Dominate the 3D Course with These Tips

The typical archery range is flat, with targets set at exact distances. In contrast, 3D archery takes the range into the woods, introducing unique angles, unmarked distances, and new ways to have fun with a bow.

This discipline gets its name from three-dimensional animal targets that challenge archers at each station. The targets range from small skunks to massive elk, and are set along a woodland trail.

Each target creates a different shooting scenario. You might shoot downhill at a deer target, and then walk a few steps to shoot at an alligator in a swamp. The shots try to mimic the countless scenarios bowhunters could face in the field.

Leisurely shooting a 3D course is excellent practice, but to really test your skills you must add pressure through competition. Every shot counts in competitive environments, and—as in bowhunting—do-overs aren’t possible. Competition’s higher stakes help simulate the nerves bowhunters feel when shooting at animals.

Bowhunting and 3D tournaments also test basic archery skills like accuracy, shot placement, and estimating distances.

Learn to Judge Distance

Most 3D events place targets at unknown distances, which makes distance-judging a critical skill. Archers use several techniques to estimate distances, but we’ll look at two popular methods to get started.

“Recall judging” is looking at a target or animal, and judging its distance through depth perception. That sounds simple, but it takes lots of practice. Target size plays a role, because you learn how specific targets look at various distances while practicing. For example, large animals tend to look closer, and smaller animals tend to look farther.

If you’re preparing for a bowhunt, it helps to shoot 3D targets similar in size to animals you’ll hunt. To prepare for a 3D tournament, practice on targets of different size, such as elk, deer and turkey. Competing in 3D tournaments or practicing on 3D courses hones recall-judging skills.

Archers can also use the ground between them and the target to gauge its yardage. This ground-judging process varies by individual and situation. You’ll develop your process through experience.

To start, learn the distance you’re most confident judging, which is 20 yards for most archers. Once you find your 20-yard point, judge the distance from there to the target, or work in 20-yard increments until reaching the target.

To practice ground-judging, place arrows or other markers every 10 yards between you and the target to visualize the distances. Ten yards at close range looks different than 10 yards at a distance. Burn those images into your mind, and you’ll eventually master ground-judging.

Learn Where to Aim

The section worth the most points on a 3D target can be very small. Photo Credit: IBO Facebook

3D targets lack easily seen scoring rings, especially from a distance, which means archers must study their locations on each target. Scoring rings also differ depending on which organization’s rules the event follows.

The two largest 3D organizations are the International Bowhunting Organization and the Archery Shooters Association. Both hold tournaments nationwide at clubs, ranges and even ski resorts. When attending a 3D shoot, you must know how to score the targets. Let’s review those scoring systems.

The IBO’s scoring rings are worth 11, 10, 8 and 5 points. The smallest center circle is worth 11 points. The next largest ring is 10 points. The biggest scoring ring is 8 points. Arrows hitting the target anywhere outside the 8 ring score 5 points. You score 0 points if you miss the target.

The 5, 8 and 10 rings on ASA targets are the same as the IBO target. ASA, however, adds a few twists with its 12 and 14 rings. It has two 12 rings inside the 10 ring, one on the upper edge and one on the bottom edge.

The bottom 12 ring is the default, but you can shoot at the upper 12 ring if you call your shot in advance by telling your group. That’s advantageous when the bottom 12 ring gets packed with arrows. ASA targets also have a 14 ring in the 8 ring’s upper corner, but it’s not always in play. When it’s available, you must call it to earn the extra points. If you’re unsure the 14 ring is in play, ask the organizer.

Work on Your Shooting

Once you know the target’s distance and you know where to aim, you need to make the shot. A 3D target’s highest-scoring ring can be as small as an inch across, which requires a well-executed shot. Such accuracy requires good form, which you can learn from a skilled, knowledgeable coach. Lessons will help you achieve your goals on the 3D course and in the field. You can find a coach by clicking here.


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