In this article, we will dive into 3D Archery Basics and walk you through what you can expect to encounter at your very first Local 3D Archery Shoot. By the time you finish reading, you’ll be ready to shoot your first arrow at a foam animal and know precisely how you did.

When my grandfather introduced me to archery in the 1980’s, local clubs used Paper Animal Targets. Many of those targets were artistic renderings of animals, but some were photorealistic images. As a kid, these targets were what I knew and loved. That was right up until I saw my very first 3D Archery Target. It was made from foam, hand-carved, and hand-painted. It was a crude representation of a deer, but it was revolutionary.

These days, Paper Animal Targets are virtually a thing of the past, and 3D Archery Targets have come a long way in the last several decades. Foam animals of realistic size and appearance are common at Archery Clubs across the country and serve as a fun way to simulate bowhunting scenarios.

3D Archery is Target Archery using simulated animals. Often, these animals are situated in hunting scenarios with unmarked distances. The objective is to place your arrow into a scoring ring, representing an ethical fatal shot on the animal. These scoring rings are difficult to see and challenging to hit.

Archery Compass - 3D Archery Basics

3D Archery Basics: Finding a Shoot

Depending on where you live, finding a 3D Archery Shoot to attend could be painfully simple or severely challenging. Because 3D Archery is a Bowhunting Simulation, it tends to be popular in states with many hunters. In states without a hunting population, Target Archery may be the more prevalent form of archery offered by local clubs.

The first step in finding a club is to head to Google Maps and use the Search Term “Archery Club.” Google will return a list of results for your area based on your location. Visit a club’s website (or Facebook Page) that catches your eye and look for an Event Calendar. This should inform you when the next 3D Archery Shoot is being held.

3D Archery Basics - Finding a Club

3D Archery Basics: Getting Registered

When you attend your first 3D Archery Shoot, the first thing you’ll need to do is find the registration area. These are typically in the Clubhouse but could also be in an adjacent building or under a pavilion. Look for signage directing you to registration or look to see where other archers are headed.

Local 3D Events typically come in one of two flavors – Informal and Formal. An informal event is laid back, and the registration desk will get you signed in, accept your registration fee, and send you off to shoot the course. You may also be asked to sign a liability waiver, but the process is straightforward and minimal.

A local 3D Archery Shoot that takes more of a formal approach may ask you which division you are shooting in and provide you with a scorecard. Archery Divisions can vary from club to club, but we’ve included a few below that you might come across.

Cub Division

The Cub Division has more to do with capabilities than it does equipment. Often, the equipment used doesn’t matter, and the division’s objective is to provide Young Children with a shooting position close enough to the targets to be easily hit. This keeps the kids having fun and the parents from searching for lost arrows.

Youth Division

The Youth Division is much like the Cub Division in that there aren’t usually equipment restrictions. Shooting stakes are placed farther away from the animals to present a challenge for kids between the ages of 12 and 16. If the young archery is comfortable with shots up to 20 yards, they shouldn’t have to search for too many lost arrows.

Traditional Division

The Traditional Division is a place for Archers to utilize Longbows and Recurves. There may be equipment restrictions in place, but, as a general rule, if you hunt with it, then it should be fine. Target Distances are typically less than 30 yards to simulate an ethical hunting shot with this equipment style.

Bowhunter Division

The Bowhunter Division allows Archers to utilize their Compound Bow and Hunting Setup. There are generally equipment restrictions that limit the length of Stabilizers and prevent Sights from being magnified. Like the Traditional Division, target distances are limited to what would be considered an ethical shot using this type of equipment.

Ladies Division

The Ladies Division allows Female Archers to compete against one another. Often, this division will not have equipment restrictions in place and will utilize the same target distances as the Bowhunter Division.

Unlimited Division

The Unlimited Division is a place for serious Target Archers to compete against one another with virtually no restrictions on equipment. Long Stabilizers and Magnified Movable Sights are typical. Target Distances are based on challenge and not on ethics.

Senior Division

The Senior Division allows Older Archers to compete against one another. The minimum age to be placed in this division varies by club, and there may even be two divisions (50+ and 65+). Often, this division will not have equipment restrictions in place and will utilize the same target distances as the Bowhunter Division.

Range Finders

Some clubs may restrict using Range Finders and force archers to estimate target distances. This makes the event substantially more challenging. Some clubs offset the challenge by creating a division allowing range finders but placing no other equipment restrictions. If you are shooting at a Local 3D Archery Event that keeps score, it is best to inquire about using Range Finders.

3D Archery Basics: Format

Indoor 3D Archery

3D Archery has become quite popular over the years. While it was once an outdoor archery style akin to Field Archery, Indoor 3D Archery has become common. Any facility with adequate space will likely set up an event during their off-season (Winter here in PA) when people would rather be inside.

Indoor 3D Archery is friendly to Novice Archers because the target distances are typically short. Another nice aspect of being inside is that a missed target doesn’t usually translate into a lost arrow – this is especially nice for Young Archers or anyone shooting light draw weights.

Common Shooting Line

An Indoor 3D Archery Shoot’s format will vary from club to club, but they usually use a common shooting line. This means that everyone straddles the same line on the floor. This ensures that no archer is in an unsafe position down range.

When the range is clear, Archers will be given a signal that they may approach the line. Once everyone is in position, a signal will be given that they may nock an arrow and proceed to shoot. After a prescribed number of shots, you will hang up your bow and wait for the signal that it is clear to go downrange and collect your arrows. The process is repeated until you have shot all the targets on the range.

3D Archery Basics - Indoor 3D Archery Course

Outdoor 3D Archery

Outdoor 3D Archery can be set up in a few different ways. The first is a setup that utilizes an ample open space, such as a field or practice range. Targets will be situated similarly to Indoor 3D Archery, but being outdoors allows for longer target distances. Another setup uses a central trail that looks like a hub and spoke – you’ll shoot from the trail into the woods, retrieve your arrows, and return to the trail for the next target. The last is a path through the woods that daisy-chains the targets from one to the next.

Trail Markers

The most important aspect of 3D Archery is safety. When shooting a course through the woods, it is critical that you remain on the designated path. This ensures that you do not accidentally wander off course and find yourself downrange of another target. A quality 3D Archery Shoot will utilize trail markers that are highly visible and spaced close enough that you can’t get lost.

All travel on a 3D Archery Course should be forward unless specifically designated as a Walk Back (more on that below). Never try to backtrack to the previous target, as this puts you directly downrange and in imminent danger.

Shooting Stakes

You will find a series of Shooting Stakes when you approach your first target. The stakes will identify where you will stand to shoot your arrow. The number of stakes and the color coordination will vary depending on the Local 3D Shoot Setup. It is best to ask the registration desk where your division shoots from. The general rule is that your foot must touch the shooting stake while shooting.

If you are at an informal 3D Archery Shoot and not keeping score, it is acceptable to move closer. You must stay in line between the marked position and the target. This ensures that any missed shots go into a designated safety zone and not toward another target.

3D Archery Basics - Shooting Stakes

Walk Back Targets

Walk Back Targets, or Pull and Return, will be marked as such. This means that after you collect your arrows, you will return to the shooting position and progress through the course from there. These types of targets are often used near property boundary lines or to prevent you from walking downrange of another target.

Walk Through Targets

Walk Through Targets, or Shoot Through, will be marked with trail markers. You collect your arrows and continue down the designated path. We’ve said it already, but it is worth repeating: never double back on the trail, as this will put you in an unsafe position.

Fun and Creative Scenarios

One of the best things about shooting 3D Archery at a local club is finding a fun and creative station. These unique scenarios will get you out of your comfort zone and allow you to try something different. These scenarios range from simple Elevated Stands to replicate shooting from a Tree Stand. Others may have you shooting from inside a Ground Blind. The more unique ones may have a target on a motorized track, so you have to hit a moving target.

The shooting station below was seen at Wapiti Archers of Pennsylvania. Here, you sat on an elevated drum to simulate shooting from horseback.

3D Archery Basics - Wapiti Horseback

Missing the Target

The fun of 3D Archery is that it is challenging. You are shooting at a target placed in the woods and often in positions that trick your eye into thinking it is closer or farther away than it appears. Missing the target happens occasionally, and you’ll need to look for an arrow. If you are shooting with a partner, ask them to return to the shooting position.

Having your partner stand at the shooting stake has two benefits. First, it makes them clearly visible to any approaching archers and alerts them that someone is downrange. Second, it allows you to connect the dots between them and the target to understand where to begin looking for the lost arrow.

Please don’t spend more than a few minutes looking for your arrow, as it could hold up archers behind your group. Most clubs have a lost and found box where they store lost arrows. The next time you visit the club, look in the box and see if yours is there. You can also ask to go back and search for the arrow after registration closes so that you can take your time and not hold anyone up.

3D Archery Basics: Scoring

There are two main organizations in the world of 3D Archery. You have ASA (Archery Shooters Association) and IBO (International Bowhunter’s Organization). Both organizations handle scoring differently. To complicate things further, your Local Archery Club may not be tied to either of these organizations and instead adopt a scoring system of their own design.

A great example of a modified scoring system is one that we use here in Southeast Pennsylvania. Clubs in the Southeast PA Indoor 3D Series utilize a 12, 10, 8, and 5 system (using an IBO Target Insert) with an additional 14 Ring that they often have to burn into the insert themselves.

3D Archery Basics: Targets

Earlier in this article, we mentioned that the IBO and ASA were two big organizations in the 3D Archery Space. The common 3D Archery Targets found at these organizations will be Rinehart and Delta McKenzie. If your club has ties to these organizations, they may favor one brand over another. They’ll likely have a mix of those two and others, such as Big Shot Real Wild Targets.

Targets at your Local Archery Club will likely be commercial grade with an EZ Pull Foam for easy arrow removal. Targets may not be crossbow-rated, so please inquire at registration before shooting.

Get out and Shoot 3D Archery

At this point, you should know everything you need to know to get out and shoot your first Local 3D Archery Event. We want to encourage you to get out there and give 3D Archery a try. Don’t forget to drop us a line at ArcheryCompass@Gmail.Com and let us know how it went!

More on 3D Archery

Does 3D Archery sound like something you’d like to learn more about? At Archery Compass, we aim to be a resource for the Archery Community. Below is a breakdown of our recent 3D Archery Blog Posts. Be sure to check them out and share them with your friends!