Archery Talk: 3D Archery Tactics & Tips

Lifelike targets set at variable distances, in a variety of simulated hunting situations … what more could the off-season bowhunter ask for?

An enormous polar bear stood motionless 60 metres before me. Nocking an arrow, I drew back, anchored, and took careful aim. Circumstances afforded me ample time to ensure an accurate shot. Gently applying pressure on my trigger finger, in an instant my Easton Full Metal Jacket pierced the arctic bear square in the chest.

“Dead bear,” I thought to myself. Pleased with the shot placement, I approached immediately. No need to wait the proverbial 45 minutes to follow up. No, this “hunt” was merely a simulation, a far cry from the typical high Arctic adventure. No sub-zero temperatures, no bulky clothing and no heart-racing anxiety over the inherent risk of hunting dangerous game. It was indeed strange to find a polar bear in the heart of Alberta’s parkland forest. Such is the nature of “hunting” 3D targets in the heat of the summer.

For most of us, a 60-metre archery shot is questionable at best, but I was practicing after all. While I’m confident in my skill at the range, I rarely entertain such a shot opportunity when I’m hunting for real; too many variables can affect arrow flight and point of impact.

As this issue hits the stands, summer is in full swing. Hopefully you’ve been diligent in shooting throughout the year, but if not, it’s time to get muscles in shape and hone those skills; there is simply no better way to practice. Whether purely recreational or intensely competitive, for the hunting archer, nothing beats 3D.

Vital Practice

To be an effective archer requires relentless practice. No doubt, sending dozens of arrows downrange at a fixed 20-metre paper target serves a purpose. It helps with basic archery skill development, specifically drawing, aiming and releasing. However, as every bow hunter knows, dynamics during a hunt are significantly different. Target distances are forever shifting, an elevated heart rate adds a sense of urgency, environmental factors like wind, snow or rain may come into play, not to mention the position of the game and shot opportunity itself is often fleeting. Unfortunately, shooting at static paper targets leaves a host of other important skills untested. This is where 3D targets shine. By moving into the open domain of the 3D course, archers expose themselves to a world of variables unique to the bow hunting experience. As a precision shooting sport, archery demands that we accurately judge distance. Fail to do this and it doesn’t matter how technically skilful you are. Calculate distance with accuracy and you’re well on the way to putting that arrow precisely where you’re aiming.

On that note, one of the most valuable aspects of shooting 3D targets is the subtle outline marking the vitals. Designed to assist the hunting archer in identifying the kill zone, leading industry players like Mckenzie, Rinehart, GlenDel and Delta all outline the location of the lungs and heart on their life-like animal targets. Rinehart specifically, has come up with an innovative broadhead 3D target featuring a standard life-sized outline of the area of the vitals on one side, and a colorful display of life-sized heart and lungs on the other. Made of durable self-healing (typically polyurethane) foam, most of today’s 3D targets can take thousands of shots and have a replaceable vital area, giving them longevity never seen before.

Realistic Scenarios

My first experience on a 3D course over 20 years ago was a sobering one. A relative newcomer to archery and bow hunting, I lost and broke several arrows on that initial outing. I could shoot with the best at the indoor range, but as a rookie bow hunter my lack of field experience was obvious on the 3D course. Trees, wind, awkward shot angles and targets placed at variable distances out to 65 metres pushed me to the limit. Humbling indeed, I realized then and there, if I were to become a proficient bow hunter, I’d have to make 3D shooting a regular part of my practice regimen.

The benefits of 3D archery are numerous. Normally course setters consider situations bow hunters face in the field. Often shot opportunities will be limited to small windows, requiring the archer to feed an arrow through a narrow opening between trees. Sometimes game is encountered in a bedded position, and yes, there are 3D targets like this as well. On occasion, game is seen at close range but most often we get our shot opportunities at distances greater than 20-metres. Judging longer ranges can be tricky. These targets force bow hunters to learn to estimate ranges, often in increments, e.g.: 10 metres at a time, using the ground or natural features like trees and rocks as markers. On occasion, 3D courses provide tree stand or platform shot opportunities to simulate hunting from an elevated position. Most often, the shots are from a standing position, but they are always unique, emulating as best as possible, a variety of realistic hunting situations.

Recreational Shooting

For a lot of archers, 3D target shooting is purely recreational. Its benefits are many and varied, offering the opportunity for exercise, fresh air and hands-on archery practice. If you want to become a better bow hunter but aren’t interested in competition, do yourself a favour and practice on 3D targets. If you’re looking for a fun, challenging, and healthy outdoor activity suitable for the entire family consider 3D. Heather and I spend countless days every year shooting the outdoor 3D range with our girls.

Few organized archery clubs are without a 3D course and most are well stocked with an assortment of animal targets. From small to medium-sized and big game, the targets are plentiful. Think about it — where else can you shoot life-like rabbits, turkeys, deer, goats, elk, bear, pronghorn antelope… even, alligator and black buck to name a few?

Such 3D targets are designed to afford the hunting archer a unique and invaluable practice opportunity. Much like a golf course, shooters work their way through the course, following a predetermined route and shooting at individual stations. Each has markers indicating where the archer is to stand while taking their shot. Targets are strategically placed at variable distances in the woods, in a manner challenging the bow hunter to test their skill by first accurately judging the distance, and then placing an arrow in the kill zone. A brilliant concept, I can think of no better venue for the hunting archer to develop his or her skills.

In the end, bow hunting is about challenging and developing your own skills as an archer. We owe it to the game we hunt, to practice and maintain a certain level of competency prior to launching a deadly arrow. To best prepare ourselves for that ultimate shot opportunity, nothing beats 3D.

Competitive 3D Opportunities

If you are more the competitive sort, then 3D tournaments might be for you. Sanctioned indoor and outdoor shoots are usually coordinated by individual or partnering archery clubs in each province or jurisdiction. In Alberta for instance, aside from a busy roster of outdoor 3D shoots scheduled throughout summer, the Central Alberta Archery Association, Bighorn Bowhunters & Archers, and Sherwood Park Archery Club join forces to host a massive annual tournament, usually in February, aptly named the Mother of All Shoots. The format is simple. Typical of sanctioned 3D tournaments, there is an entry fee, there are shooting classes (usually by age), an assignment of shooting groups, and there are cash prizes.

Competitive archery involves accumulating scores. 3D targets have scoreable markings on them. The more proficient the arrow placement, the higher the score attained by the archer. Scores are measured as follows: 10x is awarded for an arrow penetrating the small inner circle on the 10-ring. This is considered the highest score possible for any given shot. The next best score is 10 points for shot placement within the circle inside the vital area; eight points for any hit within the vital area; five points for a hit to any other body parts outside the vital area; and a score of zero is assigned for a complete miss.

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