Combating Target Panic While Hunting

By: Michael Batease
By: Michael Batease

I was in the archery shop the other day and the topic of target panic while out hunting came up. The question of how I deal with target panic was asked and it really got me thinking about how I deal with or avoid it.

Target panic to me is mental and you have to keep your mind occupied to combat it. I’ve been hunting long enough and have enjoyed enough success that I really don’t even think about it anymore as it just a part of my routine and has become automatic.

I really feel strongly that the base to dealing with target panic while hunting begins with your practice sessions.

We have all read that developing a routine while shooting and following that routine on every shot is critical when it comes to accuracy but I feel that a majority of people stop this routine short. What I mean by that is they do the routine as far as nocking the arrow, drawing their bow, anchoring and shot execution but where they fall short is what they do before all of that.

When I am practicing I start with nocking my arrow followed by picking the smallest spot possible on the target. Once that spot is picked out that is the only spot I focus on. The rest of the target seems to almost disappear. Before drawing my bow I take a deep breath and continue to focus on that spot throughout the draw cycle, anchoring and then settle my pin on that spot.  We’ve all heard the phrase “Aim Small, Miss Small”. This not applies to shooting a target but really applies when out in the field doing what we all love to do.

Aim Small, Miss Small. At closer yardages I will shoot at smaller dots to make myself focus harder.
Aim Small, Miss Small. At closer yardages I will shoot at smaller dots to make myself focus harder.

This same routine is executed while out hunting as well. It doesn’t matter what I am hunting the sequence is all the same. Once I have decided I am going to take a shot I find that one small spot on the animal and that is my focus. The spot could be a tuft of hair that stands up, or a feather that is sticking out a little more than others. It doesn’t matter what it is that you choose to focus on. What matters is that you make your target window a lot smaller than looking at the whole animal. I won’t look at the size of the rack or anything else until I’ve recovered that animal. I’ve heard several stories where people continued to look at the rack or how long the beard is or the size of the animal. In my opinion, this is where target panic begins. The adrenaline level is already going to increase when we feel there is a shot opportunity. Don’t make it worse by focusing on those things that can increase that level of adrenaline.

At longer yardages I will practice on a little larger spot. Something I can easily pick out on the target but a size that will still force me to focus.
At longer yardages I will practice on a little larger spot. Something I can easily pick out on the target but a size that will still force me to focus.

My hunting partner laughs at me because when I decide that I am going to take the shot my legs start to shake really bad. The only difference is that once I pick that spot, focus on it and I get to my anchor point the shaking goes away until after the shot is executed. Once the shot is executed it’s a whole different ball game. The leg shakes come back in full force. It almost looks as though I freezing cold.

This is an example of a possible set up location. Pick out things that are easy to recognize within the landscape and range them. As the animal is working in to your shot window, keep running those yardages through your mind to keep it busy.
This is an example of a possible set up location. Pick out things that are easy to recognize within the landscape and range them. As the animal is working in to your shot window, keep running those yardages through your mind to keep it busy.

Now, what can we do to avoid that build up while the animal is making their way in to the shot window? One of the first things I do when setting up is get out the range finder and select landmarks that are easy to recognize and range them. As the animal is working into my shot window I am looking to see where I think the animal is going to come in and continue to call out those ranges in my mind. Based on the direction of travel the animal is taking I will have a pretty good idea of what the range will be once it steps into my shooting window. This is just another way of keeping your mind busy and not looking at the size of the animal that is coming in. If I was to just sit there and stare at the size of the animal I am certain that I would get affected by it.

The end result of going through that routine. Photo 7: The goal we are hoping to achieve.
The end result of going through that routine will be the goal we are hoping to achieve.

This routine may not work for everyone but it certainly does work for me. Bottom line is that you need to keep your mind occupied with other things instead of focusing on rack size, body size or other variables that will play with your emotions. Remember: Aim Small, Miss Small!

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