Target Panic/Buck Fever and Shot Execution

Target Panic/Buck Fever and Shot Execution

Ever notice how many hunters actually put themselves in position to get a shot at a good buck every year yet still come home empty handed?  Getting a shot at a mature buck is no easy task but I’m surprised every year just how many of the hunters in my large circle of friends/acquaintances actually get that opportunity.  Still a decent percentage of those guys still come home empty handed. I’m told stories each year of the big buck they missed, wounded or unrecovered. I’ve personally had plenty of years with the same sob stories. The actual shot on the animal is often the most under emphasized part of the entire hunting process. Everyone is so concerned with gear, tactics and where to set up that they often don’t put a proportionally amount of time into mastering their weapon and their shot process. There are far too many hunters out there that really don’t have control of their shot process. I speak on this topic from experience because for years, I hunted without having real control of my shot. 

Some of the best “hunters”  I know put themselves in great positions every year to take a good buck but are so unreliable in that moment of truth they never really know what is going to happen once they get their bow drawn back. A hunter can make a quick lethal shot on a deer and still never have complete control of their shot process and not even realize it.  I know this because I was that hunter about 12 years ago. I routinely put myself in great positions to kill trophy bucks but lacked the control in my shot process to consistently put the arrow where it needed to go. Yes, I killed many bucks but several of them died from very marginal hits as well as a couple of wounds and clean misses thrown in there. My confidence was high in putting myself in position for the shot but it quickly plummeted while at full draw.

What is target panic/buck fever?

A lot of guys think they get buck fever and believe this is the reason they miss their mark.  Although the surge of adrenaline can certainly impact your fine motor control and accuracy I think most guys miss due to having some level of target panic and a poor shot process. Quite simply it is the inability to smoothly run through a shot process due to anticipation of the shot causing your process to break down. 

Signs that you may have an issue with TP or buck fever

Target panic usually shows itself by freezing under the target and then jerking your bow arm up into the vitals or bullseye while simultaneously punching the trigger. Other signs include rushing the shot when you don’t intend to or bracing yourself right before the bow fires. High-pressure situations such as shooting in front of your friends, an archery competition, or that big buck standing broadside at 25 year yards usually exacerbates the issue. Target panic may come from being so concerned about the outcome of the shot and trying to control the exact timing of the shot instead of focusing on form and execution. 

Other signs/symptoms: 

  • Drive-by shooting: Holding off target and then bringing your pin up to, across, or down to the target area and punching your release as it crosses over it.
  • Constantly saying to yourself: “ I’m not sure what happened, I rushed the shot.”
  • Inability to place your pin on the spot you want to hit.
  • You don’t actually have a specific shot process that you work through.

Now we know that we probably are experiencing some level of target panic so how do we fix it? Well that depends on who you ask. In my opinion there are several great teachers out there that all have slightly different methodology and opinions on how to get this under control. If you really look closely, the final goal in all of these teachings is mastering an unanticipated release. 

This is the ability to run a smooth shot process while allowing your pin to float on the target without panic, anticipation or any involuntary movements before the bow fires. Now more than ever it’s easy to find archery experts offering their teachings to help us better develop a controlled shot process.

A Few Thoughts and Ideas That Helped Me

Pin movement is completely normal and acceptable and no archer holds the pin perfectly still. You have to accept your pin float and it should have no impact at all on your execution process.

It simply doesn’t matter what your pin is doing(within reason of course) and as long as you focus on the spot you want to hit your pin will constantly keep re-centering itself to that spot. As long as you can run a smooth shot execution while allowing your pin to constantly re-center itself you will hit the mark or very close to it.

Target Panic

Drills That Helped Cure My Target Panic

Aim Without Shooting: Draw your bow back and splash your pin immediately on the spot you want to it.  Allow it to float there with your finger on the trigger with no intention of firing the shot.  When your aiming breaks down, let your bow down, rest and repeat. This teaches your brain that it’s ok to have your pin on the bullseye without hitting the trigger.

Shoot Without Aiming:  For this drill, position yourself about 10 ft or less from the target. You can remove your sight as you won’t be aiming with this drill. Draw the bow back, anchor and then talk through your shot execution firing the arrow into the target at close range.  You are trying to engrain your new physical and mental shot process.  It’s important to have a shot process that you work through systematically and it can help immensely if you talk your way through the process. Once I get to full draw I use these words to work through my process: “Anchor, Settle, Aim, PULL PULL PULL” until the shot fires. This helps me start and work through each step of the process. Once you engrain the process (1500 shots or more recommended) you can put your sight back on and add a dot to the target.  Slowly start working your way back over the coming weeks staying disciplined with the new process. 

The Drawn Out Execution: I got this drill from John Dudley about a decade ago and it really helped solidify my process and bring everything together.  Basically you draw, anchor, aim and once you being your “pull” you try to do it as slowly as possible.  Try to imagine pulling so slow that it takes 10 seconds or more for your bow to fire. This long slow pull really trains you to stay in your shot and to be disciplined in the last phase of your shot process…”the pull”.  During this drill your brain may switch over from thinking about “pull” to “why is this taking so long and why hasn’t my bow fired?”  Be disciplined and keep your mind on the “pull” part of the process until the bow fires.  This is a high level drill and is used by some very high level archers to help train their brains to stay in the shot and not allow all these other thoughts come into the head. 

So why is yet another target panic article popping up this time of year? It’s because this is the perfect time of the year to address the issue and do the required work to finally get your shot process under control.

Good luck out there and shoot straight!

Article by Andy May

Photo Credit: @j_shaf30