Archery target panic is a widely discussed subject among target archers and bowhunters; It can hit even the most advanced archers, and make it hard for them to take the easiest shots.
Most archers manifest it as difficulties with aiming their shot and holding the bow steadily. It can hold anybody back from reaching their full potential, but working through and beating target panic can be simple if you have the right gameplan.
The process of beating target panic:
- Understand target panic and its causes
- Switch to a hinge style release and a lower draw weight
- Perform blind shooting exercises
- Do blank bale shooting exercises
- Exercise low-yardage shooting
- Switch back to your original gear setup
Ultimately, solving archery target panic comes down to breaking down the shot process and breaking the bad habits that caused it. In this article, I’m going to cover what target panic is and how it’s caused and discuss the best ways to cope with target panic and ultimately solve it. I’ll also cover ways to prevent it before it even starts manifesting.
Step 1: Understand target panic and its causes
What is archery target panic
Target panic is a phenomenon some archers experience, where they find some aspects of shooting the bow psychologically difficult. Most archers experience it by freezing whilst trying to take a shot, shooting without aiming the bow, flinching, or becoming unable to properly draw the bow.
This can be really frustrating. The problem with target panic is that it’s usually developed over time with beginner to intermediate archers, but it can also hit the most advanced competitive archers. It usually manifests as archers improve and try to get better shooting scores and better groupings.
Luckily, if you understand how it’s caused, you can break the pattern and work towards coping and eventually solving target panic, or even avoid it before it even starts.
What causes archery target panic?
Most experts agree that target panic is caused by a habit of pulling the trigger with an unsteady sight. The archer’s brain starts expecting the shot, making the archer flinch before taking the shot. When the phenomenon develops, it causes the archer to freeze.
As a beginner archer, it’s quite hard to put the sight pin exactly on the aiming point of the target and hold it while pulling the trigger. You have a lot of things to focus on at the same time. This makes most beginner archers slip into a habit of wobbling the pin around the center of the target and pulling the trigger “when it feels right”.
This creates a hand-eye reflex. The archer basically gets used to pull the trigger when the pin passes through the center of the target. This only becomes a problem if he tries to up his skill level.
As the archer tries to increase his score, he becomes more stable and able to hold the bow steadily. But psychologically he feels like he’s not ready to take the shot yet. This quickly becomes the familiar freezing before the shot. As the archer continues training this quickly turns into flinching, early shots, and inability to pull the bow to a full draw.
Eugen Herrigel, famous archer and writer of “Zen in the art of archery” has explained it in his quote (link to source):
The shot will go smoothly only when it takes the archer himself by surprise.
When you’re expecting the shot, your impulse responses will always affect it. And this quickly turns to target panic. To beat it, you’ll have to learn how to catch yourself by surprise.
Step 2: Switch to a hinge style release and a lower draw weight
If you already suffer from archery target panic, coping with it might be hard, but there are ways you can work towards that. First, try changing your release aid style to a hinge release. Your release can increase your target panic because your mind gets used to the way you’re pulling the trigger.
Many archers find that by using a hinge style release aid they can overcome their archery target panic. The main reason for that is that the hinge release surprises the archer regarding the shot timing. If you can’t tell when the shot is about to happen, you can’t flinch before it does.
By using one with a proper technique you may be able to start making progress. You can also change your release type temporarily – after working on your technique, change back to your old release.
If you’re conflicted about which hinge release to buy, I’ve detailed my top recommendations on the recommended gear page. My top hinge release pick will be great for you, but even if you decide to get a different one, I’ve detailed what you should consider when choosing a release aid.
You should also lower the draw weight on your bow. A high draw weight can aggrevate your target panic, and since we’re going to perform time intensive exercises, you should lower your draw weight to a low, comfortable setting.
Now, this is simply the first step of a process, not a quick fix. You’ll now need to break your developed negative habits and hand-eye connection.
Step 3: Blind shooting
The next step of breaking down your form is to eliminate the aiming part of the shot. To do that, begin by shooting close to the target or backstop, with your eyes closed. This is usually referred to as “blind shooting”. This will start breaking your hand-eye connection. You will learn to feel the correct shot position and to relax while taking a shot.
It’s important that you start this step by lowering your bow draw weight if possible, so you’ll have an easy time pulling and holding the bow. You will keep your poundage low throughout the process, until the last step. If you aren’t sure what your current draw weight is and how to adjust it, try reading my post about measuring your draw weight.
Repeat this exercise and try to stay consistent. Work on repeating the same shooting process, shooting position and focus on having good form. Keep practicing until you find yourself feeling comfortable and relaxed during the session. When you can keep proper shooting technique while feeling calm, without feeling the shot timing prior to the shot, you can go to the next step.
Step 4: Blank bale shooting
Now that you are able to blind shoot, we should introduce more stimulation, by practicing some “blank bale” sessions. Place a target without an aiming point and shoot from close proximity to it, this time with your eyes open. Don’t try to aim or use your bow sight yet – you should still concentrate on your form, similarly to the previous exercise, but without closing your eyes.
You can still practice blind shooting on an occasional shot to get the feel but focus on keeping a good form and a clear mind with your eyes open.
When you feel ready, start trying to use your sight, but still aim toward a blank bale target, without an indication of where the arrow should hit. On the first session try aiming without pulling the trigger – just aim and hold your bow sight steady for a few seconds, and rest of a minute. After this session, which will break the immediate shooting reflex, you can practice by actually taking the shot.
Practice the blank bale for a few sessions, moving back to a higher distance marker whenever you feel comfortable while taking the shots on your current distance. As you began at about 5 yards, move back by 5-yard increments until you reach a 20-yard blank bale shoot and feel completely relaxed and calm. Remember to shoot one arrow at a time, so you don’t have a precision indication.
This video that details a similar process and is really helpful
Step 5: Standard shooting
Now that you perfected the blank bale shoot, you can use a target with an aiming point. move down to the 5-yard mark and shoot toward a standard target. You should still shoot one arrow at a time, but you may keep score of your shots. The point of this exercise is to deal with anxiety related to quantifiable results while keeping yourself relaxed and using perfect form.
When you feel you have it together you can start advancing to higher distance markers, similarly to the blank bale process, in 5-yard increments. When you reach 20 yards comfortably, you may begin using targets with smaller aiming points.
Step 6: Use your old release aid and a higher draw weight
After finishing this step, you can transition back to your old release aid, if you want to. Try to use your release aid similarly to how you’d use a hinge release, by triggering it with your back muscles. This will eliminate most of the “trigger feeling”. It might be wise to keep using the hinge release, though.
After you get used to your old release aid, start increasing your draw weight incrementally. Make sure to keep practicing proper form. When you reach your old draw weight – you are done!
Try taking your time with these steps. Rushing through them might make your anxiety return. When it does, simply work through it, and if it’s too much to deal with, try going back to the previous step. Don’t move to the next step until you are able to do the current one perfectly relaxed. If you work through these steps and take your time, you’ll see amazing results and beat your target panic in no time.
Target panic can hit any recurve, compound or traditional archer. It’s a mental condition that affects intermediate to advanced archers, making them unable to properly shoot their bow. It’s caused by a developed habit, connecting the trigger hand and the eye.
In order to work on the root cause of your problem, you will need to break down this habit by introducing an element of surprise into your shot timing, meaning using a hinge release, or by breaking down your form and building it back the right way.
If you follow the instructions on this short article I’m sure that you’ll be able to beat your archery target panic and even improve your skills quickly. It’s important that you give your full attention to this and commit fully, and you’ll be amazed at what you can accomplish.