For me, as well a large majority of the archery community, 3D shooting is a way to stay “tuned” up for hunting season. It is also a way to get together with friends who I may only see during archery tournament season or in the field: Where did you hunt, who did you go with, did you draw anything, do you have max points, and how far was the shot. These are all just samples of what I’ve heard while standing in line registering for an archery event, so I know I am not the only one with hunting on my mind all the time. It also marks another season in the year of the sportsman. I know in time, I will be deep in the high mountain timber chasing deer and then on top of steep ridge lines waiting for that first bugle from a bull elk to cut the morning silence. Either way, 3D archery has its place in the preparation for hunting season. It just depends on how you look at it!
So, with the above information, we should look into why 3D archery is important in preparation for hunting and why should everyone that is capable of doing it, challenge themselves before chasing after living breathing targets.
First and probably foremost, like any activity from hitting a baseball to typing this document, the human body recognizes and responds to repetition very well. So well in fact that from senses alone, I can make words, sentences, and phrases out of a large variety of buttons on this keypad even without looking at it. This same repetition applies to 3D archery as well. For example, if I were to try and go straight into the field and hunt without target practicing first, I could probably hit my target. But, there is a very high likelihood that I would hit my target in a spot that I was definitely not aiming for. This comes from the disconnect that my mind, muscles, and eyesight are all trying to figure out at the same time. With practice, all of these motions and senses come together. They do this so well that after repeatedly drawing my bow back, I can come to the same anchor point, look through my peep the same, get the pressure on my release the same, and hopefully execute the shot the same. 3D archery allows for all of this repetition plus other invaluable features which later result in hunting attributes that people in general possess without even thinking about it.
Secondly, in most circumstances 3D archery lets you aim at life size animals. So, not only are you aiming at a spot on the animal, you also have the animal silhouetted in the background of your sight picture. This causes two things to happen. One, you are forced to aim at a small spot on a larger animal background, and two, your mind is constantly telling you to aim at that spot but there is a bear you are aiming at, or an elk, or a raccoon etc. Even though the painted spot may not be in the position you would actually try to put your arrow into an animal for a quick clean kill, you are still aiming at an animal that resembles the real thing. So in the field with practice on 3D targets, you will subconsciously feel more comfortable drawing back on the animal you are hunting if you have had experience drawing back on it before. This experience is what will set the stage to allow for everything else to fall into place.
Third, 3D archery is usually competitive in nature and most humans when competing try to do their best. Don’t get me wrong, it is a very friendly sport that is great for exercise and just plain good for your soul. But, there are awards offered at these events, some people compete to take a cash prize home with them, and even friendly shooting usually turns to some mild form of competition. More importantly, this competition equates to success in the field. Sure, if you are lucky enough to find an animal to shoot at, you have to draw your bow back, aim, and release the arrow. The difference between eating tasty elk back straps or consuming cold “tag soup” for the remainder of the year can come down to the most minute detail of your shot sequence. 3D archery forces you to constantly practice these intricacies which in turn you will take with you into the field when hunting.
Everything from your stance, the way your bow is gripped, controlling your breathing, and visualizing your shot on the target are just a few of those small things that can push you just outside of the spot, or just outside of the vital kill zone on an animal. As if this wasn’t enough to deal with, some people find 3D archery puts pressure on that shot sequence. Not only are your peers or competitors watching you, some of these events can be drawn out over the course of the whole day or weekend. This constant process of trying to do your best wears on both your mind and body. Throw in a bit of extreme weather be it hot or cold and now try to perform your best! 3D archery and bow hunting both demand that you pay great attention to every detail if you strive to be successful.
Lastly, 3D archery forces you to shoot at close ranges and sometimes out to extreme distances as well. During local tournaments which I shoot in northern California, I have shot at a target from as close as 2 yards all the way out to 113 yards. Your gear should be set up to enable you to shoot anywhere in between those ranges. Obviously different shooting styles apply. With today’s bows, most top end compounds can easily scream arrows out to 100 yards. Most traditional shooters would not shoot this far or even attempt it at an animal. Shooting at these targets also plays with your sight picture. Sometimes there is too much light coming into your peep making your sight or pins harder to acquire.
Shooting at 3D events also forces you to hold in the wind much like hunting situations. The most important thing that I find amazing is my ability to pay attention to my bubble while 3D shooting. Most courses are not at all flat. Some have extreme up hills while others may have extreme side hills. Paying attention to your bubble while out on the 3D course will allow you to quickly “feel” a side hill in a real life hunting situation. Your pin(s) may be a touch high or low and at most yardages if you do everything else correctly you still have a chance at filling your tag. If your bubble is even a little out, especially the further the shot is, the trajectory of the arrow away from the intended target only compounds and that animal you worked so hard for, has left only dust, tracks and if you’re lucky, a sampling of fur or hair behind.
So with that being said, grab your bow, round up some friends, and hit up your local archery club to find out when the next 3D archery tournament in your area will be held. Not only will you have a great time, but your skills will be “honed” as well. The next time you are in a hunting situation, your mind and body will be forced to get into that repetition mode without you knowing and hopefully you will be rewarded on the back end.
….Good luck, shoot straight, and happy hunting!
Micah Brown is a longtime First Lite Pro Staffer from California. He shoots competitively in the offseason and chases backcountry blacktails and Idaho elk in the Fall.