So Long Target Panic
I struggled with it for years but promised myself next year would be different — I would keep myself together when a buck or bull wandered bowhunting-close, and I wouldn’t jab the trigger like a prizefighter before settling my pins. Sound at all familiar?
I spent each winter, spring, and summer preparing — training my body by running miles on end. After all, the better shape I was in, the better my chances at an animal, right? As far as shooting, I shot and shot A LOT. However, nothing changed. My practice sessions weren’t detailed and were often spent slinging carbon, just to say I shot arrows for the day. Most sessions were riddled with anxiety, and as soon as they were over, I pushed them to the back of my mind.
Guess what? Things didn’t get better. Sure, staying in top physical shape and hunting hard would earn me my opportunity, but too often, I would squander it. Something had to change.
If you’ve been where I was or feel like the president of that camp right now, stop and take a breath. As archers, we can be our own worst enemies. In truth, it’s no different than an alcoholic or someone struggling with some other form of addiction. We don’t want to admit we have a problem. We have too much pride for that. Swallow that pride and become the best bowhunter you can be.
A FRESH START
Today, you’re turning a new page. The misses, wounds, poor practice sessions, and the like are gone. Today, you’re a blank sheet. Be sure you start with this mindset. Now for the bad news: You’re not going to shoot an arrow for the first 7 days of this program. Sorry.
Stand 5 to 10 yards from a target, and be sure that target doesn’t have a single aiming point on it. Use typing paper or spray paint to cover any aiming points. Now, practice getting into your grip. The grip must be repeatable, and you want to focus on letting the grip rest on the thumb-side of your palm's lifeline. If you get too far in toward the lifeline, you’re adding torque to your grip. Exaggerate this process. Take time to set your grip. You want a grip that is repeatable, comfortable, and as torque-free as possible.
After getting into your grip, draw in one fluid motion and crawl into your anchor. Like the grip, getting into anchor should be fluid and consistent. I like a two-part anchor. The tip of the string rests lightly against the tip of my nose, and depending on what release I’m shooting, my release hand is somewhere above or below my jawline. Again, exaggerate this process. You want to develop repeatable anchor points that feel comfortable and will promote shot-to-shot consistency.
Lastly, once you get into your anchor, you’re going to put your pin on the target and let that pin bob, weave, and dance where it may. If you’re worried you will inadvertently fire an arrow or feel you may punch the trigger, set your release so cold that it will not fire. If your release doesn’t have these capabilities, you can purchase a dummy release that doesn’t fire. As your pin is floating on the target, focus on staying strong in the front. Keep pushing your bow arm into the riser, driving it into the target. Focus on letting your pin float on target. While staying strong in the front, stay strong in the back. Good form is paramount, and I like to picture my hand going light as a feather from the wrist down while driving my elbow backward. Hold as long as you can and let down.
Take a break between each draw and hold cycle. You want to train your muscles, and you don’t want any injuries. This is a great time to turn down your bow’s poundage to make the process all the easier. After a quick break, repeat this process 20 or 30 more times. Again, don’t fire a single arrow, and don’t try to aim at anything on the target. The target is blank, and you want to learn to breathe and trust your pin float.
TIME TO FIRE
If you did your job, you spent seven days focusing on proper grip, anchor, and learning to trust your pin float. Starting on day 8, stand 10 yards from the same blank-faced target. No dots. No vitals. Nothing. Go through your process. Only this time, while you’re aiming, keep fighting for the center of the center. Imagine a pair of lines — one running vertically through the target’s center and another running horizontally through the target’s center. Let your pin float in this area, and as it’s floating, let the release fire the bow.
You don’t fire the bow. The release fires the bow. Your job is to stay strong in the front and strong in the back. Forget about the wind or any other distraction. Your job is to make the best shot possible. Keep aiming and focusing until the arrow is gone. If at any point during this practice session you manipulate a shot on your own, hit the reset button and start again. You have to learn to give up control — to trust your shot process and muscle memory. If you keep fighting for the center of the center, you’ll be shocked at how accurate you can become.
From days 8 through 14, this is where you will live —no aiming points and no further from the target than 10 yards. Execute perfect arrow after perfect arrow. When the shooting session is over, reflect on how the day went. Focus is key. I recommend keeping a shooting journal. Remember, you’re trying to break a habit, and breaking a habit is no easy task.
BACK IT UP
Starting on day 15, once again, you’ll begin 10 yards from the blank-face target. Do everything perfectly and execute a perfect arrow. If you did your job, pull the arrow from the target. Leave it in, and you may start trying to aim at the fletchings, and it’s not time for that. Back up to 20 yards and repeat the process. Remember, you’re not aiming at a spot; rather, you’re fighting for the center and releasing the bow fire. Keep pulling arrows and moving back as far as you feel comfortable. If anxiety and worry start to creep in at a certain distance, don’t get frustrated. Take a breath, grab some water and move back in. Shooting a bow should be pure joy. As soon as it isn’t, problems arise. From day 15 through day 21, this is your job, day in and day out. The goal is a perfect grip, exact anchor, firm in the front and strong in the back, and a clear focus on letting the release fire the bow.
GRAB A 3D
Many studies show it takes 21 days to break a habit. You did it. You’re there, and your target panic is behind you. Today, say goodbye to the blank face target and add a 3D target. I like a 3D over a spot or dot target because aside from the hard-to-see scoring rings, you have no exact aiming point. Start at 20 yards, go through your process, and make a killing shot. Do not focus on a 10- or 12-ring shot. The goal is center-of-the-center and letting that pin float while you push and pull through the shot. The sky is now the limit. Shoot your 3D as far back as you’d like. However, I don’t mean to beat a dead horse but move up if shooting anxiety creeps in.
You got this. You’re ready to put carbon through lungs come fall.