I love shooting 3D in the off-season to keep my skills tuned for hunting season. Most 3D leagues have a hunter category, which is an excellent tool for getting you prepared for the crucial moments. Shooting 3D at unknown ranges essentially involves a three-part equation: shooting ability, a knack to mentally range the target, and finally the equipment. In the text that follows, I will outline my recipe for success while on the 3D course.
I get asked all the time at the range “How can I shoot better?” or “How do I get groups like yours?” or “How can I shoot that far?” Simply put, the bow is a machine that will repeatedly replicate within a very small degree of variation when tuned correctly. In order to shoot at a high level one must become a machine.
What do I mean? Everything you do must be replicable: you must draw the same way, anchor the same spot, touch your nose to the string the same place, grip the bow the same way, acquire the target the same way, control your breathing, and squeeze off the shot the same on every single shot. The more you can systemize your shooting, the more consistent your motions will be, and thus the more accurate you will be! Many coaches harp on “proper form.” I personally have terrible form. However, I can repeat that terrible form every single time I shoot. That’s the main driving force behind my success.
In order to become a more consistent shooter, make a mental checklist while forcing yourself to pay attention to where and how you place your hand, how you squeeze your trigger, the pressure you use to grip the bow, and anything you can mentally track to replicate your shooting sequence. Once you have your list, go through it each and every time you shoot.
When I’m shooting in a tournament I let my subconscious take over while relying on what I have practiced to drive me towards success. However, during practice I use my mental checklist and focus on being “automatic”. In the game of precise shooting, if you forget to do one little thing on your list, the shot is going to suffer. This is a sport that requires a lot of self-maintenance, which means you always have to be working on training yourself to be as close to a machine as possible.
Ability to Range
The best 3D shooters are the guys who not only shoot well but are also accurate within 2 yards of estimating the distance of a target. It may possibly be the hardest thing for most archers to learn. All I can say is it comes with practice. Begin by estimating distances of 20 yards or less. When you get good at mentally ranging 20 yards, move up to 30 yards. Once you have mastered mentally ranging 20 and 30 yards you can use those as measuring tools by picking spots on the course you know are 20 yards and gauging the distance past the 20 or 30 yard mark.
You can practice this by using a fun game on the 3D range that I often do with my friends. We all walk up to a target, each of us writes down our yardage guess on a score card, then we range it and mark how far off we are in yards. At the end, we add up the sum total of yards we were off. The highest score loses and buys lunch!
It’s no major secret that speed is the number one game changer in shooting unknown ranges. A fast bow can effectively narrow the error of margin. If you are off 4 yards in guessing a target while shooting 200fps at 40 yards, you are going to hit very low if not miss completely. On the other hand, if you are shooting 300fps, you may still pick up an 8 or even bottom end of the 10 ring.
So, it is in your best interest to build a light, fast, and accurate set up. However, don’t overlook shootability. Having a superfast bow doesn’t mean you will shoot it well. Typically, a fast bow equals lower shootability. I have found that getting a bow that shoots well for you is the most important thing that can be done to increase your accuracy and repeatability. Using sights and a rest with tight tolerances, together with the ability to micro adjust is very important. You can make up the speed by choosing the right arrow set up and build a great 3D bow.