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Tony Tazza is a decorated target shooter, a well-known Hoyt Pro Staffer and one heck of a bowhunter. When he offers shooting advice, people stop and listen. You should too. Follow the program he outlines here, and you’ll be on the fast track to higher 3D scores and less dependence on your rangefinder.
Some 3D shooters think that yardage judging is an ability that some guys have and some don’t. I wish I had a dollar for every time I heard a 3D archer say "I just can’t judge distance" or "What is the trick on judging yardage?" The trick is that there isn’t any trick to judging yardage; this ability is the same as any other skill or ability in life.
To improve your yardage judging ability you need to practice and exercise your ability to judge yardage. If you were poor at bowling and wanted to improve, what would you do? Hopefully you would spend a lot of time at the lanes and maybe think about some coaching. There are some 3D archers that practice and work extremely hard to hone their ability to accurately judge the distance to McKenzie 3D targets. Those are usually the guys on the podium at the IBO and ASA tournaments. I’d like to share a couple of yardage judging exercises that work for me.
Your eye and brain need to be "calibrated" to effectively learn to judge and recognize distance. At the beginning of the 3D season, my yardage judging is typically rusty from the winter off-season. To get started preparing for 3D tournaments, I begin by calibrating my eye and brain to yardage judging. I’ll go out into my local woods and set orange cones out in 10-yard increments on several shooting lanes and on my practice target lane. As I’m practicing I study the location of the cones and try to burn the markers into my subconscious mind. I do this with and without a McKenzie target at the end of each lane. I study the target at 20 yards, then study the 20 yard marker and the target at 30 yards, then study the 30 and 20 yard markers and the target from 40 yards and so forth out to 50 yards. Spending time at each location will eventually enable you to "see" the markers in your memory when they aren’t even there. I like to do this exercise in a variety of atmospheres such as open woods, open fields, tight tunnels and thick brush. You’ll be surprised at how different the markers look in the different environments. I recommend this exercise at the beginning of the season and anytime you feel lost with your judging.
When I’m unable to practice with McKenzie targets I’ll take my rangefinder for a walk. Walk in different types of woods and in different lighting conditions. You’ll be shocked to see how much lighting conditions effect your judging (I usually over-judge in low light and under-judge in bright conditions.). As you’re walking around, judge the distance to a specific tree, bush or rock then shoot it with your rangefinder. When you miss the yardage, shoot some items between you and the target and see where you missed. This will help hone your depth perception and help you perfect your ground judging. To mix things up and keep you from getting bored, try to stop 20 yards from a given object then check yourself. Do the same for 25, 30, 35, 40, 45 and 50 yards. I like to keep a notebook while I am doing this to see if there is a pattern to my mis-judges under certain conditions.
IBO and ASA tournaments exclusively use McKenzie targets. The very best way to practice for these events is to have the very targets on which you’ll be competing. Whether you can invest in your own targets or go out on the weekends to your local archery club, make the most of the time you spend with the McKenzie 3D animals. When you get to each target, judge the distance to the target from several locations beside the shooting stake. Once you’ve decided on the right number, set your sight and make your shot. Then range the target with your rangefinder and figure out exactly where you missed -- if you did. Figuring out how and why you misjudged a target will alert you in the next similar situation to be more careful. Again, documenting your yardage judging will also help you identify problem targets or distances.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, yardage judging is a portion of your 3D game that needs practice and persistence. Spend as much or more time practicing your judging as you do shooting your Hoyt bow. Find the method that gives you the best results and stick to it … and your 3D scores are sure to improve.