GRAND RAPIDS — Jeff Courter’s tech company is taking aim at a larger and more captive audience than it ever has in its young history.
Courter is founder and CEO of Sportsman Tracker, a Grand Rapids-based software company behind a suite of digital tools designed to help locate, log, report and predict hunting and fishing activities.
This includes HuntWise, an application that provides GPS maps, weather forecasts and predictive tools helping hunters plan out their trips and determine the best times to go hunting.
The latest version of the app hit the market as hunting popularity has increased across the state. Many of these hunters started taking to the field on Sunday for opening day of firearm deer season.
The Michigan Department of Natural Resources reported that 751,310 licenses have been sold for firearm season, which is up from 584,802 in 2019. There has also been a major jump in new hunters, and Courter thinks his product is a great way for newcomers to get acquainted with the hobby.
“We’ve seen a drastic uptick (in hunters), and I think COVID plays a role in it. But if you also look at how people learn and get introduced to hunting, you have more adult onset hunters — people in their high 20s or low 30s. It’s not just the 12-year-olds that learn with their dad,” Courter said.
The COVID bump
As the COVID-19 pandemic enters its eighth month in Michigan, hunting can be an attractive socially distanced hobby for some.
“With COVID, the two things you can do are be outside and be on your phone, right?” Courter said. “I literally had one of our influencers text us yesterday and they got COVID and they were out in their deer blind. They figured, ‘I could be sitting at home — or the ultimate sequestered place is in my deer blind.’”
Beyond the COVID-induced influx, Courter thinks hunting’s renewed popularity is here to stay.
“I think COVID is a factor, but next year I think we will continue to see an increase as opposed to it just being a flash in the pan,” he said.
This makes for beneficial timing for the latest version of HuntWise, which sports a few new features from its predecessor.
Courter said HuntWise includes new satellite imagery that gives hunters the most updated look at public and private land.
Also this year, Courter and his team have launched HuntCast 2.0 after HuntWise teamed up with Jeff Sturgis of Whitetail Habitat Solutions, one of the nation’s leading experts on whitetail deer.
Sturgis’ in-depth knowledge has given HuntWise the ability to provide basic assistance for new hunters while also engaging long-time hunters.
“We’ve infused 30 years of (Sturgis’) knowledge into our production algorithms,” Courter said. “It’s really the most advanced algorithm on the market. You plot your stands and you get a 0 to 5 rating for every day so it’s not rocket science to read.”
An additional written and video format called Whitetail Strategy 365 helps users manage their property throughout the year.
“A lot of more advanced users get into this because it gives them things to do,” Courter said.
Meanwhile, Sportsman Tracker has been capitalizing on the recent surge in hunters. Courter said the company tripled its revenue for both September and October compared to the year prior. The company is also poised to hire five to 10 more people with an emphasis on programming and marketing.
“There is getting to be more hardcore tech people that also enjoy the outdoors — it used to be a unicorn,” Courter said. “We like to let people know that we’re here in Grand Rapids and the people that come to work for us, it’s their dream job.”