What Is 3D Archery? The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide

What Is 3D Archery? The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide

These days different styles of archery are getting more attention, and for a good reason. These styles introduce a different set of challenges than the traditional target shooting style. They’re also a lot of fun. One of these modern styles is 3D archery, which we’re going to explore in this post.

3D archery is a modern style of outdoor archery, where the participants shoot three-dimensional life-sized animal targets. Archers hike along a trail and face challenges, designed as different bowhunting scenarios.

This style of archery introduces different challenges than the traditional style, like distance judging and partially hidden targets, but also requires high-level bow shooting skills.

Some archery ranges have areas dedicated to 3D archery. If you’re looking to get into the field, this might be a good way to start. More experienced 3D archers can join various tournaments and competitions, to win a prize or to enjoy the shoot.

I’d only suggest getting into 3D archery if you have the basics of archery down already. You don’t want to be dealing with form issues when shooting 3D, since there’s a lot of other things you’ll need to pay attention to.

Anyways, if you’re interested in 3D archery, this is a great place to start. Let’s go.

What do 3D archery shoots involve?

As I mentioned, 3D archery shoots are a lot of fun. But you might want to come with an idea of how they work before you get in the field. While some archery clubs have their own style of ranges, what I describe here sums up the majority of them.

While there are some indoor 3D shoots, almost all of them take place in an outdoor area. You’ll usually split up to groups of 3 or 4 people who hike and shoot together.

Each of the groups will hike along the trail, advancing from target to target and taking shooting. Expect between 20 to 30 targets along the trail, but it does depend on how big the hosting club is. The archery club will usually tell you how many targets there are, but not where they’re located. The whole event typically takes between a few hours to a whole day.

The targets themselves will be placed in a way that’s similar to a bowhunting scenario. You’ll have to shoot in difficult scenarios: uphill, downhill, and with objects partially obscuring the target. In most archery shoot you’ll also not know the distance to the target, and will have to judge the distance yourself.

These challenging situations are what makes 3D archery so much fun. There’s a lot going on all the time, and you’ll have to use your entire skillset to have a good shoot.

If you’re feeling intimidated and unsure of your distance judging skills, note that there are some shoots that allow the use of a rangefinder in the beginner’s class. Other events have marked distances, especially for newer archers. You can choose one of those instead.

You don’t have to keep your score. A third party will usually come with the archers and keep the score, so you can focus on properly shooting without distractions.

3D archery Rules

The rules of 3D archers aren’t complicated and usually vary depending on where you are, but you should know the common rules that apply in most places. I actually wrote a complete guide on archery competitions in general, where I detailed the rules of 3D archery, so make sure to read it before you attend any event.

But I’ll quickly explain the basic things you need to know right here as well.

Shoots rules and divisions

A 3D shoot consists of archers walking between 20 to 30 targets and trying to make their most accurate shots. The shooting line is typically marked by colored pegs, where each color represents a different division. On a standard shoot, the distances between the target and the pegs are unknown so archers must exercise their yardage judging.

On a standard shoot, archers split to divisions: compound, recurve and longbow archers. Sometimes they also split into men, women, and cadets as well. Each of these divisions is allocated a color, and their shooting line is marked by pegs with that color. This is done to make sure nobody has an unfair advantage over others and to make to shoot challenging to everybody.

On most shoots, archers shoot at unmarked distance ranges, which means they don’t know the exact distance between the target and the shooting line. This makes the shoot more challenging, so archers have to use their distance judging skills. The actual distances are typically between 30 to 50 yards.


The scoring in 3D archery is pretty simple: every shot grants the archer some amount of points, and their sum is the total score of the shooter. Depending on where the shot landed, it may grant between 5 to 14 points. Participants try to achieve the highest score.

Since 3D shoots involve shooting at animal-shaped targets, the scoring allocation isn’t obvious. On the target, there are multiple scoring rings, located in the vital area of the target. Each ring has a different value, and archers are aiming at them.

The amount of rings and their values changes between the different rules systems: universal, ASA, IBO, etc. Here I’ll describe the universal rules, so just remember that ASA and IBO are a bit different.

Hitting the target at a non-vital area grants the archer 5 points. Hitting the vital area in the largest ring grants 8 points. Hitting the second ring, which is located within the first ring, grants 10 points.

Inside the 10-points ring there is one centered small ring, and 2 off-center smaller rings. The centered ring is awarded 11 points, while the off-center rings grant 12 points upon hitting them: the highest possible score for a single shot.

Missing the target doesn’t award the archer any points. Any line-breaker shot (a shot that landed on the line between two rings) is awarded the higher score.

What do you need for 3D archery?

Unlike traditional style archery, you don’t need a lot of equipment for 3D archery: a bow with a standard sight, arrows, and binoculars. You’re not going to use a lot of accessories.

You can use any type of bow, both recurve, compound and longbow. It’s rare for 3D archers to use a lot of accessories on the bow, except for a fixed pins sight and a mounted quiver. You won’t be seeing 3D shooters with huge stabilizers sticking in front of the bow, that’s for sure.

Most 3D archers do use binoculars to sight the target, but don’t use rangefinders to find the distance to the target. Yardage judging is one of the added challenges in 3D archery.

Of course, compound archers use release aids in 3D archery, and recurve and traditional style archers use finger tabs, gloves, and protective gear.

If you’re practicing 3D archery at home or at a temporary range, you’ll obviously need a 3D target as well. You can find great recommendations in my recommended archery targets page if you don’t have one yet.

Why you should practice 3D archery

3D archery is a really fun way to practice your shooting, yardage estimation and improve your confidence. Being challenged with tough situations can help any archer, from bowhunters to target shooters.

My main point: 3D archery is a lot of fun. It’s a really social sport, and a fun way to practice your shooting. You exercise more by moving around and face challenges you just won’t face in a standard range.

Bowhunters and mobile style archers all need to have good distance judging skills. Things get really complicated when you need to shoot uphill at an unknown distance. 3D archery is a great place to challenge these skills and put them to the test.

It’s also great for practicing your archery skills and improving your confidence. When you go through challenges, you can pin-point the weak spots in your archery form, so you’re able to improve where you’re lacking. That might take your skills to the next level. When you go through these challenges, you gain confidence in your skills as well.

Overall I think 3D archery is an amazing style and I really recommend it for any archer that has a good grasp of the basics. It’s great for building your while having fun.

Where can you 3D shoot?

3D archery can be practiced in a spacious area where you can walk around and shoot in many different scenarios, or with a single target in your backyard. As long as you’re creative enough to create a challenging scene, you’ll be able to sharpen your skills. You can also go to an archery club or even a 3D competition for beginners.

If you’re really just getting into 3D archery, you might want to check if you find it enjoyable, practice distance judging and try to shoot for a bit. In that case, I’d suggest going to a local outdoor archery club, so you don’t have to purchase an expensive 3D target right away.

Make sure to check that the club you want to go to actually has a 3D range. You can also find buddies to shoot with there, and archery teachers recommendations if you want to improve your skills with better guidance.

If you’re looking to get a bit more serious and want to set up a range in your backyard, you can check my guide on how to make a backyard archery range. It covers everything you need to consider.

But to make a 3D range you have to make some addition considerations, mainly on how you’re going to set the target, where to position yourself and what other objects you might put in the range.

You want to be able to create various challenging situations, so consider different angles you can shoot at the target in, different heights of you and the target, and obscuring objects you might want to put in between. The wider a variety of situations you’ll be able to create, the more you’ll be able to practice.

Also, remember that to practice your yardage judging, you’ll need to shoot at different distances to the target. Make you have enough room to do that, and that you don’t place distance markers on the range.

If you want to get a quality 3D target, consider checking out my recommended targets page. I have listed the best value-for-money targets you can find, with a detailed buyer’s guide.

Tips for new 3D archers

  • If you’ve never held a bow before, practice target shooting first. Many new archers come to archery to practice 3D shooting, but they quickly discover that they need to have a good base of skills before they can take on the challenge that is 3D archery.
    Since 3D archery requires some additional skills besides the simple handling on the bow, you want to have the basics down when you start with 3D.
    So start by target shooting until you’re confident with your bow and can shoot consistently at a traditional range. When that’s down, you can begin to work on your 3D skills.
  • Practice your distance judging. This might be one of the most important aspects of 3D archery, which can make or break an archer. Before you even step into a 3D range, learn some basic yardage judging.
    Obviously, by practicing 3D archery, you’ll also hone in your distance judging skills. But you have to have a little practice under your belt to be able to make your first shots. If you’re not sure how to go about judging distance, I’d recommend reading my post about yardage judging where I detail exactly how it’s done.
  • Learn proper etiquette. There are a few common practices every 3D archer should just know, things that make the shoot nicer for everybody, and that most 3D archers do. These can change between clubs, so you’ll mostly have to learn as you go.
    A common thing, for example, is for big groups of archers to split into small groups of up to 3 archers. Think about it: if you’re shooting as a large group, you’ll be holding up everybody else that arrives at the target. Don’t clog the course up. If a group behind you keeps being held up, let them through.
    Shooting with a group, try to choose a fair way to rotate the order of shooting. If everybody is happy with some shooting order that’s all fine, but if not, try to choose a fair rotation so everyone can get some rest.
    These small customs, and more, make 3D shoots much more fun for everybody.


3D archery is a very active style of archery and a perfect fit for people who enjoy being mobile with their bow. It’s quite challenging and requires some additional skills to the standard shooting mechanics, like yardage judging.

In these styles of shoots archers hike between targets in different environments and at different distances. The targets are shaped like life-sized animals.

If you’re considering getting into 3D archery, and you know the basics how handling a bow, you should definetly try it out. You’ll find an incredibly engaging sport that you’ll always want to come back to.

Related questions

What is the difference between field target and 3d archery?

While both field archery and 3D archery are modern mobile styles of archery, they’re quite different.
Field archery involves multiple different kinds of rounds, with different kinds of targets, like the traditional style target, multiple small versions of the traditional target, and 2D animal-shaped targets. Each round has different rules.
3D shoots involved shooting at animal-shaped targets and typically include more complex scenarios, like partially obscuring objects.
Both styles are fun and engaging – it’s all a matter of preference.

Can you use a rangefinder in 3d archery?

Typically you can’t use rangefinders in 3D shoots, so you have to rely on your distance judging skills. Some competitions do have beginners’ divisions, which may allow the use of a rangefinder, or have marked distances on the targets.

How does a 3D archery shoot work?

In 3D shoots, archers hike between different targets, placed at an unknown distance from the shooting line, and take their shots. The targets can be uphill and downhill, and be partially obscured by other objects. The scenes try to mimic real-life bowhunting situations.
A typical 3D shoot will have between 20 and 30 targets. The scoring system is quite simple, where any shot that it the target awards the archer with between 5 to 12 points, depending on where it landed. The archer with the highest number of points and the end of the course wins.