Big thanks to Katelyn Rutland, newly minted 3-D archer, for her contributions to this article.
Why would you ever want to know how far away a deer target is? Well, for starters, if you’re into hiking, you’ll probably love 3-D archery. This is a fun round of 30 foam, three-dimensional animal targets that takes you through different kinds of terrain, giving you a great workout while shooting a bow and arrows.
One of the best things about 3-D archery is that you have the option of judging the distance to your target for what you think it is, and then shooting it for the distance you guessed, which gives you a fun challenge! Learning how to judge yardage is a fun skill to practice even before you get a bow, and you can get started anytime you’re hiking or walking outdoors.
Hint: obviously, no animals will be harmed when shooting 3-D archery, but you just might learn some useful skills for bowhunting (a la Katniss Everdeen), should you ever decide to try an ethically-sourced, wild meat diet.
Also, don’t be intimidated: you can always take a range-finder along for your hike in the woods. A range-finder is a lightweight, easy-to-use electronic device that measures the distance to almost anything – and it’s great for practicing, since you can compare your guess with the real number before you shoot an arrow. You can easily pick one up at your closest archery store.
Why Start With Deer?
So – if you’re going to learn to judge yardage, and you know you want to try archery, why should you start with deer targets? It turns out they’re among the most popular targets found on a 3-D archery range, along with other North American mainstays like black bear and coyote targets (and if you’re lucky, you might also see the occasional velociraptor).
Plus, they’re a great target for new archers to learn on, because it’s fairly easy to see the scoring rings on a foam 3-D deer, which are located approximately where you’d shoot a deer in a bowhunting situation. If you ever decide to shoot competitively, those scoring rings also can help you earn a higher score. It’s true that deer targets might all look the same at first glance, but you’ll want to do a little prep work to master the art of judging their distance and make accurate shots.
Google Your Way to Greatness
First, you can do a little online research if you like: Google 3-D archery targets. You’ll see great photos of targets online and can start your 3-D archery research from the comfort of your couch. Why is this important? Scoring ring placement varies slightly from one target to the next. Knowing the rings’ placements can help you figure out how far that target is based on what the rings look like at different distances.
As for the “how” of judging yardage, the basics are simple: First, by checking out different things while you’re walking through the woods, and learning how far away they are, you’ll start to develop yardage judging skills. How far is that tree? That rock? That picnic table….oooh, snack time!
If you’re ready to try judging distance on actual archery targets, you’ll want to learn what the target’s various attributes look like at different distances. So when you’re out on an archery range (and standing where you’re safely clear of other archers), you can look at the deer target and assess its different physical traits – body size, head size, whether the tail is up or down – to determine what distance you’re at. This exercise gives you clues that will help you to know how far away you’re standing.
For example, some deer targets are “bedded down,” which means they’re in a seated position, while other deer targets are standing, or alert. This is important because certain qualities may result in the target appearing closer or further than it actually is. Bedded deer, for example, often look closer than they actually are, while alert deer appear to be further away. With a little practice, you’ll be picking up on yardage cues and shooting accurately in no time.
It’s Target Time!
This task is easiest when done at close range, with 3-D targets. Standing in a place that’s safe and clear of other archers, study the target at 10, 15 and 20 yards. Take notes of how the different traits – body size, head size, tail –appear at varying distances. Don’t forget your rangefinder; it will help you study the target at exact distances.
Then, test yourself by studying each target and guessing its approximate yardage. Use your range finder to see if you guessed correctly. Once you’re comfortable judging the targets at 10, 15 and 20 yards, challenge yourself to judge their distance at farther ranges, but back up slowly enough that you build self-confidence as you go. You’ll know you’re ready to challenge yourself with further distances when you can accurately estimate the target’s yardage without your rangefinder.
Helpful hint: Sometimes it’s easier to break the exercise into small pieces. Forget about what you don’t know (the target’s total distance), and focus on what you do know. Maybe you’re great at judging 10-yard distances. Let’s say you know that tree A is 5 yards away, and tree B is 5 yards from tree A. If the target is another five yards away, then you’re looking at 15 total yards. Easy!
Breaking the distance down bit by bit takes advantage of what you do know and puts your natural skills to good use. Remember: You can practice anywhere, with or without 3-D targets and a bow. You can practice while hiking, running, or anytime at all!
Ready to practice on real targets? Check in at your local archery store for a recommendation on a place to try 3-D archery. The more you practice, whether on a hike or with a bow, the better you’ll get!