Updated: Mar 17, 2021
At least 10 times per archery season I hear statements such as this... "Tracked him quite a ways and then lost blood.", "Broadhead is junk, no blood or deer to be found.", "Shot right over him, I guess he jumped the string.". Here's a bold statement. Maybe, you just suck at shooting a bow! Now, I'm fully aware that things happen, animals are unpredictable, and no scenario is perfect, but there is also no doubt that many bowhunters do not practice enough to be proficient with their equipment. The animal deserves better... Let's be clear, I am not shouting this from a throne of perfection. The opposite is true in fact, as I had to come to this realization myself after losing a couple animals early on. That disappointment led to wanting to become a better bowhunter and find a way to combat the debilitating anxiety known as "buck fever". Luckily for us, there is a way to practice that also includes having a good time with friends and is much less monotonous than flinging a few arrows at the bag in the backyard.
3d archery... it is what it sounds like. Three-dimensional animal targets are spread through a course that you navigate similar to a golf course. There are generally 30-40 targets spread throughout the property, depending on the club or organization. Each target has several color-coded stakes. You shoot from the stake that your class is designated to. Again, this is much like golf, with classes for age, gender and skill level. The clubhouse will guide you through the class selection and course map before you head out for the day.
The targets will all be marked with scoring rings. The highest scoring rings will be the smallest and most "lethal". As the rings grow outwards and the level of perceived ethical mortality drops, the score drops with it. You will have a score card from the clubhouse that allows you to track each target and tally your total at the end of the course. The person who hit the smallest ring, the most often, wins.
Why pay to shoot when you can do it for free at home? For one, it's a lot more fun. Not only do you get to walk a piece of timber and see different places and shot scenarios, but you also open it up to some fun competition amongst your friends. To me the greatest benefit of 3d is the increased pressure to make a good shot. A perfectly calm day in your backyard by yourself is much different than shooting at an unknown distance, in unfamiliar territory at the mercy of your group's fun-natured judgement. The added pressure of bragging rights helps add pressure similar to a hunting situation and can train your mind for that moment of truth while hunting. That statement touches on another reason you should consider 3d, unknown distance. Yes, most everyone uses a rangefinder while hunting now but being forced to judge yardage at a 3d shoot will undoubtedly strengthen your natural rangefinder. The next time an animal runs in and doesn't give you time to range, you'll have the confidence from the summer 3d range to back you up. Another major benefit is the different lighting and weather conditions you will encounter. Show up early to a 3d and the timber is still in full shade. Sometimes a rainstorm will pop up. Sometimes it's cold or windy. All of these are scenarios that you potentially haven't shot in much but are not enough to keep you out of the tree come fall. As a 3d shooter, now you will have experience and even more importantly, confidence. The last thing I would mention is, the camaraderie. 3D shooters are nearly all likeminded individuals with similar hobbies. You are sure to encounter people that you relate to and lifelong friends are often found at a 3d shoot.
This is the very basics of how a 3d tournament works. As with most things, there are competitive levels and organizations that branch out with their own specific set of rules and guidelines. I dive deeper into some of these variations as well as a more detailed walk through of shooting 3d archery in this video.
So, consider giving 3d a try this summer. You are sure to notice a difference in your confidence in the fall. That may be all it takes to make you a better bowhunter!
Final note for those interested in starting out 3d. Here is a list of a few bare bones items that make life much easier if you catch the 3d bug!
.. I get made fun of for this last one all of the time but if you shoot a lot of 3d it's handy to have for the NECESSARY jerky, water and always available seat option