How to Determine Yardage & Average 3D Archery Distances

Judging the distance between you and the target is essential in 3d archery tournaments where the yardage is unknown. Since rangefinders are not allowed in unknown range tournaments, it takes practice and a few tricks to improve your yardage judging. These tips work for both compound archers as well as traditional archers with recurves and longbows.

Judging Yardage

When I first stepped into a 3D range with unknown ranges, I quickly realized that my yardage judging was terrible. I had already practiced archery for many years, but the added complexity of judging distances made me feel like a complete beginner again. So I started to learn about the topic in hopes of improving my judging skills. Learning a few methods and practicing judging yardage made a HUGE difference. The feeling of improving and seeing a higher percentage of estimations being correct was such a rewarding feeling!

There are a few methods to judging yardage that I use. Try them out and make sure to practice them diligently. Combine and compare the estimates with these tactics to each other.

The Halfway method

The halfway method is used by many competitors in the 3d archery scene. I find it to be incredibly useful. This is how it works:

  1. Have a first glance at your target, and make an estimate on how far you think the target is from you.
  2. Find an object you think is about halfway to you and the target.
  3. Judge the distance between you and the halfway object.
  4. Double your estimate.
  5. Compare the two estimates.
  6. Find other objects close to your target and try to estimate the distances to those objects.
  7. Use this input to refine your shot.

Use this method both on the course and when practicing for best results. Also, practice with 3d targets when possible, since the sizes of the targets are the same. This’ll further help yardage estimating. After each shot, use the arrow hit as feedback on if your yardage was accurate or not.

» Using the environment

This tactic is also used by many archers including myself. Instead of (or in addition to) using the target as a reference point to determine yardage, try use something in the environment to focus on. For example, focus on a nearby tree, bush, rock or the ground, and try to estimate the distance. Now, compare the range for the reference point and the target. How much farther or closer is the target in comparison?

This method will work best if you practice on trees, rocks, and bushes from a set distance. Let’s say 20 yards. Now, you’ll be solid at judging something in the environment at 20 yards. Then add or subtract that until you reach your target. It’s a really good method if you get the reference distance correct. However, if you misjudge the distance, the estimate might end up worse than compared to using your gut feeling.

It’s really helpful to make an estimate of both the target and something close to the target. See how your estimates differ, and if the estimates don’t add up, ask yourself why. Very frequently the reference point will have a different height or size, and therefore you make a different judgment. Use that as data to refine your estimate.

Remember: If you shoot when it’s bright outside, you’ll tend to think the targets are closer. When it’s dark you’ll estimate that the same target would’ve been further away.

Personally, I use both the target and the environment when trying to judge yardage. Then I compare them, question why they might differ and make a final estimate.

» Using the targets

Since the different targets always are the same size (e.g. a deer on one range will be the same size as a deer on a different range), we can use this knowledge to our advantage when judging yardage. By practicing the different targets on varying lengths, we can get a mental snapshot and compare it later on the range. Try to memorize the head size, body size, and distance between the legs of the targets. This will make it easier for you to compare your practice sessions with when you’re at the range. By knowing the size of each target, you can use its relative size to estimate distance.

Bigger targets will almost always be placed further away than normal-sized targets. It’s normal to underestimate the distance for bigger targets, so feel free to add 5 yards on your estimate, and see how it pans out. Use the different body parts as.

Deer targets are most common in the field, which is why you want to spend most of your time practicing yard judging on deers.

» Using your gut feeling

The more you estimate, the more refined the estimates will eventually be. you’ll almost always lean towards estimating too short or too long. For me, I tend to estimate too short. Use this to your advantage, and add or shave off yards accordingly.

» Using equipment

A rangefinder can be used during practice as a way to double check if your estimates were accurate. Just keep in mind that most shooting ranges do not allow rangefinders.

Shooting speed

It’s easier to ignore yard judging if there’s no speed limit to the tournament since the arrow will travel a more straight path at higher speeds. This is why many tournaments have an arrow speed limit. ASA has a limit of 290 fps, and IBO have varying speed limits. Since compounds are able to produce speeds well over 260-290 fps, you’ll have to keep this in mind before you buy equipment and add-ons for your bow. The speed limits will have an effect on your yard judging. The effect increases with the distance.

Arrow weight and draw weight

For some classes, IBO has no speed limit as long as you shoot arrows that weigh no less than 5 grains per pound of draw weight. Draw weight is the power of your bow. The heavier draw weight, the faster the arrow. Draw weight is not to be confused with bow weight. The draw weight is labeled on your bow, but you can also measure the actual draw weight with a bow scale. The actual draw length is usually slightly lower and should be measured at your anchor point for an accurate judgment. If the arrow weight is lighter than 5 grains per pound of draw weight, the speed limit is 290 fps.

» Using Average Shooting distances

By using the average shooting range of your class, you can slim down your guesses by a significant amount. The average shooting distance for 3D archery targets depends on what class you’re shooting in. Different classes will typically average from high 20’s to low 40’s. Most people will say that the average is higher, but when measured, that’s not the case. Keep this as a rule of thumb when you shoot and while practicing estimating and shooting. Also, bigger targets like elks are usually placed farther away than average.

For the Open class, the average is 35 yards. Larger targets average slightly above.

For the hunter class, the average distance will be around 25 yards. Larger targets like elks average slightly above; 35-40 yards.

» Senior classes

For senior open classes, the average will be 30-35 yards.

For Senior hunter classes, the average will be 25-30 yards.

» Traditional archery classes

For traditional classes with recurve bows and longbows, the average will be 20-25 yards.

The longest target distance for any IBO tournament is 50 yards.

The rewarding feeling of judging correctly is something that will keep you wanting to improve, and it’ll make 3D archery so much more fun. But judging yardage alone won’t make you score 14 or 12 points all day. You need to make sure to eliminate errors in your stance and shooting so that the only variable is the actual range.