Ranch Investor Podcast

Inside the mind of a seasoned outfitter ranch syndication exposed.

Episode 3 | Inside the Mind of a Seasoned Outfitter: Ranch Syndication Exposed

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“Are Outfitters the Guardians of Nature’s Sanctity or Opportunists in the Wilderness?”

In this episode of the Ranch Investor Podcast, we dive deep into the heart of Montana’s vast landscapes with Jeremy DeVries. Join us as we explore the intricate balance between preserving the wilderness and embracing the opportunities it offers. Jeremy, a seasoned outfitter with a passion for the great outdoors, shares his insights on the challenges and rewards of outfitting in Montana. From the serene moments at dawn, setting decoys on a silent river, to the complexities of navigating the outfitter industry amidst growing pressures and regulations. How do outfitters like Jeremy ensure they contribute positively to conservation while providing unforgettable experiences for those seeking the wilderness? Tune in to discover the delicate dance between man and nature, and the pivotal role outfitters play in this age-old relationship.

Join us in this episode. Tune in now!

Speaker 1: 0:00I know that you, in nine years, are going to have a kid that you’re going to want to take on somewhere, and you want it to be just as good for him as it was when you were 12.

Speaker 2: 0:10Welcome to the Ranch Investor podcast. I am your three-year host, Colter DeBreeze, accredited land consultant with the Realtor Land Institute and accredited farm manager with ASFMRA. Today, I’m excited to bring you the experts on a weekly basis to hear what’s trending, what’s happening, what’s going on in Montana, Wyoming, the West and ranches across the United States.

Speaker 3: 0:36The Ranch Investor podcast is the most downloaded and informative industry-specific content that intrigues while entertains.

Speaker 2: 0:45Welcome everyone to the Ranch Investor podcast. Today I have on Jeremy DeVries DeFries. We don’t even know how to say our own last name, do we?

Speaker 1: 0:55Yeah, it’s. Lots of people pronounce it different ways. No one has a chance to spell it, no matter what.

Speaker 2: 1:01And I end up just telling people DeVries, delta, echo Victor, romeo, india, echo Sierra, you’ve practiced that several times oh yeah, well, I’m on calls of customer service a lot. So if anyone thinks I’m practicing nepotism by having you on here friends and family, we are related probably.

Speaker 1: 1:25Yeah, my mom, who kind of does some genealogy stuff, and your aunt.

Speaker 2: 1:31Adele, Yep Adele, who does genealogy as well.

Speaker 1: 1:33They had talked back and forth about some of the stuff and they tracked our families your family and my family back to the border between Germany and Holland.

Speaker 2: 1:43Okay.

Speaker 1: 1:43And that our families lived as close as four miles apart from.

Speaker 2: 1:46I did not hear that. That’s news to me. I didn’t know that.

Speaker 1: 1:49Yeah, and then also some of our families cross paths through South Dakota and Illinois, I believe, kind of Chicago area, I think.

Speaker 2: 1:59Around 1883 or 81. Yeah, long time ago.

Speaker 1: 2:03But never could make a connection actual connection. That’s why I never could figure it out that we were actually, you know, a connection. So they just lost records or whatever.

Speaker 2: 2:11So and you hail from the northern part of the state. Yeah, probably five hours away.

Speaker 1: 2:17Yeah, six Yep. Little town called Sunburst, montana. It’s right up on the Canadian border, eight miles from.

Speaker 2: 2:21Canada. So so I am kind of being a nepotist in this regard. That you’re probably related, but the reason I have you on is you are a outfitter.

Speaker 1: 2:32I am.

Speaker 2: 2:33And what do you do? What do you outfit?

Speaker 1: 2:35So I’ve been an outfitter for a long time. I sell health insurance full time, actually large group health insurance, and I kind of have a part time outfitting business. That I’ve been doing for the last, well, for the last 30 years. So I guide for birds and fish. I don’t do any big games, I don’t do big. I don’t do birds or or, excuse me, I don’t do elk or deer or anything like that, just birds and fish, mostly waterfall.

Speaker 2: 2:58Blast and cast Kind of On the Big Horn River.

Speaker 1: 3:01Kind of we don’t do a lot of blast and casts Like that. That term has become like a kind of a common one in the industry. But I don’t do them because when you try to fish and hunt in the same day you end up kind of doing both of them Half-assed. So I kind of we’ll more like on a particular day we’ll focus on ducks for one day and then we’ll fish the next day and then we’ll focus on ducks again the next day. So we’ll go hunt, fish hunt, or we’ll go fish, hunt, fish or something like that. But rarely do we try to mix them together.

Speaker 2: 3:32Now this, this part time outfitting, is this like part time real estate, where you can put on a seminar around the country that hey, make $5,000 a month from real estate. You don’t even need a license, you can do it part time.

Speaker 1: 3:46No, I’m licensed outfitter and have been since 1997. And I got four or five guides that work for me. I don’t do a lot of the actual day to day guiding I still do on the duck, on the duck side I still do. But my full-time job selling insurance most of the time, but this is a thing that feeds my soul. You know like it makes me happy to go out there and spend a day with people chasing ducks or catching fish, and a lot of my insurance clients have now become like outfitting clients too, right, so it kind of works well together as this isn’t an attack right off, though.

Speaker 2: 4:22I mean it’s an actual economic going concern. Right, correct, okay, it is Because you just bought a lodge. I did what went into the decision making of buying a lodge?

Speaker 1: 4:33Well, we were. I have a partner on the lodge. His name is Mack, great guy. He’s been my head guide for eight years or something like that, and we’ve been hiring a bunch of people or hiring a bunch of locations, airbnb type stuff and had been sending our money to these Airbnb’s to put all of our clients in. So either Airbnb’s or hotels or whatever. And the number was starting to get kind of substantial. So Mack and I sat down and said, hey, why don’t we pay ourselves? So we bought a lodge so that we can basically put our own clients into our own building instead of paying that money to someone else.

Speaker 2: 5:08So so you were internalizing an operating expense? We were Okay.

Speaker 1: 5:13I like that you talk so technically.

Speaker 2: 5:14I try to Now. Mack is a guide. Yeah, yep, from my understanding of having a real estate license, can he become an associate outfitter? Can you guys? Would you be a supervising outfitter? Is the structure much like real estate where I’m the super supervising broker. I can have associate brokers sign off on deals for me?

Speaker 1: 5:39Yeah, so it’s a great question. So in the state of Montana you can get a guides license from the state In order to get that guy licensed, so you have to have an outfitter sign off. So it’s very similar to an agent broker kind of relationship. So basically I have an outfitters license. Mack is a licensed guide that works for me. He’ll probably get his own outfitters license at some point. He’s I mean, he’s he’s more than capable, he’s, he’s outstanding, but it does work that way. So licensed guide in the state. The only difference between a guide and an outfitter is that a guide can’t actually charge money, only an outfitter can charge money. So the outfitter has to collect all the money and then they hire guides to do some of the work underneath them.

Speaker 2: 6:16Basically, Okay, so so Matt could become an outfitter, and would it still be your license? Would it still be?

Speaker 1: 6:25with you, then he would get his own license. We would just practice together, okay.

Speaker 2: 6:29And so the guides, are they paid by you, or they paid by commission, or paid by? The outfitter paid by the outfitter. Is it a percentage of a book booking fee?

Speaker 1: 6:43Usually it’s a per day rate per day. So, yeah, you basically agree with the and the guides are usually all 1099 independent contractors and so they have their own independent trade. That you know. They run their own boat and they run their own truck and they run all of their own decision making on the river and we just set a day rate. They take a day rate for it. But now Mack and I are now partners on this property and we’re partners in River Rock Outfitters and a brand new LLC, so we’re going to share profits throughout the whole thing. So, but it will still run through basically my outfitter’s license.

Speaker 2: 7:16What kind of education, trainings, licensing requirements go into an outfitter? Can I, just me? Can I take some courses and become an outfitter tomorrow? You?

Speaker 1: 7:26can’t, you can’t. So in order to be a guide, it’s pretty easy. I could sign a piece of paper right as an outfitter. I could sign a piece of paper right now and I could make a culture of license toning fishing guide in Montana. But in order to be in my position as an outfitter, you have to take an exam, a written exam. You have to pay a pretty hefty little fee in order to get your license. Then you have to prove 100 days worth of guide experience, either for whatever game that you’re chasing. So if it’s fish, you have to have 100 days. If it’s birds, you have to have 100 days. If it’s deer and elk, you have to have 100 days. So you have to show days worth of experience. Then you have to buy insurance and insure yourself. So it’s a fairly lengthy process. Most people in their first year of guiding they’ll only get 30 days. So in order to get 100 days worth of experience, you have it’s kind of a three year deal Some young guides who are really good. You know, if they’re really hot young guys, maybe they’ll get 80 or 90 in their first year. But it’s hard to get over 100 guide days in a season.

Speaker 2: 8:25So that sounds a lot like real estate. It usually takes I mean, if you’re killing it in Montana three years, $30 million, to become a broker. So you start off as an agent, gain your experience and work your way up, just like the guide, outfit or relationship, yep. So why? What’s the problem with me? Just, I don’t have a license, but my family has a ranch. Why can’t I just do illegal outfitting? What’s wrong with?

Speaker 1: 8:53that Probably the biggest. The number one reason is probably you wouldn’t be insured. So all of my clients are insured for a million dollars per person on any day that they come out, so something terrible would happen. I’m required by statute to have insurance to cover them for anything that could possibly go wrong. I would say that’s probably the number one reason.

Speaker 2: 9:12And I would assume all of your guides and yourself. You have CE trainings and probably first aid.

Speaker 1: 9:19EMT First aid, first aid, yep, first aid. It used to be first aid, ncpr, but now it’s just first aid.

Speaker 2: 9:27So I hear a lot about illegal outfitting in Montana. Yeah, tell me about this.

Speaker 1: 9:33That’s funny. I was talking to a warden just yesterday in Columbus, Montana.

Speaker 2: 9:37What is it? What is illegal outfitting?

Speaker 1: 9:39So illegal outfitting is basically accepting fee, accepting some sort of compensation for services that you don’t have a license to offer, basically. So in order to get that license, there was all those requirements that I just talked about, and I think the biggest one being the years of experience and the days or and the insurance. So basically what it means it’s in Montana, if you hire an outfitter, they’re going to be pretty competent and they don’t have those rules in other states. Oklahoma, if you just say you’re a guide, you’re a guide. Alaska, if you just put out a sign on your window and say you’re a guide, you’re a guide, and what ends up happening in some of those other places is that you get about a 50-50 experience, Like half of them are good and know what they’re doing and the other half they’re terrible and craps you and they stink right. But, in Montana because we have those kind of laws in place and generally I don’t like laws and rules, but when? Because those are in place in Montana. If you hire an outfitter, pretty good chance they’re going to have an idea what they’re doing and and do a pretty decent job and I mean I bring this up on the podcast.

Speaker 2: 10:40I’m generally I mean, I’m blowhard libertarian, so I’m generally against licensing and I would be okay if doctors did not have to go through licensing accountants, real estate. But I do understand and I will recognize that those of us with a license provide a higher standard of service. Yeah, I don’t think I don’t, because there are unlicensed real estate wheelers and dealers out there, right, Just just like we have lots of illegal outfitters, Sure.

Speaker 1: 11:10And we do and we have guys that I see it every year. There’s always illegal outfitters out there doing what they’re doing and the biggest thing, the biggest fear that I have especially being the insurance nerd that I am right Something awful were to happen to some of those people on those on those illegally outfitted trips. You know compensation for those folks and it can be scary, especially when you’re packing around guns and you know going out when it’s 23 below zero and you know there’s some fairly dangerous things that you end up doing in the in the outfitting business and I think the insurance part is a huge deal.

Speaker 2: 11:43So, yeah, I mean the standard of care, the assurance, the insurance, the liability, the risk. All of that goes into this licensing issue that I just I don’t like as a free market libertarian. But I, you know, I have a license and I respect that and I think customers and clients should as well.

Speaker 1: 12:02Well, I completely agree and well, as far as the libertarian part I’m basically, I guess I would say I lean that way myself but I also appreciate the fact that it is difficult to become an outfitter in this state. There’s been become this relationship between out of state people and in-state people using resources that are here that you and I pay taxes for, that other people don’t pay for for, and how all of that kind of ties together, where I appreciate the fact that there is some requirements, for lack of better term. It eliminates the riffraff man Absolutely Like. It just gets rid of some of the riffraff.

Speaker 2: 12:43Well, on that note of riffraff and licensing and regulations. So me being in the ranch brokerage business, I’ve been hearing of new buyers coming to Montana and they’ve been taking their buddies out and harvesting, let’s say, five bull elk off a ranch where they have zero tax. Is that really going on? Is that is talk about the problems of outfitting and guiding and and recreation industry in Montana, sport, sportsmen industry Do we really have an issue of I don’t know what would you call that Stealing a public resource?

Speaker 1: 13:23Um, I as far as like, as far as deer and elk. I don’t do any deer or poaching.

Speaker 2: 13:28I guess you call it poaching because it is but, yeah, and and yeah, I would.

Speaker 1: 13:32I’m sure that happens. I mean, a guy comes in. I can think of a guy right now, paid 18 million dollars for a local ranch, 60,000 acres, nice place. You would know it if I said it. Um, and, and I’m sure that if he’s and he’s from out of state let’s say he’s from Missouri and he comes up here with this 13 year old kid and the 13 year old kid and him are wandering around in the hills on their 60,000 acre ranch and they decided to pull the trigger on a bull elk. I, I got a guy, I got a guy back home. I have a guy that I know back home and I said and I won’t say his name either, but I said hey, tom, you shoot those elk out in your yard and he goes every year I shoot a bull up every single year and they go and and I and he said, and so do my grandsons and whatever, and he goes, I feed them elk. and those are right, you know. I feed those elk and I’m going to shoot one. I said, man, how do you get licenses for everybody up here? So it’s a tough draw area and it’s tough to get on. He goes I never, I haven’t bought a license in my life. He just says I feed him. I’m going to shoebox full of farmers tags. I’m going to shoot a couple of them, yeah, yeah.

Speaker 2: 14:35I actually took a friend hunting on my folks’s place this year and my mom she raised an eyebrow. She goes you bought a license. I guess now that I am licensed and I have a business, I probably probably don’t want to go by the old farmers way and that that’s actually very common, I would say, with my, my network of ranchers. So I guess the question I want to pose from that how is it any different when an Oklahoma Texas guy buys a 60,000 acre ranch, takes three bowls bull elk off of it illegally or brings up 20 of his duck hunting buddies and none of them have tags or licenses? How is that any different than the good old boy ranchers who never bought a license in their life?

Speaker 1: 15:26No, it’s a. It’s a, it’s a fair question, other than when you’re on your own private property, that’s one thing, but when you start using public resources, in other words public rivers, for example, or public hunting areas, there’s matter of fact, just this last week there’s a big deal kind of up in the northeastern part of the state where a couple commissioners fish, wildlife and commissioners had started to basically say they wanted to leave hunting not open for non-residents for two weeks and give, like the residents, their own special two week season. It’s kind of still being talked about right now in the fish, wildlife and parks commission, but I guess their whole thing up there was that they had dog trainers from Texas coming in by the truckloads, guys bringing hundreds of dogs, you know 25, 20, 25 different pro trainers up there basically chasing around all of the sharp tail and huns up in that northeastern corner of the state for the entire month of July, the entire month of August and then right into the season. So basically local residents would want to go out and shoot their, you know, shoot sharp tail, grouse or huns on the first of September and all the birds are like educated and terrified and hard to hard to locate. We’re in a normal year, the first of the opening days of the season, it would be easy for a local family to go out and hunt. And I guess, to answer your question more directly, all of us that live in pay taxes in the state of Montana, I think have a vested interest in the quality of the hunting and the quality of the fishing that’s here and I see it as a big, large resource that we need to make sure continues to have value. And I think that local people that live here have a lot more vested interest in how that value is determined. You know what is? What is the value of a dad being able to still take his kid and go out and find a bull elk or to go out on the weekend and find a spot to shoot ducks? And I think we all I think local people have a much more feel, a much more stronger, a much stronger responsibility to protect that than someone, say, from Florida to us or Texas or wherever, who just bought a 60,000 acre ranch and comes and does whatever he wants.

Speaker 2: 17:37Well and this has come up on the podcast before that that is extractive. It’s like tourism. Tourism dollars do not. They’re not vested. As you mentioned the local taxpayer, who’s an avid outdoorsman, he is vested for the long term. He has an alignment of interest tourism and transactional hunting, recreation. We’ll call it that is there’s there’s a problem there, there’s some conflict, because we want the tourism dollars here in Montana, but we also want to protect that resource for and we want to enhance that resource because it is not just personally valuable to many of you outdoorsmen, but it’s economically valuable to the taxpayers. So where are we at today in the state of Montana, we’ve got this, we’ve got these coalitions going on where you’ve got the public land advocates and I I’m only saying public land because you did I call it government land. There is no such thing as public land. I like that. Public doesn’t own shit. The government owns it. The public has no right to it. The government is an entity separate from the public, anyway. So we got government land advocates. We’ve got we’ve got outfitters who are guaranteed licenses, and maybe you can talk to me about some of the proprietary rights that protect your business. How do you get a lease in the Forest Service, so no one else can compete with you. Or how do you get proprietary rights to the Bighorn River? So you guys have your camp in Helena and then you got private land owners who have their camp and they want to monetize that with the Bighorn River and they want to monetize that with access fees. And then you’ve got out of state hunters another coalition who are willing to pay $350,000 for a Bighorn sheep hunt in Montana.

Speaker 1: 19:33Right, just the other day.

Speaker 2: 19:34Yeah, yeah. Where. Where do we stand with all that and how? How is it not working for you, the outfitter?

Speaker 1: 19:42Well, I mean, obviously it is working for me. My business is this is my 30th season. We’re, you know, successful People who come, and the majority of my clients are from out of state.

Speaker 2: 19:53Um, of course I mean yeah, yeah, because if you’re a Montana resident, you’re just going to load up the F-150 and go out and do it. Yeah.

Speaker 1: 20:01Yeah, exactly as far as the deer and the elk and the sheep and stuff like that. I don’t do any big game outfitting and I don’t do it on purpose. So there used to be outfitter sponsored tags. The state voted those out. Oh gosh, it’s been a while, eight years ago or something. I’m again, I’m not a big game outfitter, so I don’t know the exact details but the outfitters basically don’t have sponsored tags anymore, so that their clients have to draw just like any anyone else from. Okay, Since we moved to the point system, there’s no guaranteed tags for the outfitter license as far as I know and, like I said, I’m not a big game outfitter, I’m just kind of more on the bird side, uh, and so so I can’t really speak to that as as well. But I can tell you this um, when there’s other out of state interests that come in and purchase property, uh, and if, if it’s Joe Smith comes in and he buys a property and him and his family come out and they utilize, as you called it, a government property like the Bighorn River, the Yellowstone, the Madison or the Jefferson or any of those rivers, they’re not doing a whole much more impact than the family that was in that ranch before them. Right? The concern that I am starting to see is people who purchase these properties and then they come in and they open up a business or a club or a hunting club of some sort or a syndication.

Speaker 2: 21:27Which is why we’re here to talk, right? And then what ends?

Speaker 1: 21:32up happening is the use that they are putting on the property is more than what was on the property previously. Basically and that’s where I’m starting to see some conflicts because you got local dads I live in Billings Montana you got a local dad and his kid who used to hunt in a certain stretch of the Yellowstone River, let’s say. And now this hunting club has come in next door, like right next door, like riverfront right next door, and they’re putting 10, 12 different boats on the water. Now this dad goes out and he’s frustrated because he can’t take his kid hunting anymore, when he used to do it all the time because people owned the ranch before. It was just, you know, jim Smith and his kid and that was it. So I see that as a hurdle in, you know, in the future.

Speaker 2: 22:17The overuse of the public resource or, you know, public good. Let’s call wildlife a public good. The overuse of that because of development, because if you develop this hunting club or this syndication, there’s going to be 20x the amount of pressure on that fishery or that migratory pathway than there was for eons prior.

Speaker 1: 22:42Yeah, correct, and I guess and I’m one of those guys I kind of agree with you that if I mean if somewhat libertarian issue, if someone owns a piece of property, I have no interest in that property thing. It’s nothing I can. But when it is a collective government property or common good, then that’s where the questions start to become raised is how much pressure are you actually putting on? It’s something that I police myself on and have for a long time. I’m actually kind of proud of what we’ve done and a lot of people don’t know that about outfitters. They don’t know that outfitters, especially in the bird side I don’t want to speak on the big game side as much because they are definitely very different Like one bull elk doesn’t look like another bull elk and look like another bull elk, but every pheasant looks like a pheasant and every duck looks like a duck and clients don’t care. But when you start talking about a big jampoel elk, then they’re going not that one, not that one, but I want that one. People lose their mind and they do silly, they do silly shit Like they, like they go crazy. And that’s where I think a lot of the anti alt fitter sentiment comes from is not necessarily from birds and fish guys, but a lot from the big game side.

Speaker 2: 23:53Well, I’m. One of my libertarian beliefs is self police, policing and to have your industry self police and regulate itself for, for reputation, for credibility, for longevity, for adding value. And I don’t know if you outfitters are just spinning this or giving me a good pitch, but you’re the second one I’ve talked to bird. Last one was upland game bird, your migratory foul. But they have said look, when we bag out, when we reach our daily limit, if we have a person, a client, shoot another one, they’re done. And we turn them in For sure, absolutely. And they said that we ride herd on that very, very stringently, absolutely. So maybe you guys must be doing a good job. You’re either doing a good job or you’re selling me on that. You’re doing a good job? No, we do Well it.

Speaker 1: 24:48I guess our livelihood depends on it, right, right. So we can’t we can’t play around with rules. So you know we have life jackets and PFDs in the boat at all times. Make sure you got licenses for your guides, or for your guides and for your clients. You make sure they don’t have plugs. They have plugs in their guns when they’re shooting waterfowl. Make sure they’re not shooting lead. We make sure they don’t shoot over limit. Make sure they don’t shoot an extra bird of certain species. You know there’s a lot of things that go into what, what we do on a daily basis to make sure that our people are falling within the general guidelines that you know. The state is the state and the federal government is set, but it’s bigger than that, like it’s. It’s bigger than that I was when I was a young guy, just getting into the waterfall game. I had a friend of mine and we used to help waterfowl together for snow geese in South Dakota and we were talking about what we were going to do and what we were going to become and how we were going to make it make our fortune in the outfitting, in outfitting world right and he took one path and I took the exact opposite path and I think both of us have been successful. Maybe he’s more so than me in some regards and me more so than him in other regards. So he has a giant place in the South and they have gotten to where they own 15, 20,000 acres and they they manage and ranch and farm not ranch, but manage and farm and run water on a bunch of property and they take up to 60 guests a day 60, 60. And so he’s generating a lot of revenue for himself. So he’s become very successful in that regard. And some of their hunts are great and some of them are in the middle and some of them are not so great, but they’re just turning. They’re turning 60 people. My business right here. I did the exact opposite. I only have myself and two other boats, and so we take six to eight people, maybe nine on the most. So we’re putting two boats, three boats, on the river extra, and not every day and not every day of the season. And the way we looked at it I looked at it, I guess is that I wanted every client that came to have a great opportunity to at least have a chance to shoot their birds. Could I have sold 30, you know 30 guests and put out you know 15 boats or 20, I could have. I could have. But it’s just the wrong thing to do for the, for the river that I work on. I know that the more pressure that I put on that river, the more difficult it becomes, not only for me, but it becomes for that local dad who lives here in Billings and wants to take his kid hunting too, and I just didn’t feel right doing it. So when you talk about self policing, I don’t think a lot of people really understand that outfitters do a lot of that policing on purpose, not only for their own benefit but for the benefit of the kids that they got and the families that they got to live with every day. Like I come back to Billings, I volunteer baseball coach and if I’m out there screwing things up, I can run myself into people who I did the wrong thing around, or I said something different, or I pushed a guy out of a spot, or you’ll see him at the post office, exactly, exactly, or I stole his spot or I you know what. Whatever the case may be, the local people have, I feel, have much feel a more larger, stronger obligation to take care of that resource, where sometimes I don’t know that people who purchase property especially this is going to sound awful, but especially guys that come from the south where it’s got so difficult for them to find places to hunt anymore I don’t know that they come with that same level of concern for the local resident as a local outfitter or a local hunter does.

Speaker 2: 28:16Yeah, they come to be self serving and extractive, correct? If I’m going to summarize maybe, maybe put you know you’re fine, put you in a box here. To summarize what I hear of your feelings is that they come up here to be completely on the take self serving and extractive. It’s an extractive resource to them? I guess no, but but I mean the way.

Speaker 1: 28:41If you’re summarizing it like that strongly, I guess I don’t feel that it’s that strong, particularly if it’s just one guy, right, like if it’s, if it’s Coulter’s family that comes and buys this place and he hangs out with his family. That’s, that’s not really what I’m talking about. Like, I’m not worried about that guy. That guy is just like me and you and anyone else. Right, he’s coming to free. Yeah, he’s free. He wants to purchase a piece of property and live on it and enjoy it. And what’s starting to happen now is these larger conglomerations of people, people who pay $300,000, $400,000 a year to be a member in a club. The club purchases property all across America and then they get invited to these pieces of property to hunt big game or to hunt docks or to hunt pheasants or wherever South Dakota has a bunch of them. And now you’re putting pressure from pressure from other places into the local areas and it’s making it difficult for local dads to go out with their kids, and that genuinely concerns me. I guess, is what I’m saying.

Speaker 2: 29:41Yeah, because you sounds like you have seen them come in and just it’s like Sherman’s march through the South, where it’s just scorched earth behind them.

Speaker 1: 29:51It is, it really is, and it’s not their fault. But they don’t usually don’t know what they’re doing either, right? So next thing you know, you’ve got just boats driving around all the way along on a public river, or you’ve got trucks inside by sides driving up and down all the old logging roads all day long, everywhere, because they’re they’re trying to figure it out and they’re trying to learn it, and that I. That part I understand. But while they’re trying to learn it, while they’re trying to figure it out, it’s just basically screwed it up for the people who are already there and already know what’s going on, and it’s going to become a big challenge for the state, I think.

Speaker 2: 30:25Well, I was just about to say this, this experience of yours, I don’t think is a phenomena. This $300,000 hunting club, the elite from the south coming up here buying Montana ranches, essentially buying the resources that are supplied by those ranches, that’s not gonna change. No, it’s not. It’s only gonna actually get bigger. So where do we go from here?

Speaker 1: 30:52So it’s a great question. It’s a question that I think Montana I think Montana residents and Montanans and realtors and outfitters and everyone is gonna have to kind of struggle with for the next, you know, for the rest of our generation and probably our kids’ generations too. But I know that you, in nine years, are gonna have a kid that you’re gonna wanna take on somewhere and you want it to be just as good for him as it was when you were 12. And I know that right now you don’t probably think it feels like it felt to you when you were 12. Oh, definitely not, because I don’t right. So I’m 50 and when I was a kid I could go anywhere I wanted, shoot anything I wanted, hunt anything I wanted, and all I had to do is make sure that I didn’t make sure that I took care of the relationship that got me where I was at. Like I couldn’t piss off Mr Jones when I went on to his farm, or I couldn’t leave his gates open or I couldn’t even whatever. And now it’s like I gotta think about paying Mr Jones and I gotta have insurance, so then in case something weird happens, and then I gotta worry about Steve and Bill and John, who are also trying to get on to Mr Jones’s property, and it’s just changed so much and it’s gonna change again in our lifetimes, and so at some point a lot of people are gonna have to make different, I guess decisions about what the value of those public goods really are.

Speaker 2: 32:15Well, and it’s not Farmer Jones’s farm anymore. He sold out. It’s a fair point. So I mean these dynamics are again. We talk about the rapid change that has happened to Montana in the last four years. This rapid change is, I mean, it’s been coming. It’s kind of like going broke slowly than all at once. But what’s happened the last four years seems like a compounding amplification of what was in the developments for the last 40 years. And now it’s on a trajectory to keep that compounding growth and we just don’t know how we’re gonna adjust and I mean I have to. So, Jeremy, I have to adjust my business to that. Sure, I have to appeal to both Mr Jones to get him to sell his farm to this duck membership, this multi-state duck membership, and I have to find a way to appeal to that billionaire buyer, talk his language and earn trust rapport with him, while also Mr Farmer Jones, Sure. And so we have to adjust our businesses if we wanna stay alive.

Speaker 1: 33:31Sure, For sure I just under like earlier, before we were on this podcast, you had asked me you’re like well, wouldn’t you see that big giant duck club as an opportunity, as a way to make money? Maybe you go guide for that duck club or whatever. And it’s a legitimate question, because maybe they would have loved to have had local, local guide, knowledge about where they’re at and where they’re going. But I also know the resource that I’m on and I understand that it can’t maybe take some of the pressure that an operation of that large is really gonna put on that resource, and I wouldn’t let myself get that big. So I sure as heck aren’t gonna help someone else get bigger, if that makes any sense. So when you guys were selling the property, sell them to Jim and Mary the couple. Yeah, that’d be great. And I feel for the people from the South, because Arkansas, louisiana, texas, I mean, you can’t find public property, public land to go hunt on anymore. It’s all been either overrun by millions and millions and millions of people, or it’s been purchased and you can only, or least, and so that no one can hunt on that either. So I understand how people are moving here and hunting Colorado and Idaho and not even Colorado. So much Colorado is pretty bad too. But Idaho, wyoming, the Dakotas and certainly now Montana, and you hear of hundreds and hundreds of people, thousands, really going to Canada and hunting Alberta and Saskatchewan. I think that whole swath of the middle of the country is kind of in that similar to least populated area and that’s, and so people are drawn here for basically no other reason that there’s just no people or fewer people. And they like that, they like that feeling of freedom.

Speaker 2: 35:17And Texas is all pay for play Right and here to the larger degree it is not. You still got to buy a tag.

Speaker 1: 35:25Yeah. Well and I’m starting to see people who are paying lease fees and leases and properties.

Speaker 2: 35:33Let’s talk about that. How do you protect your business? What is proprietary about what you do to where you know that you’re not going to get undercut backdoor to have their rug pulled out from underneath you? What is, how do you secure what you have?

Speaker 1: 35:48That’s a good question. When people call me and they’re interested in coming to Montana and they want to shoot ducks, I am ending up interviewing them just as much as they’re interviewing me. So I ask questions like do you have your own boat? Do you go to Canada on your own and freelance hunt? Do you hunt on your own? Do you hunt back home with your bodies, and questions like that. Local people from Bozeman call me a lot. I get a fair number of calls from Yellowstone Club and people do you have your own boat? Nope.

Speaker 2: 36:20I wouldn’t consider Bozeman local. But go on, and especially not Yellowstone Club, but do tell more.

Speaker 1: 36:29So we have to be careful, like we have to be careful about who we can take out, especially on public land. And I do have some private property and we do have some leases, and some of those leases are ones that are like you just said. I mean, it’s us protecting our butt so that we make sure we have something to do, and the difference with that is that every year, I take four to eight days a season on those private leases and I give them away. I let some local dad take his kid. I have a soft spot for kids. After all of your followers hear this. I’m gonna get all these calls from these dads, oh for sure, for sure. But I do. I do have a soft spot for a dad and his kid and I try to protect them local dads and their kids as much as I can. And so if they call me up and say, hey, I got nowhere to hunt, or I got screwed by this or this and this happened, I’ll just say, hey, here’s a spot, go ahead and go. And they say, well, what do I owe you? Because I know you lease it, I say you don’t owe me anything, just go have fun and enjoy it. And sometimes that doesn’t work either, because then they call me every year and I gotta be careful with that too, and so it’s always a little bit of a balancing game.

Speaker 2: 37:38You’re preaching to the choir. Coming from a family who let every first time hunter go out on their place, that ever wanted, never said no to anyone and those kids grew up and kept coming back and coming back and leaving gates open. So you do have leases. You have some private leases. Those are proprietary, they’re exclusive, they’re limited, they’re restricted. You could probably get, if you were doing upland game bird you can get an exclusive on BLM. You probably could.

Speaker 1: 38:09You know, I don’t know For bird. That’s a great question. I don’t know.

Speaker 2: 38:12Maybe Forest Service, maybe some state, there is some state land that you can guide on? Yeah, Yep, and you’d be the only guide on that, correct?

Speaker 1: 38:21I think. So I don’t know Like I don’t at least-, what about the?

Speaker 2: 38:24rivers, though. Is there a limit to how many of you bastard outfitters can be on the river screwing it up for the rest of us? As far as I know, there isn’t, so it can just be congested and clogged all to hell, with you guys making money while us taxpayers are subsidizing your income.

Speaker 1: 38:42It sure could, it sure could. But to your point I just. I think most outfitters are fairly responsible, actually, like there are certain stretches of the river the Yellowstone for example that might see a boat a day, like one boat a day, and there are other stretches the afterband, the big horn, the first three miles of the Missouri River, for example, the upper Madison where the fishing, the fish numbers, don’t seem to be as affected by the amount of traffic that’s on it. That’s there. The fish are able to sustain more pressure in certain spots and I think that gets lost a lot in the discussion about how quote unquote overcrowded a place is. People are like we’re only gonna let five boats. Well, yeah, and that in this area maybe only five boats is what should be there, but in other spots you could have 50 boats and it’s not a big deal. All 50 of them have a fish on and they’re all doing great, and so that does happen.

Speaker 2: 39:40So, as Montana’s population continues to grow, and it will forever grow, and as the interest in Montana grows, you’re gonna see more places like the upper Madison. And what’s the boat float near Shields River, shields Valley? Yeah, it’s on the Yellowstone. Yeah, what’s the big boat float that’s restricted, where you have to get a permit? Oh, the Smith, the Smith River. Yeah, the Smith, that is. You’re gonna see stretches of certain rivers in certain areas become more regulated.

Speaker 1: 40:10Sure, and some of them probably should, as much as I absolutely hate to say that because I don’t like the rules and I think people can genuinely do the right. In the past people have basically done the right thing. But there’s sections of the Smith that aren’t any wider than your kitchen. So I mean it probably does need like a little bit of hey, you guys need to take turns here. Four boats get pushed into a big fast corner that’s literally the size of your kitchen. It can be a little bit dangerous. And here’s the other thing about the Smith. The Smith is 70 miles long and there’s no takeouts in between, like you can’t drive your pickup down there, you can’t get an ambulance in there. I mean it’d be helicopter only. If you want to get in. It’s a three day minimum and that’s if you’re hauling ass to get through that thing. It’s more like a five day float to go through the Smith. So I can understand why there’s kind of permitting on the Smith.

Speaker 2: 41:02And you have to shit in a bucket. So you’ve done it, no that’s the reason I have not done it. No, I didn’t want to be stuck in a small boat with a bunch of people for three days. That’s.

Speaker 1: 41:17That sounds like torture to do it. Yes, that sounds horrible.

Speaker 2: 41:21Ah, you’d love it.

Speaker 1: 41:23Man, the Smith is a great trip. You should. Every Montana should go. Do the Smith at least once. It’s just a cool, really cool scenic wilderness adventure and there’s a bunch of great guides that make the trip easy. You know you’ll float all day long and they cook for you, I’ve been told, clean for you and pick up camp and you just get to fish and drink beers and have fun and it’s really fun.

Speaker 2: 41:46I’ve been told don’t do it with a feuding bickering couple in their fifties. It’ll just be miserable for everyone.

Speaker 1: 41:53It’s very true, you get locked in for five days and you’re in tight quarters.

Speaker 2: 41:59So where is your industry, the outfitters?

Speaker 1: 42:03So, we’re just. I have a partner of mine named Mack. We just purchased a lodge on the Big Horn River right near Two Legons Access. It’s brand new, just happened this January.

Speaker 2: 42:13Congratulations. Thanks, man.

Speaker 1: 42:16Why didn’t you use me? My father-in-law was a realtor and he did a great job and it’s a cool piece of property Used to be last stand outfitters. So it was an outfitter before us. He did mostly big game stuff. We’re just kind of doing birds and fish. We’re primarily going to be a duck place. Like I said, we’re just paying money to put our clients at other places and it’s a substantial amount of income for the local area. It’s like 40 grand a year. We’re paying for people just to sleep. So it’s a good little chunk of change coming into the local economy by having us around and now we’re pulling that money out of the local economy and paying ourselves. But they’ll still be buying groceries and they’ll still be going to get gas and licenses and all of the stuff and we still will do day trips too. So some of the stuff that at the motels and hotels they’ll still be there and we do have. I had one today. A guy said hey, I liked where we were standing before. Can we stay there? Sure, you bet. And so some of those Airbnb’s will still have revenue from us too.

Speaker 2: 43:19Why didn’t you buy my listing two years ago? Down in the Big Horn Valley there’s Garrison Stoker Resort.

Speaker 1: 43:25Yeah, it’s a little further south than I want it to be. Okay, this is a good place. It’s a good place. Do you sell that? Did you sell it or did someone else sell it? Yeah, you sold it.

Speaker 2: 43:35But where’s your industry at with what improvements need to be made to the outfitter business in Montana? How do you help you?

Speaker 1: 43:42Well, years ago the outfitting business was really, really regulated to the point where it was getting to be too much. I thought we had. You would get. Say, for example, I got a ticket for having three life jackets instead of four, and four people in my boat and I only had three life jackets, what I normally carry in my drift boat. I had a fourth person that day, forgot all about it, and I got a $40 ticket from the state of Montana. So the state said Jeremy, here’s your $40 ticket. At the time, the board of outfitters there is a board of outfitters in the state, the board of outfitters find me $400. Oh my goodness. And they put me on probation for a year. So and I said this is crap, it’s double jeopardy. Like I had all these arguments at the time and I had one of the guys his name was Daniels from the board. He calls me up, he says Jeremy, I understand, man, it’s a $40 ticket. The state doesn’t see it as a huge deal. We, I said, yeah, you guys multiplied it 10 times. That’s the fines we get is 10 times. And he goes well, you got to think of it more as, like, you’re a professional athlete and when a professional athlete gets in trouble for you know, whatever they get in trouble conduct that they get in trouble in the NFL the team finds them and the NFL finds them, and that’s the way we like to look at the outfitting industry. I don’t think a lot of people in the state know that outfitters are pretty well, pretty well regulated and the state has their thumb on us and they know what we’re doing. All the time Recent history We’ve gone the opposite direction, or we’ve changed directors and changed government and it’s gotten to where they’re regulating us almost not at all. So now what you’ve got is you’ve got guys who don’t know anything about birds, a bunch of cowboys, 100%, 100%. There’s a bunch of guys who genuinely have no clue what they’re talking about, pretending to be outfitters. They made new rules that you could, instead of your 100 days worth of experience, you could buy out 50 of those, but you could take a training course to get credit for some of those in a classroom. And those are the some of the things that I don’t like. What I think the outfitting business really could use is somewhere right in the middle, where we have regulate those things that are really critical and really important and eliminate a lot of the stuff that eliminate that. Making it so easy, that making entry so easy that you get people who are just not qualified to be doing what they’re doing.

Speaker 2: 46:02So it can’t be all cowboys and it can’t be California level regulation you just nailed that.

Speaker 1: 46:12Somewhere in the middle, you know, just a nice professional professional group of people is really good. What do?

Speaker 2: 46:17you love most about this business? What keeps you going? What is your why or is, it’s, might seem. This is how you’re why.

Speaker 1: 46:28So that’s a great question, because it’s genuinely for me what feeds my soul. And, in other words, when I put my boat in in the water in the morning and it’s cold and it’s dark, and you drive down the middle of wide open river and it’s dead silent, other than your motor running and and the sun is just starting to come up the fog is just starting to rise off the river. That is that it’s that minute, that, and sometimes it only lasts for 10 minutes or five minutes or whatever. Or it’s that the end of you know the end of the day and you’re sitting around a campfire with a bunch of guys laughing and and you’re having a whiskey or whatever and you’re talking about something that happened during the day and you see the smile on that guy’s face that he goes I did this today and I did that today, and those are the things that, like, really feed my, my soul. It makes me happy to be alive and that that’s that’s what I live for. Just those those minutes, those minutes. Not the money, it’s not the anything else, it’s just that little 10 minute section. The cool part about it is I used to say this when I was fishing and guiding the greatest part of the day is the first three or strokes. In the morning you put the boat in. It’s like a big chaos at the boat ramp. There’s a bunch of people there. You put the boat in, you’ve got your two dudes ready to go and they got their rods and their you know orvus hats and gear and all their shit on and you’re like, and you pull away from that boat ramp and you make the first two strokes and everything is just exciting, like everything is like we’re going to catch them, we’re going to have fun, it’s going to be a great day like that little 10 second, you know, period of time is spectacular. And then it just usually spirals into shit and you’re tangled and you know, and the wind blows and people bitch and whatever, but that those first three, or strokes, or that little thing when the sun rises in the morning, like just those little minutes, are the that’s, that’s what it does.

Speaker 2: 48:28That’s. That is so funny, because I’m reading the biography of Stonewall Jackson right now. So what you just described with that the launch, and how, how expectations, pride, joy, emotions, everything’s on a high in the civil war leading up to the civil war that’s how the South was, and I mean people were just thinking there’s going to be a 12 day war. They were going to leave their town and come back as heroes in a week and girls were kissing all the boys on their way out. Boys were just feeling like they were 10 feet tall and 80 proof and they’re like, oh, this is going to be, this is going to be easy, this is awesome. I’m so jacked, I couldn’t, I couldn’t want anything more, and then it just it turned into the civil war. That’s funny how how your feelings about boat launch is the same. Yeah.

Speaker 1: 49:23Well, the boat launch, the, the drive in the boat in the morning. You know the other one, that the other one. That’s really cool, man, and you need to come out and do this with me sometime.

Speaker 2: 49:30For free, for sure, okay, for sure.

Speaker 1: 49:33I’ll get the money some other, some other way. There’s a. There’s a. There’s a minute when you drive your boat to a certain spot and maybe it’s a little back channel or whatever, and you and everybody’s hoffing and puffing and moving and you’re setting up your blind and you’re moving your gear and you’re getting ready to duck hunt and you, you just walk out into the water and it’s completely silent except you hear that that decoy hit the water and just splash down, you know, and you’ve set 12, 20 decoys and you walk back up, you sit down in the blind and I usually, you know, turned to all my guys anybody need a cup of coffee this morning and you sit there for the next 10 minutes before you can legally shoot. And that 10 minutes before legal shooting light is probably my favorite thing in the world. Everything is just silent. You’re watching the sun kind of just slowly creep up. There’s usually ducks trying to land in your decoys at that time and no one’s screwing it up by shooting. We’re just watching and enjoying a cup of coffee. Dude, it’s like it’s a, it’s a special thing, it’s a cool thing.

Speaker 2: 50:37That’s your feeling. Yeah Well, Jeremy DeFries, how can people find you? Where are you at?

Speaker 1: 50:43So, uh, my business, um is that Riverrockoutfitterscom, and you can see us on Instagram and Facebook. Probably the best way to look at us, though, actually is Instagram, uh, and that’s Riverrock Outfitters. On Instagram. It’s, um, it’ll give you the best insight as to what we do on a daily basis. It’s very, um I don’t know what you call it, but it’s lots of videos of us in the blind. It’s actually hunting, doing what we do on a daily basis. It’s not just like a promotional bunch of garbage. You’ll actually just get to see what we actually are doing and you get to kind of meet who we are and what we’re like.

Speaker 2: 51:17So, Well, thanks for coming on the Ranch Investor podcast.

Speaker 1: 51:21Hey, thanks for having me man, I appreciate it.

Speaker 2: 51:23And thank you to anyone who is taking an interest in outfitting and wanted to share this, please do. Please share this with your friends and tune into the next episode. Thank, you.

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