October 27, 2021
Do you jerk your mechanical-release trigger? Do you punch it? Can you not seem to put the sight pin on the target? If you answered "yes" to any of these questions, you have some form of target panic. It may be hard to admit, but the first step to redemption is accepting the diagnosis.
Target panic, in short, is the fear of aiming at a target. It comes in many forms—some who suffer from the affliction barely notice it while others are crippled by it. Regardless of how severe your case, it will only get worse if left untreated. Let's get you on the road to recovery.
LET THE RELEASE SHOOT
Talk to any champion 3D shooter or stone-cold big-buck killer, and they will tell you one of the primary keys to spot-on accuracy and shooting consistency is letting the release fire the bow. Most shooters with target panic who come to me seeking council don't do this. They manipulate the release. Why? They want to have control. One key to conquering target panic is giving up control, learning to master your release and letting that release fire the bow.
To allow the release to fire bow, first take time to read about your release. Don't toss the instructions in the trash. Read about the adjustments (i.e., travel, tension, handle, cord and bar) your release offers. Don't settle for the factory settings, as customizing the feel leads to confident shooting.
With your release set to your specifications, get a large target—foam or bag—and blank out the target’s face. I use a large Block target and a can of dark-colored spray paint for this. Aiming points on the target create anxiety, and anxiety leads to panic.
With no aiming points on the target, stand or kneel at 5 yards, draw your bow and hold to exhaustion. Then, let your bow down. Repeat this process multiple times. I do this for a few days in a row without ever firing an arrow. If shooting a hinge release, set it heavy so it won’t fire. You want to start to train your mind to know what it feels like to let your pin float on a target while you aim.
After a few good hold-and-let-down sessions, stay at 5 yards and use the same blank target face. Only this time, during the aiming process, go ahead and execute. Remember, you’re not aiming for a spot, so who cares where the arrow hits? You want to focus on the art of aiming while pushing hard into the riser with your bow arm and pulling back into your release until the release fires the bow. Warning: It's going to feel fabulous. The trick is not going too fast.
Once you start aiming and letting the release fire the bow, you’re going to want to move back and start pounding dots. Don’t do this. Work on shooting a blank target face for multiple days, if not weeks.
MOVE TO 3D
You’re feeling great. Your shooting joy has been resurrected and your confidence is starting to grow. Awesome. Instead of moving onto dots on another side of the target, go straight from the blank target face to a 3D target. I like one that has been pounded so much no scoring rings are visible.
I also like a large target like a life-size whitetail. Your goal is to stay close to the target—nothing farther than 20 yards—and work only on executing kill shots. Don’t try and be too finite. Remember, you aren’t shooting for an X or a 12-ring. You are simply letting your pin float on the vital area, focusing on aiming and pushing and pulling through the shot. With no scoring rings or dots to hit, anxiety is reduced. You’re simply trying to put a killing shot on foam.
Keep in mind, while doing this you’re not shooting for groups. Ignore the urge to try to put another arrow in the target right beside the first one—that’s not the goal. Shoot an arrow, pull that arrow, then shoot again. While walking to and from the target, talk to yourself about the shot you just made. How did you execute? Did you aim and aim and aim until the arrow was just gone? Did you manipulate the release at the last moment? The goal is not to shoot 100 arrows. I’d rather shoot a dozen perfect shots than 100 sub-par ones.
SHOOT WITH PEOPLE
By now things are going well. You’re no longer hoping you can execute. Instead, you’re sending every single arrow to the best of your ability. Your grip is perfect. Your draw is smooth. You crawl into anchor. You acquire the target. You aim and trust your pin float. You push and pull until the arrow hits home. There is no better feeling. However, there is still work to be done.
While there is no way to prepare for the moment of truth in the field, shooting with friends or entering a 3D tournament is an essential step to beating target panic, as it creates some tension. The more you do it, the better you’ll be able to control those nerves. Pay attention to your target-panic journey, and only take this step when you’re positive you’re ready.
TWO TO TRY
Check out these release aids for quieting target panic.
I hunt with a hinge release. Why? My target panic was so bad that I had to go that route because a hinge release inherently forces the shooter to let the release fire the bow. One of my favorites is T.R.U. Ball’s Honey Badger Claw ($229; truball.com). The release allows for the addition of a wrist strap, and the heavy handle feels great in hand. Once I mastered it, I never wanted to go back. Since making the change, my success rate on animals has grown exponentially. The release adjusts easily to add or diminish release tension depending on your preference.
If you like index-style releases, take a peek at Tru-Fire’s ThruFire ($159; feradyne.com) wrist-strap pull-through release. An index-finger-actuated release aid, the hidden trigger system makes punching the release nearly impossible. The trigger can be set from 5 to 30 pounds, meaning you can find that just-right setting and make adjustments as your target panic eases.