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Like a kid in a candy store

As Sherry Greminger mentioned in her recipe section last Saturday, the previous week my family went on vacation. We love the beach and especially the Riviera Maya or Yucatan area of Mexico and try to visit every other year or so … my wife jokes that she has a beach ministry, helping to support the livelohood of the men and ladies who walk up and down the resort beaches selling jewelry and other goods. But this time we stayed closer to home. With our son out on his own now and working this summer at a veterninary clinic, we opted to rent a lake house near his work so he could take part in the family vacation. It was a great week of swimming, boating, eating great food, sleeping late and taking lots of naps as needed.

We had a great week of weather with the exception of one evening of rain. So we decided to take that opportunity and make a road trip to visit the mecca of all things fishing and hunting … Bass Pro in Springfield. It’s hard for my redneck mind to fathom that there’s anyone left in the world who hasn’t visited a Bass Pro store. And Springfield is the “Vatican City” of all things Bass Pro — the site of the original flagship store of the company founded by Johnny Morris in 1971.

My reason for going to Bass Pro this time was not hunting or fishing related, but to pick up a set of Weber rib racks — metal racks which sit on a barbecue grill and hold slabs of ribs in an upright angle to allow for more ribs on the grill. Bass Pro carries Weber cookwear along with dozens of other top brands.

According to the company’s website, “Morris, frustrated by the lack of tackle in local stores, rented a U-Haul trailer and took off across the country filling it with the newest premium fishing tackle he could find. When he returned home to Springfield, Missouri, Johnny started in the fishing business with eight feet of space in his dad’s liquor store which became a popular stopping-off place for local and out-of-state fishermen on the way to the Ozark’s famous bass lakes.

“A number of these anglers started calling when they got back home wanting Johnny to send them some of his specialized Bass Pro Shops tackle. In 1974, in response to this demand, he printed and mailed his first Bass Pro Shops catalog. In 1978, Johnny introduced the first professionally rigged boat, motor and trailer fish-ready package. The Bass Tracker boat “package” revolutionized the marine industry. Huge boat showrooms are featured in every Bass Pro Shops store.”

Wikipedia claims that Morris began construction on the Springfield Bass Pro store, known as the Outdoor World Catalog Showroom, in 1984. Over the next few years additional buildings were added including the Wonders of Wildlife museum in 1991and a clearance outlet where good bargains can be found.

In 1988 Morris began construction on his Big Cedar Lodge on nearby Table Rock Lake, and in 1995 opened a retail store in Atlanta, Ga.

A count on their map shows 61 stores across the United States and Canada at this time. According to the company’s website, stores range in size from “300,000 square feet down to 42,000 square feet. The decor of the stores includes taxidermy mounts native to the local area. All stores have an indoor water feature that showcase fish species that are indigenous to the area.”

While I’ve been to several Bass Pro stores, and to the Springfield location a dozen times or more, it still amazes me every time I grasp the big bronze antler-shaped door pull and swing wide the massive entrance door to the store. Immediately you walk into an indoor world of outdoor flower and fauna, swamps and lakes, hills and streams, and taxidermied animals of all makes and models. While visiting this time I mentioned to my wife that the displays in the store are more elaborate and detailed than I even imagine when thinking of such things. It’s one of those cases where I don’t even dream that big.

While walking around we watched trout, bass, alligator gar, panfish, an alligator, turtles and snakes interacting in cages and tanks. And every time you visit there’s new construction going on. Last time we were there the store was remodeling Hemingway’s, the restaurant inside the store. This time the work was being done to the front foyer where a new staircase adorned with huge game animal mounts is being built.

This time while visiting I had a long conversation with the worker in the knife shop, set inside a life-sized log cabin inside the store, about knifemaker Ken Richardson.

I have a couple Richardson knives including a letter opener that sits on my desk at the newspaper office. I spent some time with and did a story on him a few years ago, and purchased a knife and was given the letter opener as a token of appreciation. Originally a blacksmith and farrier, Richardson eventually turned his skill for making quality knives into a full-time job. For a time he had an outdoor artistry shop in Steeleville, Mo., but now works from his farm and supplies his highly sought after knives to Bass Pro, Cabelas and other outlets. The man working behind the counter at Bass Pro said a high-profile actor (whom he named) recently purchased a Richardson sheath knife through the store, and that several top actors, athletes and outdoorsmen own and use Richardson knives.

Anyone who likes the outdoors can spend hours on end walking the aisles of the store and looking at the unique displays of live and stuffed creatures. And as I said, Bass Pro is known for carrying top name brands. The prices match the quality. There’s no bargain basement goods to be found among the moose, deer and largemouth bass of the Bass Pro shop. So I limit my buying to those items where quality really matters … outdoor gear I intend to use hard and rely on for many years to come. This time that happened to be some metal holders to hold more sides of pork ribs on my barbecue grill. Now that’s an item I intend to really get some serious use out of.

Doug Smith lives in an old house, drives an old truck, tinkers with old tractors, is married to a young woman, hunts and fishes often, and can be found on any given day wearing his Buffalo plaid flannel jacket and matching Elmer Fudd hat. ( … and is really relaxed coming back from vacation. Barbecued ribs anyone!)

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