However, because there are no scientific studies of this debilitating condition, most of what we think we know is based upon personal experience and supposition. But, as a bow hunter, it is important that you understand that such a condition does exist and that, even if you don’t presently experience any of the symptoms, there are steps that can be taken to alleviate your syndrome if it does suddenly develop.
So, what is target panic and how do you get past it? Well, there again, because there are no definitive scientific studies on the subject, there is no clear definition of exactly what target panic is nor what causes it but, some of the generally recognized symptoms are: the inability to place the sight pin in the center of the target, freezing above or below the target (usually below), the inability to release the arrow at the target, jerking the trigger instead of squeezing it or achieving a surprise release and, last but not least, “drive by shooting” in which the archer jerks the trigger on his release aid as the sight pin drifts past the intended target.
However, even though we do not know the definitive cause of target panic, the general consensus among archers is that it is caused by anxiety concerning some aspect of the shot process and thus, while not clinically proven to work, the following steps are loosely based upon the process of systematic desensitization:
1. Learn to shoot with a hinge-style release aid – it is believed that anticipation of the shot is one of the major causes of target panic. Thus, hinge-style release aids (aka “back tension release”) are specifically designed to cause the release to be a surprise to the archer. However, when first learning to use this type of release, you should use a loop of cord held in your bow hand rather than your bow.
2. Shoot your bow with your eyes closed – although we often strive to do so, no one can hold a bow perfectly steady at full draw. Therefore, the second step to eliminating shot anxiety is to shoot with your eyes closed. Thus, start by obtaining a large target and significantly reducing the draw weight of your bow. Then, position yourself a short distance from the target (3 to 5 ft.), nock an arrow, draw your bow, and aim while focusing on the sight pin. Then, close both eyes, relax, and release the string while concentrating on the feel of the shot. Repeat until you are comfortable.
3. Shoot a bare bow – because the sight pin often serves as a distraction, the next step is to remove the sights and concentrate entirely on the feel of the shot instead. Thus, remain close to the target and focus on how the bow feels in your hand and how it feels as you draw and release the string with your eyes open. Also, imagine that you are following the arrow on its flight to the target.
4. Shoot with sight and a target – next, you need to introduce both a sight and a target. But, you do not want to actually aim just yet! Instead, place a brand new target face on your target, replace the sights on your bow, and adjust them way up so that your arrow will not strike the center of the target. Then, stand close to the target (3 to 5 ft.), draw your bow, place the sight pin in the center of the ten ring, and fire one arrow repeatedly. But, instead of concentrating on the sight pin and holding the bow steady, let the bow drift and instead concentrate on the feel of the shot as you release the arrow as described in the previous step.
5. Move back to the 5 yard point and aim – for this step, you will need to move back to five yards, face your target, nock an arrow, draw your bow, and aim at the center of the target. But, DO NOT SHOOT! Instead, simply aim at the target for 15 seconds while concentrating on keeping the pin in the center of the ten ring and then relax your draw for 30 seconds. Then, perform this step repeatedly.
6. Shoot at 5 yards – for this step, you will need to stand approximately five yards from the target, nock an arrow, draw your bow, and aim at the center of the target as in the previous step but, in this step you will actually fire the arrow at the target. However, because your sights have been adjusted way up, your arrows will strike the target well below your point of aim which will enable you to concentrate on the feel of the shot instead of shooting tight groups. Then, repeat this process at ten, fifteen, and twenty yards until you are comfortable.
7. Shoot for score – in this step, you will employ everything that you have learned in each of the previous steps but, in this step, you will actually be attempting to achieve tight groups. Thus, move back up to five yards and readjust your sights so that your arrow hits the center of the target when you aim at it. Then, face the target, nock an arrow, draw your bow, and aim while attempting to keep the sight pin in the center of the ten ring. However, your main focus should be on the feel of the shot, including correct shooting form, as you release the arrow; not the sight pin as you might expect.
8. Transition back to your original release aid and draw weight – once you become comfortable with the previous seven steps, you are then ready to transition back to your original draw weight and release aid. Thus, start by keeping your draw weight low and positioning yourself at five yards from the target. Then, draw your bow using your original release aid and aim at the center of the ten ring but, rather than concentrating on the sight pin, instead concentrate on the feel of the shot as you trip the trigger. Then, once you are comfortable with your original release aid, return your bow to its original draw weight while continuing to relax and concentrate on the feel of the shot as you release the arrow with the exact position of the sight pin being of secondary concern.
So, if you are one of the many archers who either have in the past or, is presently, struggling with target panic, then fear not because, rather than being forced to give up your favorite sport, instead all you need is a little mental retraining! Thus, although not clinically proven, the eight steps mentioned above will certainly help to desensitize and distance you from your anxiety concerning the shot process. That way, you can instead relax and concentrate on the feel of the shot with such considerations as choosing the correct point of aim and the right moment to release the string being secondary, although still important, concerns. Just not your entire focus!