When I first started shooting at 3D targets several years ago, my main goal was to get better at shooting a deer during bow season.
The different shot scenarios and situations, along with multiple repetitions, really helped me prepare for that shot opportunity when it presented itself in the fall. I would build a lot of confidence in my shooting over the summer by practicing the varied shot angles and distances of a 3D course.
Over time, however, the 3D game itself became addictive, and I found myself striving to score better and better each time I went. I studied the targets to better familiarize myself with the location of the 12-ring on each animal. I started carrying binoculars to locate my aiming point more precisely rather than just trying to get into the kill zone. The competitive aspect took my shooting to another level beyond merely trying to be a better bowhunter.
Beyond knowing the distance to the target, whether through guessing or using a rangefinder, the most crucial aspects of 3D archery are locating the 12-ring on the target and then hitting it. Sounds simple enough - but knowing how far it is and where the 12-ring is located won't score you any points.
You have to be able to hit that 12-ring. Consistently.
There are many ways to get better; however, the ultimate benefit to my shooting has come from the Indoor archery game. I feel that indoor archery lays down a foundation for better shooting - whether on the 3D course or while hunting - more effectively than any other form of archery. It may sound strange to think that standing 20 yards away from a paper target inside a building can somehow prepare you for taking the shot of a lifetime at a trophy buck or hitting that final 12-ring for the win, but I genuinely believe it can.
To be successful in indoor archery, you must find a way to be consistent in every aspect of your shot. Some people will say that hitting the X ring from 20 yards away isn't that difficult, and they may be correct. A typical 3D round is 20 arrows. A 3 spot Vegas-style round consists of 30 arrows. And a usual 5 spot round is 60! Even at 20 yards, hitting the X ring for 30 or 60 arrows is a real challenge for any skill level. If you can shoot an entire round without missing this relatively "easy" shot, you've really done something! It's not uncommon to fire over 100 arrows during a typical practice session during Indoor season. Getting these reps helps solidify your shot process while also allowing you to find what works for you. And sometimes more importantly, what doesn't work. When you find your optimum shot process and execution, you will repeat it until you literally end up doing it subconsciously. Executing your shot without thinking about it is what you need to be able to do when the stakes are high. Whether you're in the treestand or on the 3D course.
Once you have solidified a shot process that works for you and you can consistently repeat it, the next factor that you will strengthen is your mental game.
Have you ever blown a shot at a deer that you knew you've practiced hundreds of times? Most of us have. The stress of the situation caused you to deviate from your process, and you missed a shot you would make otherwise. The only difference was that you were experiencing more nerves and stress than you ever did when you were practicing that shot.
Everyone knows that shooting at a live animal is vastly different from shooting in your backyard. The same concept applies to shooting competitively, whether its 3D or Indoors. Shooting for score has a way of making everything seem more difficult and stressful. Indoor archery is the ultimate at raising your stress level and showing you how nerves can affect your shot. Ask any pro shooter what makes them the most nervous, and most will say that Indoor archery does by far. Shooting Indoors can help you learn how to block out the nerves you feel and allow yourself to execute your normal shot process regardless of whether the shot is for practice or the final arrow of the shoot-off that has thousands of dollars riding on it. Closing yourself off inside your own mental "bubble" will allow you to better ignore the situational factors that can cause you to make mistakes. It's a similar concept to how tightrope walkers focus on their next step versus how high they are off the ground. They are executing the same steps, whether they are performing high in the sky or practicing just 6 inches off the ground. The process is the same.
It takes lots of practice and repetition to execute a good shot while blocking out any forms of distraction that may cause you to lose focus. Have your buddies do their best to distract you while you are going through your shot. Learn how to block it all out and close off that mental "bubble" to everything around you.
It shouldn't matter if the shot is during the final shoot off or for practice. It shouldn't matter if its silent in the range, or your buddy is talking trash in your ear. Nothing has changed about how you should execute the shot. Stay focused on your process and follow through on every shot.
This will become as automatic as nocking an arrow with enough practice. When something is automatic, it naturally becomes more consistent.
Learning to fire your exact same shot with the pressure on will allow you to be more successful in all forms of archery. Your 3D scores will go up, and you will be more deadly in the woods every fall.