Outdoor Life Online Editor

Target panic is the inability to hold your sight pin on the target while squeezing the trigger. The affliction starts when you try too hard to control the exact timing of the shot. Your brain screams “NOW” as soon as the sight pin appears where you want it. You begin flinching, closing your eyes or punching the trigger as the pin flies past the target. Archers with severe cases of target panic become so paralyzed by the anticipation of the shot that they can’t even get the sight pin near the center of the target.

If you suffer from target panic-and nearly every bowhunter develops a case at some point-there are some simple solutions. Before seeking a remedy, however, it’s important to understand that all people with this affliction have one thing in common: They anticipate the shot when they should be letting it come as a surprise.

Instinctive archers don’t get target panic because they draw, point and fire in one motion. Archers who use sights, however, draw, line up the sight with the target as they peer through a peep sight and then make a conscious decision to shoot. In effect, they give their brains a chance to get in the way. Ideally, you should focus on the target, tell your body to start the shot sequence and then slowly let your body trigger the shot. An archer who uses a release aid shouldn’t consciously think about squeezing the trigger. A perfect release comes as a surprise to the shooter.

Get Caught Off Guard
To first experience the “explosion” of a well-executed shot, have a friend or spouse trigger your normal hunting release while you’re at full draw, aiming at a target. When the bow goes off, I guarantee you’ll be surprised. In fact, if you don’t use a bow sling the bow will leap out of your hand. Do this drill over and over until the shot no longer scares you. It should be a comfortable surprise, not a shock.

Next, you can try to make the surprise release happen yourself with your existing release aid by learning to squeeze the trigger gently. Competitive archers start the shot process and then trust their bodies to complete the action. They consciously decide to shoot, then disengage their minds from their shooting hands while they focus their attention on the target. When the bow fires, they stay in form until the arrow hits the target. Good follow-through ensures a well-placed arrow.

Mechanical Cures
If you’re having difficulty learning to squeeze the trigger, however, there are training aids that force the proper technique. One good tool you can use is the no-punch release. The trigger on a no-punch release won’t move if it is pulled too fast. The release aid forces you to squeeze the trigger slowly. The best tool for overcoming target panic, however, is the back-tension release. Target shooters use them in competition for a reason. Back-tension releases have adjustable mechanisms that fire automatically when your hand turns to a certain point as you pull through the shot. It is very difficult to anticipate precisely when a back-tension will fire.

Because you can’t control the exact timing of a shot, some argue that back-tension releases are impractical for hunting. Like most bowhunters, I use a release aid with a trigger while hunting. Still, I’ve found that back-tension releases are a valuable training tool. Practicing with one helps me keep my mind out of the way of my shot.

It takes a few weeks of daily practice to get comfortable with a back-tension release aid-being taken by surprise can be difficult to adjust to.

Once the panic is removed from your nervous system, you’ll find how easy it really is to shoot tight groups-even with a release aid that has a trigger. Without knowing when your bow will fire, you won’t be able to anticipate the shot and ruin it by flinching or jerking the trigger. Soon your sight pin will float on or around the spot until your bow fires. Target ppanic will be a thing of the past.