Sunday, February 5th, 2023
Sunday, February 5th, 2023

Breaking News for

Sportsmen Since 1967

By Mike Schoonveld

When I was a kid there was no Cabela’s, Gander Mountain,
Galyan’s, or any of the other big hunting, fishing, and outdoor
sports merchandisers. There was one counter at a local general
store that sold fishing line, hooks and shotgun shells. When I went
to Sears with my mom I’d always make a pass through the outdoor
aisle and the closest I ever came to nirvana was the sporting goods
section at K-Mart.

But there was the Herter’s catalog. Herter’s was the first
outdoor product mass merchandiser. If you needed it, Herter’s
carried it. Archery equipment, waders, fishing tackle, fly-tying
materials, camouflage clothes, boots, you name it, they probably
had it and most of it was Herter’s brand materials. In my youth, I
imagined their factory in Waseca as being the most amazing place on
Earth a Santa’s workshop for outdoorsmen.

The history of Herter’s, once one of the most respected names in
the outdoor supply industry, dates to 1893 when Edward Herter
started a dry goods business in Waseca. His son, George Herter,
born in 1901, began marketing sporting goods in the 1930s, starting
with rare feathers for fly-tying, fishhooks from England, and
special Portuguese cork used for duck decoys. At its peak, Herter’s
had six retail stores and a catalog operation that annually mailed
one million catalogs and filled 3,000 to 4,000 orders each day.

Few companies transcend the typical business consumer
relationship, but Herter’s did it. The Herter’s catalog was more
than just the typical photo and 25 words or less description of
each product. Pages were filled with outdoor tips. Decoy layouts
were described. Full page accounts of how to choose a bow or which
fishing lures to use were included, as well as stories and photos
of the hunting and fishing exploits of George Herter and his
sons.

I know now there was no Herter’s “workshop” turning out the
thousands of items in the catalog. Some of the items were built by
name-brand manufacturers and then labeled as a Herter’s product.
Others were outright knock-offs of name-brand products. But a few
of the items were made in Herter’s-owned factories and built to
rigid specifications.

One of the areas that Herter’s excelled was the production of
waterfowling decoys. Unlike most of the imported or domestic brands
available, Herter’s dekes were economical, displayed superior
craftsmanship and incredible durability. The Herter’s name soon
became synonymous with quality, dependability, and many expert
waterfowlers relied on Herter’s blocks, exclusively.

Times changed, Herter’s, Inc. floundered and eventually, the
company went out of business. The sign outside of Waseca which once
proudly proclaimed, “Waseca, Home of Herter’s, Inc.” now just says
“Waseca, Pop. 9,700.”

The decoy factory for Herter’s, however, didn’t close for good.
Located in Beaver Dam, Wis., entrepaneurial minded investors
continued producing Herter’s Decoys on and off ever since the main
business folded with mixed success, financially.

Then, over a year ago, the sporting goods giant, Cabela’s bought
the Herter’s Decoy shop, closed it for remodeling, and recently,
the shop and a store associated with it reopened. The famed
Herter’s Decoys are still being handcrafted there and the new
facility features tours of the factory, giving customers, decoy
collectors, waterfowl hunters and others a unique look into the
making of a legend.

The store will feature the complete line of Herter’s world
famous waterfowl decoys as well as a wide range of hunting-related
products from Cabela’s. The remodeled showroom will highlight
Herter’s world famous waterfowl decoys, including their handmade
Cork Decoys, tough Supreme Burlap Series and life-like Millennium
Decoys.

Visitors to the new-and-improved store will also find a broad
selection of outdoor equipment from Cabela’s.

One of the first thing visitors will want to check out is the
large, mounted polar bear that was taken by George Herter in the
early 1960s. Besides this part of Herter’s history, taxidermy
mounts of moose, elk, waterfowl and a large collection of
white-tailed deer also decorate the store.

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