake up the Riviera crowd or outfit a beachfront villa with a deer-antler chandelier you would not look in Vogue. You would turn to Cabela’s, the giant outdoor retailer based in Sidney, Nebraska.

About 7,000 people live in Sidney of whom about 1,300 work for Cabela’s in its retail store, distribution center, or corporate headquarters.

Brothers Dick and Jim Cabela began their company in 1961 with the goal of providing hunters and fishermen with good products and ran it on the premise that the customer must be satisfied. They have done a good job.

In the process they created a $2.63 billion company that includes a network of retail stores that have become something of an experience in their own right. For a serious hunter a visit to a Cabela’s retail store — the largest located in Pennsylvania is more than 250,000 square feet — is a Hajj.

The company also publishes 130 million catalogs under 97 different titles — 26 billion pages, according to a company prospectus. I know my P.O. box accounts for several hundred of those pages.

Last week, I spoke to Kent Walton, Cabela’s internet/catalog copy manager. Our conversation was delayed a week because Kent was out hunting deer. It was not unusual.

As a company Cabela’s relies for its success on its employees’ embrace of the outdoors and their ability to convey their knowledge and enthusiasm to customers.

Kent said he had not shot a deer because in the area of Nebraska where he hunted — a place with too many does — you “earn” a buck tag by first shooting a doe, and he did not see a doe.

Kent manages a team of eight copywriters and three proofreaders. He also writes a fair bit of copy. His team is responsible for all catalog and Internet copy.

“Like any product, you really have to know your customer,” Kent said. “We hire people who live the Cabela’s lifestyle to be copywriters. We have people who are expert in fly fishing and duck hunting and bow hunting. We really look for people who can talk to our customers in their own language. If we hire someone who doesn’t have that background it becomes very apparent in their copy that they do not know what they are talking about, and then it affects our sales.”

My Cabela’s archery catalog includes seven pages of scent products designed to eliminate human odor with names like “Scent Killer,” “Vanish,” and “Dead Down Wind,” which boasts, “Nanozyme technology attacks and eliminates a broad spectrum of odors at the molecular level.”

There are hunters who would wear the same shirt and underwear for one week and care not a whiff if people move three rows back in a movie theater but who become fastidious about human odor when deer are concerned.

There is also quite a market in deer urine. Honest. Wildlife Research Center’s “Special Golden Estrus” costs $9.99 for one ounce and is “taken from does brought into heat early; collected just weeks before it is shipped. Each bottle is serialized to guarantee freshness.”

It is interesting to consider a copywriter from Madison Avenue trying to describe the attributes of fresh deer urine. Kent said they have tried professional copywriters in the past. But the copy lacked a certain authenticity. “The customer can see right through it,” he said. “No Madison Avenue.”

Kent’s team aims to reflect the Cabela’s voice. He likens it to another well-known brand, Harley Davidson. “We see our brand as a lifestyle,” he said. “People live the Cabela’s life. They do not just buy a rifle or a shotgun or a bow. They are buying log furniture from us. Camo bedding and accessories. It is a 365-day-a-year lifestyle that we are selling … we want to tell people, we are just like you. We have camouflage furniture in our living rooms, and we are out in all our free time in duck blinds and deer stands.”

I asked Kent if there is one product that provides him with a challenge. “Funny that you ask,” he said. “I am staring at my computer screen, pulling my hair out.”

His team is preparing a catalog for women’s active wear and with one woman on the staff Kent must share in the copy. “We are writing women’s active wear and sometimes that can be kind of challenging,” he said. “I am writing about a skirt right now for hiking and so you can see my challenge. Nothing I’m ever going to try out, obviously.”

Where is that guy from Madison Avenue?