It’s Sunday September 27th, 2020 and we are four days away from the Southern New York State bowhunting opener. My father, cousin and I decided to head over to one of our local sportsman’s clubs to get in some last-minute reps before the season kicked off. Just like any other visit to a local 3D shoot, I usually head over to the range first to make sure I am dialed in and loosened up before flinging off about 30 or so shots for the next 2 hours. After about my 3rd shot on the range at 30 yards, something seemed a miss. My first thought was that I had too much coffee that morning and now sipping from an outdoor energy supplement was a bad idea. So I backed it down to 20 yards. Same issue. Shot another arrow and again the same. The pin is floating just below or around where I need it to be, but I just can’t seem to get settled in. Are my mechanics breaking down? Is it too early for me to focus? Okay. Put the bow down. Check your gear. Get out of your head Mike and don’t worry about it. Let’s just head on over to the course. Target number one. 25 Yards. Completely missed the target low. I got called out by my old man that I punched the trigger on that one. Noted. Five targets in now on this course and it is more of the same. The pin is floating below around the target area and when
the pin hovers over my aim point, I punch the trigger. Sometimes it hits the mark but most times it does not. What is this?! No, it can’t be that. I’ve been shooting my bow pretty consistently the past few years so there is not a chance it’s what I am trying to avoid saying. But it is and there is no hiding it and no shame in it at all. I have target panic. I managed to push through the course trying to remedy this issue on the fly but that only made it worse for me. A miss fire here, an inconsistent shot placement there. I was way off. Confidence was not trending upward at all. And at this moment, a little anxiety was beginning to creep in because the bowhunting season was just a few days away! I mean who gets target panic the week of the season opener?!
The first step for me was to not wrestle with the idea of how I got here but what could I do to get out of this. There are so many great articles and videos available that offer tips and tricks with how to work through target panic. Some drills work for archers in a matter of days, some take weeks or longer to work through. I read through several articles, watched John Dudley, watched Levi Morgan and honestly what worked for me was a combination of mental repetition and one simple drill. Just like in golf, archery has its yips too. I spent a good twenty plus years ironing out my golf game so this was familiar territory for me. The first step in my mental recovery process was to simply stand in a shooting position with bow in hand. You can nock an arrow if you choose (you are not shooting in this drill yet). Close your eyes and draw back your bow. Keep your eyes closed and begin envisioning the perfect shot in your mind and hold. Then let down. You may find it challenging to let the bow down at first, but I found this to be important to work through. My mind wanted to punch the release even during this drill so I purposely did not nock an arrow so that I could work through that. Sounds odd I know, but sometimes you just can’t escape the mind games. I did this drill about 15 times in a span of 30 minutes for the next few days, never shooting an arrow. We will get to that phase in a moment. Opening day of bowhunting arrived and I was not even close to being ready yet, but I went out there knowing I still had a full season ahead of me and I was hopeful I could work through this. Fortunately, no shot opportunities presented themselves and I did not have to fight off the anxiety of the panic and the anxiety that comes from hunting in general. As the week progressed, I incorporated the next phase of this drill. Standing five yards away from my block target, I went through the same shooting progressions. Still without nocking an arrow, I drew back, anchored, and without closing my eyes this time, I let the pin float on a small circle on the target. I held, counted for 5 seconds and I let down. I repeated this drill at least 12-15 times in a span of 30 minutes. For the next few days, I continued to repeat this part of the process.
After about two weeks of drills, before I knew it, my level of confidence slowly began to rise to where I was ready to start shooting arrows again. So, I did. Following the same steps in this drill and standing 10 yards from the target, I drew back, let the pin settle, held and counted back down from 5 and released. Bingo, right at my aim point. If at any moment in the draw I did not feel comfortable, I would let down the bow and revert to part two of the process of holding the pin on target and letting down. I would shoot for a few more days moving back to 15 yards then 20 yards. Everything was beginning to come together now. By no means was this process an overnight cure. Nor do I believe it will be for anyone else. There were days mixed in this process where I had to revert to the first and second steps. Target panic can have different effects on archers in many ways. For anyone that struggles with it, perhaps this process may not work for you. It may be something else that helps you overcome it. And it may be as simple as not shooting for a while and taking time off. This process took a little over a month or so for me before it was no longer even a thought in my mind.
The most challenging aspect was the mental strength needed to get through the first phase and slowly begin to build back that confidence. By early November, during my out of state hunt in Ohio, is when everything finally began to feel normal again. There is no guarantee that this will not happen again and no guarantee this process will work again. It may require other tips and drills. The most important take away though is not to panic.