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Eric Morken: Two tips to execute a shot under pressure this archery season

Eric Morken discusses two things that have helped him the most in making shots under pressure the last two years after working to overcome target panic in hunting situations during prior seasons.

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Eric Morken with a buck he shot with his bow during the opening weekend of the 2020 archery season in Minnesota. This buck required putting the arrow in front of the shoulder as he was quartered toward Morken at 18 yards, and executing the shot was part of getting past a bad case of target panic that Morken dealt with in prior seasons.
Contributed photo by Mike Schaffran
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ALEXANDRIA — It was a beautiful Minnesota evening in late July and I was doing what I almost always do to end the day during the summer by getting in some shots with my bow in the backyard.

These were ideal shooting conditions with no winds. Why was I feeling a bit off with my shot?

I put my bow down and examined things. Just taking a second to think is key in getting back on track quickly as an archer.

When I went through the worst of my target panic about four years ago, it stemmed from a combination of things. Bad form, not really understanding my equipment and how to build a forgiving setup, and then trying to simply shoot my way through the problem with more reps.

I used to put my bow down, walk away frustrated and then come back a half an hour later to shoot 20 more arrows with no plan on how to get better. All I was doing was enhancing my target panic by reinforcing bad habits with every shot.

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It took hitting rock bottom for me to step back and say, “I need to figure this out or hang up the bow.” That moment came when I failed on a chip shot on a doe on New Year’s Eve in Minnesota the last day of the season in 2019.

I wrote last year about some of the equipment changes I made to really give myself the most forgiving setup. It ranged from switching releases , getting a bow that actually fit me and dialing in a front and rear stabilizer length and weight that worked.

Those are all things I practiced with for months leading up to the season. We are at the point now where it might be too late to make major equipment changes for 2022.

With that in mind, I wanted to share two things with my shot process that have helped me more than anything in making a controlled shot when hunting. I’m certainly not perfect. It takes executing these steps each shot, but I know how beneficial it has been for me in hunting situations when I get through these steps.

Maybe they can help you too.

Focus on your grip

What I quickly realized when my shot was off during that evening in late July is that I had gone away from my proper grip. I know better, but it is human nature to simply go through the motions of shooting. I fall into that trap, despite knowing I need to shoot with a purpose.

Proper grip is the No. 1 thing to focus on in terms of form in a hunting situation because it is something we can execute every time. It is the root from which all shots exist.

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My grip is the first place I look to when things don’t feel right. My natural tendency through years of bad practice was to lean my wrist forward at full draw. That means the pressure on the grip of my bow would sit on the top portion of my thumb muscle. It’s an unstable platform to start from.

Look at your hand and see where that crease forms a half circle. I want that pressure where my hand feels the grip of my bow to be evenly distributed up and down on the thumb muscle running parallel to that crease.

Before I ever draw my bow back, I am telling myself, ‘Set your grip.’ From there, I focus on positioning my hand so that I can feel that grip evenly up and down that thumb muscle. The key then is maintaining that when I’m at anchor and not tilting that wrist forward.

Proper grip is going to do two important things. First, it tightens the pin float because the bow is starting from a more stable position. It’s incredible how much I notice this when done correctly. That’s obviously good for the shot itself, and it does wonders putting my mind at ease.

Second, maintaining that proper grip is going to push my bow arm toward the target the instant that arrow breaks. Having a tight grip will lead to torque and shots hitting left or right.

My problem stemmed from that wrist tilting forward and my wrist and bow arm then instantly dropping. Couple that with target panic and the way I was anticipating that shot going off, and it was a recipe for disaster. Every single mis-hit I had was low.

There are great resources out there with guys like John Dudley going over exactly what proper grip should look like. I would encourage you to take it seriously and really focus on it. I have felt firsthand how important it is.

Self talk is not dumb, it’s effective

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Using self talk to stay calm through a long encounter with this North Dakota buck during the rut in 2020 was a key part of making a good shot when the opportunity finally presented itself.
Contributed photo by Tyler Notch

Focusing on my grip with each shot gets me into my next tip. Self talk.

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The first thing I say in my head before I am about to draw back on an animal is, ‘Set your grip.’ Even before that, I am talking to myself the second I see a doe or buck. I practice this on deer I don’t even intend to shoot. ‘Calm down, pick the spot.’ Over and over.

If we’re being honest with ourselves, most missed or bad hits on an animal stem from going into autopilot mentally where we don’t even remember what steps we took to send that arrow. Self talk has the power to keep you present and execute the way you know how to.

Talking ourselves through the shot process is something more and more public figures in hunting are talking openly about. Joel Turner of Shot IQ has a lot to do with that. He is a great resource to learn more about this.

I shot four deer last year. One was a hit that killed the doe quickly but was not a shot I was proud of. I let a hectic situation speed up my shot process. The other three were controlled shots where I put the arrow exactly where I wanted to because I talked myself through it.

Again, it takes doing this every single shot. It’s not always easy in hunting situations, but it is certainly effective if you commit yourself to it.

Related Topics: NORTHLAND OUTDOORSHUNTING
Eric Morken is a sports and outdoor editor at the Echo Press Newspaper in Alexandria, Minnesota, a property of the Forum News Service. Morken covers a variety of stories throughout the Douglas County area, as well as statewide outdoor issues.
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