During a weekend work trip to Springfield, Mo., I wound up visiting Outdoor World, the gigantic flagship store of the wildly (pun intended) popular Bass Pro Shops. Very much the tagalong, I was sorely unprepared for the experience: 300,000 square feet of dead animals and live fish; timeshare opportunities; more Duck Dynasty merch than you can shake an officially licensed stick at; and a colossal fake deer/bull/false idol keeping watch from the back of the store.
It was overwhelming – maybe even awe inspiring. It reminded me of Las Vegas in that it’s unimaginably gaudy and a lot of fun to check out even if it’s not my cup of tea. (Can you develop ADD in the course of one over-stimluated hour?) Just as I don’t gamble, I’m not an outdoorsman. Like, not at all. And, yes, that’s strange considering my dad and grandfathers are into hunting; I grew up in a rural state; and I live in the pheasant capital of the world. Right now, there’s a large orange sign that says “Welcome Hunters” hanging inside the local airport.
The reasons I’m not into hunting or fishing or hiking or even running outside are neither here nor there. Let’s just say that I’m probably better at mending socks than starting a fire and leave it at that.
To that end, I was surprised to find a golf section, albeit a small one, inside the behemoth Bass Pro Shop. That was unremarkable compared to basically everything else.
Near the boats section, there are massive, multi-level tanks with prehistoric-looking fish and waterfalls and small alligators. Alligators. (Alligators.)
There are giant, wooden vertical support (or decorative) beams covered in antlers that used to be attached to, well, some sort of live animal. At least the dead moose got to keep his head, that and the antlers mounted above the second floor on the front wall.
There is a never-ending t-shirt section inside the part of the store that is made to look like the inside of a lake. (The ceiling features fish, weeds and the underside of boats.) I saw one shirt that featured a joke about “stink bait.” (I have no idea what that is.) I saw more than one that were at least vaguely threatening and related to the Second Amendment. If I wanted to learn more about that topic, I could have made my way to the in-store NRA Museum. But I didn’t have time.
There is an astounding array of people. The Amish. Young couples. Folks in need of motorized carts. Tourists. A teenager with a mullet and another with dreadlocks hanging out at the coffee shop that’s adjacent to the supersize fireplace. I found myself trying to figure them out, wondering why they were attracted to the outdoor lifestyle.
I was as mesmerized by the sights and sounds as the imagination and the money that must have gone into bringing the store to fruition. It’s not going to entice me to start hunting nor am I likely to return, but it was an interesting way to pass the time, a new experience. Now I can say that I’ve been to the Modern Museum of American Outdoor Capitalism.