The Bowhunter’s Guide to 3D Archery

Bowhunting Featured

Why do most bowhunters shoot paper targets when the animals they hunt are three-dimensional creatures?

For your best chance at success, bowhunters should shoot 3D archery at an archery shop’s range, or through a league, club event or tournament.

Shooting life-size 3D targets helps bowhunters better understand shot placement and shooting angles on animals. That makes 3D shooting an excellent way to practice for hunting season while ensuring equipment is working properly. While you’re at it, consider participating in 3D leagues and tournaments. Competitive archery makes you a better bowhunter.

To learn more about 3D archery, we spoke to experts at the Archery Shooters Association and the National Field Archery Association. The ASA hosts amateur and professional archers nationwide in national Pro/Am and state-level club competitions. The NFAA is a nonprofit corporation, and it’s the world’s largest field archery organization. Both organizations host regular 3D competitions.

Other well-known 3D archery organizations include Scholastic 3D Archery and the International Bowhunters Organization.

Our experts include Laval “Dee” Falks, ASA’s national director; Brittany Salonen, NFAA’s operations director; and Rod White, NFAA’s bowhunting coordinator. Let’s get started.

Recreational or Competitive?

Whether you shoot a 3-D target in your backyard or at a competition, it will help you practice for the real deal. Photo Credit: NFAA Facebook

Try both! Shooting 3D archery recreationally is fun and laid-back. You move at your own pace, and with no pressure to perform. If you’d like to shoot in a league or tournament, you’ll compete for prizes, trophies or bragging rights – at the least.

Falks said competitive shooting creates high-pressure situations similar to bowhunting, so it’s good practice. You might feel anxious or excited, or get an adrenaline rush. Salonen said bowhunters must control their nerves to make good shots.

Find a 3D Course

White said finding places to shoot might seem challenging, but they’re out there if you look. Start by using Bowhunting 360’s store locator. This service uses your location to find nearby archery stores. Then call the store or visit its website to see its offerings. If the store doesn’t have a 3D course, ask if they know of one nearby.

You can also visit the ASA or NFAA websites to learn about nearby 3D opportunities. If you get stuck, White suggests calling the NFAA office and asking a representative for help locating a course.

Determine Your ‘Class’

Classes are determined by skill rather than age. Photo Credit: ASA

Recreational 3D archers don’t have to select a shooting “class.” However, if you shoot competitively, expect the organization to categorize you into classes or divisions based on your skill and equipment. Classes ensure fairness among competitors.

You must know your equipment and read the rules to determine which class to shoot. Salonen said the NFAA offers a “Bowhunter Freestyle” division that lets bowhunters use most of their hunting setups. Meanwhile, the ASA offers an “Amateur” class for newcomers.

“All organizations have a class for every age group and equipment type,” Falks said. “There’s something for everyone.”

If you’re unsure which class to enter, ask for help. Event staff will review your equipment, inquire about your skill level, and make a recommendation.

Shoot the Course

Most 3D courses are set up outdoors in fields or woodlots. Archery shops often create indoor courses with artificial trees, posts and other obstacles. Most courses have a central trail with 20 to 40 targets placed at various angles and distances along the way. Targets are often set on hills, across gullies or partially behind trees for realistic, challenging shots. White said most courses offer shooting situations you generally don’t get in your backyard.

In most cases you’ll shoot the course in groups of four or five. Each shooter takes one shot per target. You must stand at the shooting stake designated for your class. Stakes are usually color-coded according to classes. Archers straddle or touch the stake with their foot when shooting. Once everyone in the group shoots, you walk to the target, check your results, and pull your arrows.

Before shooting, you must estimate the yardage and identify the animal’s vitals to make a good shot. Consider the target’s size when judging distances. A black bear, for instance, usually looks much closer than a turkey because it’s bigger. Don’t be fooled. Mentally pace off the distance and go with your gut.

How to Score

Don’t cheat yourself out of a good score: know what to look for. Photo credit: Scholastic 3-D Archery Facebook

To score maximum points, you must know where to aim at the 3D target, whose scoring rings correspond generally with the animal’s heart and lungs. Higher-scoring rings indicate more lethal shots. Scoring systems vary by organization and tournament.

Each arrow is usually worth 0, 5, 8, 10, 12 or 14 points. Archers earn 0 if they miss, and 5 points if they hit the body anywhere. They score 8 for hitting within the outer ring, 10 for hitting within the inner ring, 12 for hitting the top or bottom quarter-size center ring, and 14 if they hit the bonus ring in the upper-right corner of the 8 ring.

Beginners should try to score 200 on a 20-target course, which means your average shot scored 10 points. A common 3D scoring terminology is to “shoot up” or “shoot down.” If you “shot even,” you scored 200. Therefore “shooting up” is anything over 200 and “shooting down” is anything under 200. Competitors often say, “I shot 10 up,” which means they shot a 210. An uneven score means they hit at least one body shot.

Falks emphasizes honesty when scoring. “If you’re cheating, you’re just cheating yourself,” he said. Honesty is a sign of good character, while “tweaking” your score tarnishes your reputation on the course. If you make a questionable shot, such as an arrow touching the 12 ring, ask your friends to help you decide.

Study the Rules

Rules vary by organizations and classes. Study the rules for each tournament before shooting. Some allow rangefinders but others don’t. Some allow multiple-pin sights and others don’t. Knowing the rules keeps you penalty-free and ensures you know what to expect.

Practical Advice

No matter how you’re shooting, make sure you’re having fun. Photo credit: International Bowhunting Organization Facebook.

“Focus on one thing at a time during each shot, and ask others who consistently shoot better than you for tips to improve,” White said.

Falks agreed. “Go to a tournament to have fun and make friends,” he said. “Don’t worry about winning or how well you’re doing.”

Shooting 3D archery can be mentally and physically challenging. Focus on your form and keep an open mind.

“One of the best benefits of competitive archery is the people you meet, and the ability to join a like-minded community of bowhunters,” Salonen said.

If you’re shooting 3D for the first time, you’ll likely meet many people. Ask questions and discuss hunting locations or strategies. You might even meet someone who has never bowhunted. In that case, share your bowhunting passion. You might find a new hunting partner!

When you’re ready to try it, bring extra arrows, wear appropriate shoes and clothes, and pack snacks, water, sunscreen and bug spray. Now find a course and get started!


Find A Store
We found a store near