There are few things more precious than a sense of control. We cling to him like little children holding his mother’s hand. When he is lost, we are defenseless at sea. What could be worse than losing control of something we love as much as hunting?
This is what I, and tens of thousands of other bow hunters, struggle with regarding target panic. But don’t worry, there is hope. This is how I found my way.
What is Target Panic?
Objective panic comes in many forms. For some, it’s a sight pin that locks just below or above a target. For others it is a nervous shudder just before shooting. In other cases, it’s pulling the trigger too soon. In my case, it manifests itself in high-pressure situations, like shooting in front of friends or an animal: Almost uncontrollably, I release my arrow as soon as the pin hits the target. After chatting with various archery friends and coaches, I realized that this was not unique to me.
“If people are wondering if they’re target-frightened or not, if you’re a human being, yes, you’re dealing with the anticipation of the shot,” archery coach and target-fright guru Joel Turner said. “It just depends on how well you handle it.”
Turner is one of several archery experts I turned to when I realized I had a problem with archery several years ago. What he was dealing with, he explained, was not something to be ashamed of, but a normal physical response.
“It is completely against human nature to cause and ignore an explosion. Your bow shot is an explosion,” Turner said. “Your mind wants to prepare you for that impact. And if you allow it to do that, if you allow your subconscious to tell itself when to let go of that rope, you will always be a victim of your own mind.”
The fact that your subconscious mind controls your shooting process and your reaction causes the problems we refer to as target panic. So how do you fix it?
change the process
In the early days of my panic trip to the target, I turned to Turner and others who advocate a controlled firing process to banish shot anticipation. Instead of having a sequence of shots that is relatively thoughtless and subconscious, the idea here is to implement a series of steps that force your brain to work through each step in a controlled manner. Turner calls this a closed-loop control system, which means that each step in the process is completed slowly enough that you can assess the quality of each step and make decisions every time.
In my old life, I would just back off, get in shape, take aim, and then pull the trigger when I was on target. My new controlled-loop process consisted of three steps, each with a sentence attached to it (which I borrowed from others who have dealt with similar problems).
As I back up and reach my anchor point, I mutter splash there to remind myself to focus on quickly acquiring the target. then i say Look while remaining focused on simply seeing the pin float through and around the target. Finally, after a breath or two, I activate the firing sequence with Here we go where I slowly start to pull my shoulder back until the shot goes off. The goal here is a controlled process, but a surprise release.
The next step is to practice ad nauseam with this new process. Deliberately focus on each step and restart if at any point it fails.
Once this was second nature to me, I added two other exercises to my targeted panic recovery regimen based on the advice of tournament archer and Bow Life TV host Levi Morgan. The first exercise was to back off, aim at the target, hold on until I couldn’t take it anymore, and then back off.
“What you are telling yourself is that I am in total control. I don’t have to shoot this shot as soon as my pin hits the middle,” Morgan said. “You are relieving your mind of this anxiety of having to shoot. What this does is relax you and build your stamina and your ability to hold your shot as well.”
The second exercise he recommended is known as white packing, which involves standing just a few feet from your target and closing your eyes. Then he goes through his shooting process, concentrating on nothing more than perfect execution of the shot without worrying about aiming.
“Do this over and over, until you feel what that perfect release feels like,” Morgan said.
change the version
All of this helped me substantially, and I killed several bucks with my new shooting process in 2018. But the following year I could see target panic trends continuing to slide. This led me to one final change: switching from an index finger release to a rear tension style release.
As I wrote last fall about this change, “The filming process with this release is almost zen. I back up, settle into my anchor position, drop the pin into the bullseye, let it float, and then shoot, shoot, shoot, shoot. Next thing I know, the bow has been shot and an arrow is somewhere very close to where I was aiming. No longer worrying about a bolo float and trying to time the trigger just as the bolo hits the bull, no longer stressed about flinching at the shot or rushing the trigger when the pressure builds from an audience. It’s almost a meditation, and it works.”
the ultimate test
Last fall, with the new release and process perfected, I put a picture perfect shot on a mature whitetail deer at our Back 40 farm. Dealing with lens panic is an ongoing process, one I’m sure I’ll have to keep an eye on. for years, but now I have the tools to control my bowhunting destiny. And nothing could feel better.
Featured image via Captured Creative.