Improve Your Archery Skill With Offseason 3-D Shooting

Fill the gap until next archery deer season with family fun, no pressure, perfect practice on a 3-D course near you.

Improve Your Archery Skill With Offseason 3-D Shooting

Spending time on a 3-D course during the offseason will boost your confidence for the upcoming archery deer — or dinosaur — season.

For many bowhunters, there is a big gap between the end of one hunting season and the beginning of the next. And it’s easy for life to get in the way, our shooting practice neglected. It’s true, with today’s equipment, it’s easy to pick up our compound bows and shoot them well even after ignoring them for weeks or even months.

Though we might be able to shoot our bows accurately without regular practice, that doesn’t necessarily equate to efficiency or confidence while hunting. Shooting year-round one way or another — be it an indoor spot league or a daily routine in the backyard — can keep you both in good shooting form and fully confident in your shot process. Although I practice regularly throughout the season and offseason, I am most confident going into hunts after I have spent the summer shooting 3-D targets, both at home and at organized events.

If you want to be at your best this fall, I encourage you to take up some form of 3-D shooting this fall. Here are a few ideas.

Friends Equal Fun

Adding 3-D targets to your shooting routine breaks up the monotony of simply flinging arrows in the backyard at a spot on a target. Mix in a few of your best friends and you are on your way to appreciating some newfound 3-D fun. Tackling a 3-D course with those same — or other — friends will likely prove addicting, and I guarantee you will be ready to go back repeatedly.

A little friendly competition can add pressure to every shot, increasing focus and concentration. Shooting with good friends will allow you to push each other to become better shooters. When we are ready for competitive mode, my friends and I have a couple shooting games we play. One of our favorites is Call-Your-Shot, where at each stake, one person chooses the shot and everyone shoots. We rotate the shot caller at each stake. All of our shots are tough; weaving shots through brush from uncomfortable shooting positions is the norm. This game tends to be hard on the pocket book when you inevitably lose or break an arrow or two. However, practicing tough shots make the open shots seem easy.

To increase the competitive spirit, add in a monetary factor. Another favorite of our group is $Arrow. Every shooter puts in $1 and everyone gets one arrow to shoot the course. If you lose or break your arrow, you’re out. Whoever finishes with their arrow intact or with the most points when the arrows run out, wins the pot.

One benefit to attending a 3-D event is the chance to shoot at non-whitetail targets placed in challenging locations.
One benefit to attending a 3-D event is the chance to shoot at non-whitetail targets placed in challenging locations.

A Family Affair

3-D shooting is a perfect family activity. My wife and three children regularly accompany me at 3-D shoots, and the whole family shoots. My kids each started shooting at age 3 and long before that we were dragging them around dusty mountain trails, and even carrying them in kid carrier backpack. Let me tell you, you’ve never had a hard time aiming until you have had a toddler kicking you in the back and squirming around in the middle of your shot. Today, when we seemed to be pulled in a million different directions, having an outdoor activity that can engage the entire family and help you prepare for hunting season is a win/win. Even if your spouse doesn’t hunt, you may be surprised how much they might like shooting with you. I personally have several friends who have wives that don’t hunt but still shoot multiple 3-D shoots a year.

Kids often get bored when shooting at paper targets, but they stay engaged when firing arrows at lifelike 3-D targets.
Kids often get bored when shooting at paper targets, but they stay engaged when firing arrows at lifelike 3-D targets.

No-Pressure Practice

Many people feel like going to an organized archery shoot or local 3-D course will be embarrassing if they don’t shoot like a pro. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Honestly, many clubs put on shoots that are just fun shoots where score keeping is frowned upon. Largely, most of these archery clubs comprise great people who all share a common thread, the love of archery and bowhunting.

Furthermore, shooting at a 3-D target under real-world scenarios is a boon for becoming a better shooter. The more diverse the practice, the better. Depending on your location, you will find 3-D ranges set up in river-bottoms with willow thickets and hardwoods, where a whitetail deer is the most common animal spotted. Conversely, there are often archery courses where dark timber and lush green meadows are the norm, as well as high-desert ranges, comprising cedar, rim rock and rattlesnakes. Each can provide realistic shots much like you will encounter while out hunting, and can greatly improve your shooting in the moment of truth during the fall hunting seasons.

Many 3-D courses are set up in terrain that will mimic real-life hunting scenarios.
Many 3-D courses are set up in terrain that will mimic real-life hunting scenarios.

Perfect Practice

Just like when we are shooting in the backyard, it’s easy to fling arrows on the 3-D range with complacency. Like the old adage, I prefer, “perfect practice makes perfect.”

When I am out shooting 3-D targets or courses, I try to treat every shot as if I have a live animal in front of me. I assure you that establishing a consistent, repetitive shot routine for every arrow fired will serve you well. Using that shot routine on the difficult, realistic shots on a good 3-D course will pay off big time. If you can make that shot automatic on the 3-D course, you won’t even think about it on your next hunt. The shot process will be automatic.

Arguably, there is no right or wrong shot routine. The goal is to follow a consistent and repetitive motion to fire every arrow. The following is an example of a shot routine as a guideline; each archer can build his or hers from there.

  1. Acquire the target
  2. Grip the bow properly as you draw
  3. Anchor (peep, tip of nose on string, index finger against jawline, etc.)
  4. Check bubble level
  5. Center appropriate pin on target
  6. Continue aiming
  7. Pull through shot until fired
  8. Follow through until arrow hits target

Compete to Practice

Once you have your feet wet with a few friendly 3-D shoots and you really want to challenge your abilities, it may be time to compete in a scored 3-D event. Knowing how you stack up against the competition will shed light on your training needs.

As I mentioned earlier, there will be plenty of individuals at competitive shoots, shooting just for fun. And there will be those who take it seriously, each looking to shoot their best score.

As a heads-up, at some competitive events, you are allowed to just head out with a group of your choice, keeping your own scores. However, at some of the bigger shoots where prizes or money are on the line, archers will be “flighted” with other shooters in their respective class, dictated by equipment type. In these circumstances, you are more often than not, grouped with people you may not know, and arrows are scored as a group. These situations will really test your skills.

Competitive situations can get your heart racing, just like crunch time on a hunt. Feeling the pressure of competition can make delivering pinpoint shots time after time, difficult. Due to this, I feel that this form of shooting is great practice for making shots when the moment of truth presents itself. If you feel the need to up your game, 3-D shooting is well worth your time.


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