During the early 90s I desperately needed to learn exactly how to cure target panic! Following misses on Pope and Young Class whitetails in both 1992 and 1993, combined with my growing passion for target archery, the need to cure my archery related sickness had finally reached a level that I no longer could ignore. Have you ever felt the pain of target panic?
*Make sure to check out my whitetail book series including, "Whitetail Success By Design" and "Food Plot Success By Design", to help you find mature bucks this hunting season!
Target panic is something that begins to eventually creep into every archer's shooting technique. For some it can be a minor nuisance, but for others it can lead to a debilitating condition that keeps them from completing the process of a competent harvest of big game. There are various symptoms of target panic, but there is none more telling than simply not being able to hold steady on a target while aiming, without experience a desire to pull the trigger. Target panic can take place with a gun or bow, but I have found that the effects are much more magnified when using archery gear. For me personally, I needed to learn how to cure target panic after two shots on bucks I had scouted all Summer long; shots that I made before my site was even on the buck. Literally, I released the arrow before being within 2' of my intended point of impact. I can still remember the sick feeling that I was left with each time, as if my entire hunting season was over following those two brief painful moments in time. The 2nd buck was a beautiful 11 point over 20 inches wide, which was a giant for Southern MI in the early 90s, let alone today. The reflected image of him walking behind the small pocket of water within the flooded timber following my miss, is still burned vividly into my memory as if it was yesterday.
I needed to do something quickly, and that was when I turned to my good friend Jim Morrow of MJC Archery. The year was 1993, and among other things, there were 3 basic principles that I learned from Jim:
1. Mindless Repetition
2. Positive Repetition
3. Tested Repetition
*Becoming involved with a high quality archery and bowhunting pro shop can pave the way for you to be the best archer that you can be. I was fortunate to meet Jim Morrow of MJC Archery back in 1992, and have trusted his world-class coaching advice ever since! To check out Jim, please visit MJC Archery.com.
Target panic is caused by repeating poor shooting habits over and over again. How do you begin to end the cycle of repeated negative imprints on your mind? By taking your mind out of the equation as much as possible.
What I found that was when I removed the stress of making a good shot, I could actually make a shot that was not influenced by my symptoms of target panic. Until you remove the anxiousness of making the shot, you can't begin to positively move forward in your effort to cure target panic. I found that there were 3 practices that allowed me to remove the mental stress of making the shot:
1. Shooting a target at less than 10'.
2. Shooting a target, with no aiming point.
3. Shooting with both eyes closed.
What I found was that when I relaxed, pulled back and didn't have to aim; the stress was completely removed.
So once I was able to shoot without stress and prove to myself that I could do it, what was my next step? I immediately went out in the yard to shoot a target, which was a huge mistake. I quickly learned that what Jim had already stressed to me was so true: That it takes a long time to reverse years of poor shooting habitats! The process of curing target panic does not happen over night, and it takes repeated positive repetition.
While some try to trick the brain with new releases, sites or other gear related tactics first, I believe and follow the K.I.S.S principle of simplicity. I have personally witnessed archers first hand, repeating their target panic symptoms with every piece of target panic curing equipment that can be purchased. Instead of masking the sickness with a temporary bandaid, target panic needs to be removed completely by introducing a dosage of medicine that can only be found through positive reinforcement. When a steady diet of positive reinforcement takes hold through mindless shooting practices, there are a variety of shooting aids that can then be used, in particular back tension releases, that will allow proper archery form to eventually take over.
*While there is no one piece of gear that will cure you, there is a set of shooting steps that you need to follow in order to positively reinforce the entire process of shooting. To learn how to shoot at the highest level of accuracy possible, check out "5 Ways To Shoot Like a Pro".
Using Positive Repetition To Cure Target Panic
While you are immersed within the process of curing target panic, you may as well follow the steps for proper shooting form as well. At this point a quality back tension style release can be of some benefit, but keep in mind that if you are fully cured you should be able to use any release without the symptoms of target panic creeping in.
Through this phase of curing target panic, I like to keep my eyes open while practicing repeated quality shots, over and over again. If you find that you can't hold on an aiming point at close range without your symptoms creeping in, then shoot at a blank bale. If you find that still can't hold on the target, move to within a few feet and (safely) shoot with your eyes closed.
With a few days of work you should be able to aim at a blank bale and make a quality shot. But don't be discouraged, it can literally take a few weeks of shooting at least a couple of dozen arrows every day to get to the point that you can actually hold on an aiming point without flinching, or experiencing any other symptom of target panic. Keep in mind that during this process you should be able to pick up any of your favorite bow releases without experiencing any symptom at all. I routinely switch from one of my 4 finger back tension style Carter or Truball releases, to my wrist and grip style caliper releases. For example I practice most often with my back tension releases for shooting form, 3D or spot shooting activities, and then use my caliper releases for hunting. I find it easy to switch from one style to the next even within the same practice round, I suggest that you seek a comfort level in doing so as well.
*While practicing with various styles of releases keeps me sharp for a variety of archery shooting activities, I have experienced that long distance shooting practice sessions are just as important! To read why you should shoot further in practice than you your personal limit for bowhunting, check out "Stretch Your Archery Limits for Bowhunting Success".
After you find comfort with the process of shooting your bow "symptom free", it's time to see if your target panic is cured. How long does it take to get to this point? Well, a lot longer than when I first impatiently tried to test out my own level of shooting health! This process can take a few days of intense shooting, but it often takes weeks or even a month or more.
I can still remember immediately telling my father when I was able to make the shot! I was 24, and I had finally been able to hold on the blank, yellow lid of a butter dish at 20 yards and make a symptom free shot. It took weeks to get to that point and I could not wait to tell him because I felt that great things could come from being able to significantly raise the level of my archery shooting game.
The days leading up to my cure, I was so close! I can remember almost being able to hold on the butter dish lid to make the shot, and then not being able to. I would practice for another day or two and try again, eventually realizing my cure. Once the sickness was broken it was broken for good, no different than a bad fever cured with a good dose of time and proven quality medicine.
To this day, 21 years later, I have never reverted back to my days of target panic. Although I have experienced brief instances of the slight symptoms of target panic, I have easily been able to stop them by embracing the 3 lessons that I learned from Jim, many years ago.
Are you ready to take the steps needed towards your road to recovery? I personally experienced that when mindless, positive and tested repetition practices are combined with time, it can be done!