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Target panic!

Target panic afflicts traditional archers more dramatically than compound shooters. The term "target panic" describes a great multitude of symptoms, many misunderstood by most archers. Target panic's different for every shooter, though common themes arise. Too, to think you'll "cure" target panic is a mistake, as it can only be controlled. Let's first look at some common symptoms, then solutions for long-term control.


Short Drawing

A consistent anchor point is traditional archery's number-one stumbling block. From the standpoint of physical shooting-form--a physical inability to reach or maintain a consistent anchoring point may simply mean you're overbowed or have an incomplete understanding of proper shooting form. Physical symptoms are easily shaken; by choosing a lighter bow, or seeking qualified coaching.

Snap shooting seems most misunderstood, many old-school traditionalists believing snap shooting to be the only way to shoot (based on "purest" assumptions that holding too long constitutes gap shooting, and isn't true to traditional values). This attitude is a disservice to most archers, and true snapshooting can open doors to bad habits listed in the categories to follow.

In order to shoot a traditional bow well, you must anchor at the same, precise point every single shot, period.

The anchor point provides the rear "sight" in the aiming process, assuring the arrow is launched at the same speed each time to assure consistent vertical impact. If you're not anchoring consistently, your arrows fly different with each release.

Enter anchoring's mental aspect: A mental inability to reach full draw is target panic at its most extreme, a subconscious "effort" to do anything but touch anchor while shooting. This breeds snap shooting, because it's easier to trick yourself by rushing through the process.

Rushing The Shot

Why do we shoot so well alone in our backyards, but so poorly on game or during organized competition? The answer lays in stress; stress hatched from the fear of missing. The pressure felt while trying to center a bull's-eye and earn the highest score--or a badly coveted trophy deer--is also unpleasant. We rush shots to relieve that stress. From a strictly physical aspect, too much draw weight can also create apprehension as we fight to remain at full draw while aiming. Again, back off on the weight and the problem is solved.


Hurrying often comes from habits formed during practice, falling into a predetermined, if subconscious, time-frame by which we force ourselves to execute every shot. Buck fever in particular, but also target-shooting stress, has the potential to confuse our internal time clocks, creating an urgency that doesn't actually exist.

Failure To Aim

This is often a symptom of rushing the shot. You might do everything correctly but then in your hurry to release the arrow, forget to aim altogether. Of course, you're pointing the bow at the target, seeing it clearly, but real aiming means picking a single spot, the smallest you can readily discern. This is most common while hunting, when shooting at the entire animal and missing by inches. By picking a spot, you'll still likely miss by inches, but the arrow pierces the lungs and you collect your prize.


No matter what the gurus of instinctive shooting want you to believe, there's always some degree of conscience aiming evolved in instinctive shooting. Your brain makes a thousand calculations each time you draw your bow, learning through repetition where the arrow point needs to be in relation to the target and your sight picture. Target panic can cause your brain to lock the bow arm just a bit over, under, or to one side of the target, not allowing you to aim exactly where needed for a direct hit.


If you shoot right handed but are left-eye dominate (or vice-versa), you have an easy escape from target panic--simply switch hands, engage a different lobe of your brain. You'll have to spend a month learning to shoot again, using your best eye for the job to boot.

Otherwise, if you're serious about gaining the upper hand, pick a month out of your life and set it aside--no hunting, no conventional practice. Psychologists tell us that 21 days are required to instill any good habit, and you want this to stick.

First install a clicker on your bow (Klickety-Click, Terry Arrow Rest ((717) 664-2327), or a Crick-it, Hunter's Niche ((989) 984-0838) and adjust it to your exact draw length. Spend the first week blindfolded, drawing your bow without an arrow, settling into anchor, getting used to the clicker snick at full draw. Envision the perfect shot by picking a spot, engaging proper shooting form, making the best shot possible in your mind. Do this an hour a day for a week.

By week two you can step before a large, safe backstop, blindfolded, but with an arrow nocked. First, though, recruit a coach. Have them pick a number before you draw. Come to anchor, making the clicker snap. Let your coach count slowly for you (and assure safety). During the count envision the perfect shot. When your coach reaches the predetermined number, release the arrow smoothly, envisioning the shot, concentrating on a perfect release. It doesn't matter where the arrow goes (other than safely), only that you execute a perfect shot. After an hour a day for a week, remove the blindfold.

During week three keep your coach and step before a target but covered by blank paper. Step up close, so missing isn't possible. Begin again with the predetermined count, this time waiting for your coach to tell you to shoot, or not shoot. You should now have enough control so that letting down doesn't induce jitters. If not, return to step two for another week. Make the count, and let down frequency, completely random. Don't worry about where the arrow goes, only in executing the perfect shot!

By week four you should be able to count for yourself, as well as step back to a reasonable range. Make yourself let down occasionally after going through the entire shooting sequence. Any time you find yourself losing control, return to the previous step for a week. After a month, shooting should become fun again. The rest will come automatically.

North American social values are mostly responsible for the target panic we suffer from. Results have become more import than execution.
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Title Annotation:TraditionalTackle
Author:Meitin, Patrick
Publication:Petersen's Bowhunting
Date:Oct 1, 2005
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