Coping with target panic
The mere thought of it sends archers cowering into the corner, where they rock in the fetal position, quoting the ivory trader, Kurtz, from Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness ‑ “The horror! The horror!”
Sorry for the English 101 flashback there, but it paints a picture of how target panic is viewed in the archery world.
What is target panic?
In simple terms, it’s when an archer panics as his or her bow sight settles on the target. Normally, the archer should be relaxed and confident at this moment.
But when target panic occurs, the archer is likely to rush the shot as the sight sits on or near the intended aiming point. Often times, the release will be chaotic, with muscles in both arms contracting in anticipation of the shot.
None of that is good for consistently hitting the X.
The first step in curing target panic is to realize you’re suffering from it. The more you try to fight through target panic without fixing it, the more likely you are to develop some serious bad habits, such as punching the trigger for release shooters.
If you find you are anticipating the moment when your sight will settle on the aiming point, or your mind urges you to "shoot, shoot, shoot" at that moment, rather than scrolling through the shot process, then you're probably afflicted. You might also notice a tensing of your muscles as it comes time to release the arrow.
When they come down with a case of target panic, many competitive archers will quit shooting at targets immediately. Instead, they will just shoot at empty butts. This is called blank-bale or blind-bale shooting.
The goal is to shoot arrows without aiming. Your sole focus is on the shot process and your shooting form.
Many archers will shoot with their eyes closed to further hone their focus on form. Whether you shoot with your eyes open or closed, plan on shooting less than 5 yards from the butt.
Some archers will practice like this for weeks to retrain their bodies to understand what good shooting form feels like. Then they will slowly work targets back into their practices. But they’ll start out at 5 yards or so, and gradually move back as they feel confident in their form.
If target panic rears its ugly head again, then it's back to square one.
A good coach can help you deal with target panic, and there are lots of good books and DVDs on the subject. Target panic can be a serious ailment, but by no means is it a death sentence for your archery game.