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Getting past target panic: Use a 3D target

Aim small, miss small is a popular saying in archery, but focusing on that small dot on a block target is what got the author in trouble with target panic in the first place. How switching to a life-like 3D deer target last summer helped in the woods last fall.

Archery Deer Target.jpg
Shooting at a life-like 3D deer target like this one helped the author overcome the tendency to punch the trigger when shooting bow that came every time the pin would float outside a small bullseye like those commonly seen on block targets. (Eric Morken / Echo Press)

There is a common saying in archery that those who bow hunt have probably heard -- aim small, miss small.

It makes sense on the surface. Shrink the bullseye, so even if you miss that mark you are still easily within the kill zone in a hunting situation. That mindset is part of what got me in trouble with target panic in the first place.

A few years ago, I started shooting my bow nearly every day. Sometimes it was for an hour. Other times maybe it was 10 arrows just to try to stay sharp. This whole time I was shooting at block targets with multiple bullseyes on them. Most of them were the size of my fist or smaller.

I became so obsessed with trying to be perfect and hit those bullseyes dead center.

Getting my pin to float comfortably within that dot on the target became impossible, and that is when my tendency to punch the trigger started. The second that pin hit the bullseye, my mind told me to get rid of that arrow because it wasn’t going to stay there long.


John Dudley is a hunter and archer who dedicates a lot of time on his YouTube channel working through ways archers can overcome target panic. One of his big teaching points is having archers aim big as they get comfortable with letting the pin float on target. Maybe that means aiming at a large paper plate from 10 yards or a target with no dot at all.

That’s ultimately the first thing we as archers need to realize -- that nobody is going to hold a pin completely steady on target. The best archers in the world do not have a rock-steady hold.

They probably have a tighter pin float, but that likely stems from them being comfortable with the fact that if they just let their pin float it will return to center of the point they’re aiming at. Joel Turner of Shot IQ talks at length about this through his videos and in his book “Controlled Process Shooting: The Science of Target Panic.”

I really started focusing on this idea of aiming big right after the 2019 hunting season. I spent the winter months shooting at 10 yards in my shop at a paper plate pinned to my target. That is how I really got comfortable with settling my pin, letting it float and then looking past my pin and focusing on the point I wanted to hit. Not focusing on the pin itself helps alleviate some of that stress that comes when it floats outside of the desired impact area.

When I could shoot outside again, I tested myself on the smaller bullseyes. It was still difficult to not punch that trigger when I introduced that baseball-sized dot back into the equation.

I’m not going to win any indoor target archery shoots, but that’s not my focus. My focus in archery is to make smart decisions of what is a good shot in the woods and then make that shot count so I can make the cleanest kill possible every single time.
To really practice that, I decided to eliminate the bullseye from the equation leading up to last year’s hunting season and shoot on a 3D deer target. The Rinehart I got for my backyard was smaller than any live deer I would shoot at in the field, but it eliminated that small point of impact with a dot that caused my mind so much anxiety in the shot process.

I’m still aiming small, you could say, but I don’t feel the sudden need to punch a trigger because there is an actual dot that my pin is floating outside of. Instead, I’m able to comfortably draw back, anchor, place my pin on that area I want to hit and then shift my focus to that area instead of on the pin itself. I’m trusting here that the pin will ultimately come back to center of where I’m aiming if I just complete my process of gradually pulling through the shot. I’ve been able to group my arrows much better on a life-like deer target than with a block target aiming at dots.

I really believe making this switch in targets helped me a lot in the woods this past year. Many 3D targets are expensive, but we’re not shooting at bullseyes in the woods.


Practicing with a life-like target helps a bow hunter get used to shooting at an object that is like the real thing. It also might help you make a better shot if punching the trigger is a problem.

Eric Morken

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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