It happens this week on “Orange Friday” or “Deer Day,” when hunters swarm outdoor retailers for bargains with the same force that others do on the day after Thanksgiving.
The Friday before Saturday’s firearms deer opener is becoming nearly as hyped as Black Friday and it’s even more lucrative than that day for some retailers. Minnesota’s 500,000 deer hunters will spend nearly $250 million on the sport this year, the state Department of Natural Resources estimates.
And they tend not to spread out their shopping. Instead, retailers say, hunters are notorious for waiting until the Wednesday, Thursday and especially the Friday before the deer hunting season opener to buy gear and licenses.
“The planning cycle is getting shorter. They’ve compressed their purchasing closer to the actual deer opening date,” said Charlie Davis, vice president of merchandising at St. Paul-based Gander Mountain. “Deer hunters will wait until the week of, or the day before, the actual opening date.”
For weeks before Saturday’s opener, glossy newspaper inserts and TV ads announce deals on blaze-orange clothing and promote the latest technology in traditional products, such as deer pee to attract prey, ammo, callers, tree stands and de-scenting products that eliminate any trace of human odor.
Mills Fleet Farm, which started using the Orange Friday term three years ago, said the day keeps getting bigger and bigger. “Customers stand in line to get their annual collector’s Orange Friday cap and scratch-off ticket with a chance to win gift cards,” said Sherry Szadziewicz, marketing manager for Mills Fleet Farm, which is based in Appleton, Wis.
Manufacturers and retailers are taking advantage of the hunters’ zeal with new and improved products to appeal to the novice as well as the experienced, aging hunter. “The average age of hunters has increased,” said Aaron Van Rossum, product manager of hunting at Gander Mountain. “They’re looking for more comfort solutions in tree stands with soft comfortable seats and easier to climb ladder stands.”
For the guy or gal whose knees can’t make the climb into the deer stand as nimbly as they used to, ground blinds are just one nod the sport has made to baby boomers.
Similar to tents, they’re outfitted with gun vents and a 360 degree view. Hunters can move more freely in the tent, unlike a stand where they must remain still.
While the sport still has plenty of traditionalists, products are constantly evolving to improve a hunter’s chances.
For instance, the process of using deer urine to attract bucks is often messy, because it involves pouring the liquid onto absorbent pads positioned in trees or other spots to carry the scent in the wind. The latest products are wick pads that can be dipped in the liquid, then placed into plastic tubes that are positioned and partly opened to the breeze.
And, instead of taking time to scent individual spots near a blind or stand to attract deer, hunters can now toss a “Buck Bomb” like a grenade into the brush. The product has five different scents: Doe in Estrus, Dominant Buck, Young Buck, Doe P and Vanilla Curiosity.
While those scents are used to attract animals, outdoor stores also have aisles devoted to products that hide or “de-scent” the smell of humans. Ordinary detergents, even unscented ones, are a problem because deer can see the ultraviolet agents used to brighten clothes.
Few products have been overlooked in the hunter’s attempt to mask human scent, including odorless lip balm. Hunters can also buy “nose jammer,” a vanilla-like scent that blocks a deer’s ability to smell instead of trying to mask what it smells. Overkill, maybe, but die-hards like to get into the science of the sport, said Chris Valentine, store manager at Gander Mountain in Blaine. “It’s all a way to bring the deer in closer and boost the hunter’s confidence.”
Deer hunter Josh Savageau of Oak Grove said he’s happy to use technology to gain an edge. He’s considering doe estrus, grunt callers, doe callers, de-scenting spray and underarm deodorant made just for deer hunters. And he wants comfort as he waits for a buck to wander in his shooting path. “A little padding on the seat is nice,” he said.
Steve Weston of Palisade, Minn., spent the past four years building and outfitting the ultimate deer stand on his farm. Every year it gets a little fancier, with a wraparound deck, camouflage siding, electric fireplace, pullout couch, easy chair and Coleman stove. Weston estimates he’s spent about $8,000 on the deer stand for six that has storage underneath for a 4-wheeler. “I built it for my wife and daughters who like to hunt,” he said. “I wanted to make it comfortable for them.”
The most serious hunters started preparing weeks ago with help from new trail camera technology.
By mounting cameras in trees months before the opener, hunters studied their prey day or night and decided where to go this weekend. The cameras, which range from $80 to $600, take photos when movement is detected. Hunters then retrieve the memory cards or have the pictures sent to their cellphones.
“I’ve been taking pictures of deer since the Fourth of July,” Thompson said. “I’ve even got names for some of them.”