At first glance it looks like a mini-golf course in the middle of the woods. Red, white and blue stakes mark the area a golfer would use as a tee box. An archer stands at these stakes, and instead of holding a driver, grips a bow.
A life-size foam black bear cub, visible through the trees and underbrush, sits nearly a full basketball court away from the archer. That’s the target. The shot must be carefully aimed through an opening in the foliage no bigger than a kitchen window. The bear is riddled with holes from piercing arrows. A small rounded triangle on the target no bigger than a baseball cap marks the kill zone, or a hole in one.
Dan Moore, owner of Big Sky Archery, opened his 3-D archery range when he moved his archery shop from Evergreen to its current location between Kalispell and Kila in 2002.
“It gives people a better opportunity to practice,” Moore said. “It gives more of a realistic hunting situation.”
Along the course archers encounter targets shaped like elk, wolves, big horn sheep, turkey and caribou. Moore runs the 3-D range from his home’s garage, a dusty building lined with mounted elk heads. Bows and bundles of arrows hang from their antlers. It costs $8 a round to shoot the course and a typical game takes about 90 minutes to complete.
The scorecard resembles what you get at a golf course, with spaces for up to eight players and a square for each of the 20 stakes. Each archer gets one shot per target. A hit scores 5 points; more accurate shots are scored 8, 10 and 12 points the closer the arrows are to the center of the kill zone.
Moore moves the stakes each week so archers won’t see the same shot. As in golf, the distance between the stakes and the target correspond with skill level. White stakes are for beginners, blue stakes are intermediate and the red professional stakes can be upwards of 70 yards away from the target. The foam targets run anywhere between $180 and $900.
Moore said most of his customers come in the morning or after a long day of work to practice their archery and blow off steam.
“See that box over there,” Moore said pointing to a cardboard box full of arrows. “That is the lost and found – just about that many beer cans get lost out there too.”
During a busy day Moore sees between 25 and 30 archers but a bad weather day often won’t yield any. The range is open sunrise to sunset, seven days a week, with a pay drop-box for customers when Moore isn’t there.
He prides himself in having built a course that puts archers in real-life hunting situations.
“Every once in a while an archer will shoot at a target and some real deer sitting next to it will scatter,” Moore said. “They tell me I have a pretty realistic course.”