So while the public event-based side of hunting keeps the sport out of the mainstream entertainment eye, do not believe for a second that there is not a large and devoted community of hunting, gun, archery and fishing enthusiasts all around you. Chances are you may be one yourself. And while there are rabid football fans coming to life this time of year, the level of dedication by hunting enthusiasts is different in one very big way. Unless you’ve got season tickets to an NFL team, chances are your average football fan does not come close to investing the time and the money into their passion the way shooting sportsmen do. These guys spend some serious coin on their sport, and technology advances in the industry drive new investment on a nearly annual basis. While overall hunting may be a dying pastime, those who are passionate about it are usually VERY passionate about it. And that is why there is still a very strong market in the United States.
What drives these guys (and a few gals)? How does one become a hunting or even just a gun or archery enthusiast? And where do I go to find out if maybe I’m missing out on some high-powered fun? Those are the questions I wanted to ask, as I am not a hunter myself. But having a very serious love of meat, I feel like I’m at least welcome at the conversation.
One thing I learned quickly when peeking under the camouflage tarp that keeps guns, bows and hunting out of the general daily discussion was just how many people who are deeply involved in the sport locally I already knew. Retailers, high school friends, friend’s dads, and clients and business partners from other areas of my life were knee deep in the sport. So I was instantly very comfortable beginning the conversation.
The first thing to understand is, if the whole idea of guns and archery and hunting down furry or feathered little animals makes you queasy, this is not your sport and not the article for you. There’s no grab area really. Gun lovers love guns, period. But it’s not a violent power thing or a Michigan Militia thing (though I’m sure there are a few). Mostly, they just have a very high respect for the beauty, the power and the challenge of shooting firearms. Some people collect Precious Moments, some people collect postcards and some people collect guns. That’s just the way it is. And spending my first hours around them, I can see the allure. Guns are pretty amazing and impressive machines. The same holds true for bows. If you think bow and arrow and a curved stick with a string comes to mind, you’ve got a lot of learning to do.
Because there is so much to cover, I’m breaking it down into topical areas. We’re going to talk hunting. What are the seasons? What are the laws? How do I get licensed? Where can I hunt? What do I do with the game I kill? But we’re also going to just talk a bit (or a lot) about guns, about bows themselves, as there’s an ever-growing population of people who do not hunt at all, but instead target shoot, trap shoot and simply shoot for the enjoyment they get out if it.
For this story we talked to some of the people we were directed to as being the “go-to” guys in business, from gun and archery retailers, to those who feature accessories and clothes, those who will mount your catch on the wall and those who will make it into steaks and summer sausage. And of course, DNR experts who see things from another angle.
While there are hunting seasons for a wide range of wildlife from turkey to fox, it is deer hunting that is king of the hill. And we’re coming up on the season right now. In fact, youth and disabled season have already started on September 15 and run through September 30. Archery deer hunting has a split season, with the early split running from October 1 to November 30 and the late split from December 17 through January 10, 2013. In between and after, different types of guns have their own seasons. So not only is hunting limited by dates on the calendar, but also by what type of weapon you can use when. Iowa residents only enjoy an early muzzleloader (that means bullets) season from October 13-21 with a late season open to all hunters from December 17 through January 10. And the early season only sells tags until the quote of 7500 deer is reached.
Tags? You cannot just go crazy and kill all the deer you can find. You have to purchase a tag and bag your deer. It currently costs $28.50. That is why guys will stay out so long, letting smaller or less impressive deer pass them by, waiting for their prize buck to wander into their sights. For many hunters, it’s all about the trophy. Shotgun seasons are back to back, December 1-5 and December 8-16. Two antler-less seasons follow in January, also with quotas, as well as a nonresident holiday season. See, it’s a short season. So hunters need to have their stuff together and be prepared to make the most out of a very small window of opportunity.
We net with Wayne Buchholtz, Park Ranger for the Mines of Spain recreation area in Dubuque. The Mines of Spain is a very popular hiking and nature preserve locally, but did you know it’s also legal to hunt in the park? “The only hunting that we allow are the regular archery deer seasons and shotgun hunting seasons, but the park is open for any licensed hunter to come try their luck,” Wayne explains, “and the park is open to hikers through the season, but the hunting is limited to designated areas while the hiking is elsewhere. But we encourage both hunter and hikers to use common sense and be aware of each other’s presence.” It’s always a great idea, even if you are not hunting, to wear orange if you are hiking outdoors during hunting season.
“Safety is always my first concern,” explains Buchholtz. “I stopped hunting when I started encountering people hunting on private lands where I had been granted access to hunt, but they had not and were there illegally. It just got scary, so I just prefer not to do it anymore.” When considering safety Wayne made a very good point: “Archers are in close and can see you well, while gun hunters are aiming from much farther away, but they can still see what they’re aiming at. It’s not about worrying you’re going to be the target of a gun, but if they miss their target, that bullet will not stop until it hits something.” Something to think about there. Buchholtz admits that since crops that once filled part of the Mines of Spain have been changed over to prairie, the habitat that fed a lot of deer has gone away and you don’t see as many deer in the park as you used to.
Public hunting grounds are becoming ever more popular as it simply gets harder and harder to find access to private lands on which to hunt. My family has a farm in Stitzer, WI where my cousins and uncles hunt. Some people have friends and family with acreage or have developed relationships over the years with landowners who have granted them access. For others, finding a place to do your thing can be a challenge. The state of Iowa, as well as other states, has opened up select state lands on which anyone can go hunting. In addition to the Mines of Spain locally, other nearby popular spots include White Pine Hollow near Luxembourg, White Water Canyon near Cascade and Green Island Preserve south of Bellevue. The only hunting legal in Dubuque city limits is for bow hunting in certain areas of town, and a certain number of tags are distributed by DNR only for management of population. Participating hunters must take a course. It’s done only to keep the deer population from exploding.
Clay Wilwert, owner of Elite Outdoors, a specialty archery store in Dubuque, located on Highway 20 just west of the Northwest Arterial, but soon to be moving to a new location, is not just a bow salesman but an avid hunter himself, “There’s a reason I don’t open ‘til 11 a.m.,” he told us with a wry smile. He has some simple advice for hunters looking for some fertile game grounds: “Knock on doors and ask farmers – get across to them that you are an educated hunter and you can get on a lot of places. Sometimes, if it’s important to you, you’ll earn your keep on a great hunting ground by helping with fencing or even by giving the farmers deer meat from the kills you make on their land.” Sounds like a smart farmer to me.
Craig Stockel, owner of Central Range, Dubuque longest-operating firearms dealer and the only indoor gun range in the area also suggests some great hunting on game farms. They are not penned-in animals where the thrill is removed from the hunt. He and his friends love to take their dogs pheasant hunting and suggested a couple of great private preserves near here where they have found success. “I have places I’ve hunted pheasant for years where they’re just not there anymore. You don’t get out a lot so when you hunt, it’s disappointing that after a full day you find that your proven grounds never had any pheasant in the first place. With these farms, you pay to have them release, say, 10 pheasant onto the acreage. And this is a big place. You can take 3 or 4 four hours to track these birds down before you start shooting. I’ve had a lot of guys say that if they didn’t know it was a game farm, they’d assume they were just out hunting the wild. It’s a lot more fun when you know that they are at least out there somewhere to be found.”
BeckRidge Hunting Preserve in Sabula, Iowa, for example, is a family-owned and operated hunting facility, which offers hunting 7 days a week. Their upland bird hunting begins October 1 and runs through March, when the pheasant hunting is most explosive. Half-day hunting packages with a three-hour hunt and five pheasants runs $110 per person. There is also lodging at the preserver for longer hunting parties.
Perhaps I should explain that to go hunting at all, you need to have a regular hunting license also called a small game license. To go deer or turkey hunting, which happens in the spring, you need a specific permit for the specific season and specific weapon you are going to be using. Basically anywhere they sell hunting and fishing gear they will also sell the permits. You need to have proof of who you are for resident or non-resident license and hunters 12 and over need to take hunter safety course. These are taught through the DNR but most are taught by experienced volunteers. You can find class offerings online at iowadnr.gov.
Scot Buse, general manager of the Dubuque Theisen’s says licenses are a huge draw for their store every season. “Our cashiers ask if we’re going to open a special lane just for licenses to handle the traffic.” Unlike anywhere else we could find, Theisen’s also works with hunters after the kill, collecting deer hides. “We buy hides and work directly with a manufacturer who turns those hides into gloves. This year we’re also supporting a similar effort by the local Elks Lodge. Anything that’s not 100% to the specs of our manufacturer we’ll set aside and give to the Elks. Disabled Veterans use those hides to make specially items on their own, from clothing to crafts. It’s a great program we’re happy to support.”
Once you make a deer kill, you have 30 minutes to put your tag on the animal and call in a code from the tag to record location of the kill. If you don’t do that you are in violation and there are fines.
Technology plays a far bigger role in the world’s oldest sport than you night think. Every year guns are still getting more accurate and more powerful while bows are getting lighter with more velocity. Craig Stockel at Central Range explains, “Ten years ago it was wood; now they have fiberglass stocks and the high powered rifles they’re making today are just incredible. The new guns come bedded in aluminum; they are more steady; they are more rigid. Every year they come out with something that makes them more accurate and more powerful.” Clay Wilwert of Elite Outdoors tells much the same story of compound bows, “They’re lighter, faster, better performing bows every year, with better arrows and broadheads to match.” But price is one of the best technological advances. “I can set a person up with a nice bow and accessories and release for under $500. Three years ago you were still buying a used bow for that money.”
Across the board everyone agrees that the single biggest technological change in hunting, especially bow hunting is the use of attractants and scents. “There’s a whole industry in scent cover up,” says Scot Buse of Theisen’s, “Ten years ago we might have had a product called deer cocaine. Now there is an entire aisle with literally hundreds of products. And there’s more than we have here. I don’t think you could carry it all. Scents to draw deer, scent remover and masks to hide your own scent.” Craig Stockel adds “They even have things you put your clothes in at night to take the scent out.”
So why do guys do it? What is the “thrill of the hunt?” Almost to a man, they told be the same thing. They love being outdoors. Actually Scot Buse said 95% love to be outdoors and 5% want to get away from their families. He may be low on that figure. Craig Stockel from Central Range loves to hunt with his dogs and for him, that’s the best part. “Just watching the dogs work is worth the trip for me. Seeing them enjoy themselves finding the birds is just such a great joy.”
You know there is a reason your dog may have a name like a retriever or a pointer. Those names come from their historical use as hunting companions. “Some dogs flush out birds, some point, some retrieve the bird after you shoot,” explains Craig. You might take out a pointer and a retriever, but you traditionally would see a flusher and a pointer working the same shoot. Training dogs to hunt is whole other article for another day, but many hunters swear by their dogs and wouldn’t have it any other way.
The thrill of the hunt certainly factors in to be sure, but the challenge mixed with the serenity of the great outdoors is what makes a day of hunting so gratifying. Of course, coming home with enough venison, pheasant, even squirrel, to fill the dinner table is a very nice side benefit. “People say, ‘you enjoy eating squirrels and rabbit’ and I say, ‘you have not had anything like that until you have it done by my mom or my grandma in a cast iron skillet with mashed potatoes and gravy. You have no idea how good that takes when it’s done right,’” Stockel reminisces. I could see that the memory of it and talking about his mom and grandmother cooking their hunting harvest was a truly emotional experience for him.
Once you’ve harvested your deer, getting it into food form is yet another step on the hunt process. Many experience hunters are skilled in butchering their own deer. My uncle, Ron Hillesheim, is a master meat cutter by trade in Waukesha, Wisconsin and watching him package a deer is like watching a ninja at work. While he bones the deer and prepares the cuts of meat at a blurring speed with a knife that could probably cut a Ginsu in half, his wife and son are equally as fast in packaging and marking the meat. Of course you don’t have to do it that fast and efficient yourself, and for many people, venison brings to mind one thing, sausage. And for great venison sausage, often times the best bet is to take the meat to those who do it best, your local butcher shops, some of which specialize in butchering venison (which by the way is what you call deer meat). It generally costs between $50 to $100 to have a deer processed. You might also take in meat you cut yourself to have them trim, grind, package, and freeze it for about $1 per pound. You always want to cut off all the fat possible. Unlike beef where fat equals flavor, in venison, fat turns into a bad-tasting tallow when you cook it. Thus, the need for an expert.
For those who are in the hunt for the trophy, perhaps the most rewarding part of the hunting process is having your deer head or rack mounted by a taxidermist. The word itself basically means “the positioning of the skin,” or preserving the animal. We talked to two of the most-mentioned local taxidermists about their own very skilled craft within the work of hunting and wildlife. Brandon Post (above) and Tom Biver (above, right) are similar in many ways including cost, process and their love of the craft, but they came about their trade in decidedly different ways. With around a decade or more of experience each, Tom Biver found himself getting into taxidermy as he neared his traditional retirement years by mounting his own animals and works with a partner, Randy Engler. Brandon Post, by comparison, is just a kid in his early 20s, but a kid who’s been in love with the craft since the ripe young age of 12 when his dad got him a squirrel mounting kit. Both are now regarded as skilled artisans in their practice.
Brandon will tell you that whitetail deer shoulder mounts are his bread and butter, running about $365 (Hey, I love that number!) with an antler mount coming in at $60. Tom Biver says that mounting fish is his most profitable job and the hardest thing to mount, but also does his fair share of shoulder mounts. While his come in at about $350, his antler mount is $15 more that Post’s $60. Add it up and it’s even-steven. Turnaround time is around a six-month process with most of time wrapped up in sending the hide away to be tanned.
When asked for the best advice to give trophy hunters when handling their game, Biver urges them to keep the animal as clean as possible, keep all body fluids off the hide or feathers and really stresses to keep the animal as dry as possible. Post adds “Don’t drag the kill. If you are able to, drive to the kill and pick it up, or drag it on a sled so that you do not rub the hair off, or damage the hide.”
We, of course, had to ask what the strangest thing is they’ve ever mounted. For Brandon Post it was a skunk while Tom Biver says a porcupine was not only odd, but a real prickly challenge. Both have mounted animals from as far as Africa and Moscow, preserving such rare creatures as Impala and African Kudu. Neither works on pets but have resources to help to get the work done. The most rewarding thing, say Post, is to hear the story about the kill and to see how happy the customer is when they come and get their mount back and see it for the first time. Find them online, Post is at posttaxidermy.com and Biver at anglerbeavertaxidermy.com.
Most taxidermists will pick-up your kill if you cannon deliver it to them.
The Mines of Spain has a huge collection of taxidermy, much of which has been donated over time. Some pieces are over 100 years old. Many come from local taxidermists. They feature some rare specimens of animals, including things you cannot hunt like bald eagles. “We find them dead and take them to local taxidermists who we give special permission to work on those protected animals,” explains Ranger Wayne Buchholtz. There are literally hundreds in their newly remodeled and expanded E.B. Lyons Interpretive Center. And since it’s my newspaper I can point out that my cool wife Christy was the architect on the project.
The other thing that everyone begrudgingly agrees on is that hunting is on the decline. Many agreed that there’s just so much more to compete with for people’s time. It’s also a pretty expensive hobby. Probably because once you’re into it, YOU’RE INTO IT! Let’s just say not many guys just have one gun or one bow. And there are a lot of accessories that go along with it. It’s hard to get “sort-of” into hunting. It’s really a passion sport. Those who get it, those who connect with it in a very personal way, will always love it and their passion and enthusiasm drive the continuing technology and products. Yeah, there may be less guys hunting, but per capita, they all own a lot of stuff!
The last thing I want to have you understand about hunters and what they do is the level of respect these guys have for their sport, their environment, and the game they hunt. I understand that some people will never be able to grasp that idea that someone would shoot Bambi, and then they’d go out for a burger. Hunting is and always has been a reality of life. Iowa DRN Park Range Wayne Buchholtz summed it up pretty well, “Hunters have a greater understanding and respect for nature. There are exceptions to every rule but the great amount of hunters have a great level of respect for the sport and nature. You hope they take a deer for the meat and not just the trophy and most follow that ideal.”
There’s just something about hunting your own food and there’s something about spending time in nature. Put them together and for many men, and a few ladies, it’s a dream combination.
So what if I’m enamored with the weapons but not so much with the killing. Or hey, may I’m just a crappy shot and I need a lot of practice. You, my friend, need some time at home, home on the range.
A range is simply someplace you can go to practice shooting, both guns and bows. For guns owners, the only indoor range is housed at the aptly titled Central Range in downtown Dubuque. Opened in 1980, the range was built at a time before guns were as powerful as some guns are these days. The range is limited to velocity and foot/pounds of energy, up to a 22 long rifle and 44 magnum hand gun, which, if you’re playing along at home, is still a pretty serious piece of metal. Most people using the range with shoot something like a 22 because it’s a very affordable round to practice with.
“Isaac Walton has a real nice range out by Thunder Hills. The Dubuque Shooting Society is a private club and shooting range,” Central Range’s Craig Stockel tells us. It’s been around since the late 1800s and you have to be invited in. If that’s something that interests you, Craig suggest you could come down to the shop and stalk to Jeff Bauer, president of the Isaac Walton League, who works at the Range some days and he can tell you all about what they have to offer with their trap skeet and sporting clays.
Within Central Range is another business, Tri-State Archery, which naturally, focuses on that sport. They have both a regular range upstairs for bow shooting, but also a TechnoHunt range, where targets move across a projected video screen and you shoot live with a real bow. Think of a video game where the weapons are real, so you know that you’re doing it right. Clay Wilwert at Elite Outdoors also has a traditional range that is free and as he is about to move to a new facility off Cedar Cross Road next to Primo Wrap, where he will have a wider range to accommodate more shooters and his TechnoHunt range which is available at just $5 per half-hour. That’s what I call affordable practice. You can’t even get a bucket of golf balls for that anymore.
Many of the outdoor gun ranges in the community also features archery ranges as well for the members and visitors. And like with hunting, if you’ve got a private tract of land, well you’ve got yourself a private range now don’t you.
Shooting for fun or for competition without ever donning the camo and orange is a growing trend in guns and archery. “Movies like ‘The Hunger Games,’ the Olympics and reality weapons TV shows are making archery mainstream, and that includes women. People I’d never think of as potential clients are coming in, and they don’t just want to shoot a rental bow, they want to buy. So we teach them,” Says Clay Wilwert.
During my interview at Tri-States Archery there were two customers being helped. One was a teenage girl testing out a bow in their range and the other was … another girl. She came with her boyfriend who introduced her to archery the previous hunting season and now she was ready for her own set-up. Girl Power!
To get the information I wanted for this story, I had to talk to the people who know the sport and new the weapons. Was it any wonder that the best of the best migrate to the area’s best weapons retailers? From store to store, I found a common thread. These guys know their stuff. Clay Wilwert has been bow hunting for over 40 years. Central Range has the president of the Isaac Walton League on staff, Jo Becker at the Range was an Armorer in the Army and shoots competitively. The expert assisting the teenage girl on the range at Tri-State Archery is in the bow hunters hall of fame. From store to store, what you’ll find in the local retailers who specialize in weapons (and I’m not talking about your pawn shops, but your God’s honest gun stores and archery dealers) are guys who know their stuff upside down and backwards.
I’d like to meet the guys I talked to and learn a little about what they do.
Theisen’s is probably the single largest hunting retailer in the area. They carry … well, everything. From guns to bows to rods and reels, they have the bases covered on the tools of the hunting and fishing trade. But because they are such a broad based retailer, they offer so much more. No one carries a larger and more diverse selection of hunting outerwear and outdoor footwear. I can vouch; I got electric socks there! For many people camping is a huge part of hunting and they’ve got everything you need whether you are a family on vacation or a die-hard roughing-it hunter. “We have a big hunting wear department, we carry reloading supplies, black powder so we get in socialized stuff too; Tree Stands, Gun Safes,” says General Manager Scot Buse. And all of those hundreds of scents and scent blockers we discussed earlier. “We sell a lot of ammunition. We have the largest ammo selection around I believe and shotguns are our top gun seller. If you don’t own a gun, we sell some combos with two barrels so you can go shotgun hunting and rifle hunting with one gun for $300.”
I had to ask, with all the orange, do you really need to be wearing camouflage to hunt? “No, I guess you don’t have to wear camo hunting but I think it’s just what you do,” said Buse. “Bow hunters really need it, but gun hunters it’s more just the accepted thing to do. It’s more about the scent. Deer can pick up on the smell and the movement rather than the simple sight of people. By law you must wear a certain percentage of orange for safety among other hunters.” But camo looks cool and you might as well look cool.
I really respected Scot’s attitude towards what most might call his competition. “There are guys who really specialize in certain things in town and know their stuff. We carry a lot of guns, but there are so many options out there it’s impossible to carry everything. We cover the vast majority of what you’ll need, but if you’re looking for something special, they’re a great resource to have locally.”
In Dubuque, they are located at 2900 Dodge St, 563-557-8222 HOURS: Monday-Friday 8-9; Saturday 8-8; Sunday 9-6. In Dyersville, at 836 13th Avenue S.E., Dyersville, IA, 563-875-8382. HOURS: Monday-Friday 8-8; Saturday 8-5; Sunday 10-5. And find 18 other Iowa locations online at www.theisens.com
One of those specialists Scot may have been referring to is Clay Wilwert at Elite Outdoors who opened a hunting store dedicated to his first love, bow hunting. He can and does sell guns and other equipment, but he’s definitely got a focus and a passion and it is archery.
In order to better service his clients, he is currently moving his store to a new home on Cedar Cross Road where he may expand to include camping supplies as that’s a growing field of interest for hunters traveling away from home to do their thing. He also has found tremendous success selling online. I asked why he would not consider doing all of his business online and it was clear that his preference is working with people, talking to them and helping them find what’s right for them in person. He enjoys teaching people to shoot. Also, for some of his favorite franchise brands like Hoyt, you have to have a store front so that’s important to give the best possible service.
“If you’re just getting into it, don’t think you have to look at used equipment. New bow technology has so much better technology and is also affordable. A new entry-level bow is better than old high-end bow. At 300 feet-per-second, what you might call a “cheap bow” is fast and accurate enough to serve you very well. But we can, of course, also set you up with a $1300 bear bow and all the trimmings if that’s what you’re looking for. I’m a specially store and people find me.” You can find him too at http://www.eliteoutdoorsunlimited.com, call 563-556-0254 and until the move happens he is located at 4480 Dodge Street, but not before 11 a.m., because he’s out hunting!
I practically spent my high school years at the home of Central Range’s Craig Stockel as a friend of his son’s. Once a hardware store and gun range, more than a decade ago he decided to focus on his first passion, which is firearms.
When I talk about on-staff experts, Central Range is the most obvious example of that claim. In each area of firearms, they have guys at the top of their game who can walk the walk and talk the talk with anyone, anywhere. For Craig, it’s completely about service, end of story.
“There’s more to it than buying something off the shelf and that’s what we do down here. With the range you can take a firearm in there and see if it’s going to work for you and if you don’t like it, if it doesn’t fit you, we’re going to recommend you don’t buy it.”
Did you know there are right-handed and left-handed guns? I didn’t. “Good guns are fitted to the shooter. It’s not a one-size-fits-all kind of thing anymore. The new guns are set-up so you can adjust them.”
“Because of the internet, people come in knowing more detail about the precise gun they are looking at than we might. But with the great degree of overall knowledge of the field, there’s still a tremendous amount of guidance and know-how that comes to play in anyone buying the right gun for them, no matter how much homework they’ve done. Having come up against most every situation, sometimes it’s not telling guys what works but being able to tell guys what doesn’t work that equally as valuable.” Craig explained, and followed with this awesome quote. “I only tried it twice, the first time and the last time.” “Customers today are very will informed and they make very informed decisions. You work hard all week, this should not be another job, so we want to make sure you have the right tools to go out and enjoy.”
With the only indoor range in Dubuque, they have a one-of-a-kind resource for buyers to really know how a gun feels to shoot. That’s an incredible advantage for both them and the buyer.
Central Range also teaches concealed carry courses which make caring handguns legal in Iowa under the change in the law and course instructor Wes Rook also teaches individual instruction. They will also buy used guns and help people sell their guns. Buy, sell, trade, consign ... they do it all.
And speaking of do it all, under the very same roof is a separate but partner business is Tri-State Archery owned by Jeff Udelhofen and opened just this year. Jeff had actually managed the store for seven years previously as Central Range Archery prior to purchasing the business. Technology in archery is going wild and Tri-State Archery is on the cutting edge of the sport as an authorized Matthews retailer. With expert staff including a bow hunting hall-of-famer, and multiple ranges in the store including the high tech techno-hunt we discussed earlier (including league play), this full service archery store is really a one-stop shop. From their huge in-store bow selection to a wide range of accessories including tree stands and more, you know that you will be fitted with the right equipment to give you the best possible shooting experience. They also provide full maintenance and repair services and buy and sell used bows. “We’re known for customer service. That’s what we do.” Sounds like a familiar theme down there.
Central Range and Tri-State Archery are located at 2011 White Street in downtown Dubuque. 563-582-8514 Find them online at centralrangeonline.com.
This next stop is a gun store that doesn’t even have regular public hours, but the story is so unique, I wanted to share it.
In 2005 Joe Roth opened the Gun Hut in Scales Mound, Illinois. After 37 years working at Kelly-Springfield tire factory and hating every day of it, it was his dream to own a gun store. His son-in-law, John Ohnesorge, director of marketing at Hartig Drug Company, had the business acumen to help him make it a reality. After 4 years he had his dream, and a great spot for the local gun enthusiasts to gather and shoot the bull. Then, very unexpectedly, Joe died, leaving his dream and a step-son with a decision to make.
John had tremendous respect and love for Joe and knew the best way to honor his legacy was to keep the store alive. He moved the store to East Dubuque and applied his marketing skills to begin to grow the store, and grow it did. Following the flood in East Dubuque two years ago, he moved the store again to Dubuque. With the business savvy, John employed a man who was a walking encyclopedia of guns who John started calling Kenny the Gun God. The name stuck.
Today, following his own health issues, some of which he attributes to growing the business too fast and causing a lot of stress, John operates the Gun Hut as almost a completely online business with local retail business by appointment only. To his surprise, despite not having public hours, his business is still brisk.
Last fall John hosted the first ever Gun Hut Gun Show at Five Flags the same weekend as the Big Boy Toy Show at the Grand River center and saw almost 4000 people through the doors. Sean Rich, the gun expert from pawn Stars was on hand for the show filming his demo clip for his own show. Since then, he got that show and plans to return, hopefully in October to shoot an episode of that new show with John in Downtown East Dubuque appraising people’s firearms and military hardware. John’s a much calmer happier guy now, not working so hard to maintain a big store and work his own full time career and he’s positive that’s how Joe would have preferred he do it in the first place. Find the Gun Hut online @ www.thegunhut.com or by appointment at 141 Sinsinawa Ave., in East Dubuque, IL (815)-554-6016
So what happened to Kenny the Gun God? What else? He teamed with his son, Greg Freiburger, to open his very own gun store in downtown Dubuque called the Gun Depot on Central Avenue in 2012.
Though it’s in the pawnshop section of Central, Kenny is a gun man through and through. “Some guys play golf, some guys fish, and some guys just live to buy and collect guns. They’ll come in and go up and down the rows and find the one they didn’t know they needed ‘til they saw it, and guns now are a good solid investment.”
"John at the Gun Hut is a great promoter and he does his online sales and events. I’m a totally hands on guy with the guns, that is why you come in here a see so many guns. I’m retired at 58. We don’t draw wages, we just put everything we make right back into buying more guns, well over 500. My variety of guns is so complex, we’ve got automatic rifles for the young guys who like that, double barrel and over-unders for the older guys, trap guns, military guns, handguns, guns for women. The demand for some of these guns is so high, there aren’t any in the warehouses. You have to look ahead and be willing to buy and stock them right when they are released or you might not get it or it’s backordered and you won’t see it for months. And that’s what we do here, we have a lot of guns in stock all the time, look around.” He’s right. These guys have got a LOT of guns. No camping stuff, no scents and baits, just guns. Find Kenny at 1564 Central Ave., 563.582.GUNS (4867) and online at Facebook.com/thegundepot.
Whew! Did I cover everything?
Let’s recap. If you want to get into hunting, shooting or make your scent completely disappear, you can do that right here in Dubuque and you have lots of options to choose from. If you already hunt and want the very best gear at great prices, you don’t have to go to Cabella’s or some superstore in a big metropolis. Guys in big cities don’t know guns! Guys in Iowa know guns, and bows, and fishing, and camping. The most knowledgeable resources you could hope for are right here. So save up your dough, take aim, and fire away. Happy Hunting!