Arrowhead 3-D aims to provide challenging and creative targets for archers

You never know what you might come upon during a 3-D shoot at the Arrowhead 3-D archery range north of Duluth. A whitetail buck? Sure. But you're just as likely to encounter a javelina, a "walking" deer, a grizzly, a warthog, a wild turkey high i...

Ron Holmes
Ron Holmes, 70, of Canosia Township removes arrows from a life-size moose target during a shooting event July 30 at the Arrowhead 3-D archery range in Normanna Township. (Clint Austin /

You never know what you might come upon during a 3-D shoot at the Arrowhead 3-D archery range north of Duluth.

A whitetail buck? Sure. But you're just as likely to encounter a javelina, a "walking" deer, a grizzly, a warthog, a wild turkey high in a tree or a carp underwater.

John Karas puts a lot of thought into his shoots, and archers appreciate that.

"John's shoots draw twice as many shooters as some of the other area clubs," says bow hunter Eric Larson of Duluth. "It's certainly the exceptional 3-D facility in the area."

Karas opened the range on his 40 acres in Normanna Township in 2002. He typically holds four weekend shoots per summer that draw between 80 and 100 archers. His first shoot this summer drew 149. Last weekend's two-day event, the last of the season, drew 88 shooters.


A bow hunter himself, Karas knows how to challenge archers in a way that makes them better in the field.

"You'll be shooting across a valley or over a rise. He (Karas) tends to like deceptive shooting stations where it's hard to estimate the distance," said Duluth bow hunter Jim Dexter, a regular at Arrowhead 3-D.

Estimating distance to a target is an important skill for bow hunters to have. Many shoot at targets set up at exactly 20 yards or exactly 30 yards in their backyards. But at Arrowhead 3-D, archers find targets at all kinds of distances and in all kinds of settings.

"He doesn't put targets at slam-dunk 20, 30 and 40 yards," Larson says. "He'll pick off-yardages. He challenges your depth perception of target positioning by changing the surroundings. It causes you to stop and think about it."

During a shoot, archers move in small groups through 30 shooting stations, much as a foursome of golfers would move from hole to hole. Shooters can earn 10 points for a good shot (11 if they hit a smaller target within the bull's-eye), so a perfect score would be 330. While scoring is important to some shooters, many come simply to improve their shooting under lifelike conditions.

3-D targets are life-size foam targets built to mimic all kinds of wild animals. Archers use field-tipped arrows rather than razor-like broadheads when shooting at 3-D targets. The field tips are easy to remove from a target.

Ron Holmes, 70, of Canosia Township wasn't concerned about his score at last weekend's shoot. He was there to mentor neighbor Nate Sich, 12, who has recently taken up archery. Holmes and another neighbor bought Sich a compound bow a month ago.

"He's coming along just fantastic," Holmes says. "Maybe with a little help he'll shoot a deer this fall."


Holmes, who has a 3-D course in his backyard, likes the challenge of shooting at Arrowhead 3-D.

"Sometimes you shoot at a target that's under water," Holmes says. "Sometimes at something way up in a tree. Some of them are moving."

Karas puts a lot of thought into his targets and where he places them.

"I try to think about the shots," says the mechanic who works days at the Duluth Transit Authority. "On some, you can work in a hill, where you might see the vitals (of the target), but maybe not the legs, or where they have to shoot between a couple trees. It makes them focus a little more."

Some of the shooting situations aren't designed to simulate actual hunting situations because the shots are so long.

"I don't recommend a lot of our shots for hunting scenarios," Karas says. "Bow hunters should stick within 15- to 30-yard shots."

Sometimes, Karas puts a whitetail buck on a moving track that's activated by a foot pedal at the shooting station.

"It's only out (of the woods) for a while, then it goes back," Karas says. "I watched a guy get buck fever on that thing and miss by 3 feet."


Such targets can teach a bow hunter a lot, Larson says.

"It illustrates why you shouldn't shoot at a walking deer," he says.

While some hunters are competitive at Karas' 3-D shoots and scores are kept, no prize money is offered. Larson thinks 3-D shoots at Arrowhead and at other local clubs are helpful to hunters.

"You ask them if they do 3-D, and 80 percent of them say, 'No,' " Larson said. "There's a misconception that there's a bunch of people watching. But it's a lot like golf. You're out there with you and a buddy."

The 3-D shoots are also like mini-reunions among bow hunters, who can tend to be somewhat independent.

"You get to know a lot of these guys on a first-name basis," Karas says.

He offers his 3-D shooting mainly as a hobby, he says. After 10 years, he says he's probably at a break-even point financially. Entry fee for a shoot is $10 for adults at Arrowhead 3-D shoots. Kids 17 and younger always shoot free.

"We want to encourage a new generation of archers," Karas says. "We want dads bringing their sons. We do get quite a few kids. Some girls, quite a few boys."


As much work as it is to keep his trails cleared and his targets repaired, Karas isn't ready to give up the operation.

"I've thought about letting it go," he says, "but I don't think my shooters would let me."

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