Your legs move slightly as you settle into your stance. You nock the arrow and hook your release aid to the D-loop on the string of your compound bow. You smoothly draw back the arrow, coming to a full-draw position. Your nose is pressed against the string, and your peep sight is in the perfect position.
Your stance is set and now it’s time to aim. The pin on your sight floats across your target. But instead of smoothly squeezing the trigger on your aid and sending your arrow through the bull’s-eye, you suddenly freeze and experience a moment of panic. Your pin flies all over the target and you can’t control your movement. You send the arrow soaring way too far right.
Does this situation sound familiar? Have you ever panicked or flinched right before taking a shot at the target? You’re not alone. Many recreational and competitive archers suffer from what’s commonly called target panic.
What is Target Panic?
Target panic is a psychological condition affecting an archer’s ability to shoot. Instead of shooting confidently, archers lose their composure at the last moment. Target panic can cause archers to shoot arrows without aiming, be unable to come to full draw, not follow through their shot, and have a difficult time holding steady. It can kick in when the archer begins anticipating the shot and become an unwanted habit of bad form. Target panic for archers is a similar experience to flinching before shooting a firearm.
What Causes Target Panic?
Joel Turner has built a business battling target panic after overcoming his own struggles. Turner is the founder of ShotIQ.com, a class that helps archers beat target panic through controlled process shooting. Turner believes everyone is born with target panic, explaining that it’s the body’s natural response to anticipating the shot. In a recent article, Turner wrote: “The mind will not allow the body to cause an explosion as a surprise without having a response to that explosion. If given the chance, your mind will always brace the body for impact, or an explosion, especially if it has a way of predicting or controlling when that explosion will occur.”
The “explosion” Turner writes about is obvious when people are shooting firearms. People can often become gun-shy or experience target panic as they anticipate the weapon’s recoil. However, the explosion is less obvious in archery. Even though archers do not experience recoil as Turner explained, tension causes target panic. “Shot anticipation is greater with a bow,” he wrote. “Because the body is in tension, and this tension is the only thing stopping the explosion from happening.”
What Can I Do to Prevent Target Panic?
Every archer makes a bad shot from time-to-time. However, if your shots are consistently off and your bow is tuned and sighted-in properly, you’ve likely come down with a case of target panic. Competitive archers even at the highest levels can suffer from target panic. It’s a condition that may occur in the beginning of an archer’s career, or it can appear years later. Luckily, it can be fixed.
You can purchase release aids specifically designed to help stop target panic. These release aids eliminate the archer’s ability to “punch the trigger,” meaning the archer jerks on the trigger instead of squeezing it gently. A hinge release, also called a back-tension release, doesn’t have a trigger. It fires when the archer rotates the release to a pre-set point.
Whatever type of release aid you have, be sure it fits your hand and shooting style. An ill-fitting release can hinder your form and cause bad shots. Visit your local archery shop to test a variety of release aids and speak with experts about what’s best for you.
World champion archer Levi Morgan knows how to hold steady and shoot straight under pressure. The champion has some helpful tips for archers struggling with target panic. In this video, he encourages archers to aim without shooting. He says if archers spend two weeks practicing drawing and holding steady on their target without releasing an arrow, it can break the habit of the shot anticipation that causes target panic.
Blind or blank bale shooting is another practice some archers use to battle target panic. Blank bale shooting involves archers shooting at a large, general target, like a bale of hay, instead of aiming at a specific mark. Archers simply close their eyes and shoot without aiming. By eliminating the step of aiming, archers focus on the steps of shooting and form elements, such as stance and back tension.
Form improvement will ultimately improve shot performance. While blank bale shooting is beneficial to an archer’s performance, Turner says it’s not the ultimate cure for target panic. You need to address the problem that occurs when you open your eyes and aim. Target panic stems from anticipating the shot. If you anticipate the shot and it causes you to react by punching the trigger, flinching, or shooting too soon, it can become a reflex. According to Turner, if your eyes see the target and associate it with these negative actions, it eventually becomes a bad habit. This is due to visual proprioception, which is when your eyes associate a movement with a reaction. By closing your eyes and focusing on your form, you’re not breaking that visual association habit. Instead of focusing on how you feel during each shot, Turner recommends archers focus on what they are thinking. If you can keep the same thought process during every shot, you can break target panic.
Target panic can be a tough mental condition to overcome, but your mind is powerful. With some work, you can kick the condition.
“To get around target panic, the archer must decide to succeed,” Turner wrote. “They must break the shot into two very separate jobs. Job No. 1 is: Draw back and aim. Get it done. Watch it to keep it. Job No. 2 is: Put the concentration into the movement that activates the shot. That is done through the use of words and the decision to use them. If any portion of the shot is not going as planned, recognize the error and let down your draw. With every perfect shot, realize how you did it, mentally. What were you thinking about during the movement? Were you saying your mantra? Could you have stopped the shot-activation movement?”
If you’re suffering from target panic, work with a certified archery instructor who can help identify the cause. Visit your local archery shop and connect with a coach who can help get you shooting straight in no time.