Peter Brookes: Try 3-D shooting to get an archery A-game

Outdoors columnist Dr. Peter Brookes tackles the sport of 3-D archery. Courtesy photo

It was clear I needed to up my archery game.

Sure, being self-taught, I’d gotten to the point where I could consistently hit an 8-inch circle on a big bag target at 20- and 30-yards with a 60-pound draw Mathews compound bow using field-tipped arrows across a flat, grassy field.

Oh yeah, in short-sleeves and flip flops — and under sunny skies.

But as I started to read and think about the sport of bow hunting, I quickly began to realize that being comfortable with my current skill level probably wasn’t going to cut it in the deer woods this fall and winter.

Especially if I wanted to bag game.

The question was, of course, what can I do right now — during the dog days of summer — to get better at archery so I’d be more prepared for the quickly approaching bow hunting season?

About the same time I was pondering this question, I came across an upcoming 3-D archery tournament being put on by the Cub Run Archers (cubrunarchers.org) at the Arlington-Fairfax chapter of the Izaak Walton League in Centreville.

It was also a “money shoot,” which meant cash prizes — not that I had any chance of pocketing any of the payout at my skill level. I also figured that there’d be a quiver full of William Tell-types whose technique I could observe and study.

If you’re not familiar with a 3-D shoot, it differs from some of the other archery forms; there are a lot of “stick and string” sports today, ranging from using traditional bows for hunting to launching arrows from Olympic recurve bows at targets nearly a football field away.

In 3-D archery — as you might have guessed–the target is a life-sized replica of an animal you might see in the field. Indeed, most anybody who is reading this column has seen a foam, antlered buck in a sporting goods store with its vitals (i.e., heart and lungs) outlined for shooting practice.

Even more interesting is that the outdoor 3-D course may travel through the woods, across fields and up and down hills. Light and wind conditions will vary, too. It’s almost as if you were stalking an animal during a real hunt.

That’s tough enough, but then there are the targets, which range from a huge bull elk to a small squirrel to a skinny crocodile. Target distances vary, too, from 80 yards to just a few yards. You may also shoot through the “V” in a tree or between bushes.

In some ways, it’s like playing golf with a bow and arrow.

Points are given based on the accuracy of one arrow per target. You get “nada” for missing the target completely, but — thankfully for me — receive 5 points for at least hitting the target somewhere. Eight, 10 or 12 points are earned for hitting the vitals.

There are usually a couple of shooter classes based on bow and sights types, for example, for those using recurve bows, hunters using compound bows with fixed sights and an open class for those using bows with moveable sights.

Before I embarrassed myself publicly at a 3-D shoot, I rang up Bob D’Imperio (a Virginia state archery champ) who kindly agreed to meet me at the club’s course for some instruction and advice.

Besides some adjustments to my form, I also learned of some accessories that’d be helpful, like having binoculars for zeroing in on the target’s vitals, a range finder for measuring target distance, extra arrows to replace those lost/broken, and an arrow puller.

Never forget bug spray!

Though I really did miss the comfort and security of my suitcase-sized, fluffy, neon yellow archery target, I’m convinced that 3-D archery is a great way to launch your shooting to the next level.

Indeed, from Bob to other shooters at the 26-target event, folks were more than willing to talk anything about archery and give me tips on burying my arrows in a foam replica of a coyote.

I learned a lot in just one morning of shooting by pushing myself beyond my current skill comfort zone. I highly recommend this form of archery for anyone trying to up their archery game — whether a hunter or not.

It’s also a lot of fun.

One thing I can say for sure: I’m totally ready for when that monster 8-point, self-healing foam buck — with its vitals conveniently highlighted– comes ripping and snorting in front of my deer blind this fall.

Dr. Peter Brookes is a Washington, D.C. foreign policy wonk who escapes to his Fort Valley cabin and the great outdoors as often as possible. Email: BrookesOutdoors@gmail.com.