As hunters prepare for firearms deer season, merchants can’t wipe the smiles off their faces from a good fall fishing season and the rise of crossbow shooting. “We’ve had a very good fall,” said both Hendri Ernst and Kevin Lempola, owners and managers of Park Rapids’ two major outdoors shops. “Wind has played a little bit of an issue,” added Lempola, of Delaney’s Sport Center. But thanks to new innovations and what Lempola calls “copies of copies” in technology, both Delaney’s and Smokey Hills Outdoor Store are having lucrative seasons.
“What is this hunting thing?” joked customer Brad Lehmkuhl of Sebeka, who was toting two large bags of fat minnows out the door of Delaney’s last week. “I fish,” he said with finality. But he doesn’t eat fish, which makes his friends and company very happy. He’s not a hunter. Over at Smokey Hills, a new garage has gone up behind the store, which is to service recreational vehicles and ice houses. Both stalls were full Wednesday. “We just keep adding on,” Ernst said proudly. “No one else does this work here.” Both stores were busy selling rifles and fixing scopes this week and mounting them to rifles. But both stores say thanks to a change in hunting laws, crossbow hunting is growing by leaps and bounds.
Before, to get a crossbow license, you generally had to be handicapped or have some type of disability, Lempola said. Now anyone over age 60 can crossbow hunt through both the archery and firearms deer seasons. You don’t need to prove a disability. Crossbows started selling like hotcakes as Baby Boomers latched on to the new hobby. Some of the least expensive crossbows start around $400, so merchants have a profit margin that fluctuates widely. And, in some areas, especially around Park Rapids, the DNR relaxed the deer limits to two. Hunters can also shoot one by crossbow and one by rifle in those areas, Lempola said.
“People are picking up game cameras and gussying up their stands,” Lempola said. “We used to sit on wood pallets,” he added, talking about how the market for new toys has grown. “Bonus tags are good for the industry,”Lempola said of the two-deer limits, but he also recognizes the need to rebuild deer herds in the Two Inlets and Lake George areas, which have been popular for hunters coming to Hubbard County. Ernst said a bright display of hunting knives with interchangeable blades is attracting a lot of attention at his store. The knives even come in pink and lime green in the rainbow of colors offered. You use the blade and discard it, Ernst said. Just snap in a new one. Last weekend’s MEA conventions were busy at both stores, the men said, with hunters coming up to check their shacks and stocking up on things to replenish their supplies, like shells and bullets.
Lines of ladies hunting gear are still growing, too. Pink rifles and crossbows are selling well, as are pink revolvers, pink caps and pink long underwear. “It’s going to all depend on the weather,” Lempola said. Weather forecasts aren’t out for the rifle deer season yet, but the El Nino phenomenon hints that the season could be warmer than average. That means sales of hand-warmers, mittens and boot liners may lag a bit behind colder seasons. Ernst hired a mechanic to service the RVs the business was getting in for repairs. A carpenter was busy building cabinets in an Ice Castle that was being outfitted for multiple seasons, hunting and ice fishing. Lehmkuhl hopes the balmy fall continues. “But don’t use my real name,” he laughed. “I’m supposed to be at home. My wife will love this.”