Keep summer shooting real with an autumn attitude.
The 3-D target game was created by bowhunters to better prepare for shots at live game. Foam targets molded in the likenesses of the animals we pursue creates a shooting experience infinitely more engaging than plunking arrows into soulless bag or block targets.
Predictably, 3-D has morphed over time into a contest of pure target-shooting skill and high-tech equipment. Those once happy punching paper at marked ranges now run roughshod over the 3-D community, demanding groomed courses and lobbying incessantly for marked range to eliminate all uncertainty. Like car racing, big-money 3-D serves its purpose by pushing the R&D envelope and producing the speed and accuracy professional shooters demand.
For hardcore bowhunters, however, the world of magnified scopes and leg-long stabilizers holds little appeal; 3-D simply remaining a fun way to prepare for real-world hunting while shooting the equipment they'll carry afield come fall.
Keep It Real
As a bowhunter, you need to understand that while 3-D is highly realistic, it doesn't mirror reality. Three-dimensional targets, by necessity, include marked "vital areas" designed (with a few exceptions) to be shot from flat ground, perfectly broadside. In the real world, these "score rings" shift up, down, forward and back as angles and topography change.
In case this score-ring business is new to you, let me quickly explain. The largest score ring, essentially representing the lung and liver area, is worth eight points. In the center of the eight-ring, not necessarily representing the heart, is the 10-ring. Inside the 10 is a 12-ring. To receive any of these scores, your arrow need only touch the line. Complete misses, hooves, horns or antlers result in zeros. Hit the animal anywhere else but designated score rings -- even non-vital tails and ears -- and you earn five points.
Receiving points for a gut shot or leg hit insults my bowhunting sensibilities. Hits not worthy of real-world celebration certainly should not be rewarded. In fact, common sense begs for negative points following non-fatal hits, though the idea seems largely ignored.
Score rings are necessary to determine shooter rank but present obvious shortcomings for bowhunting practice because ideal real-world shots often lead to lower scores, especially on targets not set square to the shooting stake or situated steeply uphill or downhill from the shooter. Centering the 10-ring on a steep uphill or downhill shot, or a target set askew, can mean aiming at a point that wouldn't result in cleanly killing real game.
This bothers me, because when shooting under pressure in a bowhunting context you often enter the realm of the subconscious, a practiced auto-pilot approach often the difference between success and failure. An entire summer spent shooting realistic animal targets in the wrong place can spell big trouble. Perhaps I'm splitting hairs, but "10-ring tunnel vision" can get you into big trouble in the real world.
When bowhunting practice is the goal, a more healthy approach might involve devising your own scoring system and competing amongst your group -- say five points for a kill (determined by group consensus), negative 10 for a wound. The loser buys a round of beers or dinner for all.
Despite its shortcomings, the competitive aspects of 3-D do provide positive bowhunting reinforcement. Everyone has some degree of ego and desire to win, even when shooting only foam and vying for a cheap plastic trophy. While the anxiety of shooting well in 3-D cannot approach that of addressing living, breathing game, competitive anxiety is an aspect of shooting you learn to tame with experience. This is something tangible you can carry with you while bowhunting big game and the inevitable "buck fever" that comes with it. What you're able to shoulder during 3-D makes you a more confident archer while bowhunting.
It's common to hear people say, "I'm no good on targets, but I never miss live animals." I once dismissed this as egotistic posturing in excuse for bad shooting but have come to understand there's a seed of truth involved. While bowhunting live animals, all your hopes and dreams, all your hard work and efforts, come down to a single shot. It's easy to stay focused for that single shot when so much is at stake. In 3-D, you must maintain that level of concentration through 40, 60 or even 80 targets, one shot after another. Tempering your concentration through such marathons helps making it happen on game that much easier.
The ability to summon maximum concentration on demand is made easier through mental imagery exercises, undergoing a sensory experience generated in your mind. Interestingly, our minds have a difficult time differentiating between what is real and imagined. By creating an image of the perfect shot -- feeling a relaxed calm, experiencing a perfect execution of form and technique, seeing and hearing your arrow thump into the 12-ring -- your mind is tricked into believing that shot has already taken place before you even step to the shooting stake. Positive mental imagery instills confidence, helping take you to a calm place before every shot. Summoning positive mental images on demand, complete with feelings, movements, sights, smells, sounds and emotions involved, requires practice. Three-D provides that practice, one target after another.
Breathing/relaxation exercises are also part of this, using just a few seconds before initiating the shot sequence to calm and center yourself. This involves inhaling deeply through your nose only and holding that breath momentarily before releasing it slowly and evenly through your mouth, just enough to move a candle flame without extinguishing it -- while silently repeating "calm" or "relax" while doing so. Sounds silly, I know, but it's highly effective.
It's About Range
Accurately estimating range the old-fashioned way is ultimately what sets 3-D apart from other forms of target archery. This is where 3-D offers its greatest benefit to serious bowhunters, practice for those too-frequent situations when circumstances don't allow a laser rangefinder pop. Just as importantly, when a laser rangefinder gives you a misreading, experience helps send up a red flag more quickly.
Practice makes snap judgments more reliable simply by learning what a particular range "looks like." Whether dealing with real animals or foam fakes, judging distance from the animal itself can lead to gross errors in range judging. Concentrate instead on judging from the ground the animal stands on. This is why many shoot so well while stump shooting -- aiming at small o
bjects like grass clumps or pine cones -- but outright miss easier shots at much larger live animals.
In 3-D competition, judging range by a bit more precise method than best guess is normally in order. One of the best methods involves counting known increments. Take a range you know well, five or 10 yards normally, and attempt to count those increments to the target. This requires a bit of practice, as learning what five or 10 yards looks like when it's situated 35 or 40 yards away requires past reference. Even without practice, counting known increments most often proves more accurate than offhand guessing.
The other method of legally "measuring" range while on the 3-D range, easily used in the field, is learning to associate target size to pin gaps at full draw. For instance, an average whitetail deer/target may fit neatly between your 50- and 60-yard pins at 20 yards, between your 40 and 50 at 30, your 30 and 40 at 40 yards. Of course this is extremely simplified, used only to illustrate the premise.
It doesn't matter if you're a bare-bones traditional shooter or shoot a high-tech compound bow complete with sights and release aid, 3-D's a mental exercise in which tuning concentration as it is needed separates winners from losers. It's not bowhunting, but it's as close as you can get in a target-shooting context. This is why I take the sport seriously, why I strive to shoot the best I can during summer tournaments, knowing that when bowhunting seasons arrive, I'll be better prepared for high-pressure shots at game.
Top Targets for 3-D Practice€‚
Bass Pro Shops
RedHead's 3-D Tuff Shot Boar, with easy-to-replace layered core, includes a high-tech foam-welding process used to fuse layers at strategic points for added durability and easy arrow removal. The durable, flexible urethane foam holds up to field points or broadheads. The realistic Boar includes simulated 25x37-inch dimensions. MSRP: $140; www.basspro.com
Prepare for your upcoming turkey hunt with the realistic and lifelike Cabela's Strutting Turkey 3-D Target. The rugged, long-lasting target includes one-piece construction depicting a gobbler in full strut, molded of dense, self-closing foam to absorb thousands of arrows without damage. It includes a generous 23x26 inches of foam. MSRP: $100; www.cabelas.com
The Archer's Choice Real-World Buck not only includes educational exposed whitetail vitals/bone structure on one side, but this economical 3-D target is designed to rotate following each arrow impact, creating a new shooting angle with each shot for added challenge. It's equipped with an economical replacement vital for longer life. MSRP: $130; www.deltatargets.net
The XT Series Team Realtree E-Z Pull Buck is designed for easy arrow removal and constructed of the company's durable, self-healing E-Z Flex soft foam. The 33x41-inch target includes a replaceable foam insert that helps prolong the useful life of the target. It also features a realistic design and 4x4 plug-in hard antler rack. MSRP: $180; www.mckenzie3d.com
The newest version of the popular GlenDel Buck has been made smaller and lighter for 2010, representing a live weight whitetail of 150 pounds standing 34 inches at the shoulder. Its 11x11x11-inch cube Four-Sided Block Fusion insert allows more shooting options, while Polyfusion design promotes longer target life and easy arrow removal. MSRP: $160; www.fieldlogic.com
Rinehart's Anatomy Deer represents a 95-pound doe, but also includes detailed, anatomically correct back helping teach bowhunters proper shot placement. It shows precise orientation of spine and vital organs and includes pre-placed arrow holes to demonstrate arrow placement. It's made of Rinehart's proven self-healing, easy-pull foam. MSRP: $200; www.rinehart3D.com