Last season, my archery practice routine was lackluster. I took it for granted that at the range I could generally hit my target. Once or twice a week before and during bow season, I would go outside and shoot about 10 arrows. My groups were not particularly consistent, but I figured as long as I could hit the 1×1 foot target I was using then I was good to go.
Last October, while hunting, I had a giant buck come busting into my shooting lane about a week before the rut began. Going to draw and aim my bow I found myself shaking uncontrollably. The pin on my sight was going in circles. In the archery and shooting world, this phenomenon is referred to as target panic or buck fever. I found my anchor point and tried to time the movement of the pin to get it on target. I fired my arrow and hit the deer, but after days of searching, never recovered the animal. A year later, the thought of never finding that deer still makes me sick. However, rather than dwell on my mistake, I have used it as motivation to step up my archery game.
Fast forward to this pre-season and I have been on a solid routine shooting 50 arrows 5 days a week since late August. Instead of blindly flinging arrows at a target and hoping to hit it somewhere, I have tried to add in specific mental and physical steps to my practice to help me deal with nerves in the field.
My Pre-Shot Routine
For starters, I focus on getting my weight well balanced on the balls of my feet. Keeping them shoulder-width apart, I angle my left toe towards the target slightly. I check my grip to ensure I am not over gripping the bow. Looking downrange I pick a specific point on my target. You’ve heard the expression “aim small, miss small”? That means the smaller and more specific your target the more accurate a miss will be. Pick a one-inch target instead of a 5-inch target. I then begin my draw and pull my bowstring back until I achieve my anchor points: a kisser button on the right corner of my mouth and my nose down on the bowstring. Looking down my peep sight to my pin, I align it on my target.
At this point, I make a mental decision that I will not release the arrow until I can make a good shot. This part of my shot routine is critical. I then think or mouth a pre-shot mantra. For me, I just say “here we go”. This is a sort of mental anchor point which triggers the shot process. Breathing in, I let the sight pin settle on my target. When the pin has stopped moving, I slowly start to breathe out and trigger my release. Holding my follow-through I watch the arrow to see where it hits.
How It Works
The biggest issue I had in the field last year with my bow, was not following a specific process. Every time I would draw my bow, aim, and shoot I would do something a little different. The only consistent thing was my anchor point. While this is enough to hit a 1-foot target at the range, when you add in the pressure of staring at a mature buck everything starts to fall apart.
This season, my pre-shot routine includes mental and physical cues to allow my body and mind to repeat the same process each time. Routine practice ingrains this routine and allows it to become a habit. When the pressure is on, we revert to our lowest level of training. By adopting and practicing a consistent preshot routine, we can fall back on the process in times of stress and deal with target panic.
Sum It Up
Nerves are not necessarily a bad thing. It is our mind’s way of telling us we are in the position to succeed and achieve our goals. If we only ever shot our bow in the backyard we would probably not feel very nervous. However, when the opportunity is in front of us to achieve what we have been working towards (in this case arrowing a deer) nerves set in. Rather than being scared of nerves, learn to embrace it. They mean that you have worked hard enough to get in a position to have a shot at a deer you want to shoot. For those of us who strive to kill mature bucks, the larger the deer the more nerves we feel. Embrace the nerves and the opportunity they signal. Fall back on your pre-shot routine and the practice you’ve done. Make a conscious decision to not shoot until you are sure of the shot—even if it means never shooting. Let the pin settle. Breathe. Release the arrow, and watch it connect.