I look forward to summer for many reasons — fly fishing for trout and kayaking are paramount among them, as are bowfishing and frog shooting — but 3-D tournaments and tons of time on the range are perhaps the biggest parts of this anticipation.
Summertime tournaments allow me to test my skills against other shooters, spend quality time with the wife, swap bowhunting tales with friends and live in an all-archery bubble for a weekend. And of course it's the off-season, so the range becomes like a second home.
Another benefit is that summer 3-D tournaments offer exceptional practice for coming bowhunts, shooting realistic targets in real-world settings and dealing with the stress of competition — even if it's just to beat your buddy's score. But first and foremost, 3-D shooting is about having fun, which means everybody at the range has to play by the same set of rules.
Good old-fashioned manners sometimes seem to be a thing of the past in today's world, but I'd like to think bowhunters are a better cross-section of civilization. When it comes to range etiquette, a little common sense goes a long way. Here are a few tips to make sure everyone has a good day at the range.
Wait Your Turn
First, it's important to understand that some archers take range time more seriously than you do. You may be there simply to blow off steam, for instance, but others are there as intensely dedicated shooters. These kinds of dead-serious shooters are simply going to take more time perfecting and honing their craft.
They'll study targets endlessly, draw and let down repeatedly, have assistants shading them with umbrellas and all kinds of other silly antics that drive most bowhunters batty. They're just like the old folks driving 45 mph in a 65 mph zone — an unfortunate reality, but something we all have to deal with.
Becoming impatient, hurling snide remarks or stressing out are just as silly as laying on the horn and flipping senior citizens the bird. The only thing it really does is make you look like a jackass.
The same goes for large groups of shooters, or what I often call 'family reunions. ' Many clubs have rules regarding maximum group size (normally six), but what's a family to do when every known relative wants to hit the range together?
Large groups take longer to shoot — especially when kids are involved — and there are usually a lot of lost arrows and 'Easter egg hunts ' that follow. I've been there, and I understand it can be frustrating. But take a deep breath, bite your tongue and drift off to your happy place.
As you would in golf, wait for an opportunity between targets to politely ask a slow group if you may play through and make the transition as smoothly and quickly as possible. Remember, courtesy goes both ways. If you're one of those slow groups and see you're holding up the show — especially if more than one group of shooters is waiting on you between targets — make sure you allow faster groups to pass on by.
Assign A Score Keeper
One of the other huge mistakes people make is not having a plan when it comes to scoring and collecting arrows. Like anything else in life, when you have a plan things usually go more smoothly. That's also a big deal when dozens of other people might be waiting on you to keep things moving along.
A great way to avoid holdups is by assigning a particular member of your group to keep score and pull arrows. These tasks should be assigned to specific group members and carried out as efficiently as possible, making an honest effort to clear targets quickly. Tally scores, return arrows to quivers and take water breaks only when you're safely clear of targets — not while standing in front of them. Get in, get your job done and move along.
Searching For Strays
On the most crowded courses, there is sometimes little relief from traffic jams. Many times, it's a sign of a poorly laid-out course, but there's not a whole lot you can do about that. In situations like this, a little common sense helps move things along and keeps tempers from flaring, because no one likes to stand around twiddling their thumbs when they've come to shoot.
When you miss a target, limit the search for your arrow to the time it would take to score and pull arrows. If you haven't found your arrow in that time, make a note of the target number and return when things have settled down, or seek it in the lost-and-found barrel later.
As with any type of range, safety is always the first order of business, but it only works if everyone plays by the same rules. One of the most important times for everyone to be one the same page is when shooters are walking down the range. When going downrange to pull arrows from the target or search for strays, there are a few things you can do to ensure no one is put in harm's way — including yourself.
First, when you're looking for a stray arrow on courses that aren't crowded, make sure to post someone at the target or lean a bow and bright arrows against the target face so approaching archers know to hold off. Letting other archers know you're downrange is always a good idea. If you're the one shooting, first make sure the range is clear before you line up for a shot.
Good etiquette also means practicing safety while shooting in sometimes-crowded areas. Before stepping up to pull arrows, look down each side of the firing line to see if everyone is finished shooting and shout, 'Clear! ' Proceed only when you see everyone has gotten the message. When everyone has gathered arrows and is ready to shoot again, someone should once again shout, 'Clear! ' so everyone knows it's safe to shoot again.
Just like a golf course, the archery range is a place to err on the side of quiet. There's nothing more distracting than another archer who's creating a ruckus, so please, don't be that guy.
Be aware of what's going on around you to avoid disturbing other shooters' concentration. If you approach a target and someone is in the shot process, keep conversation quiet, walk softly, and hang back until they have completed the shot.
It should go without saying, but if you wish to curse after bad shots or use colorful language, make sure there are no young children or women within earshot. And while trash talking buddies or relatives may be part of the fun for you, many times it's really just not cool. It's considered good etiquette to hush your voice like a TV golf commentator or pause conversations when someone's standing on the stake and actively attempting a shot.
Also, don't hassle other shooters by making them stop shooting when they aren't ready. Conversely, when everyone else has a quiver of six arrows, maybe you shouldn't shoot your entire 26-arrow collection. You never want to make more than half of the shooters there wait on you.
And parents, for God's sake, please instill some discipline in your children. You may be numb to their temper tantrums and yammering, but others certainly are not. One of my all time biggest pet peeves is seeing children walking around courses unattended with arrows in their hands. Children should be made to understand arrows are kept in quivers and not removed until it's time to shoot. It's also a safety hazard for children to wander around unsupervised, so make sure your kids are kept in check.