The origin of Quest Hunt Co. is tied to the love a pair of friends have for hunting and fishing – and a brainstorming session over a meal a couple of years ago.
Longtime buddies Jeff DeCarlis and Brian Austin, Strafford residents who grew up fishing in bass tournaments, lamented the lack of something similar for hunting.
“We were saying it’s a shame there’s nothing like that for the hunting industry,” DeCarlis recalls. “It’s completely unserved, basically.”
They decided to do something about it.
Their vision: Create a whitetail deer-hunting tournament that allows participants to hunt where they live, pay a small entry fee and become part of a big hunting community and win prizes provided by sponsors.
“We went to work, and two weeks later we incorporated the company,” DeCarlis says from Quest Hunt’s Strafford office – a 75-year-old building formerly used by Goff Feed Store and Easterly Propane Inc.
Spread the word
The two spent nearly 10 months developing the business concept before making their presence known in May 2018. Part of that work involved getting the word out through trade shows. They promoted Quest Hunt at 27 events all over the country last year.
An early challenge was getting people to understand the tournament pitch – something Austin says is difficult to make quickly.
“Even to just sell it, there’s nothing for anybody to compare,” Austin says. “Participants didn’t really know what they were getting into; they didn’t understand the concept.”
First, it takes around 70 volunteers – whom the owners refer to as pro staff – to serve as ambassadors, recruiting people to sign up for tournaments. They aren’t paid a salary, DeCarlis says, but are incentivized with bonuses of cash or products for acquiring sign-ups.
The tournament is a two-person team format with a $150 entry fee and runs all hunting season, September-January. Participants gain access to a discount program that offers 20% off items in the Quest Hunt store and up to 25% off all sponsor gear, according to its website.
Originally, the two planned to just operate in Missouri as a side hustle but ended up in four states for 2018. They’ll get out-of-state requests and study hunting data, and this year, are in seven states: Missouri, Arkansas, Iowa, Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Kansas and Indiana already have been announced for 2020.
“This year, we’re giving away $350,000 worth in prizes,” DeCarlis says, noting each winning team gets a pair of Polaris Ranger side-by-side utility vehicles.
Winners are determined by the total gross inches of the two best deer the team shoots during the season. Throughout the season, teams track their scores on an interactive leaderboard via the company’s website. The first-place prize pack is valued at $22,000, with another $28,000 in prizes split among the second-10th place finishers. Most tournaments average 1,000 participants.
“We’re building a community in the hunting industry and that’s what’s making it grow so fast,” DeCarlis says.
Austin spends much of his time recruiting new sponsors, and it’s paying off.
A dozen sponsors were on board in 2018, and that’s nearly tripled to 35. Next year, at least 45 are on board, with companies including Muddy Outdoors LLC, Grizzly Coolers LLC and Traeger Pellet Grills LLC.
Chris Dunklin, marketing manager for Texas-based wholesaler GSM LLC, says his hunting accessories company got on board with Quest Hunt in July 2018.
“We thought it was a pretty neat idea,” he says. “It’s pretty much blown up since then, it seems like.”
Through a product sponsorship, GSM supplied Quest Hunt with tree stands, trail cameras and box blinds, as well as items for the end-of-season prize packages. Dunkin says GSM’s participation in 2018 was intentionally small to test the water with the startup. It upped the product commitment this year, and Dunklin estimates the total product value has reached $5,000 between the two years.
“As they continue to grow, we’ll probably grow our involvement with them,” he says. “They’re expanding to other states every year.”
Stoking the fire
DeCarlis and Austin are the majority owners of the business, with Tyler Templeton and Jerry Tibbott as minority owners. Tibbott is established in the hunting community, serving as host of “Bearded Buck,” a cable network show on the Sportsman Channel.
Declining to disclose annual revenue, DeCarlis says he and Austin currently are in discussions to raise capital. However, he notes the company is profitable year to date – after recording a net loss in the first year. The two estimate they spent around $140,000 in startup costs.
Starting his own company was a yearslong passion for DeCarlis, he says. That fire was stoked during his 15-year career at manufacturer SRC Holdings Corp., which he left as an executive vice president in 2016. He followed that up with some independent consulting work before working remotely with Diesel Forward Inc., a Wisconsin-based distribution company of aftermarket diesel engine components.
“It got in your blood a little bit,” he says of entrepreneurism while at SRC. “I was grateful, because it did give me the roadmap. It was an awesome learning experience.”
Austin, who started Xtreme Lawn LLC in 2007, says he’s still involved in the business but devotes most of his focus to Quest Hunt.
As for future plans, the co-owners say they’d like to take the tournament to 15 states. They’re also frequently asked about elk and turkey as other hunting options. Other hunting game is not on the near horizon, however.
“Right now, there’s a lot of meat on the bone for whitetail,” DeCarlis says.
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