How to Judge Distance to Archery Targets

I got an email with the following question: “Any tips on estimating distance when shooting 3-D?”

Good question!

Archery competitions have included unmarked yardage elements for, well, ever. Obviously bowhunters hunted game for thousands of years with no distances to the prey supplied, so being able to figure out how far to shoot is a valuable skill. Modern competitions, though, have included some innovations, such as rules that ban mental schemes for determining distance to a target! WTF?!

The use of such techniques, being mental, was hard to police, so it turned out if you wanted to win, you had to cheat (along with all of your competitors), that is using the techniques while pretending not to! FITA, now World Archery, went so far as to publish the techniques to “level the playing field” while keeping them as being illegal! (See Understanding FITA Field Archery, an extract from the FITA Field Guidelines booklet published by FITA in 1995.)

Hey, World Archery! How about making these techniques legal? After, all they are just mental skills that everyone can learn to do. Then no one would be forced to cheat to win an unmarked shoot!

The first person to publish these techniques and blow the cover of those using them was Kirk Ethridge in his book Professional Archery Technique, which is still in print because we made it so. (I hot linked it if you want a copy.) I will leave it to Kirk to discuss the fine points as he was the first.


Filed under For All Coaches

4 responses to “How to Judge Distance to Archery Targets

  1. Sue Palsbo

    WA allows all estimation techniques except range finders, including using a finger (or arrow shaft) to estimate distances. They made this change several years ago because it was impossible to enforce the rule against estimation techniques. See: and look up a decision rendered by the World Archery Field Committee, 13 October 2011.


  2. Tom Dorigatti

    I recently had to have eye surgery to correct the misalignment of my eyes
    It is called Strabismus surgery. I won’t detail it all since I wrote a series of articles for Archery Focus magazine, issues 3, 4, & 5 for 2018.
    What I learned is that depth perception and stereoscopic vision ate learned early on
    S person can learn to improve this still with repetitions, literally thousands of them, if said person puts in the work.
    That being said, it isn’t a result of being born with the skills; but rather choosing to hone them.
    In addition the silly rules against the, that, or the other to stop “cheating” in yardage judging are just that, silly, stupid rules. A person would gave to be brain dead to not notice how a given animal or Target fits in the housing, or in between pins!! Have to be brain dead time ignore how at a given distance, the ring is clear and at a few yards closer or farther isn’t as clear thru your binocs. There are countless ways to get your guess closer and if “off” place your dot or pin lower or higher while aiming be to clean it up. Listening to how long it is from loose to impact when an opponent shoots can give you a clue as to distance.
    Can the rules officials see through your eyes? Can the see through your binocs or see scope/ animal target clarity? Can they see how the animal or Target face fits into your scope housin or in between pins or the Gap between your dot and the bubble in your scope?
    Sure, this isn’t perfection and once you pull up to aim and then let down you cannot adjust your site…it doesn’t stop you from “correcting” your estimate mentally as to where to aim to make that correction.
    Are you running hot or cold on range estimation today? You need to know this. Do you tend to run hot or cold on tunnel targets?
    Now, would you play on your friend’s old table? Not if you are smart!
    The top 3-d) unknown distance shooters aren’t guessing the yardage, they KNOW the yardage within 1 yard or less after running their “programmed system”! They clean it up at full draw and shoot a strong shot, or at least try to.
    These people have honed their skills and they are experts. Great 3-D shooters can normally become great target shooters. However, great “spot” shooters rarely are great 3-d shooters..Why? They haven’t gotten the thousands of repetitions under varying conditions and learned the test.
    There is more to this than s “natural born’ 3-d shooter…that, IMHO, is hogwash. It is a learned skill set and we must give these gals and guys credit where it is due.


  3. kmartin

    World Archery released a video yesterday of Brady Ellison discussing judging distances.


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