Just the sight of it in the distance can make grown men tremble. It’s been described as Mecca. Some call it a way of life. Just don't call Cabela's a store — that's assuming you've even heard of Cabela's.
Whether or not you know the name, Cabela's may say a lot about you. It may even give away where you live. A lot of political pros feel that in a tight presidential election, the key to victory just might be found right here in their aisles.
"We bill ourselves as the world's foremost outfitter of hunting, fishing and outdoor gear," says Cabela's Senior Vice President Mike Callahan.
There are only ten Cabela's stores, running north to south like a tour of the political battleground states. Each store draws four million customers each year. That’s on top of the 100 million catalogs they send out. Cabela's is huge in the heartland.
Cabela's doesn’t get your average customers, but then: Cabela's isn't your average store.
Many people drive hours to get to Cabela's. Each store has recreation vehicle parking for the families that make this either part of their vacation or their final destination. The average store visit is four hours.
Inside is an incredible display of nature. There’s a trout stream, an aquarium, a restaurant, laser tag for the kids and target practice for adults.
And, there are guns. Rare guns are on display in the gun library. All others for sale.
Last time around, six in ten gun owners voted for George W. Bush. And while the average Cabela's customer is a white male from a red state, there are exceptions.
Is there any way to typify the Cabela's customer?
"I think people that hunt and fish and believe the phrase, ‘Under God’ belongs in the Pledge of Allegiance," says Callahan.
When candidates are told to go after the Cabela's voters, who are they?
"I would say they are probably more middle-of-the-road, God-fearing people. They are conservative by nature," says customer Jim Szep.
“For me, a lot of it is spending time in the outdoors, and just enjoying all of God's beauty out there," adds customer Jenny Olsen.
So, it’s no surprise that President Bush has visited two Cabela's. Vice President Dick Cheney held a town meeting in one and the Kerry campaign is considering a future event.
Cabela's is one-stop shopping for politicians looking for a certain demographic. Guys like Ted Norris, who runs a sportsman's club not far from Cabela's Michigan store — and who knows why his vote is being targeted.
"I believe that we're now becoming a population to be reckoned with," says Norris.
That means, in this political season, the hunters have become the hunted.