Thinking: Taxonomy of shooting ranges

I’ve been overwhelmed by feedback from a side project of mine, rangelistings.com, and am working on upgrading it so that site visitors can make some updates on their own without having to go through me.

It’s great how even seemingly little projects like this raise information architecture questions so promptly.

Wait…what the heck does “access” mean?

When I started this project a while ago, I didn’t question much of the data I was harvesting. I just wanted some data to test a theory about the utility of a geographic perspective on shooting ranges. It was just an experiment, done as a bit of a hobby over the course of some weekends. One piece of data for each shooting range was labeled “access” and the data was primarily either “public” or “private.”

Well, upon actually using this information, I find the public access or private access to be too ambiguous. Does “public” mean state-run, paid for by tax dollars? If a range is in a gun store, which is itself a private enterprise, is the range private or is it public because anyone can use it? And besides, what do we mean by “access” in the first place?

The useful data can be more clearly represented by asking “What sort of requirement is there for access to the shooting facilities?” When I state it that way to represent what I mean instead of simply “access,” then I realize more clearly how “private” and “public” are inadequate words.

Looking over the data and thinking about my own experiences at various types of ranges, this is what I’ve come up with.

  • Membership required (like at many Sportsmen’s or Conservation Clubs)
  • Pay a fee for range time (like at some gun stores or commercial shooting facilities)
  • Free (like at some state-run shooting ranges)
  • Unknown (because right now I only have private/public values)

The exact wording can be tweaked, but the notion is in there and is far more useful than the current private vs public value.

Gah! What a mess of a labeling system.

Meaning and words overlap. Case in point: when I list shooting facilities, many of them resemble shooting sports (like “trap” which can describe a range as well as a shotgun sport).

Which should I list? How do I tell the difference between a sport and facility? How do I prompt the user community to stay with the right taxonomy? (And what do I mean by “right taxonomy?”)

Which words describe the possible shooting/firing ranges themselves at any sportsmen’s club, gun store, or other shooting facility? Those are the words I need.

Why not list the shooting sports themselves as a primary organizational scheme? Here’s why. Because very often people just want to grab their gear and head to a range to shoot. That isn’t organized into a predefined shooting sport, like trap shooting or action pistol. No, that’s just heading to the range to shoot. That’s pretty normal.

However, many shooters also want to know if they can do a specific kind of sport, and a description of the range itself can help answer that question. For instance, I’m a bullseye pistol competitor, so if I see “Outdoor pistol, 15 feet” as a description for a shooting range, I know that won’t do for my sport. If I wanted to practice some defensive pistol shooting, it would be okay. However, if I see “Outdoor pistol, 50 yards,” than I’m going to be pretty confident that I can practice my sport at that range.

The point is, some decent descriptions of the physical ranges themselves should provide an appropriate amount of information to be useful for a wide variety of shooters’ interests.

So, it should be easy to come up with that list of terms, right?

As an initial audit, as of today, Oct 28, 2012, this is what I have in the rangelistings.com website.

  • Airgun
  • Archery
  • Indoor Pistol
  • Indoor Rifle
  • Muzzleloading
  • Outdoor Pistol
  • Outdoor Rifle
  • Pistol Silhouette
  • Rifle Silhouette
  • Skeet
  • Sporting Clays
  • Trap

And any specific range listed can add a note. The most common note indicates the distance and the second most common type of note indicates the number of firing positions. For instance, “Outdoor Rifle (500 yards, 10 firing points).” For someone looking for a place to shoot, that bit of information is quite informative.

But I’m not really settled on that, despite the fact that I have data on close to four thousand ranges already using that taxonomy.

My primary concern with that set of terms is that it may not be complete. For instance, I don’t see Cowboy Action as an option. Nor do I see Five Stand for shotgun. Both of those are, to my knowledge, specialized range designs.

But is that getting too specific?

I’m also concerned that some people may want to check off a bunch of those options with the thought of “Well we have an outdoor rifle range, and a person could set up some silhouette targets on it, so I guess I should check Rifle Silhouette too.” But that isn’t how I’d prefer people to think of it. My thought is that the range should already be set up for silhouette shooting, with metallic silhouettes already set up and/or available, and possibly with a target reset cord.

Perhaps there should be a general purpose outdoor pistol and a general purpose outdoor rifle. Then if a range has more specialized facilities, a person could choose to list those.

I’m a member of the Saginaw Field & Stream Club in Michigan, and we have a pretty cool Cowboy Action range, which is used only for that sport. We also have a standard 50 yard pistol range and a defensive pistol range. Given the current taxonomy, we could list it like “Outdoor Pistol (50 and 25 yard covered firing points, Cowboy Action course, and 15 foot defensive pistol range).” That’s informative and flexible. Perhaps there’s nothing wrong with that.

However, if I go with that notion, doesn’t the same thinking apply to the shotgun sports? If so, then it seems like I might not have separate items for Skeet, Sporting Clays, and Trap like I do now. Instead, I would just say something like “Shotgun (trap, 5-stand, and sporting clays).”

The conundrum here is that there very well may be value in having itemized those types of ranges. The point is that I’d prefer to have a consistent granularity in terms, and it seems to me that right now I have a mixture.

Which level of specificity is the most useful in light of the purpose of this data set?

And now I put my thinking on pause, the taxonomy questions unresolved.

Author: Davin Granroth

Davin is Chief Operating Officer for Covenant Eyes, Inc. in Owosso, MI, USA, where he gets to mix his background in user experience design, research, and strategy with the operation of a software company. For more, see his LinkedIn profile.

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