Eat or Be Eaten

Cabela's Northwood Cache Restaurant
3900 Cabela Dr. (exit 45 off I-35), Owatonna; (507) 451-4545
Hours: Monday-Saturday 8:00 a.m.-8:30 p.m.; Sunday 10:00 a.m.-5:30 p.m.

Bunky, are you feeling tired? Listless? Worn-out as a horsefly pulled out of the belly of a 20-pound trout? Does a rendezvous with the looking glass reveal eyes like poached eggs and skin like antediluvian antifreeze? I thought so. It's the last gasp of a particularly spastic winter, it's the dark before the dawn, the what-doesn't-kill-us of the year. And heavens to Murgatroid, Bunky, you look it.

What you need is a road trip. A journey to foreign lands. The restorative eye-opener of the old cultural compare-and-contrast. What? You say you don't have two dead presidents to rub together? Well, Bunky, fear not, I've got a way for you to eyeball the stunning critters of foreign lands, the lions, tigers, bears, and rhinoceroses, the savannas, mountains, and watersides of the great, green globe. And it's all right here in our own back yard, and it's free, free, free.

Teddy Maki

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Cabela's Northwood Cache Restaurant

3900 Cabela Drive
Owatonna, MN 55060

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: Outstate

Well, true, all the critters are dead and the landscapes are man-made, but still, I'm telling you: free, free, free.

Unless you're hankering to chaw some of this here wildlife. But I get ahead of myself. For the time being, throw your next of kin in the car and point your motor south, 60 miles straight down I-35 to Cabela's, the Disney World/natural-history museum/Menards of hunting and fishing.

Personally, I've been slumbering under a rock for so long, I knew zed about this glitzy 150,000-square-foot hunting-and-sporting outfitter set on a decidedly unglitzy swath of rolling not-much just east of downtown Owatonna. But when I saw two Buick-sized shiny brass bucks gamboling down a steep incline and looking as eager and driven as a pair of ravers eyeballing a distant strobe light, I knew I had really found something.

Securing one of Cabela's 700 parking spaces, I took note of the very varied license plates on the macadam: Kansas, Michigan, South Dakota, Iowa, Oklahoma, Oregon (Oregon??), and more than a few Minnesota fish-and-wildlife plates. Once inside the bank of front doors, I threw myself upon the ground, squawking and screaming at the top of my lungs, for it seemed an entire flock of geese was about to land on my head, followed by a whole passel of ducks. Not so, advised the kindly salespeople who scraped me off the decks: The descending flocks were merely taxidermied specimens hung from invisible wires and posed to look as if they were landing on your head.

Recovering my breath, I looked round the cavernous space: As far as the eye could see were the immobilized, mounted heads of the globe's finest fauna, with a particular emphasis on deer. In fact, just past the information desk were two mounted bucks gaily rotating on a dais, with a nearby sign describing one of them as the "greatest typical whitetail ever to have walked the woods and prairies of North America." As they spun, these great bucks passed through an arc made of another dozen mounted deer heads--an ungulate version of Amityville Horror-does-Silence of the Lambs.

For the next two hours, I walked around with my mouth open, dazzled at the quantity, variety, and, well, quantity of taxidermied animals tossed around the joint. A veldty display held the African and exotic animals: bongo, roan, hartebeest, oryx, bontebok, klipspringer, baboon, warthogs, impala, zebra, lesser kudu, hyenas (with and without bloody meat scraps), crested cranes, vultures, male and female lions, an African elephant, rhinoceroses, leopards, and other, many other, critters. Toward the rear of the store sat "Conservation Mountain," an awesome, 35-foot peak chock-a-block with a hundred exemplars of North American stuffed game: Grizzly bears, polar bears, black bears, caribou, mountain goats, bison, foxes, wild turkeys, moose, pheasants, doves, all kinds of deer, squirrels, beaver, porcupine, javelinas, rabbits, and a coyote--the latter so convincing, I stood by helpless as a tot ducked under the fence that separates shoppers and varmints, cooing "doggy, doggy," as he leapt upon the creature.

In between the animals are zillions of other things to amuse: swords, bayonets, black-powder reproduction guns (for Civil War reenactors and such), a library of collector shotguns (costing up to $10,000 apiece), handguns, even smallish cannons, (which can shoot a golf ball four miles, according to one Cabela's employee). There are virtual-reality shooting parlors, for both bow and arrow and gun, where you could shoot at a video screen for $30 an hour, or $10 for 15 minutes. There are wild-turkey decoys (two options to consider are the Hot Hen, who does a mating dance when you pull a cord, or Bubba the male turkey, with whom other turkeys will want to pick fights) and turkey calls, which are laid out for all to try--I blew "When Froggy Went A-Courtin'," which came out more like "When Froggy Went A-Dyin'".

Exhausted from my sightseeing, I climbed a set of steps up to the second level of the store, to Cabela's Northwood Cache. Now a cache, according to a Cabela's sign, is a spot where "during the 1800s, frontiersmen would often deposit provisions and supplies along the way to be picked up for the journey home. This cache (pronounced cash), which was a hiding place for provisions, was marked by a tree, rock formation, or a particular bend in a river or a stream." Hereabouts, a cache is marked by a refrigerator case stuffed with little tubs of potato salad.

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