Saturday, October 4, 2008

Crossing Donner Summit to go to Cabela's

When I woke up yesterday, I checked the forecast for Reno. Severe storm alert. Gusts up to 50 mph expected. The first storm of the year.

What a great time to cross Donner Summit! Somewhere in the back of my head, I remembered a history lesson. Something about silly white people trying to cross the summit as winter advanced. Didn't they end up eating each other for food?

I threw tire chains and an extra jacket in the back of my car and headed up anyway. I was on a mission: a pilgrimage to Cabela's.

I've been meaning to take the 117-mile journey to Cabela's since the store opened 11 months ago, but dangit, they opened in the middle of duck season, and my weekends are taken that time of year.

When the Sacramento Bee wrote about it back then, I was smitten. A company spokesman had told the Bee, "We know that the fastest-growing hunting and fishing population is female, and we have clothing, for instance, actually made for women, not just made for undersized men and sold to women."

Finding hunting clothing that's sized and cut for women is a big deal. Most stores don't carry much for us.

And with duck season just two weeks away, this is an issue for me right now.

The Gamehide duck jacket I've been wearing for the past two seasons is a men's jacket. I loved it at first, because it has great features - water-resistant Hushhide shell, removable fleece liner, nice pockets. But by the end of last season I realized a men's medium is too big for me - the over- sized collar and unneeded extra fabric was getting in the way of a smooth gun mount. I'm sure I could make a men's small work, but none of my local stores ever carries men's small. (And don't even suggest kids' sizes - I'm tall, and I have long arms.)

I've seen women's duck jackets in the Cabela's catalog, but I've never bought them because I'm the kind of person who needs to try something on. That's why I needed to go to Cabela's in person. Even if I didn't like the women's jackets, I figured a company whose motto is "World's Foremost Outfitter" would at least have some men's smalls in stock.

So I hustled up to Reno yesterday, where I would meet up with some friends who were attending the White House Conference on North American Wildlife Policy. Bernadette and I were hunting for jackets and anything else we could get. My friend Sarah was hunting for waders, and her boss, Bob, wanted to find some waders for his daughter too. Tracey came along too, eager to see the Mecca of modern hunters.

We arrived in two groups that somehow never met up in the enormous store. Sarah, Bob and I stocked up on ammo and then meandered to waders, where we immediately saw, of all things, Cabela's women's waders!

These waders were brilliant. Why? Men's waders are often too long for us, so those big plastic buckles for the straps usually sit right about where we need to mount our guns. Bad news, man. I've just taken to hunting with my left strap unbuckled, hip-hop style, to avoid sloppy mounts and painful recoil problems.

These waders? They had Velcro straps, so there was no buckle problem at all. It also looked like they'd provide some recoil protection!

But they were 5mm neoprene, which is way too thick for the kind of hunting we do in the Sacramento Valley. If you're not lucky enough to hunt from a boat or on some chi-chi private property where you can drive right up to the blind, you usually have to walk anywhere from half a mile to a mile and a half to get to your spot. And with lows that rarely dip more than a few degrees below freezing, 5mm neoprene would make that feel like walking in the Sahara.

OK, so where's the 3mm ... ?

There was none in this model. There was another women's model, but it had the infernal buckle. Why on earth would they get it right for the 5mm model, but not the 3mm model? The latter was exactly what that Cabela's spokesman promised the store wouldn't carry: a scaled-down men's model.

Sarah reluctantly put the inferior waders in the cart, and on the way to the jacket section, we talked about breaking out our sewing machines to customize our waders.

Meanwhile, Tracey had called my cell phone to let me know she and Bernadette were leaving. "It was a bust," she said. "We're disappointed."

When I went to the big hunting camo section, I saw why. We found help, and I told the man what I was looking for: if not a women's duck jacket, a men's small - the slim-line type that you can easily tuck into waders.

They didn't carry any women's duck jackets. "And I don't think you're going to find any men's smalls," he said.

What? We were at the World's Foremost Outfitter. Don't tell me every man who walks in that store is huge.

But it was true. Not a small in sight.

"Just try this medium, just in case," he said.

"I have a men's medium jacket at home right now. It just doesn't make sense to buy another," I said as I tried on, and rejected, several jackets. "What about gloves. Got any men's smalls?"

"That I know we have," he said, happy to come up with something I needed.

I've had the exact same problem with gloves that I've had with my jacket. You can never find men's small. Men's medium is huge, which is not a good thing in gloves you wear while handling a shotgun. I've suffered for two seasons now with some uncomfortably tight children's large "glomitts" - the glove/mitten combo - and I really wanted to find something that fit.

I found it - the MT050 Windstopper Glomitt with 150-gram Thinsulate. Water resistant. The day wasn't a total bust. Perhaps I could forgive Cabela's. Perhaps it really did care about huntresses.

Or perhaps not.

When we went to the checkout stands, we split up to make our purchases. As I finished my purchase, I heard the clerk talking to Sarah behind me as she rang up Sarah's waders, some gloves and a box of Kent Fasteel.

"So, is your husband going waterfowl hunting soon?" the girl asked Sarah.

Oh no she didn't!

"No," Sarah replied calmly. "These are for me."

"Oh, do you go waterfowl hunting with your husband?"

Sarah's husband doesn't hunt.

"No," Sarah said. "I hunt with my girlfriends."

"Oh, that's nice," the girl said.

Sarah and I pushed the cart out of the store, speaking to each other through gritted teeth. "What the #@&*!!?"

We'd had such high hopes walking into that store. Not only were we sorely disappointed in the offerings for women, but a female checkout clerk had committed the cardinal sin of assuming a woman couldn't possibly be a hunter.

I wouldn't have expected that of any hunting store, much less the World's Foremost Outfitter.

We headed back out to our cars. The wind had picked up, and the rain was on its way.

Oh well. I hear there's a Bass Pro Shop going up soon in Manteca. That's only 77 miles away.

POSTSCRIPT: Click here to see what happened as a result of this blog post!

© Holly A. Heyser 2008


Jon Roth said...

That was a great post Holly. I think it is only a matter of time before there are more women's offerings in hunting gear. As I posted the other day about the Wall Street Journal article, women are the one segment in the hunting community that is growing. Keep it up!

Holly Heyser said...

I'm not holding my breath for waterfowl gear. There are just so few of us.

But I probably will fire off a note to Cabela's asking why they don't use that really smart strap system on all of their women's waders. It was almost perfect...

SimplyOutdoors said...

I have to say that Cabelas is an hour and a half drive for us, and it usually disappoints. I did get some good service in the archery department once though.

At least you can away with something. I guess maybe that made the trip worth it -- or not.

Marlana said...

I wouldn't hold your breath about Bass Pro Shops... the store 20 minutes North of my house at first had just 1 rack. That's one, of women's hunting clothing. My husband and I went to BPS to look for lightweight waterproof pants for deer hunting around home... couldn't find womens clothing anywhere!? Asked a clerk & he said at the start of the season this year, they weren't selling any womens, so they took them off the floor. And of course no men's small in waterproof pants, so that didn't work. My gear for deer up North in upstate NY is all mens - super insulated bibs, waterproof jacket & rubber knee-high boots.

Why is it that womens gear always has less insulation than mens? Do they figure we won't be out in the really nasty weather? I've been sitting in the snow when it's 15 degrees out for 5 hrs, would rather do it in a pair of bibs that actually fit.

Josh said...

Bummer. I was also at the Cabelas last Friday (coming home from the White House Conference on Wildlife Conservation and Hunting), and I enjoyed the bison bratwurst and the fact that they carry a speck call for $25, but I didn't buy anything, either.

I'm a tad peeved at Cabelas for not fighting fair against the likes of Gander Mtn. over taxes and such.

We may have passed each other in the store.

mdmnm said...

I know one duck hunter with those Cabela's waders with the velcro straps. After one season the velcro filled up with so much junk-seeds, bits of marsh, mud & muck, that the straps wouldn't secure. Scrubbing with a bristle brush wouldn't adequately clean them out, either.

Holly Heyser said...

Marlana, you're not the first reader who's suggested that - I got an email from someone who works there.

The guy at Cabela's told us they only have something like 10 percent of their catalog stock in the store. But when you have so few women's items in the catalog, it doesn't make sense to have just one-tenth of them in the store. I mean, what's one-tenth of squat?

The good news is there is a LOT of good women's hunting gear out there - it's just that you have to buy online because these stores just won't stock it. And if these stores don't want out business, then I am MORE than happy to go direct to the women-run companies making clothes for me.

In my experience so far, they've all been fantastic about sizing - SHE Safari's rep told me that they'll even send out two sizes, charge you for one and let you send back the one that doesn't fit. It's not as convenient as trying something on at the store, nor as immediately gratifying, but having clothes that fit is worth it.

sportingdays said...


Bummer that your Cabela's pilgrimage ended in disappointment. I'm no fan of big-box stores in general, but I do think the arrival of Cabela's (Reno) and Bass Pro Shops (Manteca) and Dick's Sporting Goods (Elk Grove '09) is a good development for California sportsmen and women.

As much as I like to support our local, independent hunting and fishing shops, I find a lot of attitude among the staff, below average customer service and poor selection way too much of the time.

As for your waders and jacket search, I would take a look at Orvis. I'm not sure what they have in the way of women waterfowling gear, but I know they have women's fly fishing waders. These are breathable, which allow more room for movement than Neopreme and plenty warm enough for California waterfowling. This might be an option to explore.