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3D Archery Primer

Do you want to become a better bowhunter?

Try 3D archery

Do you want to get outside year-round for some fun shooting at realistic animal targets?

Try 3D archery.

It’s one of archery’s most popular games in North America. The term”3D” refers to lifelike, three-dimensional animal targets made from plastic-foam. Tournaments place 3D targets along trails that weave through woods, fields and other habitats. Archers “hunt” the course by shooting the targets in conditions where game animals might live.

Playing the Game

Many compare 3D archery to golf because of the course layout, which requires shooting in different settings at varying distances. The shooting stakes are like a golf course’s tee box, and the targets are like the holes.

You walk through the woods, stop at each shooting stake and shoot at deer, elk, black bears or other targets. After everyone in your group shoots, you walk to the target, score your shot and pull your arrow. You then walk to the next shooting stake. Most 3D courses have 20, 30 or 40 targets.

The targets represent nearly every big-game animal in the world, as well as many small-game critters. The variety of targets and shooting situations create exciting shots that send you racing from one target to the next to see what’s next.

How Do You Score 3D?

Competitors shoot one arrow at each target, which has a set of scoring rings. Most 3D targets have three main scoring areas roughly centered on an animal’s vital organs. That’s another reason 3D archery is great bowhunting practice.

The central 10-ring is considered the heart. The larger surrounding ring scores 8 points, and generally includes the lung-liver area. Hits elsewhere on the body, but outside the rings, score 5 points.

Some targets have small rings inside the larger 10-ring. At organized shoots, these rings can be worth 11 points or 12 points, depending on the event’s preference.

Gearing Up

To participate in a 3D shoot you need arrows and a compound bow, recurve or longbow. Most 3D archers use bowsights with several aiming pins or one moving pin. The archer adjusts each pin to a specific distance. A four-pin sight, for example, might be set for 20-, 30-, 40-, and 50-yard shots.

Targets placed in between those distances require the archer to frame the target between two sight pins. If a target is 24 yards out, for example, the archer holds the 20-yard pin above the aiming point. Or if the target is 28 yards away, the archer puts the 30-yard pin just under the aiming spot. Practice teaches you hot to aim at targets at distances that don’t match your sight pins.

Sights with one movable pin require sight tapes, which are small and narrow. The tapes contain distance numbers, and are applied to the bowsight. Archers then move the sight pin up or down to the correct distance.

Sight tapes vary by the arrow’s speed and weight, and must be calibrated to each bow setup. After choosing the sight tape for their setup, archers set the single sight pin to a specific distance, align the tape with the sight pin for that distance, and press the adhesive tape into place. The other distances on the tape are accurately spaced by computers that trace the arrow’s trajectory.

Recurve and longbow archers often shoot without sights, which requires aiming instinctively or with the arrow point. Watch this video to learn how to aim a bow without sights.

When shooting a 3D course, carry a good pair of binoculars. The scoring rings on most 3D targets easily blend into the target’s body. Binoculars help you pinpoint the rings’ locations, so you can pick an aiming spot.

Also consider carrying an arrow puller, which is a rubber block you place around the arrow to pull it from the target. Consider bringing a lightweight folding stool, too, which lets you sit while you’re waiting to shoot. A good archery stool also has arrow tubes and other pockets for storing tools, clothes, food and items you want on the range.

Target Distances

The shooting distances at 3D shoots are sometimes known and sometimes not. The event’s organizers make that decision. With known distances, archers can use rangefinders to determine each distance from stake to target.

With unknown distances, archers must guess the distance to each target and aim accordingly. Judging distances accurately is an acquired skill, requiring as much practice and shooting your bow.

3D Governing Bodies

The two main 3D archery organizations that hold tournaments and set rules for competitions across North America are the International Bowhunting Organization and Archery Shooters Association of America. If you’re heading to a shoot that follows IBO or ASA rules, review the guidelines on the organization’s website.

Some 3D shoots are formal tournaments that award trophies and/or money. Others simply offer fun and friendly competition.

To learn when and where 3D shoots are held near you, visit a pro shop. Archery 360 maintains a pro-shop database here.




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