Looking to hunt or fish on private land? There’s an app for that
The start of fall means hunting season is approaching in the West. For farmer Jesse Cecil in southeastern Wyoming, it’s time to scout out spots to build blinds that conceal goose and duck hunters.
His 2,000 acres of rolling prairie has irrigation canals and ponds, which attract the birds. His house also sits right under a major flyway for snow geese.
“There would be no way of counting them. And when they land, too. It's amazing to see,” he said. “It looks like almost a white tornado of birds.”
Hay farming and ranching has always paid the bills, but for decades, hunting leases have earned the Goshen County farm a few extra thousand dollars a year.
“It is additional supplemental income, and it's definitely worth the time,” Cecil said. “It might pay the electricity bill for one month.”
For years, Cecil has been leasing to hunters the old-fashioned way. A grizzled neighbor may come by with a wad of cash. But now, he’s listing his land on a new app called Infinite Outdoors.
“If you can check your email, you're good to go,” Cecil said.
Infinite Outdoors is like an Airbnb or online shopping site for outdoor recreation. People can find opportunities for elk, fish, ducks and other animals in 12 states, including Wyoming, Colorado and Utah. The cost can range from a few hundred bucks for duck hunting or fishing to over $1,000 for a trip to harvest elk or pronghorn.
CEO Sam Seeton started Infinite Outdoors a few years ago with friends. He was looking to fill a need he had felt himself as an avid hunter. He enjoys experiences on private properties at a lower price.
“Most people are do-it-yourself hunters. They don't have [$10,000] or $20,000 to drop on guided hunting,” Seeton said. “Even if they do, some people – like me – I'm honestly just too prideful at that point. I know how to hunt. I just don't want to fight the crowds.”
Now, he said, the Casper, Wyo.-based company has thousands of users and more than a million acres signed up. On the app, users can view property reviews, pricing and regulations. Once someone books, property owners get their contact information and can customize what they offer.
But even before a property owner signs up, they work with a biologist at Infinite Outdoors to make sure they meet conservation ideals.
“So if the landowner doesn't have land that's good enough to put on there, at least in our biologists’ eyes. [If] it doesn't have a sustainable amount of fish or game, it'll be dead in the water immediately,” Seeton said.
Landowners make money by opening up their property and earning “outdoorsman fees” The app makes money through premium memberships and other fees. Seeton said the experience can be hands-on or hands-off for landowners, depending on how much contact they want with their customers.
No matter what, there are a lot of advantages for people who hunt and fish.
“You can actually go back to how it would be if you would have hiked into a high mountain lake and spent all this time getting to like your own little slice of heaven,” he said.
Several other apps, including LandTrust and Outdoor Access, are doing something similar. Some state-run programs also connect private lands to people who hunt and fish, which opens up millions of acres for recreation, according to the GPS mapping company OnX.
Lisa Nichols, access advocacy manager for OnX, said building connections between private property owners and recreators is good for conservation and keeping traditions alive.
“Even with all of the public land that exists in the West, there's this patchwork of land ownership. And for people to have opportunities to go hunting. These walk-in programs are filling in those spaces on the map that would otherwise be off limits,” she said.
Jesse Cecil says he’s met people through Infinite Outdoors who have returned every year. He and his wife often cook lunch and bring it out to the blinds.
Though the app hasn’t made him much additional profit yet, he sees the potential. He’s thought about offering more lucrative turkey or deer hunts, or building a cabin so people could stay at the farm.
“It's fun to share this and educate people about what you do in ag, and it can be entertaining to answer some questions from the city guys,” Cecil said. “There’s a lot of misconceptions about ag, too.”
Of course, if Cecil wants to offer old-school hunts to that grizzled neighbor with a wad of cash, he still can. Now, he just has a whole new set of customers at his fingertips.
This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, KUNC in Colorado and KANW in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.