I thoroughly enjoy summer 3-D tournaments. Mostly these are social events allowing me to get together with friends and family to share a weekend, also an opportunity to hang with like-minded folks and catch up on recent bowhunting triumphs. But I also take these venues seriously; not because I'm wrapped up in target shooting or need another $15 trophy, but because they allow me to gauge how well summer practice is paying off, experience some of the pressure accompanying later encounters with game, hopefully (on thoughtfully arranged courses) prepare me for shooting scenarios I might face in the real world.
Many bowhunters proclaim they can't hit targets but do fine on real flesh and blood. I'll buy this to a point -- a single shot earned after a week of concerted effort inspiring utmost concentration -- but generally if you can't perform reasonably well on targets, that poor showing will follow you afield. A weekend 3-D tournament involving 40 to 80 targets one after another requires an ability to turn focus on and off and this is fine training for later bowhunting encounters. Too, if you care anything about score, there is also an element of stress involved -- even if only trying to beat your buddy's score.
Learning to systematically calm yourself before important shots is a good thing when applied to pulse-pounding encounters with game. A good 3-D course also takes advantage of topography, providing uphill and downhill shots, shots across open gullies, through tunnels or brush, close and far. And, even in the age of laser rangefinders, honing eyeball range judging skills still remains very useful for fleeting shot opportunities on game.
The problem with organized 3-D as it directly regards bowhunting is that score rings don't always correlate to real-world aiming points. Developing "10-ring tunnel vision" can get you in big trouble in the field. Of utmost concern to me, especially on bigger animals like elk, is 10-rings tend to crowd shoulders -- a place you really need to stay away from on live animals. Dead-center lungs earns you only an 8 in 3-D, but a homerun in bowhunting. Targets that are not set square to the shooting stake, or steep up and downhill shots, can cock score rings to points you would never aim on real game. Since so much in "shooting to kill" becomes a part of the subconscious, this can set a dangerous precedent. Just something to keep in mind when transitioning from serious 3-D to fall hunting seasons...
If realistic shooting practice and not plastic trophies is most important to you, do what friends and I sometimes do, even during organized tournaments. Forget official score rings (or turning in your score cards) and create your own score system. Shoot to kill and examine each hit honestly, determining real-world exit wounds resulting from each shot and turning scores into simple "kills" (+5 points), misses (zero) or "wounds" (-10 points). To my mind this makes the game much more interesting -- and better prepares you for fall hunts to come.