Some of the 3Ds decided to try and make a break for it

The madness  behind the scenes of setting a 3D champs course

A course track leading up to targets 11 and beyond

A course track leading up to targets 11 and beyond to base camp

This time last year me a few others were beginning some of the final stages of organising a 10 day camping expedition to deepest darkest Derbyshire. Steve, Sharon Andy and I were the core members of Organised Chaos who had applied and been accepted as one of the course laying teams for the NFAS 3D championships.

Some of you may have read the recent article I wrote in Bow international magazine 123 on creating a 3D course. Others may have read Alex Tyler’s write up in issue 118 of the championships. In my article I focused on the task of setting targets to fool the eye and setting shots to be challenging, along with archers feedback. Here though I’m going to focus on what went on beforehand and behind the scene to cater for 600 archers for a 2 day event.

Since all the great stories seem to be trilogies these days, I’ve broken this down into three elements.

  1. The weeks and months before the event.
  2. The week running up to the event including the course preparation.
  3. Finally, the culmination of the work in the weekend of the championships.

1.     The run up or weeks and months before

The search – Quite often archers forget that the physical setting of a course is only part of the story of a championship. Long before any course can be set to test the archers’ abilities, the suitable woodland has to be found, local camping negotiated with landowners, parking facilities for competitors etc. There is a lot to consider from access routes, parking, camping, location for admin marquees, traders stands, etc. In the NFAS there is a Field Officer (Larry at the time of the event) who, with the support of members, sources potential sites, visiting them and identifying their suitability as potential venues.  Once the venue is located, the planning of the courses can begin along with the call out for helpers who would set the 4 courses.

Background – To start I think it might be worth giving you some background so you have an idea of what was expected of us as one of the teams of course layers.

Normally the NFAS 3D championships runs 4 courses each of 40 3D targets, 2 for archers shooting carbon or metal arrow and 2 courses for those shooting wooden arrows. We’d applied and been accepted to set one of the wooden arrow courses. ( As it was this would change shortly before the event with only 3 courses being set, meaning we would have mixed groups Day one (Saturday) would consist of Hunting Tackle, Compound Limited and Unlimited shooting the course, followed on the second day by those shooting American Flat Bow, Bare Bow and Crossbow).

All targets are set at unmarked distances, although there is a guidance document given to the course layers for the max distances for group size and peg distances. Only 4 classes in the NFAS are allowed to use sights.

All targets are 3Ds ranging in size from group 4 which might be the small poison frog to Group 1 a standing Elk. With each having 5 shooting peg positions (red, white, blue, yellow and orange) which archers would shoot from dependent on their age.

One of the challenging shots - target 17 - 3D frog off the bank

One of the challenging shots – target 17 – 3D frog off the bank

All archers will shoot two different courses over the weekend, one Saturday and one Sunday. Approximately 200 archers on each day would be shooting from 10:30 am until about 5:30 pm on each of the courses

Although catering was provided on the course, thankfully we didn’t have provide it as we simply didn’t have enough people (our thanks to Long Eaton Field Archers who stepped up and did a great job over the weekend)

Archers would go through registration and arrow checks at admin by 9:30. After a short briefing where they’d be separated into their course groups, they then had the walk out to the course mustering point, which this year was just under a mile. Once there they are given a final briefing for the day and guided out to their starting pegs so they can start shooting from approximately 10:30. Sounds simple really.

The Team – We, or rather the aptly named Organised Chaos team, volunteered to set one of the wooden arrow courses. All of the members of the core team had set courses for local shoots but never for a national championships, although a couple of us had helped break a few down at the end of previous champs. This meant we all knew the basics but also realised it was going to be a lot of work. Courses for the NFAS championships are usually set by clubs in the local area or by teams of volunteers.

The work horse of the event taking a break

The work horse of the event taking a break, my old beaten up Honda CRV

When we were accepted as a course laying team we were given a pack detailing what was expected of us along with a list of the 3D targets we had been allocated. Knowing the 3Ds you are likely to have or having an idea of what might look good in a particular shot makes setting shots much easier. One thing to seriously consider i

In the magazine article I go into detail about the simple set of rules we followed when setting the course, but for those of you that haven’t read it I’ll give a brief summary.

First and foremost Safety has to be paramount as it is very easy to have an arrow glance off the 3Ds. If there were any concerns the shot was ditched and we moved on.  This meant we had to drop some shots that looked great on their own but didn’t work with other shots on the course. Looking at the course as a whole and not just a collection of individual shots is vital. All walk offs from targets were to be 90 degrees from the targets, so at no point would anyone have a walk off behind the 3D to the next target. No shots were set towards paths or tracks that were in use.

A course target 10

A course target 10 a wolf 3D

We wanted to make each shot look good, and as natural as possible. This was very important to the team, so we took care over what targets went where. So a 3D crocodile was set near a water course so it looked like it had just climbed out of the stream, a standing elk was set so it looked like it was moving to feed off low leaves on a tree.

We wanted to use the terrain and perspective to make shots challenging not just using distance i.e. pushing shots back as far as possible or allowable we avoided. Our goal was to make it more technically challenging, providing archers framed shots between trees, etc. This was more difficult for us as everything had to be hittable by a low poundage bow as we were setting a course for mixed disciplines.

The return to Osmaston The venue for the championships was Osmaston country estate in Derbyshire. A location a few of us knew as the estate had hosted previous championships.

Having said that we were familiar with the woods, we did have a bit of a shock on our first scouting visit. A large section of the woodland had been felled by the estate due to a tree infection. We’d been given approximately 30 acres of woodland to set 40 3D targets but discovered about a fifth, maybe quarter, had been replaced with small saplings in plastic tubes approximately 2 feet high. Not ideal for a field course. Fortunately one of the neighbouring course laying teams gave us some of their location, cheers guys.

Mapping the course – Mapping target locations, pathways and routes to shooting pegs, from targets, along with directions of shots and possible overshoots is vital, whether this be at your own club woodland or a virgin woodland. It provides the course layers with guidance on how the shots interact with one another or other terrain elements like footpaths, boundary lines, water courses etc.

A course map

A course map

Not until you accurately plot these on a site maps can you be certain overshoots are safe.

If you ever think of doing this then one of the biggest tips I can give is to get to know the ground you are using and become familiar with it. This sounds obvious and pretty easy, but can be a lot harder than it sounds. The woodland can often be virgin woodland, possibly without any paths. It can also change through the weeks as trees come into leaf, resulting in the tree canopy dropping  changing the clearance of shots, undergrowth grows so an open clear area suddenly has 5 foot high bracken covering it.

Knowing the ground allows you to adapt and for us that meant 3 trips in the 2 months before the competition scouting the woodland, working out potential routes and paths.  With each trip we’d come back with a wealth of ideas and photos of possible shots, along with GPS coordinates so we can map out he shots.

Based on the terrain we had available to us we decided to set our course so it would consist of two loops, each of 20 targets. The crossover point of these loops was the catering, allowing archers to have a couple of opportunities to grab some food and a break.

Preparation – Besides the physical trips up to the course for the setting and mapping of the routes, there are all the direction signs that need to be printed, cut and laminated. Add to this the forest of coloured pegs; over 200 pegs that need to be cut and painted.

Shooting pegs ready to go out on A course

Shooting pegs ready to go out on A course

All this work does have its lighter moments; due to a breakdown in communication one of the team’s cars was clamped on our second visit by the estate staff as they thought it abandoned.

2.     The Week before

So after several one day trips to the site we would all book a week off work, pack our camping gear, tools we needed and head up to the Derbyshire countryside. We arrived a week before the event to set up base camp along with members from one of the other teams. This would be our home from home for the next 10 days to the core four team of Organised Chaos;  Andy, Steve, Sharon and myself. Others would join us on the weekend of the competition to help marshal the event and a couple of others managed to pop up for the day to help out.

3D camp site set up

3D camp site set up

The following week would see the four of us have some very, very long days for the team starting at 7 am (the local bird population seemed to have great delight in waking us at 5:30 am each morning!) working through until early evening. Then we’d retire to the campsite for food and a rest, along with a couple of drinks. I think the local take-away establishments made a killing over that week including a very nice fish and chip shop.

The most physically exhausting aspect of the pre-event set up I think must have been the cutting paths through head high bracken, nettles and brambles. These paths would be vital for archers to navigate round the course, the only problem being they didn’t yet exist.

A course in the sun

A course in the sun

Add in ankle deep mud in one area of the course, which resulted in the series of route changes to one shot, where we struggled to find a clear path to and from the target. We constructed four, four foot long foot bridges over drainage ditches along the way to make navigation easier.

Let’s not forget the mosquitos and midges that all the insect repellent in the world didn’t seem to keep at bay, after all this we gave the area the nick name Dagobagh swamp.

A course seen from the access path

A course seen from the access path

The trilogy of woods – In fact at times I think our course could have been nicknamed after the planets of Star Wars as it seemed to comprise 3 distinct zones. The heavily wooded area was Endor (Return of the Jedi and home of the Ewoks. No we didn’t have any Ewok 3Ds), Tatooine was represented by area in the tubes, which was dry and baking warm when the sun was out. Dagobah was the third zone and was the swamp planet from Empire Strikes back and home of Yoda, this was the swampy area off the entrance track. Maybe we should have put a green frog 3D in this area.

Expect the unexpected! It is inevitable that things will happen that you aren’t or weren’t expecting which included JCB drivers widening the entrance track, resulting in reworking of footpaths to shots, Mountain bikers creating jumps in the middle of the woods and cars being clamped by estate staff.

3Ds waiting to go out on course

3Ds waiting to go out on course

The day the containers holding all the 3D targets for the tournament were to be delivered, the lorry broke down on route so a replacement had to be found and at one stage it was touch and go whether they’d be able to get the replacement vehicle down the access track to the grounds.

Estate staff did a great job clearing the access routes and widening the entrance track for us, the down side being it resulted in about 200 tonnes of mud being deposited in sections of the course. We didn’t get the course finished until the Friday night before the event started.

The loss of one course actually worked in our and other course layers favour in some ways. It meant that we were able to tweak the shots by using some of the now spare 3D targets that would have been on the fourth course allowing us to ensure we had targets of appropriate size but also looked good.

3.     On the weekend of the event –

Archers massing ready for walk out to courses

Archers massing ready for walk out to courses

There is little doubt that when the weekend finally arrives you will be somewhat anxious and I know I was. Personally I think Saturday was the most stressful day as that’s the day the archers first interact with the course and when all the things you didn’t see can go wrong, all the things that you didn’t think of suddenly appear. You tend to find the first part of the day is firefighting these issues, which hopefully are few. The time spent in planning really does pay off here.

Bank holiday Weather – The only thing you can’t plan for is the weather on the day or in our case weekend, so you have to plan for all possibilities

Those that have shot the 3ds know that it can be a very wet event and other times a scorching hot one, guess that is what you get when you set an archery championship on a British bank holiday weekend! This year it was dry and warm so water drops were organised so people could refill their water bottles along the route of the courses.

We were really lucky in this respect as the biggest issue we faced was having to escort a couple of archers off the course who found it too physically demanding. From the course laying point of view the only issue we had was a few archers not following the marked route and missing one target out. This was quickly resolved with some red and white hazard tape to enforce the path use. Believe me you’ll sleep well on Saturday night from all the activity.

A course target 18 - deer under the tree canopy

A course target 18 – deer under the tree canopy

Whilst the archers were shooting the course in the shelter of woods, strong winds on the Saturday were hitting our camp site, resulting in 1 gazebo being lost to the wind (we were still finding parts of it on the Monday) and the other having one of its legs snapping. Fortunately none of our tents were damaged.

Sunday was a slightly more relaxed during the day, as the problems from the first day had been ironed out. The biggest issue on Sunday is you have to break the course down by the end of the day. So it’s all hands on deck as the archers come off, this makes the end of the day a bit frantic, bringing in all the 3D targets, checking they are complete, packing them away, etc.

Feedback on the day – It’s not always easy to take feedback and comments on the course well, especially after you’ve put hundreds of hours of work into the event. You need to try to accept feedback on the day whether positive or negative.

Some will be polite, others less so, some will offer positive comments others not. All you can do is listen and thank them for their views; you never know what demons they are facing in their own life. I have to say it is far easier to write this now than to do it on the day.

Target 33 on A course - standing 3D caribou

Target 33 on A course – standing 3D caribou

What we all found interesting having set the course, was seeing which of the targets were proving to be the most challenging and which were the ones the archers liked or disliked the most. The standing elk on the hill side seemed to be one of the shots the competitors enjoyed the most, whether they hit it or not. The short frog shot seemed to be a serious challenge for those using sights.

4.     Epilogue

Overall I think it went well and we’ve had some very positive feedback form the archers on the day and afterwards. We seemed to have achieved what we wanted, in setting a challenging course that would stretch the archers’ ability but not destroy their confidence.

It wouldn’t be right not to include my thanks not just to the Organised Chaos team but to all the others that made the event work, from the superb admin team sorting shooting groups, score cards etc. to the catering teams on the course, the camping and parking marshals and the NFAS committee.

Some of the 3Ds decided to try and make a break for it

Some of the 3Ds decided to try and make a break for it

Would I do it again? Well maybe in a couple of years, after I’ve recovered.

Would I do things differently? Yes there are things I’d have done differently now looking back at it but as with everything in life it’s a learning experience. I think we all learned a lot from the experience and would approach things differently. The important thing to remember here is the WE part, we all managed to work together, yes there were times we got wound up with one another, but when you are doing that kind of task its inevitable. At the end of the day we delivered a course we were all proud of.

It has certainly given me more insight into how much work is done by these volunteers. Yes, the course layers and the organisers are all volunteers, wanting to put something back into their hobby. They step forward to volunteer their time so that others may shoot. Some will say they receive payment and this is true but the payment doesn’t really cover taking over a week off work, travelling and living costs.

By the Monday lunchtime all the courses are cleared away, having all been walked and checked. Except for some well-worn paths there are no signs left of the 600 archers that filled the woods. Then again maybe in a few centuries some archaeologist will find the remains of a wooden arrow and wonder if some historic battle took place. Who knows?

So after 10 days of camping and long days working in the woods we headed home. Only then did I check my pedometer, apparently I walked over 130 miles in those 10 days.

Thanks for reading and my special thanks to the members of the Organised Chaos team. Cheers one and all.

4 comments on “The madness  behind the scenes of setting a 3D champs course

  1. Pingback: Shoot Report – National Field Archery Society Championships – May 2018 | My Archery Experiences

  2. Pingback: An absence of 3D shoot report | My Archery Experiences

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