HuntScore

Launching a game-changing data-crunching platform for big game hunters that simplifies the hunt planning process

  Byron Johnson on Unsplash

The Challenge

Recreational hunting draws people to the wilderness every year for the simple pleasures abundant in the natural world, but the licensure process is frustrating and time-consuming. In western states, many hunting licenses are distributed through various lottery systems. The data applicants use to search for a place to hunt is often difficult to find and even more difficult to interpret.

The Outcome

We created an API and an accompanying website that simplifies the hunt planning process. We took over 800,000 data points across 13 state and federal agencies, normalized it, created a unique scoring algorithm, and presented it in an easily consumable format. In summary, we redefined big game hunt planning. It shouldn't fell like doing your taxes.

Services

Business Strategy · Branding · Naming/Identity · UX Design · Prototyping · User Testing · Web Design · Web Development · API Development · Content Strategy · API Integration

It should be more fun than doing your taxes.

To optimize your chances of getting a license in a desirable area, you have to dive into the statistics. This requires shuffling through stacks of papers and electronic documents, trying to match one to another based on codes and categories you may not fully understand. It’s unnecessarily complicated.

State wildlife agencies have been collecting hunting data for decades. They collect a lot of data on hunting, but it’s hairy. Hunters already know this, but others don’t. Hunting data is highly complex and complicated. Most of the data is stored in PDF files, some of which feel like scans of documents printed in the early 90s. Each state has its own methodology and data collection tools. However, there is little consistency between states.

We found historical harvest statistics, preference point data, drawing summaries, population estimates, success rates, hunting pressure, and trophy potential spanning over ten years in most states. But even within a given state, the formatting and reports often changed from year to year.

In other words, the data was there, but it would be difficult to organize. That being said, we believe in complexity lies opportunity. So, we decided to use our data mining and visualization expertise to help other hunters. We started with just two use cases:

  1. Hunters looking for a new place to hunt and
  2. Hunters trying to improve their odds in limited big game licenses and lotteries.

Take a little journey with us, as we walk through our thinking, design and development process, and reveal a few lessons we learned.

This is the making of HuntScore.

We created HuntScore to solve our own problems. Sean, Crow and Raven’s founder, is an avid bowhunter. He hunts big game mostly on public land all across the Western U.S., and he was annoyed with the lack of usable tools to research where he wanted to apply for limited license hunts.

Don’t get us wrong, wildlife agencies usually do an excellent job publishing tools, publications, and relevant information to the public. Unfortunately, they usually don’t always do a good job making it user-friendly.

hunt planning the old way

This is the old way of hunt planning. Spreadsheets, Excel files, PDFs, print catalogs ... looks fun, right?

Every year in the late-winter or early-spring, state wildlife agencies across the West kickoff “tag season” when they start accepting applications for that year’s limited license hunts. In most Western states, there’s no guarantee you can go to a sporting goods store and simply purchase your hunting licenses over the counter. Many permits are only available through a special limited license draw.

Our home state of Colorado issues both unlimited over-the-counter licenses and limited licenses for elk, bear, and turkey. However, all deer, moose, sheep, and mountain goat hunts are available only through the limited license draw (aka lottery).

Why? Well, for a simple reason, the number of people wanting to purchase a hunting license are greater the number of animals that can be sustainably harvested each year.

There are more hunters than licenses. There’s a lottery. Some people get licenses, and some don’t. What’s so complicated about that?

"This lottery isn’t Powerball. It’s Moneyball. With the right tools, we believe an educated hunter can beat the odds—drawing a tag and hunting every year." Brian Haveri

Is the problem real?

To determine if this was a widespread need or just a solution looking for a problem, we embarked on a discovery project similar to what we do with many clients. We started talking to the usual suspects - friends, family, and hunting acquaintances.

Sean glassing for elk during a 2017 scouting trip.

Then we expanded our efforts to 130 other hunters that regularly hunt big game in the Western U.S. We interviewed and surveyed participants, and conducted some empathic design research. We spent time with folks doing hunt research, and we documented the tools and methods they used. We even asked a select few participants to log their “hunt planning activities” to determine their exact process and hopefully reveal their pain points. It didn’t take long to realize we weren’t alone. Hunt planning was, in some ways, a "pain in the ass."

hunting research stats

Should we move forward?

Next we thought it would be a good idea to take a look at the potential market. Would creating this tool be worth our time? Would other hunters find it useful? If so, how much would they pay to use it?

According to a National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) report, the United States has 34 million active hunters and anglers, and they spend about $76 billion per year on their passions. A similar U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) National Survey dives in a bit deeper. The USFWS reports 13.7 million of those fine folks went hunting last year. 6% of the U.S. population hunted last year. They, also, state that between 2006 and 2011 the number of hunters increased by 9%.

If 1% of big game hunters use HuntScore, that would provide a potential user base of approximately 137,000 hunters. Even if we were talking about 0.01% of the hunting population (13,700 hunters), it would be worth our time investment. So, it’s safe to assume there is a sufficient market for a service like HuntScore. This led us to ask: how much are these hunters spending?

The NSSF report claims hunters and anglers spend $76 billion per year pursuing their passion. The USFWS survey says that $38.3 billion of that was spent on hunting equipment, licenses, and related items. That’s roughly $2,800 per hunter per year, and it’s not far off from the $2,243 per year estimate we found with our own survey and interviews.

"Hunters spend roughly $2,800 per year hunting." U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) National Survey

Let’s take a look at those numbers even closer. We learned, in 2011 alone, $2,096,942,761 was spent on guides, outfitters, licenses, tags, permits, and hunting land access. Yes, that’s almost $2.1 billion. Of that $807,495,880 was spent on just hunting licenses, tags, and permits. This amount grew more than 30% between the years 2006 and 2011.

Our survey respondents indicated they would feel comfortable paying between $25 - $75 per year to have a tool that would help them with their planning needs.

OK, we’re doing this!

Create. Test. Iterate.

Sometimes you get lucky. We met Harper Reed (@harper) and the Organizing for America (OFA) engineering team just days before we started coding HuntScore.

Dylan Richard (@dylanr), OFA’s Director of Engineering had one piece of advice: build the API first. It would lay the foundation for rapid iteration and keep your cost to change low.

“Build the API first.” Dylan Richard

So, while part of our team worked on the API, the other half tackled creating a working prototype. For fast development of the prototype, we used Laravel as our web application framework and Bootstrap as our CSS framework.

We didn’t spend a tremendous amount of time hashing out the details of the UX. Instead we got some initial feedback on a few basic approaches, and we iterated quickly as it was important for us to get to workable MVP as soon as possible - iterations took days and not weeks.

The API and prototype came first.

In reference to Bernard of Chartres, we listened to those before us. We stood on the shoulders of giants learning the correct way to build a product.

Yet still, it took a while to recognize the genius behind building the API first. That said, we found the API was more difficult to build and integrate than we imagined.

Screenshot of API results

Screenshot of API results in formatted JSON. Yeah, it does look a little boring.

We’ll be the first to blame the data. The quality was often...well...pretty shitty. The public data we were relying on was not necessarily incorrect. However, it was often incomplete, riddled with typos, and often changed significantly in data structures and file format from year to year. Multiply that by a dozen state agencies doing it differently. It felt like we were trying to complete a jigsaw puzzle knowing there were missing pieces.

Just when we thought the fun was over. There's documentation. We'll be glad we did when it's time to repurpose or share access to the API.

In the end we also had to write documentation.

About the prototype, we feel we did everything right here. We started out with the most basic of concepts. Tested it. Refined our ideas. Then we tested again. It was very important to us to have working software at a very early stage. We were very conscious to eliminate bloat.

If there was anything we could have done differently, we wish we had added more states earlier to our MVP. We started out with only Colorado data. It wasn’t until we started digging into other state data that we realized Colorado was an anomaly. Also, only having Colorado data limited our potential early adopting audience. That, in turn, limited our ability to do the A/B testing experiments we wanted to conduct.

We wanted to make hunt planning simple and enjoyable. Pretty much anything other than the status quo would be quite acceptable, but we wanted to kick it up a notch.

Onboarding users is job zero.

An easy and frictionless onboarding process was the first place we looked. While much of HuntScore is free to use with simple registration, there are areas of the site only available to paying members.

For that, we built easy-to-use pricing and payment pages using the Stripe API. Stripe was built for developers, and we love it. Stripe offers an amazingly smooth payment infrastructure to manage online payments and subscriptions - the key to frictionless onboarding.

If you come across something that requires a "Pro" membership, you're directed to a single screen where you choose a level and then one more screen to enter your credit card. Easy Peasy.

Payment workflows, especially shopping carts, are where most of your new users have the potential to drop off. Every step you add to the transaction process increases the likelihood of abandonment. For this application, we didn’t need a “shopping cart.” Instead, we opted for a single screen where the user can select a plan and make their payment within seconds. Moments later the new subscriber is upgraded to a paid subscription and redirected back to their desired content.

HuntScore registration screen

After selecting a plan, you're directed to enter your name, email, and a password.

Upon registration new members are redirected back to the content they were trying to access, and we use Sparkpost to kick off a transactional email welcoming the new user with tips on using the site.

Boom. That's it. You're then directed back to the content you were trying to access before registration.

Welcome email that gets sent to the new user. Welcome, Teddy.

Responsive web design was not an afterthought.

Other websites we had seen that attempted to aggregate hunting data and maps, were often poorly designed, and a few were quite visually painful to navigate. We wanted to create something that was beautiful yet very functional and approachable.

Our initial research indicated the majority of HuntScore users would be accessing the site primarily through a desktop or laptop computer, but we also realized it had to be usable on a mobile device, too. Common knowledge suggests that more and more people are using mobile devices, but the facts are still surprising. In our hunter research survey, we found out that 85% of respondents had used their mobile devices at some point during their hunt planning activities as well as on their actual hunts.

For tablet and mobile, we designed in code, not Photoshop.

Creating the ideal search experience was critical.

Initially, we had sketched ideas for card (grid) based search results similar to Pinterest and Flipboard. However, we found research indicating card based layouts were more difficult to reliably design and develop, b) didn’t work great on small devices, and c) in some cases, a more traditional list/row style actually performed two to three times better than grids. We moved from a Pinterest style layout to a faceted search like Orbitz. We wanted conversions, and sometimes that means abandoning your personal sense of style for a design that’s proven to work. In our case, that meant opting for the more traditional row-based way of displaying search results.

HuntScore search results

View of search results showing the default list format ranks by score.

HuntScore search results

View of search results showing the (heat) map view.

Hunters love a good map.

During our early research and observations, we realized that maps were consistently the single number one tool hunters used to plan their upcoming hunting season.

78% of those we surveyed had used a digital/online map to do hunt planning before (and during) their last hunting season. The most common complaint of these maps was usability. Some wildlife agencies produce great maps but most do not. Google Maps and Google Earth were the most often used digital mapping products. The only problem with Google Maps is the lack of useful data layers easily available to hunters.

Hunters, typically, use maps for a variety of reasons. The three primary reasons we found were:

  1. finding new hunting areas to apply for tags,
  2. scouting areas (pre-season) after they drew a tag or decided where to hunt, and
  3. as a wayfinding tool during their hunt.

HuntScore map landing page

Screenshot showing the maps landing page and all the standard maps available to "Pro" members.

HuntScore custom map

Screenshot showing a custom user-created map which is available to "Pro" members.

It was critical we create a pleasurable user experience. Unnecessary complexity was our enemy. Too often, we see mapping products that try to cram everything (including the kitchen sink) into a single map. They become useless quickly. Our intention was to keep map features and layers to a minimum to improve usability.

Of course, there were lessons learned.

Overall, this project was a massive undertaking, and, despite our collective 38 years of experience, we learned quite a bit.

The single largest challenge was scope creep. It was no different than any other client project, but we were the ones simultaneously introducing and axing our own new ideas, designs, and functionality. We forced ourselves to keep it simple.

We, also, learned more about map servers than we had ever dreamed. From installing and configuring GeoServer to standardizing map layer presentation across multiple states, it was a design challenge as much as it was a technical problem.

Finally, we learned a few ways that we could improve the search and discovery process. We had looked at the data so long; it was hard to see the glaring issues. OK, not glaring, but we did discover several small usability issues we will address in future releases.

And we couldn't be happier with the end result.

Oh yeah, remember the images we share at the beginning of this journey how people used to do their hunt planning?

hunt planning the old way

Bleh. Goodness gracious this is awful.

Take a look at what we were able to accomplish with a bit of good design, some elbow grease, about 800,000 data points and a nice map server.

HuntScore is hunt planning redefined.

HuntScore results page

We think you'll agree this is much better than the old way.

Dig deep into the statistics

If a member is so inclined, they can dig deeper into the statistical treasure trove to explore 10-year trends on many hunts.

To learn more visit https://huntscore.com

We love tricky problems. What have you got?

Send us an email with a description of your project and timeline. If you have an RFP, send that along as well. After asking you a few follow-up questions, we'll be able to provide you with a quote.