Deer hunters won’t be the only ones chasing big bucks this weekend during the firearm deer season opener.
Shopping malls and outlet centers, casinos and entertainment complexes are increasingly marketing to women on the hunt for something fun to do while men are hunting.
“Women know their husbands or boyfriends are having a hedonic weekend experience, and they are saying ‘I want one too,’ ” said George John, a marketing professor at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management.
Women hunt and fish in larger numbers than ever before, but they accounted for a mere 15 percent of deer hunting licenses last year, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
No one knows for sure how many women attend the weekend’s firearm-free events collectively, but the number of retailers who have jumped on the weekend is expanding each year, a reflection in part of the growing length of the holiday shopping season.
Thirteen outlet malls around the country owned by Simon Property Group are running “deer widows weekend” promotions this year. “That’s more than double the number of centers that offered the promotion last year,” said Les Morris, director of public relations for Simon.
The company’s Albertville Premium Outlets and Twin Cities Premium Outlets in Eagan are both participating. At last year’s event in Eagan, the outlet mall had higher traffic than during Black Friday, Morris said. The number of deer widow weekend shoppers last year was second only to the mall’s grand opening.
Both centers are planning free drawings, a bargain-hunting guide with deals that are better than Black Friday’s, drawings for free gift cards and swag bags filled with goodies from various stores. Shoppers often stay overnight with girlfriends at a nearby hotel and get in line at 7 a.m. to be one of the first 200 people who receive goody bags.
“It’s definitely a party,” said Sara Smith, director of marketing at the Albertville outlet mall, in the northwest-metro area. “Ladies wait in line in the early morning with sleeping bags and lawn chairs. Some wear camouflage and some wear black veils to get in the spirit.”
The extension of “girls’ night out,” a growing phenomenon since the recession, is being partly fueled by working females age 30 and under.
“They’re outearning their male counterparts by 20 percent,” said Paco Underhill, an environmental psychologist and author of “What Women Want.” “The disposable income in the hands of young women is higher than ever before.”
Deer widows weekend was started 20 years ago at a Simon-owned outlet mall near Detroit, but casinos are newer to the pursuit. Mystic Lake Casino in Prior Lake and Grand Casino Mille Lacs and Hinckley have been doing it for several years.
This weekend, Mystic Lake offers a pop-up indoor market, local bands, free games, cash drawings including a $1,000 Mall of America shopping spree, and a sold out concert by heartthrob Rick Springfield.
“We’re trying to show women that we’re more than just gaming,” said Johnny Mackin, director of brand marketing at Mystic Lake. “We get a lot of new guests, lots of women 30 and under, and we make sure they have a great time.”
Grand Casino Mille Lacs in Onamia, Minn., features a month-long hotel package for $99 on Friday nights with $40 in free slot play, as well as caricatures, palm readers, psychics and more than 100 exhibitors in Hinckley.
Marshal Cohen, a retail analyst at NPD Group, said casinos are savvy in the way they’re promoting these weekends. “With the hotel, dining, gaming and vendors, they’re giving women an excuse to get together with friends,” he said. “Casinos are blatantly saying, ‘We want you and every friend you have.’ ”
The majority of slots players today are female. “Casinos aren’t making as much money on blackjack and poker tables anymore. It’s all about the slots,” said Underhill. Even the penny slots, which some casinos offer free during deer widows weekend, can be $3 to $5 a pull when players start playing 30 to 50 paylines on a machine.
In previous generations, women would have gone to each other’s homes to celebrate a weekend away from their husbands. With more disposable income, they’re more comfortable going out, Underhill said.
For some women, a Saturday night away from significant others means unwinding at the entertainment complex with friends and a few drinks — and strippers. Medina Entertainment Center in Medina booked Australia’s Thunder from Down Under, a male stripper revue, for a sold-out Saturday night show.
“We do it once a year for the deer hunting widows,” said Mark Raskob, general manager. “We considered bringing in strippers for the fishing opener, too, but there are too many women that fish,” he said.
More than 20 percent of fishing licenses in Minnesota in 2014 were issued to women, according to the DNR.
Some women want the best of both worlds, spending this weekend hunting deer as well as participating in women-centric entertainment.
Rose Heim of Kelliher, Minn., will drive to Minneapolis on Friday to sell stylish down skirts and leggings at Maiden Minnesota, an event at the Loews Minneapolis Hotel where women entrepreneurs from around the state sell clothing, accessories, jewelry and home decor.
“It’s one of my favorite shows all year,” Heim said. “The atmosphere is positive and electric.”
After spending the night in Minneapolis, she and her daughter will rise early for the 4½ hour drive back to Kelliher, near Lower Red Lake.
“My daughter and I will be in our deer stands by 3 p.m. Saturday,” she said. “We wouldn’t miss it.”