As with many good business ideas, Marc Feathersone’s HuntingHQ was spurred by a need in his own life. Marc is a keen sports shooter, a Police range certifier and the Christchurch Pistol Club president, and eager to expand his hunting experience and opportunities.
“I spoke to a few mates at the pistol club who were hunters and quite a few of them had lost access to the places they used to go. And we kept running into issues with timing….with properties still open to them, we’d finally find a weekend that suited them and me only to find it didn’t suit the [property] owner,” Marc said.
“On some of the farms where they used to go, much as they might want help keeping pest animal numbers down, some of the farmers were getting a bit tired of the dramas that can go with letting hunters on the property.
“The farm might have been handed down to a younger family member; health and safety requirements were weighing on their minds and so on.”
To begin Marc spoke to fellow farmers within the pistol club. Knowing they appreciated straight talking as much as straight shooting, he asked ‘What would it take for you to allow a complete stranger with a gun to come onto your property to hunt unwanted wildlife?’.
“Farmers don’t beat around the bush and I knew if I could solve that, I had a goer,” Marc said.
Marc and the team then set about expanding their R&D over 12 months, looking to address the farmers’ key concerns, the hunters’ needs, and developing this into a streamlined platform for both.
Marc likens HuntingHQ to an Airbnb for hunters and farmers. Landowners list their properties, hunting boundaries, restricted zones, what sort of game is available, accommodations, guiding if available, costs, etc. This keeps them in complete control of their listing at all times, with the added security of the listing address and contact information only being made available to the hunter, once a booking is confirmed by the farmer.
As far as Marc knows, there’s nothing quite like it anywhere else and he’s certainly found a niche market. It was only launched last year but already has 143 properties and over 650 paid hunters registered.
“We’ve got forward bookings right through to May,” Marc said.
“To date we have found our farmers looking to diversify, looking for ways in which to manage their pest problems and hunters on their properties.
“Their biggest concern was Health & Safety. They understand what WorkSafe requires with contractors and fencers and bailers coming on their property, but with the hunting side of things there was a fair bit of uncertainty.”
Hunters register, complete a compulsory online Health and Safety, and Code of Conduct course, which they must pass 100%, before final vetting and verification. “The Code covers the Seven Firearms Rules, of course, but also stuff like ensuring gates that are closed are left that way, where you climb a fence, how you climb a fence, getting rid of gut bags and so on.”
Hunters can choose from three different membership options, each covering them with $10 million public liability insurance and $1 million statutory liability insurance, when booking with any HuntingHQ listing.
All hunters who register are required to provide their firearms licence. For those who don’t have one, they must provide a ‘referee’ who is a fully verified HuntingHQ member. Those without a firearms licence are restricted to an ‘invite only’ status, allowing them to only join a hunt trip when invited by the ‘lead hunter’ who holds a valid firearms licence. With a safe hunting environment, it means a hunter can their partner and kids with them to experience the outdoors.
Prior to accepting a hunt booking, the landowner can vet each hunter via their online profile and a star rating based on other landowners’ feedback. If a hunter’s 5-star rating drops below 4, their membership is suspended pending an investigation.
Marc’s confident these sorts of measures address two other key concerns listed by landowners (control and security) but more improvements are on the way, with a new app that is 90 percent developed.
Operating similar to Google Maps, the app will allow both farmers and hunters instant access to key features, for example the GPS tracking module that is activated within the property boundary.
“A tracking module will tell the farmer when the hunters have entered the property, where they are, and most importantly when they’ve left. Hunters will be able to use the function to locate their mates, and where their mates have already been.”
In another module, when a hunter brings down, say, a fine stag, and takes a photo, it can be geo-tagged on the map and added to the hunter’s profile. Similarly, if a hunter notices something doesn’t look right out in the back blocks – a fence is down, expensive stock are in a place they shouldn’t be, for example – they can take a photo and the geo-tag is send to the farmer.
“So in a way the hunter becomes like an extra farm hand,” Marc said.
Perhaps best of all is the value for combating poachers. If the legitimate hunter comes across evidence of poachers, the photo, geo-tag and time stamp could help with a prosecution.
“How many times are the police called and they pretty much pass the poachers on the road with deer or pigs hanging off the back of the ute but the cops pretty much can’t do anything because it’s on public land, and you’ve actually got to catch them on private land.”
All landowners who list get HuntingHQ signs to put on their gates and fences, which Marc believes will itself be deterrent to poachers when they know legitimate hunters have the app.
Marc expects the app will be up and running within the next six months. “I’ve certainly learned a lot about developing software – and it’s costly too.”
While revenue was not top of farmers’ wish lists, it’s certainly welcome. One of HuntingHQ’s top earners has made $20,000 in 11 months.
“He’s pretty excited. He’s actually looking at purchasing a block next door as well to start up another listing.”
Other farmers, especially those in more remote areas, are enjoying the contact with hunters.
“If they’re offering shearers’ quarters or huts for accommodation, they might go over for drinks in the evening and so on.
“It’s all up to the farmer – they choose how much they want to be involved or not.”