Beating Target Panic During The Off Season

Beating Target Panic During The Off Season – By Patrick Meitin

Beating Target Panic During The Off Season – I have written a lot about target panic over the years because I believe it to be one of the most important issue any archer or bowhunter faces. Having suffered severe target panic on several occasions I know how frustrating and even debilitating it can be. Target panic on any level means we are not shooting to the best of our abilities—and make no mistake, all of us suffer some degree of target panic in some form or fashion. Target panic can lead to easy misses while bowhunting, which means that season-making trophy escapes, or worse, is wounded. Target panic can also take all the fun out of shooting, leading to less frequent practice and even avoiding shooting altogether. 

Target panic can be controlled, but it is never completely beaten. It is always lurking, waiting to rear its ugly head at the worst possible moment. It also takes on many forms, from simply rushing every shot, the inability to place your pin where it is wanted, trigger punching, the inability to draw a bow without great anxiety, to a complete loss of control of the shot process. I have witnessed target panic so severe that shooter became downright dangerous.

Gaining the upper hand on target panic takes time, and the time to begin is right now, while most bowhunting seasons are closed and you have nothing better to do than go fishing. This won’t be easy, and there are no quick fixes. This requires time (psychologists tell us no fewer than 21 days are required to erase a bad habit and replace it with something good); which translates into about an hour a day for four weeks. This will require a healthy measure of discipline to see it through to the end.  

Let’s begin. 

Beating Target Panic During The Off Season – The first step involves deprograming bad habits, convincing yourself that executing a technically perfect shot is more important than were your arrow arrives (as long as you are being safe, of course). The biggest cause of target panic is fixating too intensely on bull’s-eyes, 10-rings, or any results-based feedback, and getting stuck there.

To begin deprogramming you must remove feedback while shooting your bow in the form of scores, hitting the spot, or what have you. The best place to start is through blind shooting. This requires a large haystack, arrow friendly sand bank, or standing very close to an archery range shooting wall—anything that is large enough to provide an added degree of safety and that will safely catch arrows. With enough discipline you can simply close your eyes and shoot. If you feel inclined to “cheat” a literal blindfold may be in order. It might also help to have a partner (a friend or spouse interested in eliminating their own target panic, so you can take turns) to ensure you keep your bearings and shoot in a safe direction. 

Now draw your bow, settle into proper shooting form, envisioning textbook shooting form and executing the perfect shot, and release the bowstring or slowly squeeze the release until the bow goes off. Periodically make yourself—or have your partner command you to—let down and begin the shot sequence again.  Do this for about an hour a day for at least a week. 

After a week of blind shooting remove the blindfold. Step before a blank target—no targets, just a featureless face—draw your bow, settle into perfect shooting form, and concentrate on the feel of the shot. And then let down!!! And then do it again, and again, and again… Never allow yourself to release an arrow under any circumstances. Do this for an hour a day for another week. 

Beating Target Panic During The Off Season

If at any point you feel an uncontrollable urge to release or trigger the shot, or can’t stop yourself from shooting at all, stop immediately. Go back to step one for another week.

If you have been able to get through the let-down exercise for an entire week, you should have begun to feel more in comfortable and gained better control of your shooting. It is now time to release some arrows—but without targets. This exercise involves shooting, executing the perfect shot, but without feedback of any kind. If you have a wide-open field where arrows will not become lost, flight shooting is a great way to do this. You’re not aiming at anything in particular, just executing perfect shooting form and a slow, controlled triggering of the release, or slip of the bowstring while shooting with fingers. A deep dip or swale in a mowed hay field, plowed agricultural field, or a large sand berm works best.   

Beating Target Panic During The Off Season – As most don’t have access to this kind of space, blank-face shooting is the next best alternative. Cover a target butt with white butcher paper and shoot while aiming at nothing. Your only goal is to execute a technically perfect shot. If your blank face begins to develop discernable aiming points, like arrow holes, change the face. One hour, for another week. 

On the fourth week you should be able to introduce a target or specific aiming point. But take care to make it easy to center the bull’s-eye or spot while shooting. Step up to 5 or 10 yards, a range at which you cannot miss. Go through the entire routine, calmly settling into perfect shooting form, check-listing every aspect to ensure everything is just so, striving to execute a technically perfect shot and squeezing the release trigger slowly and evenly, or allowing the bowstring to slip from your fingers like melting snow slipping from an evergreen bough. Follow through completely. One week—one hour a day. 

If at any point in this program you find yourself slipping back into your former habits, return to the beginning and start again. Most especially when you are releasing arrows at targets, make yourself let down at random intervals. If you cannot let down without anxiety, or shoot without “permission,” return to the beginning and start again. None of this is particularly fun. It will prove utterly frustrating and mind-numbingly tedious at times. But if you want to make missing slam-dunk shots at trophy game a thing of the past, it is time well spent.

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