5 Steps to Tackling Target Panic


Target panic is more than a problem it’s a disease. It can strike anytime, anywhere and anyone. If you haven’t been bit the target panic bug yet, your time is coming. Perhaps that last statement is a bit of an overstatement, but you get the idea of the seriousness. The good news is target panic is not only curable it’s preventable.

The Problem

Target panic is the inability to hold your sight on the target without causing a panicked release. For some, the panic induced can be so great that they cannot physically release the arrow. While this is certainly extreme, it happens. For others, it feels as if moving the pin to the center is impossible, like someone was physically pushing against you.

Good form alone may not be enough when target panic strikes. However, by incorporating a few easy steps into your practice sessions, you’ll be back to enjoying your sport again in no time at all.

Some shooters can be described as rock steady, and in truth while many of these archers will have sight pictures with less movement, they will still have movement. Don’t fret, movement is natural, but misunderstood. When asked, most of my students have stated a belief that the movement was caused by their arms. This can be the case when over-bowed or with certain debilitating diseases.

However, you could have arms like Arnold and your sight picture would still dance like an epileptic. The arms are not the cause, they are the symptom. Your strength comes from your midsection, the abdominal muscles. Weak abs allow your upper body to sway. The arms are just trying to catch up, but that is what the archer sees so they associate the movement with arms. The good news is, while we could all benefit from a few sit ups, sit ups are not the solution.

The Solution

The cure and prevention for target panic are really one in the same, so let’s examine the steps you should incorporate into to your regular training regimen to beat target panic and improve your shooting at the same time.

Blind bale shooting does not require much distance. Pretty much anywhere you can set up a target and back up a few feet works great.

Step One: Crank down your bow to its lightest setting. If you are not a proficient bow mechanic, go to a local pro shop and ask them for advice. For traditional archers, you’ll simply have to grab a lighter bow.

Step Two: Get close. I’m talking real close to your target—something in the range of five or six feet.

Step Three: Since you are so close to your target that you can’t miss, you do not need to see. Now if this were a movie this would be the part where the old master blindfolds the unwilling student and somewhere lurking in the background would be a beautiful maiden. This isn’t a movie, so we do not have to go that far.

Ideally, you would look at the target close your eyes and then draw, hold for a few seconds and then shoot. This causes some students a bit of apprehension, so keep your eyes open until you draw and are on target.

Shooting with your eyes closed is going to have a couple of benefits. First, there is no panic because your brain is not stressing over aligning the sight picture. This has a secondary benefit, because you do not expect to group your arrows. In fact, grouping is bad. You are so close that it would be easy to start tearing up your arrows, so be sure to move your shots around the target.

The second benefit is muscle memory. When you put your key in the ignition of your car you do not typically have to bend over and line it up, nor search for the hole—unless you think about doing it first. As long as you let your subconscious handle the operation, your finely-honed muscle memory will hit the hole every time, only your conscious memory can miss.

Shooting with your eyes closed is known as blind bale shooting and trains your muscles to “feel” the perfect shot. This happens because the brain is denied its primary sensory input (vision) and has to rely on its other senses. So in essence, it learns to feel a good shot.

Step Four: This is likely the easiest and most difficult at the very same time. From a close distance, and while aiming at a large target, you’ll draw and aim at the target. Once on target, count for three or four seconds before letting down. That’s right, we need to train your brain that it is okay to hold the sight on the target without the urgency to shoot the arrow.

10-ring archery target
Buy a handful of 10-ring targets. Then start by cutting out all but the last ring and shooting into the middle from a very close distance.

Step Five: Cut the center out of your target and not just the 10-ring. If your target has 10 rings, cut out at least nine rings and use an over-sized target for the distance. This isn’t an accuracy contest; it’s a skills-building exercise. Over time, you’ll slowly add rings and incrementally increase the distance.

The time spent on the first four steps will vary with degree of target panic the shooter was suffering, but should become part of your regular training. This is a guide of course and money spent on a quality coach is money well spent. After all, we don’t shoot to cause ourselves stress; we are supposed to be out there enjoying our shooting. Don’t hesitate to utilize the services of a good coach.

One Last Piece of Advice

Don’t get in too big of a rush to go through the steps. You didn’t get target panic in a day and you won’t cure it that fast either. I have known national champions that spent months quelling their target panic. Some beat it and were afflicted again and again. What’s important is that they overcame target panic before it permanently cost them the enjoyment of the sport.

Ever experienced target panic? Let us know about your experiences in the comments section below.

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Comments (12)

  1. I have target panic really really bad right now. Had it a couple years ago and I got it figured out. This summer I started practicing for our bear hunt last week. It came back:( Went to Canada knowing it came back, and it screwed me on my bear. I panicked and shot under my bear. Only one I saw all week and I hate to say it, but I was glad. I didn’t need to make a bad shot on one or need to miss again. I have no confidence at all right now. Thinking about staying out of the tree this fall. I’m gonna start this program tomorrow. Wish me luck….

  2. Took lessons from a very good archery coach frank pearson, referred me to a back tension release, I have not completely got rid of it but I do have it under control.
    Step up to target 5 yds away pull bow back with back tension release and aim for a count of 10. on the spot then let down. Once you can do this without problems then go to executing the shot at a close distance.. Then work your way back… I find that when I don’t shoot for a long period of time target panic comes back, and when it does I just go back to the routine that Frank Pearson taught me. It takes 28 days to retrain muscle memory, so be patient

  3. Heres how I overcame target panic …

    I use a wrist strap release – I draw trained every day with the release strapped on the d-loop. This made it impossible for the release to go off – so
    in this way u get very used to drawing holding the pin on taget and then letting down.

    Once I was very good at drawing and holding the pin on the target with my release strapped to the d-loop I progressed to using the release without the strap. (u need to be able to hold for a least 30sec)

    Now your brain knows that it is possible to shoot and so u feel the panic but the idea is to hold the pin over the target and let down WITHOUT shooting.

    Once you can master this dicipline you are truly on the way to conquering target panic – remember it is only once your brain realizes that you are going to shoot that you panic!

  4. I’m 56 years old.My dad gave me his old York longbow ,36#,when I was 6,and Have been fascinated with archery ever since.I started building ,and hunting with my own self-made equipment a little over 15 years ago.I considered myself a confident,good shot.I cant tell you when the TP actually began,but I started noticing symptoms a few years ago,but could control my shot during hunting situations.(still consistently taking heart shots).I still was not aware I had the malady.About 2 years back I finally realized I had no control of my release,meaning ,that if I drew the arrow,it was going to be shot,even if I wanted to let down.I could even tell my self aloud to hold and let down,but would release the arrow anyway.It was as if I had no control over my “will”.Last years season was a disaster.I made 2 terrible shots on does,and completely missed a great buck,all due to not being able to get on target,due to”freeze-up”,then when trying to complete my aim,having a premature arrow release,thus a poor shot.I decided to quit deer hunting until I could gain control. I have tried barebale shooting,closed-eyes shooting,and gone back to concentrate on form,with limited results. Here is a small example of an improvement,but far from cured.When sitting in a deer stand,I can point,draw to anchor,and aim with a broadhead arrow,then let down successfully.BUT,when I try with a critter -getter or field point ,I simply cannot get on target without releasing.”Form ” practice has helped,but I still feel I have a long way to go.(To get back the confidence I once took for granted).Any suggestions would be highly appreciated. Thanks, God Bless

  5. I got target panic back in the mid ’80s. I started shooting field archery with pins and fingers and completed my first season in 1983. In spring of ’84 I was shooting at our local range and, all of a sudden, I couldn’t hold on the target at 20yds. I was getting very frustrated, to the point of talking about quiting. No one there knew anything about how to help. A release shooter was next to me. I asked if I could try his release. I could hold on the target all day, if I wanted to. I never looked back. That year, I won every tournament I entered with pins and release, including the Texas State Championship and Sectionals. It just took a change of equipment.

  6. Dave Dolbee writes, “Abs allow your upper body to sway.” While shooting on the range, I noticed less front sight drift when I was wearing my body armor. It makes sense – keeps your upper body stiffer. This may also work with a large ace bandage wrapped around the abs to keep your torso stiffer.

  7. When I use to shoot as a youngster with my father, i had the problem of as soon as i had a sight picture i would release my arrow. I was just not able to hold for any length of time and shoot when i had a steady shot. No matter how hard I tried I just couldn’t hold for more than a couple seconds. Is this the same as target panic? This was before the compound bows and though my bow was fairly light draw weight of 30 pounds, I don’t think it was too strong for me.

  8. In reference to your article on target panic, please let me offer a tip that we have been using with our J.O.A.D. Archery Program. The Carter release aid company makes a back tension style release aid called the Evolution. It has NO trigger, only a safety.
    It works with back tension or pulling to activate the release of the bowstring.
    This release aid is a small framed item and is very easy for young archers and us
    more experienced target panic afflicted shooters to use to help cure the curse.

  9. Target Panic can take people from the sport they love. Many discredit “declining skills” as the reason they no longer attend events and practice sessions. The steps here can help anyone that recognizes the symptoms.

  10. Good advice, i think these steps can be carried over to bullseye pistol shooting producing similiar effective results. In fact even most other precision target shooting and possibly fly rod casting.

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