If you’re looking for something to do in the offseason that’s fun and helps you improve your archery skills, then look into 3D archery.
Braden Gellenthien, a member of the US men’s compound archery team, started archery when he was 12 years old after trying it as an activity at a Boy Scout camp. He said he was horrible but really enjoyed it, so he started shooting in a father-son league with his dad and then transitioned to 3D tournaments.
Now, Gellenthien is a World Cup champion and is famous in the target archery arena. Despite his success and appreciation for indoor and outdoor target archery, Gellenthien is getting back into the 3D archery scene because he loves the environment and atmosphere so much.
“It is one of the most fun styles of competition archery,” he said. “The camaraderie is there, and it’s a much more enjoyable kind of archery.”
Since he stepped away from foam targets a long time ago, he’s learning more about the discipline each time he participates. He shared two pieces of advice to help others new to 3D competitions.
To help increase your scores, Gellenthien said you need to “pull lines because if you aren’t doing it, someone else is.” To do this, you can use a larger diameter arrow because it will get you that much closer to the scoring line compared with a smaller diameter arrow that hits the same spot. More draw weight can help, too, since an arrow that hits the target harder can cause the foam to flex slightly, which can mean the difference in touching a scoring ring or not (what Gellenthien calls “pulling lines”). He recalled shooting a 60-pound bow while a competitor was shooting near 70 pounds using the same arrow. In that instance, the extra kinetic energy into the target helped the competitor’s score.
“It doesn’t happen at target shoots, but at foam, where there’s a dynamic target versus a paper target, there is some give,” he said. “It’s an important thing that not a lot of people think of.”
Gellenthien explained that when you look at the animal target with your naked eye and when you draw back to look at the target through your peep sight, you should see the same image. Pick the same aiming spot with and without your bow. For example, if your eyes focus on a blurry spot on the target without using the sight, then focus on the same blurry spot after drawing back. Likewise, if you see individual arrow holes or muscle definition on the animal target, look for the same qualities when using your peep. Don’t try to focus on your target, the bow sight and the peep sight at the same time; it’s impossible for the human eye. Instead, just trust your natural vision and use it to your advantage when you shoot.
“It makes it a lot easier to shoot when you have the same reference point before and during the shot,” he said.
Gellenthien believes 3D archery is beneficial for bowhunters because it helps them determine their natural, effective shot distance and what they might need to work on in competition to help them when they go afield. It also helps them become more familiar and confident with range estimation. Most 3D shoots don’t allow rangefinders, so archers must judge shot distances on the move, which is a useful skill for all bowhunters.
Although some people argue shooting life-size 3D targets helps bowhunters better understand shot placement and shooting angles on animals, Gellenthien said that while the targets are set up at different angles, the scoring rings stay the same, and so they’re actually not ideal for learning lethal arrow placement from different angles. Regardless, shooting the 3D targets puts a more realistic spin on target practice, especially because most 3D courses are set up in woodlots with tree limbs and bushes that could potentially interfere with the shot. Therefore, each target forces archers to evaluate the situation and aim accordingly. Plus, shooting at different species and sizes of animal targets is fun.
Gellenthien also likes that he doesn’t have to travel far to compete in 3D competitions. Many archery pro shops have 3D leagues, and there’s a wide variety of events hosted by archery organizations. The Archery Shooters Association, the National Field Archery Association and Scholastic 3D Archery all host regular 3D competitions. These events typically garner more interest and sponsor involvement than other archery competitions, according to Gellenthien. A quick Google search for 3D events or leagues in your area will likely yield several options to consider.
Gellenthien encourages all bowhunters to try 3D archery competitions because they’re exciting and encourage archers to practice more regularly. His advice to first-timers is to know the rules for your specific division, practice your longest distance until you’re confident and have fun.
For more information about 3D archery, read the Bowhunters United article “The Bowhunter’s Guide to 3D Archery.”