Now I live in Brooklyn, but I grew up outside Toledo, Ohio, and hunting and fishing was a way of life for my family. Sometimes I feel homesick for the accoutrements of my youth—bear rugs, mounted pheasants, and head-to-toe camouflage. So when I heard that a Cabela’s—the nationwide chain of hunting megastores—had opened in East Hartford, Connecticut, I had to go.
I rented a car with my friend David, a born-and-bred Manhattanite, and drove to the slightly down-at-the-heels industrial city about two hours up the Merritt Parkway. In the middle of town is an open, empty field—a former airstrip, I later learned—from which Cabela’s log-cabinesque structure rises, like a Gothic cathedral awaiting pilgrims.
As is the case with every Cabela’s, the store is huge; I’ve flown out of smaller airports. It contains an aquarium, an indoor archery range, a game area, and Conservation Mountain, which is populated by dozens of taxidermied animals. That’s the first thing you see when you walk in. The second is a sign that says for your safety, please check all firearms at the greeter’s desk before entering.
“Oh my God,” David said. “This is insane.” Then he spotted the sign for Carhartt, makers of warm, durable coats that city men wear to look rugged yet artsy, and off he went. After a thorough browse of the racks (with coats starting at $84.95), he moved on to the shoe section and picked out a pair of Hi-Tec hiking shoes on sale for $34.88. I found shearling-wool slippers for $29.95, cheaper than similar models at J.Crew, although not quite as cute.
Really, what I was looking for was cool camouflage, and on the second floor, I found camo Valhalla. As I climbed the large wooden stairway, a sea of patterns spread before me. Some were the traditional G.I. Joe–green, “concealed in the bushes” patterns; others looked like a Tetris game. Gold-colored duck-hunting overalls had images of reeds and grasses printed up the legs. My favorite: a snow-white, oversize cotton hoodie, sparely etched with gray and black lines that together looked like a wintry landscape. It was very cool, and it was $54.95. I also tried on a hooded “3-D” jacket covered in leaf-size pieces of fluttering fabric. The boxy jacket hit just below my hips. Assessment: Good for hiding in shrubbery; great for skinny jeans and boots; $159.99. Then I found a camo winter cap with rabbit-fur-lined ear flaps called the “Mad Bomber.” It was $34.95; Brooklyn Industry’s faux-fur Bomber cap is $48.
By now, we were hungry, so we had lunch at the on-site café. I chose a juicy buffalo brat with grilled onions and peppers, and David had the lean bison burger (each $6.99). Thus restored, we resumed camo trolling in the kids’ section, which seemed like a good place to find gifts for friends who dress their toddlers in Army pants. I found Advantage Timber camo one-piece jumpers for toddlers, $29.95. A girl’s jumper had pockets on the front trimmed with white eyelet lace and an embroidered deer fawn. Below the fawn it read daddy’s little deer. Maybe not.
I scored again in the camping section. My six-foot-three-inch cousin was coming to visit, and he would be sleeping on either my love seat or the floor—until I found a 75-inch Trekker collapsible cot for $49.99. Welcome, relatives!
As we were drifting toward checkout, I saw the day’s best find: a chandelier made from six fake antlers, $349.99. Jason Miller’s Superordinate Antler chandelier, made with white ceramic antlers, sells at the Future Perfect in Williamsburg for $1,550. If only I had the ceiling to match it.
Fur-lined Trapper Hat, $34.95.
Collapsible Cot, $49.99.
475 E. Hartford Blvd. N., nr. Silver Ln., East Hartford, Conn.; 860-290-6200