I hesitate to even write this because I know what happens in the summer really doesn't matter until it can be proven it in the woods this fall.
Anyone who has followed my bow-hunting columns the last two seasons knows it's been a tough couple of years. Target panic took hold of my shot about two summers ago. At its worst, I could not hold my pin on my desired bullseye when it came time to shoot. I worked through that to the point where I thought I had things under control heading into last fall.
Then a nearly week-long trip to North Dakota was a tough reminder that things weren't fully fixed. In a matter of two days, I messed up on two good bucks because of my shot. The last of those led to a deer I know was fatally wounded that I never found after two days of searching.
That moment was as low as I have been since I picked up a bow to hunt whitetails almost 12 years ago, so I set out this offseason to completely take control of my shot again.
It started this past winter. With my target set up in our shop, I shot over and over again at 10 yards, focusing only on pulling through with the proper form and finishing by following through.
I also spent the winter months watching and implementing John Dudley's School of Nock course that he has on his YouTube channel. Dudley has a lot of information on overcoming target panic and this YouTube series is designed to get archers to understand the step-by-step process it takes to reach the desired finished product.
I came out of this feeling pretty good about my shot. Then it came time to get the target outside and shoot at further distances, even just 20 yards, and I realized I still had work to do. My pin no longer fell off the bullseye when I acquire the target, but I had developed a bad case of punching the trigger throughout this whole ordeal. That led to inconsistencies.
Breaking that has taken me being completely focused on the process of each individual shot. I still have imperfect shooting sessions where I need to refocus and remember that I'm not out there just to sling a few arrows, but rather to get better. The animals we hunt deserve that kind of attention to detail.
I still have a little way to go, but archery is fun for me again. I couldn't say that six months ago. Below are a few of the steps I have taken to get on the right track with my shot. Maybe they can be helpful to others who are going through a similar situation.
Making an arrow switch
Arrows are perhaps the most important piece of the hunting equation for an archer. Draw length, draw weight, the bow we're shooting, weight on the tip of the shaft-there are a number of factors that go into what arrow we should use.
For years, I shot a Mathews Creed XS. The 350 spine VAP arrows from Victory that I had tipped with 95 grain inserts worked perfectly out of that bow. They hit like a hammer. Accuracy was good, and they gave me clean pass throughs and quick kills.
Three years ago, I switched over to a Hoyt Carbon Defiant. That bow has a more aggressive cam system, and the switch coincided with me upping my draw weight from 60 to 65 pounds. Both are changes that can affect the torque an arrow experiences upon release, and it seems the VAPs that had worked well for me with the Mathews were not the perfect fit for me now.
Since moving to the Hoyt, I have experienced deflections upon impact with my arrows. A buck I shot last season at a very slight quartering away angle had the arrow hit the rib cage and make an almost 90-degree deflection to miss the vitals completely and exit near the brisket.
That was an eye opener and really made me question everything. In talking with the guys at Archery Country in Waite Park, I really believe a stiffer-spine arrow was needed with this bow. I made that switch this offseason and immediately have seen more consistent groupings.
Shooting with both eyes open
From the second I picked up a bow, I was someone who shot with one eye closed.
This worked fine for years. Over time, though, it became the trigger of my target panic. My shot routine included drawing back, anchoring, acquiring the target and then closing my left eye to focus on the bullseye. That closing of the eye told my mind it was time to shoot, and it was in that moment when my bow would instinctively fall off the target. Even after I had kicked that reaction, the closing of my eye still triggered the instinct in me to punch the trigger.
About a month ago, I committed to shooting with both eyes open. It took a while to get comfortable with it, but it's helped to lessen that tendency to punch the trigger.
Importance of self talk
I don't believe self talk is a part of most people's shooting routine. At least I had not really heard of hunters doing it much until I really looked into curing target panic.
I know for many years of my life, I was simply out in the yard shooting arrows just to shoot. Practice makes perfect, I thought. Instead, the way I was practicing led me down a bad path.
Now, self talk has become an absolute must in my routine. Each shot has the same process. I set my feet, set my grip, set my front shoulder. When it's time to draw, I repeat the phrase-"Here we go. Anchor. Acquire the target. Wrap the thumb but don't shoot. Pull, pull, pull."
That talking to myself keeps me in the moment. It has helped my mind accept that I don't have to punch that trigger the second my thumb touches it.
The real test will be repeating that same process on a deer this fall. I know I still have to prove that to myself, but I really believe the confidence we build at this time of year can help us execute on that in the moment of truth.