3D Archery Beginner’s Guide – What You Need to Get Started

| Last Updated June 15, 2021

The world of 3D archery is complex but an excellent way to improve your skills as an archer.

Improving your skills means new targets and challenges, but many might think 3D archery is beyond their skills.

Thankfully, it’s much more approachable than you might think, and getting started requires a bit of introductory knowledge from our 3D archery beginners guide.

What is 3D Archery?

3D Archery is similar to traditional bow hunting rather than a simple accuracy test or target shooting. Archers will fire at three-dimensional targets shaped like animals, and points are recorded based on how close you hit specific organs and areas of each archery target.

The main appeal of this sport is that it provides a more genuine hunting experience, but without the tracking and slow pace of actual bowhunting. Since no animals are harmed in this activity, it can also allow players to use all kinds of fun and creative targets. This can range from unusual animals like lynxes and fish to fictional and extinct creatures like zombies or dinosaurs.

3D Archery Terminology and Common Concepts

Before we dive deeper, here are the main components and terminology of the topic:

  • ASAThe Archery Shooter’s Association, the leading organization that organizes and officiates many 3D Archery tournaments.

  • IBO: The International Bowhunting Organization, an organization that hosts various archery tournaments and promotes the sport of bowhunting worldwide but primarily based in the United States.

  • Release: A piece of equipment helping you hold drawn bows and release the arrow with greater ease and comfort, used by many bowhunters and 3D archery competitors during both practice and competition.

  • Arm Guard: Protective gear for your wrist, giving protection to your bow hand so that the string doesn’t cause cut from impact while releasing arrows.

  • Shoot: Alternate term for a 3D archery course.

  • Shoot Up: Reaching above the average point score of a 3D archery course.

  • Shoot Down: Hitting below the average point score of a 3D archery course.

  • Shoot Even: Getting an average score of about 10 points on each target of a 3D archery course.

  • 3D Tournaments: An official or unofficial competition between different archers, where your points on a course are stacked against different bowhunters.
  • NFAA: The National Field Archery Association, a large organization that runs all sorts of major archery tournaments for events including 3D archery, freestyle events, crossbow hunting, and more for archers of various skill levels.

  • Class: Your skill level division is based on experience, age, and equipment to help ensure fair matchups in tournaments.

  • Scoring Rings: Hitting the highest-score areas of a 3D archery target, particularly lethal points like the heart and lungs of a given animal.

Photo credit: archerymanitoba.ca

How Does 3D Archery Work?

While not every case of 3D archery is going to involve the style of an official competition, there’s still usually a common structure you’ll find when you decide to try 3D archery.

There are a few different steps between shooting and scoring, and it’s important to follow them as closely as possible for a fun, safe, and successful game.

1. Approach Your Shooting Position

To provide different angles and positions for each target, most 3D archery courses will have different flags, stakes, or other signifiers on the ground to indicate your shooting positions. These will be where you fire your arrows from, and there will sometimes be different shooting positions that are closer or further from the target, which you can choose to fire from based on your skill level.

If you’re going with a group, you’ll also be taking turns for each of your firings, so make sure to stay back from whoever’s turn it is to avoid distracting the active archer or putting yourself in danger. Once the space is empty and your turn has arrived, you may walk up to the shooting position. 

2. Fire at Your Targets

Firing at targets is the core of 3D archery as you are firing arrows at a target that relates to your given shooting position. Most courses have around 20 or 30 targets, and each shooting position provides a single target. During your turn, you fire one arrow at the target, aiming for areas on the target that grant either higher or lower point values.

Once you’ve fired your arrow, you will lower your bow and allow your fellow archers to take a turn. The goal of 3D archery is to be firing arrows that can take down a living target in a single shot, so you’ll rarely encounter courses that suggest you fire multiple arrows at each 3D target.

Photo credit: grandviewoutdoors.com

3. Record Your Score and Pull Your Arrows

Once each member of your group in a 3D archery tournament has taken their turn and has lowered their weapons, you will now begin setting up for the next target. The first step of this involves recording your scores, which again are determined by the lethality of your shots and the organs you would have hit if it were a live animal. This usually will include areas like the heart, lungs, and neck.

You will also retrieve your arrow from the target for the later rounds, giving you a closer look at where your arrow landed to ensure your points are recorded correctly.

4. Move to the Next Shooting Position

Once the scoring and arrow retrieval is complete, you may begin moving to the next empty shooting position. Make sure to follow any paths and do not enter shooting positions where other groups may be firing, as the last thing you want is to crowd a certain area or walk through someone’s firing range.

You’ll usually cycle through these steps until you’ve completed the course, at which point you’ll have a final score to compare with your past records and fellow archers in your group.

What Do You Need for 3D Archery?

You can enter 3D archery without much equipment, but many shoots will have few limitations on what equipment you use, so long as your group agrees. There are a few things you need at shoots, whether run by various archery organizations or if you organize a shoot of your own.

Photo credit: shootingtime.com

Targets and Shooting Position Markers

If you’re organizing your own event, the two things you’ll need for a course are your targets and shooting position markers. These can be any 3D scale model of a given creature, and you can either paint or attach additional target areas to help make scoring easier. You will also need a flag or marker to show where to stand while shooting, which is necessary both for safety and certainty that you’re firing from a proper distance.

Bows and Arrows

Nearly any kind of bow and arrow will work for 3D archery, but tournaments will usually involve compound and recurve bows alongside some traditional longbows. If you’re organizing your own shoot, you may also use crossbows if you wish, but tournaments generally don’t use these in 3D archery events. 

Otherwise, since each turn only involves one arrow, you need at least one to work with and a few spares if they break or get lost.

Safety Equipment

There’s very little equipment you need besides your bow and arrows, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have to bring any other equipment that you find helpful.

Armguards and release aids are the most common items to include and can help you enjoy longer courses without risking injuries in the middle of your game.


You don't usually need binoculars for many indoor 3D archery shoots, but many outdoor shoots feature targets that are farther away and partially obscured by the scenery. 

Photo credit: bowlife.com

As a result, binoculars help on challenging targets, as you never want to be firing an arrow blindly at a target you haven’t properly identified.

Scoring Sheets

Most tournaments have a third-party scorer to record each archer’s performance. When training or organizing casual shoots, you likely need to handle this yourself. This can be as simple as a small sheet of paper and a pencil, and it will let you keep track of just how accurate your shots are throughout the shoot.

Necessary Skills for 3D Archery

You need some archery skills beyond the basics to take part in a 3D archery shoot. It’s not ideal for you to do this as your first foray into archery, since you’ll be firing at smaller and more distant targets than what’s recommended for beginners. 

If you can reliably hit targets and control your accuracy, as well as being familiar with technique and safety procedures, then you should be good to engage in a shoot. If you’re new, it also can help to go with others to help show you how it works, and improve your technique.

Beginner 3D Archery Tips

Of course, this beginner's guide wouldn't be complete without the additional tips and tricks you can apply to your 3D archery practice for a better chance at success.

Longer Ranges Provide Better Practice

Even though it can be fun to set up your own ranges, you need a lot of space to make a sufficiently interesting shoot. Arrows can fly remarkably far, and hitting targets from close distances is hardly a great test of your skill compared to firing at unusual angles or greater distances.

Backyard practice can be great if you’re already experienced and know how to set up great challenges, but you’re better off visiting a shooting range or an organized shoot to improve your skills further.

Each Target Has Different Focus Points

Since points are awarded by lethality rather than hitting a thick center point, it’s important to know where you’re going to be aiming. Some shoots will include markers on the target itself, but generally, you may need to reference information sheets or a course guide to know where you have to aim. It’s more than just hitting the target; it’s also about hitting the target in the right place.

Photo credit: archershub.com

Any Archery Practice Improves Your 3D Archery

If you plan to attend 3D archery tournaments, you want some experience on shoots, but that doesn’t mean you need to focus only on them to improve your performance. Even archery lessons and target ranges will help you fine-tune your accuracy, strength, and endurance. These are fine ways to help prepare for a tournament. 3D archery is very much a test of your bow skills and will surely build off of any other experience you have.


We hope this has been a helpful introduction to a wonderful sport. The idea of firing at larger creatures may seem intimidating to certain archers, especially when only practicing against flat targets. It’s a great way to practice your skills and enjoy a practical bowhunting experience. It is worth trying if you want to take your archery to the next level.

People Also Ask

Here are some of the most common questions when starting on 3D archery. Knowing the answers to these will surely give you an edge while learning this form of archery.

Can You Use a Rangefinder In 3D Archery?

You should check the rules of your group and tournament. Most 3D archery shoots allow rangefinders and binoculars. These can help improve your accuracy, and for distant targets, they can be vital for getting familiar with your target and hazards.

Where Can You 3D Shoot?

You can potentially make your own 3D shoot anywhere from a backyard to an enclosed open area, but it has to be secure of any people potentially crossing or entering. As a result, it’s usually best to ask archery supply stores and visit archery ranges that feature their own shoots for you to visit and practice at.

How Does Scoring Work in 3D Archery?

Scoring will vary based on each organization running tournaments, but one of the more common scoring styles comes from ASA events where scoring rings are placed on specific lethal areas of the target.

Average areas will provide ten points, but some zones will grant higher amounts of up to 12, and further points provide either 5 or 8.

Photo credit: archerydude.com

How to Practice 3D Archery

Generally speaking, you can practice for 3D archery just like any other form of archery. You can certainly get specific practice by going through different shoots, but even just standard target practice will give you a huge edge in firing consistently and accurately, as any archery skills you already have will usually carry over into 3D archery.

Where to Find 3D Archery Competitions

Competitive events can happen in all sorts of places if you know where to keep track. Archery ranges and equipment stores will often be able to help you find local events, but larger competitions are often advertised through groups like the ASA and IBO, which will advertise events for you to register for on their respective websites.

Can I Practice 3D Archery at Home?

In theory, you potentially can set up your own shoot in a backyard, but you have to go about some heavy safety precautions to make sure you don’t risk an arrow flying into someone else’s property, or hitting a passerby. That said, you’ll need strong fences and barriers to catch missed shots, and enough space to provide you with distant targets to practice on for sufficient safety and experience.

What’s the Difference Between Field Target and 3D Archery?

While these two sports are functionally identical in terms of long-distance shots with firing positions and obscured targets, the main difference is what you’re firing against. Field target archery involves standard bullseye targets with points based on your closeness to the center, while 3D archery involves animal-shaped targets with point values in more variable positions.

My name is Caleb and I am obsessed with hunting, fishing, and foraging. To be successful, you have to think like your prey. You have to get into the mind of your target - and understand Big Game Logic. If you have any questions, or just want chat about your latest hunting score or big catch, you can reach me at admin@biggamelogic.com. Read more about Big Game Logic.