Get Outside: 3-D Archery Makes
Hiking Even Better! Get Outside: 3-D Archery Makes Hiking Even Better!

The 3-D archery game combines shooting, strategic thinking and distance-estimating skills. Mastering those skills make 3-D archery an exciting, challenging and competitive discipline.

What is 3-D archery? In brief, archers shoot at three-dimensional animal targets while following a wooded course. In fact, roving a 3-d course is a lot like hiking. The trail winds through woods – sometimes up and down hills – which makes for an exhilarating shooting experience. And just as no two hiking trails are the same, no two shots are the same; each target is different. Also, distances to the targets aren’t posted, so 3-D archers must learn to estimate ranges. If you love hiking, learn to judge yardage so you can elevate your hike to a unique shooting experience that’s sure to please.

Judging distances requires archers to look at a target and accurately estimate its distance. If they misjudge the distance, their arrow will likely miss the target, or strike too high or low. As with other archery skills, you must practice estimating distances to get better at it. Although some people seem innately more skilled at judging distances than others, everyone can improve this skill with sweat equity.

To practice judging yardage, use a laser rangefinder to check your estimates. Rangefinders use an infrared laser to instantly and accurately measure the distance to targets or game animals. These handy devices are available from archery shops. An easy way to practice judging distance is hiking with your rangefinder. Guess the distance to a log, tree or a rock and check your guess with your rangefinder.

Most people estimate a 3-D target’s distance using more than one method, and each has strengths and weaknesses. The more techniques you can add to your repertoire, the better. Although you can use several ways to judge distances, most archers use one of two basic techniques termed “recall judging” and “ground judging.”

Recall Judging


Studying 3-D targets and how they appear at varying distances can help you estimate yardage on a 3-D course. To practice, simply study the target, hold that image in your mind, and look through your rangefinder to find the true distance. Photo Credit Wild Berry’s 3D Archery via YouTube

Recall judging is walking up to a target and using a memory bank of mental images to determine the distance. You don’t need to be a savant or have a photographic memory to use this method.

To learn it, face a 3-D target and measure the distance with your rangefinder. Next, study the target while keeping the distance in mind. As you study the target, imprint in your mind what it looks like at that distance. Now, move to another distance and repeat. This drill calibrates your depth perception. With practice, you can look at a target and accurately estimate its distance.

Repeat the routine on many different 3-D targets, because small targets and large targets look different at varying ranges. Smaller targets appear farther away, and larger targets look closer.

You don’t need to buy a bunch of different 3-D targets to practice. Simply find an archery club with 3-D targets, and you can practice judging and shooting regularly.

Ground Judging


Ground judging can help you estimate the distance to a 3-D target. Start by breaking the total distance into 5- or 10-yard segments. Identify a point 10 yards away and then pick a spot 10 yards beyond that point. Repeat this process until reaching the target. Photo Credit: Ground Creek Nature Reserve

Ground judging means estimating distances by studying the ground between you and the target. You can judge the distance incrementally or find the halfway point and double the distance.

To judge the distance incrementally, break it into 5- or 10-yard segments. For example, identify a point 10 yards away and then pick a spot 10 yards beyond that point. Repeat this process until reaching the target. Some people find it helpful to visualize hash marks like on a football field.

Practice Drills


Rangefinders are excellent tools for practicing estimating distances to 3-D targets. You can compare your guess with the real number before you shoot an arrow. Photo Credit: ATA

To practice ground judging, start at your maximum shooting distance and place cones or push arrows into the ground every 10 yards until reaching the target. By marking every 10 yards, you’ll learn what 10 yards looks like from varying distances.

Your rangefinder is your best friend when practicing distance estimation. Therefore, always carry your rangefinder with you. While hiking, for example, pick out a tree or boulder, gauge its range, and then verify it with your rangefinder. When walking around town, guess the distance to cars or light posts and then pace it off to verify. This repetition builds your distance-judging databank.

Be sure to practice in different lighting conditions and environments to prepare for 3-D archery’s dynamic conditions, such as uphill or downhill, or in shady or sunny settings. Changes in lighting and settings can play tricks on your mind that make you misjudge distances. Targets in bright, open areas look closer. Targets in dark or heavily timbered areas look farther. Keep that in mind while practicing, and you’ll improve your distance estimates.

By practicing these techniques just a few times weekly, you’ll become proficient at judging distances. Then it’s just a matter of making a good shot. So pick up a rangefinder, start practicing and have fun shooting 3-D archery!

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