I want to talk to you about something that, should you ever find yourself diagnosed with, can and will ruin your hunting season.
I am talking about target panic.
Even though it isn't an actual diagnosis (despite my best efforts trying to convince my doctor) it is, however, a major issue that can truly make the best archery shooters not be able to make a simple 10 yard shot. I have personally struggled with target panic and am here to to tell you I would rather sit downwind of a frightened skunk than deal with it again.
For those of you who have never heard of it or don't understand it let me explain it to you.
Every time you pull back your bow it triggers a small panic attack. It is nothing more than a mental block that forces the shooter to feel a sense of urgency to release the arrow or to freeze up and not be able to put their pin on the target as soon as they get to full draw. It may seem like nothing to those of you that have never dealt with it but I assure you, it flat out sucks and it feels like it is impossible to overcome.
I'm here to tell you though that there is a way out from under its spell. Take it from a guy who had target panic so bad I couldn't hit the broadside of a barn if I was standing in it. I struggled so bad with it for so long I was honestly contemplating giving up bowhunting completely.
I shot everyday, I upgraded my bow, I tried different tactics all of which fell flat and I was still stuck being a prisoner of my own mind. Finally for me getting so fed up with not being able to shoot my bow actually worked out for me and I found a way to get over it.
Everyone who gets target panic has to find there own way to get over it, since it is a mental block each one has to find what helps their mind get over the hurdle and gets you back out there driving tacks. That being said here are some tips you can try if you in fact are or find yourself struggling with a case of the "punch its".
Stand close and close your eyes
Get a big target, stand about 4-5 yards away, pull your bow back, close your eyes and concentrate on your form and follow through. Squeeze the trigger, DON'T PUNCH IT! If you punch it keep trying until you can calmly squeeze the trigger off or calmly release the arrow if you're a finger shooter.
Shoot at this yardage for at least a week and try to shoot every night. Even if it's just a couple arrows...consistency, consistency, consistency! After a week of doing this, step back to any yardage you want and ease into it. If you feel "panicky" at all, go right back to your previous yardage and keep trying this method.
Have someone count to ten
This one is simple but effective. Have someone stand beside you and give you a countdown or tell you when to shoot and simply don't shoot until you're told. This is a big help on getting you to hold you're pin on your target.
Aim small, miss small
In the same regard to my first tip, stand close to your target with this one. This was the most effective for me getting over the hump.
When I did this I put my block target downstairs in my house about 4 yards from me, turned on the tv, sat on the couch and shot my bow at that range every night for a month solid. Even if it was just one arrow, I made sure to shoot every day. (I would advise asking your spouse before zipping arrows in your abode.) Better yet, maybe just do it outside. Although, the couch is pretty dang comfortable and being comfortable for this exercise is the most important part!
Anyway back to the point. I'm not saying you have to do this for a month straight, but however long you choose to do it don't shoot at any other range. Stand close to where you're completely comfortable, pull your bow back and aim at a small little speck on your target. Focus on holding dead on and smoothly releasing the arrow without rushing the shot at all.
After doing only this for a month I became a better shooter than I was even before target panic reared its ugly head. I was taking my time, squeezing the release off instead of punching, aiming smaller and holding my pin rock solid for as long as I wanted. It really helped in all aspects of my shooting.
Some other simple tips to try
Sometimes just trying something a little different can be enough to get you over the hump and shooting like that buddy who never misses and can't understand why you don't just "aim your bow, take your time, and shoot the target!"
Turn up the pressure
My last but definitely not least point on this is tricky but crucial. Once you have gotten over your target panic and feel completely comfortable shooting again, (and when I say completely comfortable I mean 100% positive you are over it) its time to put it to the test.
I'm trying to drive that home because if you're not ready for this step and try it anyway, it can and will take you back to square one!
Get yourself out and shoot in some high pressure situations. Shoot next to people in leagues, 3D shoots and high stakes competitions with your buddies. Whatever you used to do and not think twice about but now seems like a nightmare...go do that! I know it seems like torture but it is the only way to truly get over the mental block and be able to make that shot when it counts come hunting season.
There is no better practice than live animals. Obviously we can't shoot animals year around but honing your skills in the late winter months on rabbits, squirrels, etc. is the best practice a person can get.
Remember, target panic can be defeated but it takes dedication and determination to get it done. (insert motivational picture)
Some may get over it in a matter of hours, others it may take a figurative push of the reset button.Try not to rush through this process. Confidence is the key, patience is a virtue and if you follow these tips in a way that works for you can overcome target panic.
Good Luck! If you have any questions for me please comment below.
The Lighter Side of the Arrow