Curing Target Panic

By Jim Westcott

No two words put fear into an archer more than target panic! Target panic is actually an unpleasant psychological state that yields the inability to hold your sight on the target without causing a panicked release. Target panic actually has many symptoms and differs from person to person, such as punching the release when the sight is in or near their intended target, premature release, loss of bow control, and even the inability to release the arrow at the target. Sufferers of target panic say they feel like someone is physically pushing against them and not allowing them to center their sight.

Target panic s much like developing the “shanks” in golf…one day you can be hitting bull’s-eye after bull’s-eye and the next day you are all over the board. There is no scientifically accepted cause for target panic. However, we do know that somehow there has been a misconnect in your psyche.

When learning archery, most people learn to aim and then squeeze the trigger. This means we consciously aim and trigger the release. However, until you can separate aiming from triggering, you are susceptible to target panic. To reach your full potential in archery, you must be able to separate your conscious act of aiming from your subconscious act of triggering the release. The archers who can hit their mark without thinking about it have already mastered this separation.

Once you understand this concept you are ready to take the necessary steps to cure target panic. The first step is to stop what you have been doing and then develop new habits towards accuracy.

To focus all conscious effort on the aiming process, you must remove all other shooting elements and practice only aiming. Start by standing three to five feet away from a target with a bull’s-eye, draw the bow and aim. Focus on the center of the bull’s-eye, and don’t worry if your sight pin drifts in and out of the center, your pin will find its way back to center if you just keep focusing. Once your pin hits center try and keep it there for five to ten seconds then let down. We need to train the brain that it is okay to be on center without releasing the arrow. Wait a minute and repeat this drill several times.

This may seem easy so close to the target, however archers with target panic will often have a full body flinch at full draw because they are used to focusing on the release. Repeat this drill over the course of the next week and you will notice a vast improvement in your ability to aim. When you feel comfortable move your yardage back to 10 yards, then continue moving back at 10 yard intervals when you are comfortable aiming at each distance. Remember the goal with this drill is not to release the arrow and hit the bull’s-eye, all we are doing here is aiming!

The next step is to refine the skill of triggering the release subconsciously while aiming. Start again at three to five feet away from a large target. Hold your bow up at the large target, then close your eyes and keep them closed while you draw, anchor and trigger the release.

This lets you actually feel the natural release without having to focus on a spot. By doing this, you eliminate the visual aspect that tends to send an order from your mind telling your hand to release, which causes you to anticipate the shot. As you draw and hold the string at full draw, focus on using your large back muscles while relaxing the muscles in your hands and arms.

Next place your finger on the trigger and squeeze your back muscles together. Visualize your release, elbow pulling straight away from the target as you pull with your back muscles. In doing so, pressure builds on the trigger and a “surprise release” results. The actual release occurs without any anticipation as your pulling muscles release the trigger with your finger held still instead of you actually moving your finger itself. Over time, this method of releasing the trigger will become fluid and subconscious.

Human research has shown it takes 21 days to develop any habit. Every day, practice short sessions of the aiming and releasing drills for three weeks. Once you have reached 21 days you can then again begin shooting with your eyes open. Initially at a close distance of 10 yards, once you are satisfied and fully comfortable at 10 yards you can begin to move back and shoot at longer distances.

Take the recovery process slow. If at any point you begin to feel the effects of target panic stop and return to the practice drills. Target panic is never easy, and it may be something that you have to work against the rest of your archery life. Nonetheless, with patience and practice you can overcome target panic when it rears its ugly head!