Calibrating the laser rangefinder in your head can be much easier than you think. Just as our minds have learned how to execute a perfect release, we can also learn how to quickly calibrate the distance to our intended archery target. Years ago, an archery target brand and 3D publication held a small yardage contest with the top archery pros. The pros were within a yard of their estimates each time. It was an eye opener for me as a new 3D shooter, so I set off to learn the game and the intricacies involved in getting that number.
Yardage judging for archery is a discipline just like archery shooting, and you must approach it as such. If you don’t have a gameplan for practice, then your improvements will be sluggish, at best. It’s also a complex discipline, but for the sake of this article, I’ll keep it to the basics.
60X Staff Shooter Dink Radley aims for a 3D target.
Become Familiar with Distances
Here is the first trick I share with people who are new to archery or struggling with archery: block out any distractions in your mind. Just look at the archery target and blur out anything around it. Come up with a number that you think it may be. Look away and refocus on something else. Look back at the target and repeat. Did you come up with the same numbers? Range it and compare your estimate. If you are way off, then stare at it again, keeping the actual distance in mind. The goal is for your brain to remember what the target looks like at that distance. If you shoot enough 3D and pay attention to what each target looks like at certain distances, you’ll understand this better.
60X Staff Shooter Donal Beddo views a 3D target through a rangefinder.
Body Size Judging
While I’m at work making bowstrings, have all the stretchers filled and have down time, I’ll go over to the window and look out and stare to analyze the 3D target set at a known (35yds) distance. Oftentimes I’ll get so used to looking at the same target distance that I’ll have to change targets around because I’ll memorize it quickly. This body size judging is just one element, but there are many more to use effectively.
A 3D target is positioned among trees in the woods. Photo submitted by 60X Staff Shooter Scott Shields.
Ground judging your archery targets is another element and quite similar to body judging, as far as using the brain to calibrate. You basically learn what different yardages look like in different terrain. If you practice at home at 40 yards, then on tournament day you’ll be able to pick up where 40 yards is on the ground. There are variables that will work for you and against you. Your job is to pay attention to changes in terrain, lighting and anything that can throw you off your game. Bright lighting makes targets and the ground look closer, while dark tunnels make them look farther away. Small targets may look a little farther than large targets, which sound simple enough, but you need to factor that into every archery target you look at.
60X Staff Shooter Rebekah Ham aims at a 3D target with some terrain.
Use Shoots as Practice
You don’t need a range at your house to get good at any of this. You just need to go to shoots and use each target as practice. The minute you shoot, step away from the target and take just 30 seconds to stare at the target. Look at the thickness of the body and the distance between the legs. Tap it with a range finder and now you have seen that target at that distance. The more you do this, the better you will become at field judging your archery targets. Start paying attention and you’ll see how quickly you’ll improve.
Everyone Makes Mistakes
One thing we all should remember with yardage judging is that everyone makes mistakes. Even the top pros will get stumped from time to time. With that said, don’t get discouraged if you make a mistake field judging your archery shoots. Instead, learn from it and move on.
Yardage judging is like shooting 60X’s. It’s a challenge to learn, but so very rewarding when you get the hang of it. If you keep practicing and consider each shoot as yardage judging practice, you’ll hone this skill in no time.
Related article: Basic Yardage Judging for 3D