3-D Archery: Have Fun, Improve Your Bowhunting Skills!

How to Shoot Lifestyle

Spring is in full swing, and summer is right around the corner. Whether you just finished final exams or are planning your paid time off, chances are you want to spend the next few months soaking up the sunshine. Since deer-hunting season is a ways off, we have just the thing you need. Hint: It involves plenty of time in the woods, a challenge that’ll keep you coming back for more, and – if you’re lucky – a close encounter with velociraptor. Yep, that’s right. We’re talking 3-D archery!

Those who shoot 3-D archery notice many similarities to golf, except – in our humble opinion – it’s way more fun. Competitors walk a designated course – often one that roves through a wooded trail –  and shoot from marked spots that correspond to their skill level or shooting class. The goal? Arrow a life-sized, three-dimensional foam animal and score the maximum points possible. Best of all, it’s an easy way to get all your friends together, enjoy quality time outdoors, and revel in a little friendly competition.

Like golf, 3-D archery has a professional circuit in which the world’s top shooters compete for big money. Even so, most golfers and 3-D archers enjoy friendly competitions, and play mostly to have fun and sharpen their skills. Getting started in 3-D archery doesn’t require much gear, and can be done with compound or traditional bows. Whether you want to shoot a tournament or rove a course for fun, you’ll find plenty of opportunities for 3-D action in your community, including clubs, tournaments and public archery parks. Start with your local archery shop, or search for nearby shoots on 3dshoots.com.

To better understand 3-D archery, let’s dive deeper into this sport.

What’s a 3-D archery course?

For starters, 3-D archery gets its name from its targets. These life-sized, three-dimensional animal targets are made of plastic-foam that depict animals ranging from coyotes to caribou and everything in between. If you have a bucket-list hunt, there’s a good chance you’ll find a 3-D target to match your dream quarry. Plus, if you’re lucky, you’ll come face-to-face with some fictional beings, like zombies and velociraptors. Whether you’re saving up for your dream hunt, or just dreaming you’re Chris Pratt in Jurassic World 2, a local 3-D shoot might satisfy your itch.

The targets are placed at varying distances on the course, which has 30 to 40 targets, depending on the event and shooter class. The courses typically feature natural environments in woods and open areas, much like you would encounter while hunting. Better yet, while walking the course, you may spot deer signs and other wildlife.

How do I score my arrow?

Some 3-D archery courses are “marked,” meaning you’re told how far your target is. But other archery ranges are “unmarked,” meaning you have the option of judging the distance for what you think it is, or using a laser rangefinder to determine the distance. A rangefinder is a lightweight, easy-to-use electronic device that measures the distance to almost anything – and it’s great for practicing, since you can compare your guess with the real number before you shoot an arrow.

Between the nature hikes and wildlife scouting, archers shoot one arrow at each target and record their score, which is determined by the scoring ring their arrow hits. The score-keeping method depends on the type of tournament, which this video explains in detail. Even if you’re shooting just for fun, 3-D archery is a great way to hone your bowhunting skills and enjoy an afternoon outdoors with your friends. And if you really want to dial it up a notch, challenge your friends to guess the distance to the target, then see who makes the best shot. Loser buys dinner?

Why try 3-D archery?

Shooting 3-D archery is great practice for bowhunters. These courses and targets are as close as you’ll come to real hunting environments. Photo Credit: Tyler Ridenour

Archers shoot 3-D events for many reasons, but the most common is sheer fun. It’s also great practice, whether you’re a bowhunter or recreational archer.

Competitive shoots are outstanding challenges that test your skills, while less-structured shoots make for fun shooting with friends and family. They’re also a great way to meet other archers and bowhunters, and they provide year-round shooting opportunities. In fact, many clubs offer indoor 3-D shoots and leagues throughout winter when outdoor conditions are less favorable.

Shooting 3-D targets is also great practice for bowhunters. These courses and targets are as close as you’ll come to real hunting environments. The sport’s life-sized animal targets offer serious realism, and many courses set up targets requiring uphill and downhill shots seldom seen in backyard practice. We’ve even seen courses that require shooters to arrow a turkey from a blind and “bowfish” for carp from a boat’s platform. Then there’s the ever-challenging prairie-dog target, which stands just 13 inches tall and 6 inches wide. Challenge accepted!

Bowhunters also benefit by repeatedly estimating distances without a laser rangefinder, which can be extremely challenging. Granted, bowhunters should use a rangefinder whenever possible, but sometimes it simply isn’t practical or possible. In those instances, accurate estimates with your eyes often determine your success or failure.

Can 3-D archery improve my bowhunting skills?

Just like real-life hunting scenarios, ideal impact points for a target’s vital area can change depending on its position relative to the shooter. Aiming for the 12-ring – the highest scoring ring – on a 3-D target is great, but doing so while bowhunting might be risky. Photo Credit: Tyler Ridenour

One of the greatest benefits of shooting 3-D archery is becoming familiar with different animals’ vital areas, which is crucial to successful bowhunting. Each target’s center scoring ring represents the ideal impact point for shots taken from ground level, with the animal broadside to the shooter. As discussed in this white-tailed deer shot-placement article, impact points can change depending on the animal’s position. Aiming for the 12-ring on a 3-D target is great, but doing so while bowhunting might be risky. After all, every hunting situation is unique and involves different factors. Even so, if you’re nervous about taking your first shot in a real-life bowhunting scenario, then 3-D archery might help you build confidence.

Let’s review: Wooded course? Check. Life-sized animals? Check. Bow and arrow? Check, check. Are you hooked yet? If 3-D archery sounds like something you want to try, click here to find places to gear up and start shooting. Also, check out this 3-D archery shoot search tool to find nearby shoots and tournaments. If you’re hesitant to try 3-D archery, relax and put your mind at ease. No matter your skill level, 3-D archery is all about having fun.


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