8 Steps to Conquering Target Panic - Part 1

8 Steps to Conquering Target Panic - Part 1

Definition: Target panic is a crippling condition that affects many novice and experienced archers. It can strike any archer at any time. Some people say 90 percent of all archers will experience some form of target panic during their shooting careers.

Depending on the definition of target panic you use, I suspect the number is higher. Because target panic has never been clinically studied, we aren't sure what causes it, or even what it truly is.

All of the available literature on the subject is anecdotal at best. Because there are no scientific studies, everything we think we know about this condition is based upon people's opinions and experiences — and a whole lot of speculation.

I would venture to say that more people leave archery due to this syndrome than for any other reason. It is important for us as bowhunters to understand that such a condition does exist, so that even if we have no current symptoms, we can minimize the chances of eventually coming down with a clinical case of target panic. - Randy Ulmer


If you have never experienced target panic, you may be getting fairly disinterested in this article about now. Please continue to read! Fortunately, you can "vaccinate" yourself against target panic, because prevention is closely related to the "cure."

Some of the generally agreed upon signs and symptoms of target panic are: The inability to place the sight pin in the center of the target. Freezing above or below the target (usually below). The inability to release the arrow at all. Punching the trigger (inability to execute a surprise release, or the inability to squeeze the trigger). Moving the sight through the target and punching the trigger as the sight pin goes by the target's center (drive-by shooting).

Prematurely releasing the arrow before the sight pin is on the center of the target, or at least a very strong desire to do so. Loss of composure. Loss of confidence. Jerking the bow just before shooting. Double-clutching the bow (the shooter's body acts as if the shot was fired before it actually is fired). Shooting with just a few seconds left on the shot clock (tournament archers). Last, but most importantly for us bowhunters, is "buck fever" — the overwhelming flood of emotions that sometimes occurs when shooting at game.

When most people get to the point that target panic begins to seriously affect their shooting, they're often unsure about what's happening. They may remain in denial for an extended period of time. They may be embarrassed about the condition and try to struggle through it without seeking help. It often becomes debilitating before they do seek help (or quit archery altogether). Education is essential! Starting archers out correctly with proper physical form and mental training will minimize the likelihood of them ever developing the condition.

Are There Remedies?

Most remedies for target panic are simply methods for breaking down one's shot process and building it over again. In my opinion, the best prevention for target panic is to build the shot process correctly in the first place, and at the same time instill the discipline to maintain it. Target panic is like cancer — prevention and early detection are our best tools to fight it!

Before I get into my own personal thoughts and opinions on the subject of target panic, let me begin with a disclaimer: I am not a psychologist — sports or otherwise. I do not have any specific expertise in this area. However, I have been shooting archery for over 50 years, and I have found myself in just about every high-pressure situation an archer can be placed into, from drawing back on monster bucks to one-arrow shoot-offs for professional world championships. I do have strong opinions on the matter. However, it's important to remember that just because my opinions are strong, doesn't mean they are right!


I believe in each of us there is an anxiety that surrounds and permeates the shot process. This anxiety is especially pronounced in the moments before and during the release. Typically, the more important the outcome of the shot, the higher the level of anxiety. This anxiety continuum ranges from mild to severe. Some archers are always able to keep it under control. Others cannot. With full-blown, clinical target panic, this anxiety affects the mind in a particular way that "short circuits" the shot process at a critical juncture.

The general consensus among most experts is that target panic is something you either have or you don't have. Kind of like being pregnant — you either are or you aren't. I disagree. I believe that target panic is a name we give to a particular outward manifestation of a much larger and more complex psychological issue. This issue is the general anxiety that we all have surrounding the shot process. The bottom line is that the worse this anxiety (target panic) is, the more likely it is to prevent you from being the best shooter you can be.

On a side note: I would love to see the term target panic eliminated from the vernacular, because the term itself may help contribute to the syndrome. When one is labeled as having target panic, it is much like being told you are HIV positive — you will probably begin to feel sick immediately. All of your day-to-day aches, pains, and sniffles will be connected in your mind to the virus.

As archers, we all have a continuous flow of self-doubts, feelings of inadequacy, and lack of confidence when we shoot. If we have been labeled as having target panic, these normal day-to-day issues will be placed at the feet of our target panic. The label itself becomes something of a self-fulfilling prophecy. Even with that being said, I am going to continue to use the term in this article for convenience and continuity.


It would be wonderful if we truly understood what causes target panic. Unfortunately, we don't. Our best guess is that target panic is what psychologists call a "conditioned response." You are conditioned by one set of stimuli to respond in a certain way — kind of like Pavlov's dogs. Or it may be a deep-rooted "motivational conflict." Fortunately, we don't have room here to go over these theories.

There are probably as many reasons an archer experiences anxiety during the shot as there are archers. We do not know why some people's anxieties escalate to full-blown clinical target panic and others do not. It may arise from being overly concerned with the outcome of the shot, or from trying to control the exact timing of the shot rather than focusing on form and execution.

Some have speculated that there may be equipment factors contributing to the condition. Actually, a couple of equipment issues may contribute to target panic. The first is holding too much weight at full draw. This isn't an issue for most compound shooters now because of the high letoff of today's bows.


The second is the index-finger release aid. I do believe that the use of the index finger to trigger the shot somehow facilitates the likelihood of punching the trigger, along with other problems attributed to target panic.

The bottom line is that we don't have to fully understand the etiology (what causes it) of the "disease" to treat it successfully. The etiology of target panic is very complex, and probably different for each individual. The treatment would probably be more efficient if we fully understood the cause. Again, we don't understand it, so let's focus on the prevention and the treatment instead.

Click here to read Part 2 - 8 Steps to Conquering Target Panic by Randy Ulmer

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