Landtrust’s Nic De Castro Interview

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What is LandTrust?

LandTrust is a website where hunters and other outdoor enthusiasts can book exclusive access on private land for hunting, fishing, foraging, camping, and more. 

Where did you come up with the idea of LandTrust and what makes this such a compelling business idea?

I came up with the idea because I wanted to use a platform like LandTrust, but it didn’t exist. I had just moved up to Bozeman from Colorado at the end of 2016 and was instantly confronted with the idea that is now LandTrust. Montana has a bunch of amazing public lands, but it also has a ton of incredible private land that I wanted to access to hunt & fish but there was no easy way to connect with the landowners. Of course, I tried door-knocking, but I had meager results. As with other sharing-economy platforms like Airbnb, Turo, and Outdoorsy there were a bunch of owners of an asset (land in our case) they weren’t fully utilizing.  There was also a large market of people, myself included, who would be happy to pay them for the opportunity to enjoy that asset so I want to work on creating the marketplace to connect the landowners and the sportsmen.

What makes LandTrust different from other options for hunting private land like annual leases, hunt clubs, outfitters, etc?

When hunters book a hunt on LandTrust, they have exclusive, DIY hunting access on that property for the dates they book. Unlike annual leases, hunters can simply book the dates that they’ll actually be hunting rather than having to lease a property for an entire year. Because hunters only pay for the days that they’re hunting a property, LandTrust bookings are usually much cheaper than annual leases of similar properties. Unlike hunt clubs, when hunters book LandTrust properties, they are the only hunters on the property for the days they booked. Additionally, LandTrust properties are not operated like hunt clubs where the club is trying to maximize hunter days on the property to earn revenues. LandTrust properties are predominantly working farms & ranches that are growing our food as their primary business and using LandTrust as an additional source of income. Because of this, LandTrust’s landowners are very conscious of not overhunting their properties because it’s not in their best interest. As mentioned above, LandTrust is about DIY hunting access so there are no guides. It’s essentially what has traditionally been known as a ‘trespass fee’ where a landowner charges you for access to their property to hunt.

Who should consider using LandTrust?

Hunters who are looking for exclusive, DIY access to private lands for hunting should strongly consider LandTrust. They’re either tired of the public land grind, want a more controlled, safe experience for kids or new hunters, or are simply looking to get outdoors without the crowds for their next trip. 

What states is LandTrust active in?

LandTrust has listings in 35+ states. We’re adding new properties to the platform every week so the best way to see if we have properties in states you’re interested in is to hop on LandTrust.com and search by that state. I would also strongly recommend that anyone who might be interested in LandTrust create a free account and tell us what state you live in, what states you’re interested in hunting, and which species you’re interested in. Once you do that, we’ll send you new properties that match your interests as soon as they go live on LandTrust. Essentially, LandTrust scouts for you year-round!

What types of hunts do you see get booked the most on LandTrust?

We see 2 types of hunting bookings on LandTrust. The first one we call the ‘hunting vacation’ which is a group of friends or family who are booking a multi-day trip in a new location. They’re looking for new experiences and to create lasting memories around a hunting trip. 

The second is what we call the ‘local spot’. This is actually the type of booking that I started the company for. Local spot bookings are bookings for properties that are within ~2 hours of where the hunter lives. They are looking for a place near home where they can have exclusive access. These bookings are usually 1-2 days long for usually 1 person. We see a lot more of these bookings take place in-season usually only a few days or a week before the actual trip takes place. E.g. You find out that you can take a Friday off work or your wife gives you the green light for a Saturday and you hop on LandTrust and book a property. We also see hunters book the same local properties multiple times during the season as well as for other activities, like fishing or camping, in the off-season. The really cool thing we’ve seen happen over the past few years is that the local spot bookings have led to great relationships between the hunters & the landowners. 

As far as species that we see the most hunts booked for, turkeys were #1 last year on LandTrust. As you know, turkey hunters are rabid and love to travel and hunt for different sub-species in different parts of the country. After turkey hunters discovered LandTrust, we’ve seen some hunters book 5 to 6 turkey hunts across different states in the same season. If you like turkey hunting, you should definitely check out LandTrust. Of course, we see a ton of whitetail hunts as well as a growing number of upland hunters using LandTrust.

How much income can the average landowner make?

Obviously, every property is different and has different revenue generation abilities based on the size of the property, the wildlife species present on the property, the abundance of that wildlife as well as if the property has lodging capability (tent/RV-camping, cabin, lodge, house, etc.). Having said that, the average landowner can earn between $5,000 – $10,000/yr on LandTrust from hunting with top-performing landowners earning $80,000/yr from hunting. Additionally, as we begin to develop new markets like fishing, RVs, farm & ranch tours, etc. our landowners will be able to generate more revenue outside of hunting season. 

How is what you’re offering different from state programs such as block management?

Generally speaking, state-funded hunting access programs like Block Management here in Montana have a mandate to increase public hunting access on private lands, which is great and a win for hunting access. These programs use fees primarily from non-resident hunting license sales to pay landowners a set hunter ‘impact’ day fee ($13/day) with an annual cap on earnings of $50,000 per landowner. Now, if you’ve started to do some quick mental math with those numbers, that means that a landowner would have to have to host 3,846 hunter days in a single hunting season to earn that cap. That’s a lot of hunter days, pressure on wildlife, and wear & tear on the property. Additionally, programs like Block Management and others require landowners to sign year-long or even multi-year contracts with the state to participate. On the other hand, LandTrust is a business partner with landowners. We’ve built an online platform where they can list their property and get connected with outdoor enthusiasts interested in booking trips on their land. Landowners choose the activities they want to host, pricing, availability, rules, etc., and can accept or decline any booking request from a guest. We then market the property and when someone books a trip for hunting/fishing/RV/foraging/etc. LandTrust earns a 20% commission on the booking and the landowner keeps 80% of the booking. It’s also important to note that since government programs like Block Management program exist to facilitate increased free public access, their incentive is to pay the landowner as little as possible per hunter day to ensure they increase the number of hunter days needed to hit their max earning. They have directly inverse incentives from the landowner. Landowners, generally speaking, are trying to generate the maximum income from the least number of hunter days which lowers the impact on their land, the wildlife populations, and most importantly, their time. 

To be clear, we’re not against state-funded public access programs on private lands. Many of our team have hunted Block Management properties and will do so in the future. I killed my antelope last year on a Block Management property. Block is a great example of how paying landowners for hunting access opens up more opportunities for hunters. We’re for property rights which means we believe in a landowner’s right to choose whatever is right for them whether it be not allowing any public access to their land, enrolling in a government access program, working with a platform like LandTrust, allowing open public access or some blend of the above.

Can landowners block out certain times and dates for friends and family?

Absolutely. It’s one of the aspects our landowners love about LandTrust. They can still allow their friends, family, neighbors, business partners, etc. enjoy their property by blocking out dates for them and still generate income from the land when they’re not using it. 

What’s the landowners liability if someone comes on their property and gets hurt?

Part of our terms of service that every guest accepts when they create a LandTrust account is that they hold the landowners harmless. On top of the guest holding the landowner harmless, 34 of the top ag-producing states have agritourism liability limitation laws that protect landowners from liability when hosting agritourism on their property, which hunting is considered agritourism when it’s done on an agricultural property. Additionally, LandTrust has a guest participant insurance that will cover up to $10,000 of medical bills for any guest that gets hurt on a property, even though the guest is liable for anything that happens while on a property. LandTrust also carries a $1,000,000 general liability policy for our landowners. 

How much land is currently on the site now?

We have roughly 1.2M acres of land listed on the site right now.

What do you say to critics who say this is just another step toward hunting being only for the rich?

I’d ask them, “How does incentivizing landowners who didn’t allow free public hunting access on their land to now offer hunting access for a fee make hunting only for the rich? Does that decrease the amount of free public hunting access on public lands?” The important aspect that we need to discuss here is keeping these private agricultural lands profitable. As one of the founding fathers of American conservation, Aldo Leopold, said, “Conservation will ultimately boil down to rewarding the private landowner who conserves the public interest.” Profitability can mean the difference between being able to pay property taxes or selling the family farm. This economic reality has led to the fact that between 1992 and 2002, the United States lost 31 million acres of farmland. That’s 175 acres per hour. Nearly half of those lost acres were due to development in rural areas. It all comes down to economics which have historically depended solely on the agricultural production from the land. However, we now have the opportunity to use market-based solutions, like LandTrust, to enable landowners to profit from people’s enjoyment of the land’s habitat and access to wildlife resources. By paying to hunt on farms, ranches, and other private lands, you’re helping the land do well for its owner while also giving them a strong incentive to conserve and enhance quality wildlife habitat. You’re also directly supporting the wildlife populations in that area that disperse onto public lands as well. As the old saying goes, “If it pays, it stays.” Let’s make opening up hunting access and having quality habitat and wildlife resources pay.

First, why does liking public land hunting mean you can’t also like private land hunting? I think we need to focus on the real threats to hunting like anti-hunting legislation and the fact that we’re losing 175 acres/hr of agricultural lands to development rather than infighting over things like public vs. private.

Having said that, if you’re someone who’s a die-hard, public lands-only hunter then more private land hunting is something that you should champion. Let’s face it, hunting is a zero-sum activity. One person hunting on 40 acres is a very different experience than 10 people hunting on 40 acres. By hunting more private land, we’re doing two things that will make better hunting experiences for all:

Less hunting pressure on public lands:

Every hunter that hunts on private land is one less hunter that day on public land. It’s that simple. As we all know, fewer people hunting a tract of land is a better hunting experience. Do you want 50 trucks at the trailhead or 5?

More game animals on public lands during hunting season:

The more hunters who hunt on private lands means more game animals disperse onto public lands. Animals react to pressure. If that pressure is only going in one direction—from public to private—then there will be less opportunity to harvest game on public land. But if that pressure goes both ways, there will be more animals on public lands during hunting seasons. This was proven in a recent BYU study in Utah that looked at elk populations on public lands during rifle season. Only 29% of the elk herd was on public land by the middle of rifle season, having been pushed onto private lands by public land hunters… After the state took steps to increase hunting opportunities on private lands, they found that 42% of the elk herd was on public land by the middle of rifle season. If you’re a hunter, this should be obvious.

How can people learn more about LandTrust?

Visit landtrust.com, follow us on Instagram, Facebook, or give us a call or text at (406) 709-8450. For landowners who’d like more information, calling or texting us is usually the easiest way to get more information from our team.

Again, I’d encourage any hunters reading this to take 30 seconds to create their free LandTrust account, tell us what states & species they’re interested in and we’ll then send you new properties that match those interests as they come on the platform. Let LandTrust scout for you!

The post Landtrust’s Nic De Castro Interview appeared first on HuntingLife.com.



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