The “3 foot / 3 mile” rule-of-thumb refers to how if you move a hive more than 3 feet, sometimes returning foragers cannot find it. Their internal maps are so precise they get confused, and keep looking where the entrance “ought” to be. To move a hive to a new position, you can do it in small hops, one a day. If you move the hive far enough away they will re-orient on the new position, but “far enough” is 3 miles. If the new position is nearer to the old one than that, they recognise landmarks and navigate back to the old one.
I posted the following advice about how to move a hive between these extremes on a forum, and was soon asked for permission to reproduce it elsewhere. So I guess it’s worth repeating…
1. Put a maze of branches in front of the hive entrance (in its new location) so the bees can’t fly straight in/out. This seems to make them pause and memorise the new location.
2. If the weather is bad shake the collected stragglers in. By bad, I mean rainy or cold, to an extent where their instinct is to huddle for warmth. Do this in the evening (shortly before sunset) so they want to stay in a nice hive, not fly off. If the evening is warm, you’ll need to persuade them instead: brush them onto the landing board so they smell their queen etc and the majority should waddle straight in. You’ll need to temporarily remove the branches to do this.
3. Leave a small box in the old location, for shelter. Each evening, seal it (duct tape), take it to the new location, brush / shake out the bees. You’ll probably have to do this 2-3 times.
As with most beekeeping, there’s no magic “right” way to do this. Modify to suit the situation. You’re on the spot, whereas this is general advice. Maybe you can only do this one evening, etc. The original forum user who asked the question, found that heavy rain kept the bees in the hive in its new location for several days. When they emerged none tried to return to the old location, they all seemed to reset their maps to the new one. This is reminiscent of old advice to “keep the hive in a dark cellar for 3 days before relocating it”.
You won’t transfer them all, but you should be able to get 95% of the flyers. Some won’t “get it”. Don’t feel guilty about them – the queen lays many more eggs a day.
Interesting point: I asked some commercial beeks whether they lose bees when they migrate hives around. Yes, but they don’t lose “many” so it doesn’t lose them money, so they don’t care. That repeated, profit-driven orphaning is morally very different to our situation which is driven by (mutual) safety.