Turkey season will soon be a distant memory, and unless you have a spring bear hunt on the docket, you may be wondering how to keep your bowhunting skills sharp during the off-season months. Daily practice, of course, is a must, and many reading this likely have established shooting routines.
I love it, but here’s the thing about established routines: they get monotonous. Monotony leads to boredom, and boredom leads to carbon-slinging sessions that will do more harm than good.
Mix It Up
One of the best ways to break the routine, sharpen your bow shooting skills, and prepare for a freezer-filling fall is to pen the dotted line and enter a few (as many as you can) 3-D shoots.
Before we jump into the where-to-go part of the 3-D puzzle, let’s first touch on the why. When you shoot at sizeable bags and block targets, you’re shooting at spot or dot. These targets allow for a wide range of error, left and right, and there is no space underneath the target — if you shoot short, you hit the dirt, and the arrow will likely deflect into the foam.
Shooting at 3-D targets is much different. You are dealing with lots of open space. There is space above the target’s back and below its belly, and depending on the target’s shape, left and right misses will lead to lost arrows. Then there is the fact that you’re not shooting at spots or dots. The goal, for most archers, is to place carbon in the target’s vitals and make a quick, clean, killing shot.
I’ve seen many archers, those you’d swear have ice-water in their veins, hammer dots on a block-style target and then shoot airballs on 3-D targets. Hitting 3-D targets properly requires a change in mindset, and regular practice sessions will make you a more proficient bowhunter.
We also need to highlight the shooting and competing against your peers part of the 3-D equation. When you place your foot on a line or against a stake and other bowhunters are standing next to you watching you shoot — scrutinizing your form — the heart rate tends to elevate. Though not the same as punching live lungs — nothing is — these types of situations will prepare you to make ethical shots on big-game animals come fall.
Where To Go?
You know the why; now, let’s touch on the where. Finding a 3-D shoot isn’t tricky. Most state bowhunting organizations offer several throughout the spring and summer months, and if you’re a member, you’ll be privy to these shoots. If you’re looking to go another route, visit your local pro shop in person or check their website or Facebook page. If you do your research, and it doesn’t take much, chances are good you will have piles of 3-D shoots to choose from each weekend within 90 miles of your location.
My favorites are the TAC shoots, and TAC stands for Total Archery Challenge. Held in some of the most scenic venues in the United States, TAC shoots will push your shooting abilities to the max. During a TAC event, you will shoot over 100 targets, and based on your ability level and the course you sign up for, you will be exposed to shots over 100 yards, shots at extreme up and downhill angles, and shots that force you to shoot over and under natural obstacles. It’s important to understand that not every course is set the same, and if you’re not looking to test your maximum practice range, different courses are created at each shoot for different ability levels. These courses are as close as you can get to real hunting situations, and I can promise you’ll have the time of your life. Gather up a few buddies, hit a TAC course near you, or make a road trip. Other spring/summer events include:
- Terry Peak, SD – June 24-26
- Big Sky, MT – July 29-31
- San Antonio, TX – April 29-May 1
- Killington/Pico, VT – May 27-29
- Crystal Mountain, MI, – June 10-12
- Sunlight Mountain, CO – July 8-10
- Park City, UT – July 21-24
TAC shoots are fantastic, but you may be looking to test your bowhunting resolve even more by adding a level of physicality to the shoot. Enter events like the Train To Hunt Challenge and Alpha Bowhunting Challenge. Both events blend physical activity with 3-D shooting.
“The Alpha Bowhunting methodology and the Alpha Bowhunting Challenge are the best real-world training for the combined skills of precision archery and the craziness of adrenaline fueled bowhunting,” said Alpha Bowhunting Challenge’s Trevon Stoltzfus. “By putting attendees under the duress of competition, the Alpha strips away all of the false preconceptions of our bowhunting skill level and shows us our true strengths and weaknesses. Then and only then can bowhunters become better archers and understand our true effective range under real hunting conditions. This experience then helps us to make better decisions while bowhunting.”
Train To Hunt is another popular venue and utilizes a run, shoot, and pack method to test bowhunting accuracy when under physical stress.
But What If?
As you can see, you have options, lots of options. However, being a regular attendee at 3-D shoots can get pricy. If you’re the only bowhunter in the family, hitting events each weekend and taking time away from family fun can get tricky. I get it. I’m in the same boat. While my wife and three kids all love the outdoors, only my youngest son has fallen head over heels in love with bowhunting. My oldest son is a waterfowl nut, and when it comes to big-game hunting, his busy high-school sports schedule crunches his time, and he prefers to tote a rifle.
My buddies and I have chipped in some coin over the years and purchased a dozen 3-D targets. It took us some time, but now we can take these targets and do our shoots in backyards or on public lands. Typically, it’s just four or five of us, but it works, and we still make time to get in a TAC event or two.