Archery provides many fun options for competing with your bow. Whether you shoot a self-built wooden bow or tricked out compound, you’ll find tournaments for you. This beginner’s guide to competitive archery reviews three common types of outdoor competitions: target, field and 3D archery.
Click on the links below to jump to a specific section.
When thinking about archery, most people imagine a row of archers firing at colorful targets in a field. That classic image portrays outdoor target archery. It’s showcased in the Olympic Games and World Archery’s World Cup series, where you see the world’s elite archers compete on YouTube.
Outdoor target archery is also beginner-friendly because most tournaments offer one shooting distance, which simplifies getting started. The distances archers shoot depends on their age class and equipment category. Below are distances commonly shot at outdoor events. You’ll find a full list of distances and rules by clicking here.
- Compound archers shoot 50 meters at a 80-centimeter target.
- Recurve archers shoot 70 meters at a 122-centimeter target.
- Barebow archers shoot 50 meters at a 122-centimeter target.
Find a Tournament
Target events are hosted by clubs, archery shops, and state and national organizations. USA Archery’s website maintains a calendar of these events, which you can view here.
Websites and social-media platforms for state organizations are also good sources to find tournaments, as are the experts at archery shops. Most tournaments require advance registration, so plan ahead and register as soon as possible. Some tournaments also require participants to join their state or national sanctioning organization, such as USA Archery.
Preparing for Your First Event
The goal for your first outdoor tournament is to learn, have fun and gain experience. Still, prepare to shoot your best. These training goals will help you prepare:
- Build your strength to shoot at least 72 arrows without tiring.
- Sight in your bow for the tournament’s distance.
- Practice shooting six arrows in four minutes.
- Practice scoring your arrows.
- Practice shooting in windy conditions.
- Work on your technique with a coach.
- Get your gear tuned and set up for outdoor shooting at an archery shop.
One challenge of outdoor target archery is long shooting distances. Long ranges magnify small mistakes and substandard equipment. This is where a coach and an archery shop become valuable. Good advice and coaching help you develop consistent form and equipment setups for outdoor competition. To find a shop or coach, click here.
What to Bring:
- Snacks and Lunch
- Sun Block
- Camp Chair
- Archery Gear
- Bow Stand
- Shoes and clothing for the weather and rules.
Once you’ve prepared and registered for your first outdoor target event, start packing for it. You’ll need your bow, a hip quiver, bow stand and at least six arrows, but it’s a good idea to bring 12. Some other items to consider are an arrow puller, arrow lube, Allen wrenches and extra nocks. Binoculars or a spotting scope help spot your arrows, but someone in your group will likely have a spotting scope you can use.
Most outdoor target events have dress codes. In general, don’t wear open-toed shoes, bare-midriff tops, camouflage clothing, or anything with offensive images or language. Read USA Archery’s rules before attending a tournament. You can find them here.
You can show up and shoot with just your archery gear, but you’ll improve the experience with a few comfort items, including a chair, water, sunblock, food and an umbrella or tent for shade.
Accommodations vary by organizer. Some tournaments provide water, chairs and tents for competitors. When shooting local tournaments, bring your own comfort items. National tournaments always provide chairs and tents for competitors, but it’s still smart to bring water and food.
Tournaments are held rain or shine. If rain is forecasted, bring boots and rainwear. During bad weather, organizers can waive dress codes so archers can wear clothing to handle the conditions.
Arriving at the Event
Arrive early at the tournament to set up and visit the registration table. Some tournaments hand out scorecards there, while others place your scorecards at your target.
You’ll find your target assignment posted on a list or on your scorecard. Someone at the registration desk will tell you where to find it. Once you know your target number, find that target on the field and set up your gear and chair nearby.
Rules and Procedures
Once you find your assignment and settle in, introduce yourself to your bale mates. You’ll share a target with three others, and your group will shoot and score together. Tell the group this is your first tournament. Experienced archers will be helpful and answer your questions.
If you shoot a recurve, your group will shoot the same target. Each compound archer shoots their own target, which is on the same bale used by the group’s other archers.
The tournament starts with two practice ends. An end is one round of shooting, and you’ll have four minutes to shoot six arrows. Practice ends help you warm up and dial in your sights.
Two archers from the group will shoot at the same time, and then the next two archers shoot. This staggering is determined by two lines, A/B and C/D. You’ll receive your line assignment with your target assignment. The shooting lines alternate who shoots first. You can check who’s up by looking at the shot clock, which displays an A/B or C/D.
The signal to approach the shooting line, begin shooting and stop shooting is given by a series of beeps or whistles. Two whistle blasts means you can approach the shooting line, one whistle blast means you can begin shooting and three whistle blasts means it is safe to go down range. If you hear several whistle blasts in quick succession, stop shooting immediately and step behind the shooting line.
After two practice ends, it’s time to start scoring. Most tournaments shoot 72 arrows, or 12 ends, for score. Each member of a target group has a scoring job. Two members keep score because two scorecards help ensure accuracy. One member calls out the score of each arrow. The group’s fourth member takes on a support role, offering a second opinion on arrow calls or marking the arrows once scoring is complete. The archers determine these jobs at the start of the tournament.
When approaching a target to score, don’t touch the target, arrows or bale until all arrows are scored. If an arrow call is disputed, finish scoring all other arrows except the disputed arrow, and then call over a judge for a final ruling.
Once all arrows are scored, mark each arrow’s location with two pen marks. These marks help score an arrow if subsequent arrows pass through or bounce out.
Most archery ranges are flat, with targets at exact distances. In contrast, 3D ranges are set inside woods, with targets at varying angles and distances for a fun challenge. This discipline gets its name from its three-dimensional animal targets at each station. These targets range from small skunks to massive elk, and they’re set along a course connected by hiking trails.
Each target helps create different shooting scenarios. You might shoot downhill at a deer target in a brushy thicket, and then walk a few steps to shoot at an alligator in a swamp. Each station mimics a scenario bowhunters might face in the field. Those setups create realistic bowhunting practice, but 3D archery is fun and exciting for all archers. No two shots are the same, and it’s best played in groups.
Another draw is that 3D archery has categories to match nearly every equipment style. You’ll be grouped with archers shooting similar equipment. Compound bows with long stabilizers and magnified sights have their own category, as do recurve bows with no sights or stabilizers. Each equipment style also shoots different distances. Let’s review some examples.
Maximum Distance Examples:
- Compound Open, 50 yards;
- Bowhunter, 40 yards;
- Traditional, 30 yards.
3D Archery Scoring
The two largest 3D organizations are the International Bowhunting Organization and the Archery Shooters Association. These organizations hold tournaments nationwide at clubs, ranges and even ski resorts. You must know how to score targets based on each organization’s scoring systems.
The IBO’s scoring rings are worth 11, 10, 8 and 5 points. The smallest center circle scores 11 points. The next largest ring is 10 points. The biggest scoring ring is 8 points. Arrows hitting the target outside the 8-ring score 5 points. If you miss the target you score zero points.
The 5-, 8- and 10-rings on ASA targets are the same as the IBO target. The 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 the other on the bottom edge. The bottom 12-ring is the default, but you can shoot at the upper 12-ring if you call it before shooting.
Archers must tell the group they’re going for the upper 12, which is smart when the bottom 12-ring is packed with arrows. ASA targets also have a 14-ring in the 8-ring’s upper corner. This ring isn’t always in play. When it is in play, you must call it to earn the extra points. If you’re unsure the 14-ring is in play, ask the shoot’s organizer.
Finding a 3D Shoot
3D tournaments are organized by clubs, shops and national organizations. The IBO, ASA and NFAA are national organizations that run 3D tournaments, and each has a calendar of events on its website. Clubs and shops list shoots on their websites.
Most local 3D tournaments do not require advance registration, but study tournament information. Parking at popular 3D shoots can be limited, so arrive early. Bring cash for food and registration fees because clubs often don’t accept credit cards.
Your First 3D Tournament
3D Tournament Prep Checklist:
- Sight in bow.
- Read tournament rules.
- Practice judging distances.
- Practice shooting various angles.
- Study the location of 3D targets’ scoring rings.
- Work on your technique with a coach.
- Get your gear tuned and set up for 3D at a pro shop.
As exciting as 3D tournaments are, they’re even more fun when you’re prepared. Start by deciding which equipment class your bow falls into. That can be found in the tournament listing or on the governing body’s website. You’ll find maximum distances in the equipment rules. Sight in your bow and practice for every distance from zero yards to 10% beyond your maximum range. That 10% accounts for differences between rangefinders. And if you’ve never shot your bow at 5 yards, you’ll be surprised that your arrow hits low at that distance. Most archers use their 40-yard setting for close shots.
When shooting an unknown-distance class, practice judging distances in different environments. Targets in a field look different from those in dense woodlots. Judging distances from a line inside the woods to a target in the open creates unique challenges.
Downhill and sidehill shots are common at 3D shoots. Practice bending at your waist when shooting downhill. Practice keeping your bow level by leaning into the hill on sidehill shots.
Go online to study the location of scoring rings on different 3D targets, or visit a club. It helps to know where to aim because scoring rings usually aren’t visible from the shooting line.
Many challenges await at 3D tournaments, but you’ll fare better if you shoot accurately and confidently. Get your bow tuned at a pro shop, and work with a coach on your form to keep your shots in the 10-ring.
Gear for 3D Archery
- Bug Spray
3D targets do not have visible scoring rings, which makes binoculars an important part of 3D gear. If you’re shooting a known-distance category, a laser rangefinder is also necessary. Rangefinders help you practice judging distances for unknown-distance categories.
If you really enjoy 3D archery, buy a 3D archery chair. These chairs give you a place to rest, a convenient way to carry arrows, and compartments for storing tools, drinks and snacks. If you’re a casual participant, you’ll find that a hip quiver and small backpack work just fine.
3D shoots take place in wooded courses, so dress as you would for a hike. Wear boots or hiking shoes. Other good items to bring include water, sun block, bug spray, Allen wrenches, and a pen for scorekeeping.
What to Expect at 3D Shoots
When you arrive at a 3D shoot, visit the registration table, pay your entry fee, and sign some forms. You’ll shoot with three other archers. Two in your group keep score, one calls the scores, and the other pulls the arrows. After registering, hit the practice range to warm up and verify your sights. Once you warm up, head to the course with your group.
Before shooting, you’ll decide the shooting order. The most common way is for one person to collect the scorecards, shuffle them, and fan them out face down. Another group member randomly picks the cards one at a time. The order they’re chosen sets the shooting order, which rotates after each target. If you shoot first, on the next target you’ll shoot second, and so on. Rotating the order keeps the field even because shooting last lets you use arrows already in the target to help you aim.
The first target has stakes or small flags with different colors. Stakes at each target designate shooting positions. Most 3D courses put stakes at various distances for different equipment and age classes. You’ll learn which stake to use when registering.
You’ll shoot one arrow from the stake. After everyone in your group shoots one arrow, your group walks to the target, scores and pulls their arrows. The group then moves to the next target. This process continues throughout the course, which usually has 30 targets.
Are you ready to try 3D archery? You’ll find several websites listing 3D shoots, and archery shops can help you find them, too. To contact a shop, click here.
Field archery combines 3D and target competition. Archers shoot paper targets along a wooded course, and they’re challenged with shots at different angles and distances. The United States has two popular types of field archery: NFAA and World Archery, which is sometimes called “FITA.”
National Field Archery Association field-archery targets are set on a 28-station course that archers hike. They pause at each station to shoot targets at ranges of 20 feet to 80 yards in natural settings.
World Archery Field
World Archery competitors shoot 24 targets per course and three arrows per target. These shoots typically run two days, with targets at unknown distances the first day and known distances the second day.
The targets are black with yellow centers, and 20 to 80 centimeters in diameter. Archers score 6 points for hitting the innermost ring and 1 point for the outer ring. Targets are set at ranges from 5 to 60 meters.
Finding Field Archery Shoots
Archery clubs, and state and national archery associations host field tournaments nationwide. Start your search by visiting USA Archery’s website for World Archery field shoots or the NFAA website for its shoots. Your state’s field archery organization also lists shoots on its website.
Your First Field Shoot
- Get sight marks for all distances.
- Practice shooting angled shots.
- Practice judging distance for World Archery field.
- Study tournament rules.
- Work on your technique with a coach.
- Get your gear tuned and set up for field archery at a pro shop.
Accurate, well-tested sight tapes are important for field archery because you only shoot a few arrows at each distance. You’ll have little time to make adjustments on the course. Practice angled shots, and understand how angles affect where you hit. Angled shots require archers to judge the “cut” for a shot. That’s because the direct distance to the target is longer than the true distance.
To participate in a World Archery field tournament, practice judging distance and learn what each target size looks like at different distances.
No matter which discipline you choose, accuracy is always the fastest path to good scores. Work with a coach to hone your technique, and work with a pro shop to optimize your gear.
Gear for Field Archery
- Rangefinder for Known Distance Course
- Bug Spray
Gear needed for field tournaments is similar to what’s needed for 3D shoots. That includes a hip quiver to carry arrows, binoculars for spotting arrows, water for hydrating, a pen for keeping score, and a rangefinder (especially one that calculates angled shots) for accurately setting sights. One tip for using binoculars: Look for trends in the target, based on arrows holes and where archers in your group hit. If a target has lots of high arrow holes, and it’s an angled shot, consider cutting more distance than you first think.
What to Expect at Field Shoots
When arriving at a field shoot, head for the registration area to pay your fee and get paired with other members of your group. After registering, visit the practice range to warm up and verify your sight marks, and then hit the course with your group.
Field tournaments offer a fun, relaxed atmosphere with time for socializing as you walk between shooting positions. If you tell the others this is your first field tournament, they’ll help you learn the rules and offer tips as you shoot.
At each target, judge or note the marked distance, and then set your sight for that distance. Remember to check or adjust your sight for each new distance, because you could shoot a 50-yard target and then a 10-yard target.
As with 3D archery, plan to hike the woods all day. Dress for the weather, and wear hiking shoes or boots.
Those are the basics for attending your first outdoor tournament. All that’s left is to study the rules, practice and sign up for your first tournament.