What is 3D Archery? (A Beginner’s Guide with Pictures)

Target shooting can get boring, shooting into the same target from the same spot over and over again. Bowhunting can take too long, be equally as boring if no game shows up, and can be controversial. 3D archery is the perfect solution for anyone who finds these statements to be true.

3D archery is a form of archery in which the archers shoot at three-dimensional targets made to look like animals such as deer, bears, elk, etc. Archers earn points according to how close they get to the vital organs of the corresponding animal.

If you’re looking for a challenge, 3D archery can offer a unique archery experience that closely simulates what it’s like to bow hunt without having to deal with real animals.

What’s Different About 3D Archery?

It can be difficult to understand what 3D archery is doing differently if you aren’t familiar with how other forms of archery are usually done.

The oldest archery activity (which is still largely popular, but less for necessity than for sport) is bowhunting.

It’s why bows and arrows were invented, why they even came together to form a deadly weapon in the first place.

People needed a long-range weapon that was more precise than a spear to take down game to feed their families.

Archery’s purpose quickly expanded to include human-against-human combat, used by bowmen to take down enemies before they could get close enough to inflict damage on the defending army.

Of course, archery is no longer used in modern warfare due to the invention of firearms and other long-range weapons, which are usually simpler to use and can inflict more damage.

Therefore, the use of bows and arrows as weapons has largely returned to use on animals exclusively.

And though both bow and arrow technology has advanced quite a bit, modern bowhunters still use many of the same skills that their forebears did to track down and kill their prey in outdoor environments: stealth, patience, and precision.

Somewhere along the line, archery gained faction of bow-wielding people who wanted to test their skills against one another.

Doing so with live animals would have been inefficient and taken too long, and so the inanimate target was created.

This form of archery has not changed much in the hundreds of years since, continuing to utilize ranges with set distances across which archers propel arrows into stationary targets.

These targets usually sport the familiar bullseye design that you’re likely to have seen many times in your life, even if you’ve never shot a bow and arrow.

The concentric circles of the bullseye clearly map out an archer’s accuracy, decreasing in point value as they extend from the center.

3D archery marries these two variations of the activity, allowing archers to roam rather than be constricted to a range while still shooting at stationary targets.

The targets are shaped and detailed to represent animals that a bowhunter would usually stalk in the wild.

3D targets can be made to represent both small and large animals, many of which include:

  • Deer
  • Elk
  • Moose
  • Reindeer
  • Hogs/Boars
  • Bears
  • Coyotes
  • Antelope
  • Foxes
  • Lynx
  • Bobcats
  • Rabbits
  • Fish
  • Dinosaurs
  • Zombies
  • Zombie Deer

Okay, so those last three aren’t typically things you’d see bowhunters stalking in real life, but they are 3D targets that you can buy online!

Some of the most popular and well-made targets are produced by Rhinehart Targets or Delta Mckenzie, both of which manufacture archery targets exclusively.

What is a 3D Tournament Like?

Unsurprisingly, 3D archery is a pretty popular sport, and there are a lot of tournaments that take place all over the world.

There are indoor 3D tournaments, but outdoor tournaments tend to be far more popular, weather permitting.

There are two types of outdoor tournaments: known distance and unknown distance.

In both styles, archers walk from target to target, much like golf, though they only get one shot at each station.

The targets will usually be within a distance of 25 to 90 meters from the trail where archers are shooting from.

In a known distance 3D tournament, the distance between the archer’s shooting spot and the target will be marked somewhere for the archer to see.

This gives them the ability to compensate for distance when they’re aiming, which is why this kind of tournament typically consists of beginners.

For those looking for more of a challenge or to more closely simulate the experience of bowhunting, unknown distance 3D tournaments are ideal, and these are the more popular of the two events.

As you might have guessed, these kinds of tournaments do not post the distance between the archer and the 3D target, requiring more skill on the archer’s part to be hit the target accurately.

The larger the company that’s putting on the event, the more targets there will likely be, and therefore a longer course.

So, if you just want to try hitting five or ten 3D targets, attending a tournament put on by your local shop or range would be a good choice.

Once you’ve mastered those, you can move on to 3D tournaments put on by the Archery Shooters Association (ASA) or the International Bowhunting Organization (IBO).

These tournaments will likely have more contestants and more high-stakes prizes for winners.

Also depending on the organization behind the tournament and how many competitors there are, 3D tournaments can take two or three hours, or maybe even a whole day.

Unlike other forms of archery, 3D shooting is not dominated by one specific kind of bow.

Both compound and recurve archers are welcome at most 3D tournaments, and some even allow more traditional bows like longbows to be used by competing archers.

However, there are not 3D target competitions that allow crossbows as of now.

Most archery gear is also allowed, including binoculars for the targets that are placed particularly far away.

Scores are kept by a third party so that the archers can focus mainly on shooting well without having to keep track of how they’re doing, which is convenient for the longer tournaments like those that the ASA or IBO host.

How Does 3D Scoring Work?

Perhaps the most unique thing about 3D archery, in comparison with its counterparts, is the scoring method.

Even the larger 3D targets like those meant to represent bear or moose often have a smaller target area than those on regular cube or bag targets that sport the circular bullseye.

Additionally, they’re not typically placed in the center of the target like they are on cube or bag targets.

The target area on 3D targets is meant to represent the kill zone on each respective animal.

So, if you’re shooting at a 3D target that looks like a whitetail deer, the kill/target zone is going to be up near the neck, over the front shoulder.

In this case, the bullseye is placed where the animal’s heart would be, an organ that, if ruptured by an arrow, results in an instant kill.

An instant kill shot, or bullseye, is worth the most points.

Like the bullseye on cube targets, the 3D target’s bullseye is surrounded by concentric areas that represent smaller point values, though they are not usually perfect circles.

These outer areas, if hit on a real animal, usually result in a fatal injury, though it often takes longer for the animal to die of its wounds than if it had been hit in the heart.

For bowhunters, these shots are less desirable because they usually mean that the archer will have to attempt to follow the animal’s path by tracking its blood trail, which is difficult to do and doesn’t always lead the hunter to the animal’s final resting spot.

On a real animal, these areas can also be dangerous to hit rather than the heart because it can alert the animal to your position, which can be especially catastrophic if the animal you’re hunting is a bear, now angry because you’ve injured it.

If you’re participating in a 3D tournament put on by the ASA, the point values will range from 5 to 11 points, 11 for the vital area, 10 for the area immediately surrounding that.

A tournament hosted by the IBO will score things a little differently.

The IBO awards five points for hitting anywhere on the target, even if it’s on the leg.

There are a lot of options if you’re looking to get into a competitive sport, but 3D archery is a great choice if you’re looking for a challenge and a tight community.

Geoff Southworth

I am a California native and I enjoy all the outdoors has to offer. My latest adventures have been taking the family camping, hiking and surfing.

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