As I spied the elk, I figured he was pushing 35 yards away. Upon releasing my arrow, however, I quickly realized that he was much further than that. The carbon shaft struck noticeably low, barely catching the top portion of his leg. What would have ended up as a long, yet fruitless, tracking job only ended up as a bit of disappointment and a lot of laughs as the elk in question was not made of flesh and bone, but rather foam. Bigger animals such as elk look closer than they actually are when you are used to shooting at deer and turkey-sized animals.

This unfortunate shot occurred at a Rinehart-sponsored 3D archery shoot a few years ago and I sure was glad that I still had plenty of time to sharpen my bowhunting skills before opening day arrived. Even though that shot was a few years back, I never forget the lesson I learned: practice throughout the year and make your “training” simulations as realistic as possible.

Sight-in first

We all hear how good it is to shoot at 3D targets for the realism and to help sharpen our ability to pick a spot on the animal. This is very true, but it is very important to make sure your bow is sighted-in beforehand. It is best to start out (especially if you have not shot in a while) shooting at a target with bull’s-eyes. Shooting at small dots or bull’s-eyes will allow you to properly sight-in your bow and get your groups tight.

Once your bow is sighted in and you are grouping well, that is when switching to or throwing in some 3D practice pays off. As I mentioned, shooting at 3D animal targets trains you to pick a spot on that animal at which to aim; something that shooting dots will not do. Remember, you will not have a bull’s-eye on the real thing, so learning where to aim and having it become second nature will be huge come game time.

How far is that animal?

Probably one of the greatest benefits of shooting on 3D courses is that it sharpens your ability to accurately judge distance. Sure, I have seen guys using a rangefinder on the 3D course before, but in my opinion you are only cheating yourself by doing so. If you do not hunt and are shooting the course for the competition only, then fine, but if you want to become a better hunter, put the rangefinder away—at least until after the shot. Then you can use it to see how close you were to correctly guessing the yardage.

Besides simply judging yardage, this type of practice will get you more comfortable with shot angles, which is crucial since animals in the wild will rarely give you a perfectly broadside shot. Putting the pin directly behind the shoulder of a quartering-away buck will likely not result in you taking that trophy, for example. In this situation you want to aim a little further back, perhaps into the ribs, depending on the severity of the angle.

Is that really in the way?

Another really great benefit to shooting 3D courses is that you will face situations similar to what you’ll encounter in the field; ones that are difficult to reconstruct in your backyard range. For instance, when was young, I was shooting at a course with some older bowhunters. As I came to full draw on the animal I let down on my draw because I felt that I did not have a shot. There was simply too much debris in the way and limbs kept obstructing my view of the target. One of the elders reminded me that there was indeed a shot there. Just because there was a twig in between my sight pin and the vital area on the animal made no difference. The arrow rest sits below the sight pin, meaning that the arrow had a clear path to the target. This was an important lesson that has helped me on occasion. Sure, it wasn’t rocket science, but sometimes we all need some advice and cannot see the obvious when we’re wrapped up in the details.

The bottom line is that practicing in “real-life” hunting situations will help prepare you for when that monster buck steps into one of your shooting lanes this fall. By then you should have no question as to which pin to use or where to put that pin because you will have been through the scenario a hundred times.

One of the best reasons to shoot 3D has nothing to do with improving your skills at all—it’s just plain fun. Just getting a group of friends together to shoot, laugh at each other’s misses, and enjoy yourself is reason enough.

Image by Joe Martino

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