Shares of Cabela's (NYSE:CAB) soared more than 30% last week on record fourth-quarter 2008 results, which were driven by strong firearms sales. According to management, 2009 performance is set to pack less pow, but given a strengthened balance sheet and modest expansion plans, I say Cabela's deserves a closer look.

Before tapping the wisdom of the Motley Fool CAPS investment community, let's take a look at some key stats for the company.

CAPS rating (5 max)


1-year performance


Recent share price


Market cap

$527 million

Short % of float (as of Jan. 27)


Q4 2008 same-store sales growth


2008 full-year same-store sales growth


2009 same-store sales estimates*

Low single-digit % decline


Dick's Sporting Goods (NYSE:DKS),

Gander Mountain (NASDAQ:GMTN)

Fools bullish on CAB are also bullish on

Buffalo Wild Wings (NASDAQ:BWLD)

Middleby (NASDAQ:MIDD)

Fools bearish on CAB are also bearish on

General Motors (NYSE:GM),

Citigroup (NYSE:C)

Data from Motley Fool CAPS and Yahoo! Finance as of Feb. 23, 2009. *Estimates for 2009 provided by company management.

Clearly, 2008 was tough on sales, and 2009 looks to present similar headwinds. Back in fall 2008, CAPS member DogWrangler warned investors: "The 'Non'-recession we are in will keep this stock and its competitor Bass Pro from performing. As with any luxury people will cut back until things settle out."

Regarding the fourth-quarter 2008 sales pop, an analyst recently cautioned that the strength in firearms revenue may be a one-time event, as customers made purchases ahead of possible regulatory changes under an Obama administration. In fact, management commented on the conference call that the ongoing strength in firearms sales is "up to the consumer."

On the flipside, CAPS member Somewhere took a glass-half-full approach in summer 2008: "Despite the tough economy, the company is still making a good hunk of change, and if a company can weather tough times so well, I'm looking very forward to seeing how well they do when the good times return!"

In fact, in the past few quarters, the company has increased its ability to withstand these tough times. A voluntary $26 million debt prepayment in the recently completed quarter brought the ratio of lease-adjusted debt to total capital down to a manageable 32%. Anxious investors can also soothe themselves by noting the $410 million in cash that was sitting pretty on the balance sheet at the end of 2008.

Getting back to Somewhere's pitch, exactly when the good times return is the question. As a final note, I caution that the recent ascent in the company's shares smacks of a short squeeze, which can result in a temporary share price lift followed by a decline. Consequently, I am on the fence (or in a tree stand) about whether Cabela's is a good place for new money.

What do you think? Should interested investors don the camo and hunt carefully, or is it better to watch this one from a distance? The CAPS boards are all yours.

For more on the fate of retail during hard times, check out:

Fool contributor Mike Pienciak has periodically been spotted wearing camouflage. He does not own shares of any company mentioned. Middleby, Buffalo Wild Wings, and Cabela's are Motley Fool Hidden Gems recommendations. The Fool owns shares of Buffalo Wild Wings and has a disclosure policy.