On the hunt: Fort Worth booking agency targets the great outdoors

Betty Dillard bdillard@bizpress.net Jay Decker had spent his career managing hedge funds, brokering real estate deals and trading on Wall Street before following his belief that life is for living. The 44-year-old Fort Worth native parlayed his financial savvy and extensive knowledge of the outdoor industry into Gunn & Hook, an online destination to research and book hunting, fishing and outdoor adventures. The social commerce website launched in July 2013. Two months ago, Gunn & Hook expanded to a brick and mortar retail location in Fort Worth’s bustling Seventh Street corridor.

“We’ve made it our mission to get you up and out from behind the computer and provide you with the information needed to research and reserve an outdoor experience,” Decker said. “Our main business is to sell hunting and fishing trips online. We are the one single place you can go and research and then book any hunting or fishing trip in the world.” A full-service booking agency, Gunn & Hook provides both packaged and customized excursions while the retail store offers more than 500 adventure sports products. The staff – each employee is a knowledgeable hunter, fisherman and adventurer – has assembled a network of more than 4,000 guides and outfitters to make activities accessible to everyone. With one click, an outdoorsman or woman can go dove hunting in Texas, white water rafting in Colorado, on safari in Zimbabwe or fly fishing in Argentina.

“It’s literally next door to across the country or across the world,” Decker said. Decker, the company’s president and chief executive, is an avid outdoorsman. He was fly fishing at age 6 and mastered bow hunting in high school. A graduate of Dartmouth College with a degree in English and economics, Decker began his financial career in 1993 as partner/portfolio manager with Clint Carlson at startup Carlson Capital LP. His experience includes stints at Churchill Capital LP and Lighthouse Financial LLC as well as a sales trader on Wall Street. Decker says he had long wanted to combine his financial background with his love of the outdoors. “I had kicked this idea around for several years until we figured out how to make it a viable revenue generator,” he said. “We looked at some ad-supported business models but didn’t want to go that direction. Once Groupon came out we found a way to apply that [model] to hunting and fishing and came up with a plan. We’re testing a lot of things with this business that have never been done before in this industry.”

Decker financed the venture with a combination of personal savings and funding from investors. He says that after only a few months in business, revenues are growing and “profitability is on the horizon.” “We help solve problems. We help people fulfill their passion as an outdoorsman or woman,” he added. “We also help guides and outfitters generate more revenue for the year.” Gunn & Hook serves as a “digital highway” for everything sportsmen and women need to know about the outdoors, Decker says. The website’s digital offerings include bookings, flash sales, the global directory of guides and outfitters, and product sales. Content features an outdoors journal and email blasts as well as postings and blogs on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Ratings and reviews of products, trips, destinations and lodges are in the works to be added to the website. The ratings and reviews are something competitors don’t offer, Decker says, adding that the biggest challenge in starting the business has been the technology.

- FWBP Digital Partners -

“We’ve seen technology companies revolutionize, for instance, luxury travel and the way people book vacation rentals. Hunting and fishing is still a very old-school business in the way trips are booked. People call a friend and get testimonials and referrals. There’s not that one central place where people can go to start their search,” he said. “That is our vision – to be the one-stop destination for everything hunting, fishing and adventure sports. We’re trying to revolutionize this industry. We’re trying to revolutionize the way people have done something a certain way for many, many years.” Some of the top trips and outdoor getaways enthusiasts have booked since Gunn & Hook opened, according to Decker, are elk hunts in New Mexico and aoudad hunts in South Texas.

“We’ve had deals in New Zealand, Africa and South America,” he said, “but we’ve got a greater concentration of deals in Texas, New Mexico, Colorado and Montana. We’ve done tarpon fishing trips in Florida and pheasant hunts in South Dakota, but one of the most popular trips now is hog hunting in Texas. Hog hunting, wild boar hunting, is very popular now, as is bow hunting. Both have exploded with TV shows.” Gunn & Hook has about 70 active trips presently, but “if one of those doesn’t suit your fancy you can call us and give us a general idea of where you’d like to go and we can do that with our concierge service,” Decker said. “We’ll put together a custom package for you. “And if you just want to come in here and talk to us, ask us a question or get advice, we’re here for that. We want this to be a place where sportsmen and women are coming. We just want to be a destination for people who have a passion for the outdoors. Just stop by and chat.”