How to build a DIY 3D archery course in your backyard

The Total Archery Challenge has spent the past few summers as the “it” of bow hunting. It’s easy to see why. It takes off-season practice to an insane level with awesome pitches and dozens of tricky archery shots. Imagine if you could recreate this experience right in your garden? Well, okay, maybe not. Unless you have a ton of terrain, a few dozen high-end 3D targets, and have the time and equipment to build and maintain a course, it’s not realistic. But you can take the concept and adapt it to any size garden, and you can do it for a lot less money and effort than you might think.

Make sure you have a good safety net

Your first concern should always be safety. It starts with making sure the area you live in allows you to shoot. Some areas have local ordinances that prohibit the shooting of firearms but not bows. Others bundle their bows with rifles. So check the regulations of your place of residence.

My course in my backyard is set so that I never shoot at a nearby house, and I mostly shoot from an elevated position, which adds another level of safety as the arrows point towards the ground.

That said, even though my neighbors are quite close, I don’t live in a housing estate. If this is your situation, you should do everything possible to ensure that your arrows are contained. Backstops can be useful, and Amazon has a number of archery-specific backstops that aren’t too expensive.

Shooting the course from different positions gives you a variety of angles and ranges. Ben Hasty/MediaNews Group/Reading Eagle via Getty Images

How much space and which archery targets you will need

To get started, you’ll need to line up the necessary elements for your backyard yard. The objective is to build a 12-shot course that uses four targets, designed to fit your available space. There is a minimum size requirement in terms of space needed. For reference, my personal course takes up half of my 60 by 25 meter garden.

You will need targets, of course. You could certainly add more than four if you wanted, and you could get away with less. But four seems like a sweet spot. Targets can be expensive. For my course, I have two life-size Rinehart deer targets and two block-style targets. I’m a whitetail hunter so I picked targets to match, but you can definitely pick any species and swap the two block targets for other 3d creatures.

You will also need a way to support the goals. Block type targets can be placed on the ground, but 3D targets will need something to keep them upright. I use steel rebar. You can buy them at any cheap big box home improvement store. Just pound them into the ground with a hammer and slide the targets over them (most targets have a metal conduit molded into the legs for this).

Of course, you will need your bow and arrows, but I also suggest practicing with a rangefinder. Knowing the exact distance to a target leads to more accurate shot placement, and that’s what it’s all about in the first place.

Set up your archery course in your garden

Lay out your course within the rough outline of the letter “V” with your shooting position in focus (this will change as you move through the course) and your targets along the legs of the V. Take two targets – a block target and a 3D target and place them on the left leg of the V. Then repeat with the right leg of the V.

A man shooting four targets in his backyard.
Set your targets in a V shape with your shooting position in focus. Tony Hansen

Space the targets the distance you want to shoot (and space allows). Typically, I place 3D targets at the furthest ranges and block targets halfway. My personal limit is around 35 meters. I don’t want to shoot an animal that’s further away than that. On the left leg of the V I have a deer target set at about 38 yards and a block at 15 yards. On the right leg, a deer target is at 27 yards and a block at 10 yards. And when I set the targets on each leg of the V, I offset them a bit so I can see them both when shooting from a position.

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How to shoot your backyard 3D archery course

Using all four targets in the V formation, I can easily get 12 different shots without having to move around too much or adjust the targets. From the point of the V, I take four hits, one on each target. I then take four more shots going through the center of the V, turning around and shooting the opposite side. After that, I’ll move left or right for four more shots at different angles and distances.

I am lucky to have lots of trees in my garden. If you do too, try setting up a treestand or saddle for elevated shots on the same four-target course. If you are more of a ground and pound hunter, you can always use the V set range. Work into obstacles such as patio chairs, rose bushes, or swings, and practice on your knees, leaning around whatever cover is available.

Earnest A. Martinez