How to be an Ace at 3-D Courses

By Aaron Stonehocker

As bow hunters, keeping our archery skills sharp year round is vital to success in the field. Those short three and a half months we spend in blinds, tree stands, or stalking around the woods in search of our quarry are only a fraction of the opportunities we have to put our minds and archery equipment to the test. While there are several ways to extend our shooting season including indoor leagues, outdoor leagues, and of course good old backyard practice; 3-D archery courses offer archers of all skill levels the most accurate depiction of what we will encounter in the fall and winter when we are trying to fill our tags, freezers, and bellies.

3-D courses offer a realistic and family friendly atmosphere for archers to shoot at a variety of distances, slopes, difficulties, and foam targets of just about anything you can imagine. While most shooters will enjoy simply shooting the day away in Gods great outdoors, others will be looking to earn a spot on the leaderboards with a perfect score in mind. As an avid hunter and competitive archer, I know that the most important part of shooting sports is to relax and have fun. With that in mind, I have compiled a list of tips and tactics that have helped me, and will help you take your 3-D archery game to the next level, and maybe allow you to challenge the leaderboard at your next 3-D event.

First and foremost, it is vital for every archer to develop a routine. Archery is all about accuracy, and if we aren’t consistent in our routine leading up to the release of our arrow, there is no telling what could have caused an inaccurate shot. My personal routine for each shot is: set my stance, knock an arrow, judge my target/distance, use optics to find the bulls eye, attach my release, establish my grip, take a deep breath, draw, level the riser, place my pin on my mark, release, and follow through the shot holding my form. While this may seem extensive, it ensures that I do everything the same before each shot. When we know that our bow is sighted in, our form is what will dictate the flight of the arrow. Doing the same routine leading to each shot will ensure consistent results. Now that I have you playing your own routine in your mind, let’s go over some of the tactics that will improve your 3-D scores.

1: Memorize the 20 yard mark. 20 yards is the most universal landmark in archery. Most indoor leagues use this distance for their competition, and to be honest, most 3-D courses use this distance a lot as well. If you can positively identify a 20 yard shot, you can use this as a baseline for measuring your shorter and longer distances.

2: Practice at yardages you will realistically encounter. Most 3-D courses, especially during competitive events, will offer different shooting stakes for different classes of shooters. The Tidewater Bowhunters and Archers association I belong to for example have different stakes for open class, men’s, women’s, traditional, and youth classes. I shoot a hunting set up so I shoot from the men’s stake which has a max distance of 35 yards. This is a valuable piece of information when I am practicing because I can focus on the most likely shot distances for my class instead of spending valuable energy and time practicing distances I will not encounter at the 3-D course. Sure from time to time clubs may slip in a few targets beyond 40 yards but the majority of the targets will be at 40 yards and below.

3: Practice shooting through obstacles. More than likely, the people who set up the course will place a target or two between two trees, under a log, or over some sort of tree snag. This type of shot is most commonly missed because the shooter becomes overly focused on the obstacle and not the target. I practice my 35 yard shot at home by shooting through the railings of my deck. This forces me to focus on my target and improves my overall focus at the 3-D event when I am shooting near natural obstacles. Not hitting the deck also keeps my wife happy, so it is a win/win.

4: Find your footing. In the natural world, a level shooting platform is not always a given. When you come to each target, find the best view of your target, then evaluate the stance you will need to touch the stake while maintaining a steady footing on the uneven terrain.

5: Pick a yardage and stick with it. The toughest part of most 3-D courses is identifying the yardage of your target. If you have done your practicing, the best way to identify the yardage is to compare it to your 20 yard baseline. Longer distances can be found by finding an object you believe is 20 yards away, and then estimating the yardage from that object to your target. Some find that using 10 yard increments is the easiest way to do this. Once you have decided on a yardage, do not keep guessing until you shoot the arrow. Trust your instincts, find your mark, and shoot. Playing the guessing game does no good at full draw. Your shot placement will tell you how close you were, then you can use that information on the next shot.

6: Bring and use optics. We all know where the boiler rooms of most animals are, but finding the 11-ring on a 3-D target animal is another story. For the shooters out there looking to shoot for fun, hitting the vital spot is a thrill in itself. For those looking to earn a first place score however, the 11-ring is the mark you want to be aiming for. Optics are a great way to find the tiny circle that makes the difference between first and second place at the end of the day yet I still see a lot of 3-D participants forego the optics. These things are worth their weight in gold when it comes to archery shoots.

7: Film your shots. Most events require you to shoot with a partner to ensure that the score is kept and calculated fairly. This also provides the shooter with a second opinion when judging those borderline shots. If you have a camera phone, have your partner film you. This allows you to take a look at your shot after the fact to see exactly what you do during the shot. You may find the little quirk you have that is keeping you from improving your accuracy and your score. If you are shooting for fun or alone, there is also a new camera on the market called Tactacam™ that can mount to your riser or replace your stabilizer to film your shots in HD. It is a cool way to watch your arrow make its way to the target and share the footage with your buddies.

8: Hang up your bow. Usually there are bow hangers placed at the shooting point, or the target for archers to utilize when scoring and pulling their arrows. Not only are these convenient to use to free your hands, but they are good for keeping your equipment in good shape. I have had sticks, leaves, and rocks get into my cams, my rest, and even my peep sight from setting my bow on the ground after my shots. These little terrors can be devastating if not caught between shots. Not to mention that if your bow is camouflaged, someone could step on your equipment and end your fun for the day.

Hanging your bow every chance you get also helps fight fatigue. While bows do not weigh all that much in the grand scheme of things they can become very heavy over a 40 target course. Which in return can affect your fundamentals and ultimately your overall score.

9: Focus on each shot individually. It is easy to get disgruntled when you make an inaccurate shot. But hey, name an archer that hasn’t made one or two shots that make them question what they are doing? Once an arrow leaves the rest, you have done everything you can do for that shot, so let it be what it is. Even if it is embarrassing, forget it and move on to the next target with a fresh start. This is especially important when shooting with kids or around younger archers. Keep the course positive, because they feed off of the people they look up to.

10: Take a deep breath and have fun. I am sure that sometime in your life you have noticed that the less you think about something you are doing, the better you become at it. The same is true for archery. The harder you are on yourself, the harder it will become to make even the simplest of shots. Relax and enjoy the moment. Let each shot take you to that place all archers know that keeps the love of the sport alive.

Archery is truly a sport where the details are what separate the most and least accurate archers. 3-D archery is a great way to hammer out the details that will improve your overall archery and hunting experiences. I know that I learn something new every time I head out the door with my bow in hand, and these tips are just a few of the most important I have learned over my archery career. Whether you are out for a fun filled afternoon of casual shooting or out to bring home the trophy, I challenge you to implement these tips to your 3-D shooting and take your game to the next level.