Target panic. Those two words can leave archers feeling stressed out and lost, with seemingly no way out. The symptoms of target panic can range from the subtle, like subconsciously slowing down the shot routine, to the extreme, like not being able to hold your sight on target or even get to full draw.
There are numerous practices for beating target panic, but listing all of them here would turn this article into a full-blown book. Instead, we’ve summarized a few of the most important steps.
Get Close to a Big Target
Shooting up close with a big spot to aim at helps train your brain that aiming in the middle of a target is OK, and that there is no need to feel anxious about it. That helps calm you. As you get better at holding your sight in the middle, you can start to move the target farther away, and gradually get accustomed to aiming at a smaller center.
Remove the Dot
One easy step in overcoming target panic is to remove the dot in your sight-pin. That lets you see the gold without any distractions in front of its center. For most target archers, the sight pin contains a dot that’s installed inside an open ring. You can then take your focus off aiming and put it back on shot execution.
Enlarge the Ring
Once you’ve removed the dot from your sight-pin, enlarge the sight ring you’re looking through to get a bigger picture of the target before you. Enlarging the peep sight as well on a compound bow will help to “broaden” you sight picture. Trying to center a small ring on the middle might become “too accurate,” causing your brain to take over and put you back on square one. Seeing more of the target lets your eyes relax more and lets you get a general sense of the target instead of aiming too hard and struggling to hold in the middle.
Shoot with No Sight
This exercise might be scarier than others, but it helps train your brain to stare at the gold. Taking your sight off and shooting at a blank bale basically untrains your brain from its bad habits, and then you can work on your shot (and aiming) from scratch. Slowly graduating to shooting at a target, first without a sight, and then through an empty ring, allows your eyes to focus without intensely aiming.
Alternate Between Target and Blank Bale
Sometimes archers get stuck while aiming. Executing shots at blank bale (a bare target bale with no target face) can go smoothly, but then differ greatly when switching to targets. Try shooting combinations of targets and blank bale to get past the clicker, or release break, while aiming. Shoot one arrow at the blank bale and then one at a target. After that, return to the blank bale for another arrow and then shoot again at the target. Alternating the shots will help your muscle memory and ingrain the feeling of pulling smoothly through the clicker or release aid, which can help when aiming at a target.
As you can see, a lot of anxiety comes from the presence of a target and wanting to shoot in the middle. In order to really beat target panic, you’ll have to spend lots of time on the practice range trying a plethora of different methods to find what works best for you. This will definitely be uncomfortable to do in competition, but you’ll need to trust yourself and your training. It might take a while for you to rid yourself of target panic, and you’ll probably have to shoot some competitions while dealing with it. Over time you’ll notice that your aiming pattern will become calmer and your shot execution will be the same in competition as it is in practice.