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National resurgence of outdoor enthusiasts poised to boost small business

Conservationists have spent years trying to stave off a national decline in hunting and fishing, but the 2020 pandemic appears to have righted a sinking ship.

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Greg and Susan Knutson are the owners and operators of Andrus Outdoors.
Josiah C. Cuellar / The Dickinson Press
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DICKINSON — Retail spending of more than $63 billion can be attributed to fishing and hunting each year, while the two industries employ nearly 483,000 Americans according to the annual report by the Outdoor Industry Association.

Conservationists have spent years trying to stave off a national decline in hunting and fishing, but the 2020 pandemic appears to have righted a sinking ship.

According to national statistics, gathered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Survey, the number of participants (ages 6 years and older) in hunting amounted to approximately 15 million in the U.S. from 2020 through 2021. A participant was defined as an individual who took part in the activity at least once in the given year.

Helping usher in the next generation of outdoors enthusiasts has been a collective effort from game and fish departments, small businesses and local, state and federal officials.

Newly interested anglers and venatics often rely on the intimate knowledge of the areas they intend to hunt and fish, and who better to gain insights from than someone with an ear to the ground. Most stores dedicated to hunting and fishing in southwest North Dakota are family-owned local businesses, and there is one particular mom and pop shop just north of Dickinson that has long catered to beginners and seasoned regulars seeking to resupply and share the occasional fisherman's tale — even if somewhat exaggerated.

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Andrus Outdoors in north Dickinson provides fishing equipment, firearms, licensure and specialized services that have kept their customers happy for nearly two decades.

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Andrus Outdoors is located just north of Dickinson, North Dakota at 4434 3rd Ave. West.
Josiah C. Cuellar / The Dickinson Press

The one-stop shop is owned by Greg and Susan Knutson. The couple are originally from a little farmstead near Dunn Center, but have been active in the Dickinson community for over 20 years. The couple purchased their shop 19 years ago, in 2003, after the previous owners were ready to move into retirement. Since then, the Knutsons have survived two economic recessions, an oil boom and the ramifications of a worldwide pandemic. Despite all the challenges, their store remains a hub for locals who return time and again for the warm smiles and customer service.

“What is good is that being a small business we can offer specialized services that bigger chain stores don't offer,” Susan Knutson, co-owner of Andrus Outdoors, said from the counter of their shop.

Susan Knutson added, “Here in North Dakota hunting and fishing is a big part of North Dakotans being North Dakotans… With being a smaller shop, we can order the more specialized tackle for what the fishermen need and want to fish in the area.”

Greg Knutson, who has 43 years of experience selling firearms and accessories, parts with more than his goods and services. Greg Knutson is known on the Western Edge for offering priceless knowledge to customers on the best hunting locations, tools of the trade and insights gained over a lifetime of the great outdoors.

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The couple also contracts with a gunsmith, for those having trouble with their firearms or in need of routine maintenance, and offer gun transfers at a low rate of $30.

“People that buy firearms from us, Greg will mount scopes and foresights their guns for them,” Susan Knutson said. “You buy a gun from us, I don't care if it's 10 years down the road, and you have a problem with that gun, you can come in here and we’re going to take care of you.”

Another unique and handsome advantage of the small business that can't be found at the big box stores is the personable and welcoming atmosphere. Andrus Outdoors maintains a steady stream of complementary coffee to warm customers. Customers can also engage with the most popular employee, Lucy the shop dog. Lucy’s role is simple — keep waiting customers and children entertained all for the meager payment of head pats.

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“A lot of customers we know on a first name basis,” Susan Knutson said. “They have supported us and have been with us through all these years, and we have customers that come in here everyday just for coffee.”

With the waters warming up, the husband and wife duo are eagerly preparing for walleye fishing, providing their customers with the right tackle and bait that will have the fish biting through the summer.

They are closed Sundays and Mondays, but are open year round to service hunters of all seasons and all games.

“Here in North Dakota there is something for everyone,” Susan Knutson said. “We’re here to help.”

Josiah C. Cuellar was born in San Angelo, Texas, a small rural community in the western part of the state known for its farming, ranching and beautiful Concho River. A Texas A&M San Antonio graduate specializing in multi-media reporting, Cuellar is an award winning photographer and reporter whose work focuses on community news and sports.
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