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Community Spotlight: Discover Quest Hunt Co with Jeff DeCarlis and Phil Collier
I’m with the Cofounders of Quest Hunt Co., Jeff DeCarlis and Phil Collier. There’s also Brian Austin who wasn’t able to be us. Welcome to the show.
How it’s going? It’s great to be here.
Bruce, how is it going?
It’s going really good. I’m glad we got a chance to share about Quest Hunt Co because you had a great season. I know you’re looking forward to another excellent season. Why don’t you start with the backstory of Quest Hunt Co?
It’s crazy to see how the years went. This whole thing started at a LongHorn Steakhouse. I grew up doing a lot of bass fishing, so did Phil and there are not a lot of tournaments. We’re talking like, “It’s a shame that in the hunting industry, there’s not an outlet like that to get involved in the community and being part of a bigger group.” We also know that Americans are competitive and it’s hard to find good competitive outlets as adults, especially on something you’re passionate about. We literally drew it up on a napkin and wanted to do something really cool in Missouri. It got popular really fast and we ended up that same year in four states instead of one. Ultimately, we’re in seven states headed to fourteen and fifteen but it really was an idea, “How we can we grow the business, help the industry grow and get more people involved and create a really good community atmosphere?” We built on that the same way you think about a fishing tournament, a Buddy Bass style. It’s a two-man team and total gross inches of your two-best deer. We felt like that really evened the playing field a little bit. You don’t need a 198-inch deer to win. You need two good average deer.
We put a lot of time and effort into planning this and making it a cool event. It was very well-received. We’re already ahead of where we were. It’s pretty cool to see that people embraced the concept and we wanted to do some cool things. We want it to be worth a ton of prizes for people. We didn’t want it to be small or a little jackpot. We built a $50,000 prize pack per state and each one of these states we’re in has its own tournament. They’re standalone but at the same time, we wanted people to be a part of a membership of this community and give them access to some phenomenal products at great prices. We built a pretty awesome buy-in group and we’ve got about 35 sponsors that have come on and offered products up to 40% off. The whole community is bringing it together at the end as a big banquet. We did a country music show and gave out $250,000 worth of prizes. That’s from its very humble beginnings to an idea thinking maybe it might be a good hobby for us and some opportunity to get more involved in the industry to being full-time for us and it’s a job. It’s pretty awesome to see where we’re at now.
Phil, when you sat down on the LongHorn Steakhouse, did you ever envision on a couple of short years you’d be where you’re at?
Honestly, probably not. Everybody’s got big dreams and we’re not different than anyone else but Brian, Jeff and I, we’re three regular guys that love the outdoors and whitetail hunting in general. That’s one of the things that we envisioned with this whole idea was we wanted this to be an event for everyone. We didn’t want to exclude anyone. We wanted it to be very simple and we’ve kept to that and building on this community with Quest. This turned into something really special.
You guys keep mentioning community. Does somebody have to join your membership? Tell me the details about if somebody was interested, what do they need to do?
Everything happens on our website. The registration’s there at www.QuestHuntCo.com, you sign up and you find your teammate. We have a lot of husband-wife duos and father-son or father-daughter. You go sign up there, create a team name, build your little profile and then you’re in. It’s $75 a person and $150 a team. At that point, you are a member. You get immediate access to 35 companies at up to 40% off and these are companies like Traeger Grills, Badlands Camo, Muddy Outdoors, Stealth Cam, on and on and on. You can see them all on our website. We had tons of people telling us that they made $150 to $200 getting in this tournament on stuff they were going to buy anyway like stands, cameras and soft blinds. You get to use those codes all year long direct with the manufacturers. At that point, you get all the updates and emails. We do a lot of cool promotional giveaways throughout the year, once every month, really through September and you’re automatically eligible for those. It’s a matter of going to the site, check out the rules in a little bit more detail. Phil hit on a point earlier that when you say the word tournament, a lot of people get intimidated.It’s anyone’s game. Click To Tweet
I remember when I was fishing my first bass and it was on location. You’re in there with 50, 60 other boats trying to launch. We wanted this to be so unintimidating. Once you sign up, you hunt how you normally would hunt. If you’re a public land hunter, you hunt on public land and if you’ve got a family farm, you hunt on your family farm or lease. Our tournament runs from mid-September through mid-January. It’s any weapon. These teams are notified when they sign up. They can score up to three deer per team and it’s total gross inches of your two best. That’s how you get involved. During the fall months, the tournament runs and we run a really dynamic leaderboard in our website and that ended up being a lot of the fun.
In Missouri, we used to have actual check-in stations.
That’s the same on what we have in Wisconsin.
That was an awesome time every year. I remember growing up as a kid, we would hunt up in the morning of the opening day of rifle season and then everyone would hang out at the check-in station the rest of the day until it was time to go back to the woods that afternoon. Everyone wanted to see what everybody else was harvesting. This leaderboard brings that back in a way. You could see people looking at the leaderboard constantly throughout the tournament and how that leaderboard would change. Through that leaderboard, there are pictures of all the deer that are harvested, unofficial scores and counties where they were harvested. It brings back those days of old check station.
I hunt with a crossbow. Is there a separate crossbow division and a muzzleloader division? How do you do that?
We didn’t separate out any of the divisions. We wanted to keep it very simple. We didn’t want to exclude anyone. Whatever is legal at that time in your state, you are legally able to hunt within our tournament. If it’s crossbow season, you harvest one with the crossbow and your teammate harvest one with a rifle during regular rifle season. We’re looking for that best gross score of your two-best deer.
At the end of the year, that’s when the big prizes are given out because you have to go through the end of the season in January. Some places like Iowa has a January season and other places too. You’ve got late seasons so you have to wait. You start in September and go all the way through the coals of the last season in your states that you represented the tournament on and then you’d add up to gross scores. Is that correct?
Yes, that’s exactly it. What we do is when you sign up, you get a packet mail and we use Trophy Type. It’s a great product. You score them at home and you have to submit a couple of pictures, which is self-explanatory on the website and that becomes your unofficial score. We do our own trade show in Missouri every February. Everybody comes from these three or four states around here. They bring their deer in and they get measured officially. This is probably 100% our most popular question or the most reoccurring question we get is, “How do you keep everybody honest?” Like a fishing tournament, everybody has to take a lie detector test when they get here. We do the official scoring and the top ten teams per state are subject to a lie detector test. We had no failures but we tell people that in advance because it’s important to keep the integrity of the tournament.
We wanted to keep the tournament’s integrity at level high and that’s one of the ways we could do it. Jeff and I both being from the bass fishing world, we’ve seen guys that have not passed those lie detector tests in big tournaments. Trust me, you don’t want to be embarrassed on a big stage. We put that out there early and hope to keep those types of participants away. Luckily, we had everybody passed.When you say the word tournament, a lot of people get intimidated. Click To Tweet
What immediately came to mind was there are a lot of ways to win the tournament but lose credibility. As Brian was saying, this was an idea and this thing has completely blown up. What’s your website and tell people how to get involved?
Our website is www.QuestHuntCo.com. There are tons of information on there and a lot of people get even more information from us on social media. We always tell people to follow us on Instagram and Facebook. We released a lot of videos on there. We’ve got a YouTube channel and we do a ton of giveaways. Our sponsors are coming up in a big way and we’ve got big giveaways every month through September. Those are all on social media but to get more information about the tournament, the website’s a good place to go. They can always reach out to us. DM us on social media, we answer every single one of them. If you have questions, it’s a good way to get involved.
Social media can be a blessing and a curse to hunters because some people ask, “Why did you shoot that blank deer?” How are you trying to allow Quest Hunt Co to rectify that? If the person’s a hunter, it doesn’t matter what weapon they’re using. How do you envision your company fostering that environment?
It comes up every once in a while. One of the things we hit on earlier was trying to get more people involved in the industry. We as everybody else hear the numbers on the industry is shrinking 5% plus a year and more and more young people aren’t getting into hunting. One of our goals for this community was to bring some of that back. We talk about it a lot like fantasy football, it really helped bring back NFL football viewing. It didn’t change the fact that you were going to watch it. This changed how you watched it and it got young people involved. You can’t go to business anymore without seeing a fantasy football league or two in there.
That’s what we always said we wanted to do is to try to help promote growth within the industry and gamify it a little bit. As Phil said, it brings back the days of the old check-in stations and brag boards at the local gun shops and stuff. We’re not trying to make this so much about the contest. We want people to win big prizes and they did. We had a banquet with four states up here and there are people that are lifelong friends. There are Iowa folks that are lifelong friends with people in Arkansas and they met through this tournament. That part of that whole community involvement and getting people more exposed to other like-minded outdoor enthusiasts have really been our goal from the beginning.
We try to hit that point as much as we can and we also find that a lot of these people are probably managing their deer population a little bit better. We’ve got guys passing on three-year-olds and trying to get that bigger buck and putting in food plots, which I know we have a lot of people like Stratton Seed Company, they have some phenomenal products and they worked with us really well. We’ve got people that have never done a food plot in their life that they’re doing them now for this tournament. It does promote the QDMA stuff.
Just seeing the messages that came in after the tournament were over from tons of people that didn’t even win a prize sending us messages and thanking us for putting this tournament on. It changed the way they hunt and the days that normally they might have slept in, they got up, got out there and got in the stand. The people are saying that they were in the best shape of their life because they’d never hunted that hard. Just hearing those stories from the participants was very encouraging. Going back to not excluding anyone, we’re not a bowhunting tournament, we’re not a rifle only tournament. We want everyone that hunts whitetails to have a chance to be a part of this event. We’ve stuck true to that and it seems to be paying off.
I like that because when you go to the bragging boards, I can think of the Waumandee Inn in Buffalo County. We always have big buck contests and that’s during rifle season. We didn’t break it down for muzzleloader or archery season. There are five guns up on the wall, a couple thousand dollars’ worth of rifles but that’s what it was. The community and in small towns, you put the buck in the back of your pickup truck and lower the tailgate. It’s amazing because people that don’t even hunt, they come over, older people, younger people, men and women, it doesn’t matter. If they see a big buck and they go, “Where did you get him?” You think about that and I call it the magic of the whitetail because a huge buck attracts everybody.
Especially with our YouTube channel launching, we get to see all this stuff happen live. We get to work every day and there are more entries on the leaderboard. It’s pretty cool watching the dynamics. Somebody that was in second yesterday drops to fifth, especially early in the season. It’s changing every day. We’ve got about 65 pro staff around the country. We go out and do interviews with these guys the next day to put them on the website. There are a little bit of five to ten minutes of fame that comes with this. It’s a lot of notoriety and we try to get all those people published, photos on Instagram and Facebook and then we’ll be doing a lot more video work. Going out the day after, this deer, he’s still out there. He just scored it and we can go out there and get an interview with him. In fact, we have a lot of guys that were in our top ten that are pro staffs with us. They really enjoyed it so much and they wanted to get more involved. We brought on quite a few of those people.
How does that work? I have my farm in Wisconsin. I put on a 170 down and I’m a member, tell me what happens. We are members so we report it is the first thing that happens.There's a lot of ways to win the tournament, but lose credibility at the same time. Click To Tweet
You’ve got to report the deer within 24 hours of harvest prior to taping it and it’s important. That’s our first line of defense on people being dishonest. We’re trying to keep people from taking deer out of freezers. The first rule is within 24 hours of harvest, you go on our website, you take your two or three photos, you measure it with your trophy tape, you get your unofficial score and that becomes your score on the leaderboard. It populates within 24 hours on the website. You guys as a team still have the opportunity to call one of those scores. If either one of you kills at a later season deer, whichever one helps you the most, you can reenter on your particular score to better your overall team score.
Like in bass fishing, you get the live well and you’ve got five basses in there and they’re going to count five and that one’s going back in the water.
You can improve your scores at any point during the season. We had guys that went out muzzleloader hunting that probably never did or never would have because it’s like, “I got one more shot and it upgraded my score for the year.” The teams that were most successful, that’s what they did. They’ve got two deer on the board early and then they looked for that upgrade all season long and worked together putting some strategy. We had some guys go help their buddy if they thought they were on a better deer and maybe even filmed it, it’s neat to see how it changed the way they might have hunt normally.
You have to hunt in your state too. I was thinking I would be a member of Wisconsin. If I went over to late season muzzleloader in Iowa, that deer wouldn’t count.
Not unless you’re entered in both states. We get a lot of people in on more than one team and some guys are in more than one state on more than one team. You might have one guy in Missouri on two different Missouri teams but he may also enter another time in Arkansas.
There’s a lot of flexibility. I’ve got a good buddy that hunts in Iowa. If I hunted and we both got tagged, we had a late-season muzzleloader but we’re also hunting Wisconsin or Nebraska or some other place early season bowhunting, we got a lot of opportunities. One thing I thought of, “We’ve got our two bucks, now I’m not going to shoot another buck even though I have a tag unless it surpasses whatever we got on the board.”
You’ll definitely want to improve your overall score but as long as you’re entered in that state and you submit any Missouri deer in the Missouri Tournament, you’re good to go.
That would be $150 for each state that you want to enter your deer from.
It actually happens quite a bit. We had a lot of guys, especially like Mississippi and Arkansas seem to be a big one. There are some of those bordering states where you’ll get people to enter in each area.It’s hard to find good competitive outlets as adults, especially on something you're passionate about. Click To Tweet
Not to confuse anyone, but we had this happened in Arkansas and Missouri. We had guys that were on multiple teams in that state. In Missouri for instance, it depends on what your state allows but if you’re allowed to kill two bucks in a calendar year, then you can basically be on two teams. Jeff and I could be on a team theoretically. Honestly, that happened quite a bit and people did not realize that. We had guys after the season, say, “I wished I would have actually known that then I would’ have been on two different teams.” As long as you’re able to take two bucks in that state, then you can actually be on two different teams.
The perfect thing for all my buddies in Wisconsin. I can take a buck during archery and I can take a buck in rifle season. I can be on two different teams in Wisconsin. Here’s a negative or a caveat, I shot the deer before I was a member.
That would be a question that would be covered in the polygraph tests at the end of the year.
You have to be signed up prior to harvesting your deer. Technically, it can be five minutes before.
I could be in my tree stand on my iPhone, signing up for that buck that’s walking in, my Mr. Wonderful number one on my hit list, I could have it all set up and I could hit join and then shoot the deer.
We actually don’t see that happen a whole lot primarily because most people want these discounts early. The second you sign up for the tournament, you get an email with all those discount codes to go directly on Muddy Outdoors, Hawk or Stealth Cams.
Those are not one-time codes. If you join the tournament, you get an email sent back within seconds that unlocks all of the promo codes to our partners. You could take advantage of that for the entire year.
Every month we’re giving away between $500 and $1,000 worth of prizes for being in the tournament. Most people get in early. There’s no restriction, you can sign up all year long until the tournament ends but we probably see 70% or 80% of the people sign up prior because they’re wanting to buy gear, they’re wanting to buy stands and cameras and stuff prior to the season. That’s typically what we see but occasionally to your point, we’ll see somebody that signs up the morning of their kill or they go on the day before pulling their cameras and they’ve got a monster three days in a row, you might get one day in advance or something like that.
Basically 90% some or probably higher of us want to do it right. Every year we hear of somebody who would go, “What were they thinking?” We understand that in the industry but I think three of us sitting around, we’re going to go out, we’re going to hunt hard and we’re going to get what we get. That’s the way it is.
We tell people all the time too. We do the polygraph test at yearend. We’re not trying to trick people. We had guys come in and be like, “I’m pretty sure it was safelight but it was close.” Those aren’t the kinds of things we’re trying to catch. We don’t want to scare people. We’re looking for flagrant real obvious things that it’s like, “You didn’t do it right.” We try to tell people it’s not an intimidating thing. If you did it right and you followed your state rules, you’re fine. You’re going to do great but I suspect at some point we hate it. We hate even thinking about it but at some we’re going to run into somebody that didn’t.
You’ll know right away. All you have to do is talk to him for 30 to 90 seconds. You’ll know something isn’t right. You guys will know that because you’ve been around way too many people. It’s not that hard. When I and Randall sign up, we’re $150 for Wisconsin and now we’re in the tournament so we can win all the yearend prizes.
Everything’s per state. We pay out ten places. First place gets a pair of Polaris Ranger Side by Sides and there are some other little trinkets in there. Second place is blinds. We’re giving away 56 Mathews bows across seven states. We’ve got Traeger Grills and Grizzly Coolers. The tenth place even has a $2,800 prize pack. They’re all pretty good all the way through.
I get in a tournament, but then I’m getting deep discounts. I’m getting Pro Staff discounts. I’m buying stuff as if I was on a Pro Staff but I’m not so just that alone, if I’m going to buy a new set of Vortex, a new Red Dot slider or whatever, I’ve already recovered my $75. You get a membership at $75-plus that goes into the monthly prizes and their discounts are good for a year. You’ve got a great business model.
We hope so. It’s working. We’ve been shocked. We’ve been surprised how much product this buy-in group is moving but it’s moving a ton of product. Our numbers are over 70% of people in the tournament utilize those codes, which is a very high margin rate. These guys are literally getting these codes in their email, print them out and hang them on their refrigerator and when they need something, that’s what they’re using. These are up to 40% off. Even Traeger, it’s 25%. It’s a $1,000 grill and you’ve got $250 off for being in the tournament and the stuff’s delivered right to your house.
It’s all dropship. You never touch the product.
No, we don’t touch it. It’s basically a benefit we pass on to the people in the tournament as a thank you. In some cases, we become dealers to our sponsors because they’re like, “You’re already moving so much product. Why don’t we have storage in Strafford, Missouri? We sell a lot of blinds out there. We can have a blind superstore.” I’d call three different brands and a lot of them say, “Why don’t you carry a few of our real targeted SKUs in your store?” They don’t know how to handle us. They sponsor us but they’re like, “You’re not a sponsored company. You’re a dealer hybrid sponsor,” and it’s been interesting to see how it works. We plan on taking that sponsor list to close to 50 companies.
I built a whitetail course. It’s called Deer Hunting Institute and I’ll be doing some of the memberships and you get X, Y and Z. Your membership is covered if you take advantage of the discount but they shared with me because this is a good lesson learned in business. Years ago, there was a company known as Blockbuster. We all lined up, we got the movies for the weekend and watched movies on VHS, then along came Netflix and it is a huge billion-dollar company and Blockbuster doesn’t exist. What you guys are doing, you’d say a hybrid and they don’t know how to handle you but there will be more and more people that have taken a similar concept for dissimilar industries or niches but then apply, “How are we going to move the product?”
Social media is huge and you built community. It’s important here at the show. I’ve got a huge community of people. You think about that and you think about, “How can you tap into that as a company and change the way companies do business?” I salute you. You are on the cutting-edge and I wish you nothing but the best. I’m going to talk to Randall and we got a couple of 160s on the farm. I know a couple of bigger deer on public land that I hunted but it’s hard. They’re ghost bucks. My buddy shot over the back of Bullwinkle. He hunts traditional archery and he had him at twenty yards and for whatever reason, he shot over his back and he’s out there. What was the total gross that won?
When we decided to go to a team format, it levels the playing field somewhat and where we’re from in Southwest Missouri. We’re not typically the big buck part of the state. You’ve got to go north for the bigger bucks. The guys around home hear that and say, “How are we going to compete with North Missouri?” This played out time and time again and what we saw happen where it’s a team event. You’ve got two guys that have to kill pretty decent bucks. It’s not one guy killing one buck and then the other guy getting skunked. We saw that a lot in Iowa and in Missouri where guys are killing 170s and 160s and their partners couldn’t get on a deer. It levels that playing field quite a bit by going to the team format.
Overall, every state winning the tournament was about 330 inches on two deers.
The winning average is over 300.
The guys that went to Arkansas, they had a pair of 160s. Those are big deer but to Phil’s point, it’s about the average. We had some teams that we were like, “These guys are killers. They’re going to win Iowa,” and they did. One of them went out, did what they normally do and killed 170 inches.
The other guy got skunked. He’s good for a 160 for the last twenty years from what I’m told.
Our tagline is, “It’s anyone’s game.” We always tell people that on the right day, with very few exceptions, maybe every state we had some really surprised people in here that had a good year. They came here, picked up their side-by-sides and did interviews with us. They were like, “We had no intention of winning this thing. We thought it would be cool to follow the action like a fantasy football club, some way to make it more fun or something else to think about and winning. That’s the only reason I signed up and the discounts,” and then they ended up driving out here with two Polaris Rangers.
Does each guy get a Polaris?
Yeah. The first place is at a $22,000 prize pack.
Did they get a trailer too to take it home or not?
No, they’re going to bring the trailer. We don’t provide the trailer. Maybe in the future, we’ll do that. Everybody came in and we had a big trade show. We do it in February. We had about a hundred vendors. It’s not a massive trade show but really Missouri needs one and we’re trying to start one here. It was about 90,000 feet and 6,000 people come through it. The Saturday night during the event we have our banquets down the street and it was awesome. We fed everybody, had a country music concert with a Nashville recording artist and did about a 40-minute awards banquet with music going on the whole time. It was super high energy. You can actually check it out on YouTube. We had guys saying, “We would have been involved just to be at the banquet.”
Maybe that’s something I could come down and do some Facebook Lives, YouTube and Instagram Live and do some podcasts. I’d like to do that. Guys, what other things do you want to share with the audience? Tell me what states you’re in, what states you’re projecting to be in and then how to get involved again?
We expanded to seven states. We went up Northeast and a little bit North. We’re in Iowa, Missouri and Arkansas and then we added Wisconsin, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Kentucky. Our growth strategy is to partner with great companies. I’d be crazy not to mention our great partnership with The Bearded Buck, which is on the Sportsman’s Channel. We partnered with them for those three states at Northeast: Ohio, Pennsylvania and Kentucky. They’ve been awesome partners and got us on television. We do some advertising on the Sportsman’s Channel. It looks like we’ll be at about fourteen states.
We’ve got Kansas knocking down our door, Illinois coming on track, Oklahoma will be in. Maybe I shouldn’t spoil any other ones but we’ve got a lot of people requesting us to be there. Because we’re giving away such big prize packs, we’ve got to be strategic about where we go and how fast we get there. We don’t want to water down the event. It was high quality and people had a great time. We want to make sure we can continue that. There are a lot of states we could have been in but we try to do it as we can pull it off but we’ll have more than one banquet as well. It’s a little far drive for Pennsylvania folks to come down here. We’ll have one up Northeast. We’re spreading out.
I remember the days at the start of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. It started with a couple of guys up in Montana and over the years, it has exploded. Listening to you guys, it’s the same type of thing because you’ve got banquets and then you’ve got your pro staff in each state and you run it. You guys have to get on an airplane and fly to these places to be there. Here’s a success story and who knows where you guys are going to take it. We talked a lot about community and that resonates throughout this whole interview. One more time, tell people how to get involved with Quest Hunt Co.
You can go to the website, www.QuestHuntCo.com and click on the tournament button and get signed up for any of the states that we’ll be in and also follow us on Instagram and Facebook for all the updates and the giveaways.
Thank you so much. We had a great conversation about something that’s changing the way we look at hunting and making it competitive but building community in the outer doors.
- Quest Hunt Co
- Instagram – Quest Hunt Co
- Facebook – Quest Hunt Co
- Stratton Seed Company
- Polaris Ranger Side by Sides
- Traeger Grills
- Grizzly Coolers
- Red Dot – Vortex
- Trophy Type
- Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation
- Deer Hunting Institute
- The Bearded Buck
About Quest Hunt Co.
We couldn’t be more excited to tell you that now there is. Every single Quest Hunt Co hunter has all of those opportunities and more. Our goal has always been to offer a first class hunting experience to every person with a low cost, high stakes payout. Quest Hunt Co has evolved from an enthusiastic idea over dinner at a local steakhouse to a recognizable brand in the industry. We can’t thank you enough for taking some time to learn more about our company, and look forward to seeing you on our leaderboards. Remember… It’s Anyone’s Game.