ALEXANDRIA, Minn. — It was only two hours into my first hunt of the Minnesota archery season this past September when a good buck was standing 15 yards to my left at eye level.
Since the prior January, I had spent countless hours working on both the mental and physical aspects of my shot. There were changes to my setup and thousands of shots involved with the goal of doing everything I could to kick target panic, which is a psychological condition that affects an archer’s ability to shoot accurately or even put the pin on target in extreme cases. Now all of that work came down to the next 15 seconds.
That buck made its way down into a creek crossing I was positioned in my saddle over as I drew back my new Bowtech Revolt X and stopped him with a doe bleat. He was 18 yards away and quartered to me. Not an ideal shot angle.
The quartering-toward shot on a deer leaves very little room for error. It helps to have the equipment to properly place a hard-hitting arrow far forward on the shoulder to ensure the arrow gets the penetration it needs to cleanly pass through the vitals. Hitting even slightly behind the shoulder can lead to hitting one lung and liver, or worse, missing lung altogether.
A heavier arrow setup this season gave me the confidence to put the pin on the front of the shoulder. The arrow zipped through, exiting right where it should have based on the shot angle — an inch behind the back-side shoulder. We walked up on that deer about 75 yards away, and my Minnesota buck tag was filled.
The best way I can think of explaining what I felt during that shot process is to say that my pin just sat there. There wasn’t a lot of anxiety or movement that I felt in past years.
People might read that and think, “Well, yeah. The deer was 18 yards away. What could go wrong?” But anyone who has dealt with anticipating the shot knows how debilitating that feeling can be regardless of the distance.
I finished this past archery season with two bucks and a doe between Minnesota and North Dakota. I feel better about my shot than I have in three years when it comes to executing under pressure situations in the woods.
Each shot is its own entity and the process to get to the desired end result needs to be repeated each time, but the anxiety that plagued my shot process was lessened with each good shot.
Over the next few weeks, I will break down individual changes that I believe helped me take a big step forward in 2020. My hope is that it can help others who have struggled to maintain control over the shot process in hunting situations.
I want to point out that no single change in archery equipment can eliminate target panic. So much of overcoming this is gaining control mentally, but I do feel some of the changes made to my setup had a positive impact.
They required me to spend money, but it was worth it if it meant getting the most accurate setup I could to increase my chances of making quick, clean kills while hunting.
The move to a resistance release
One of the first changes I made right after the 2019 season was moving on from a trigger release and switching to a resistance release.
A resistance release is one where you do not pull a trigger to activate the shot. The trigger barrel on these is a safety that you hold down while drawing the bow or letting down.
Once you are anchored in, you let off the safety and gradually pull back until the arrow is released due to pressure. These are incredibly adjustable and allow a person to create as much or as little resistance as they want to get the arrow to go off.
I tried both index finger and thumb-trigger releases in the past. That trigger became such a stressor for me. I couldn’t put my finger on it without punching it and sending an arrow.
You might read stories or see videos that lead you to believe that resistance releases are the cure-all for target panic. They are not. You can still rush shots with them, but after using one for both practice and hunting for a year now I am a firm believer in their ability to help a person execute proper form on the shot, which should lead to better accuracy.
Using a resistance release forced me to identify and deal with flaws in my form. No longer could I just bail out and punch a trigger when things were going wrong.
There were times early in the process of making the switch where I physically could not get the release to go off because I was still anticipating when that arrow should explode from my bow. When we anticipate the shot, our body braces for that explosion and our form breaks down.
For me, this meant the shoulder on my arm that holds the bow was collapsing very slightly as I was trying to pull through with my release hand. For about two weeks, there were days I had to put the bow away and clear my mind. The problem started to disappear when I was able to focus on form and the process of my shot instead of the end result of where that arrow hit.
It took a lot of shots and detailed practice for me to get comfortable with it. By hunting season, I felt more confident and at ease in that moment of truth without having to reach for a trigger.
Allow yourself time to get used to the release before the fall if you make the switch. Then stick with it and trust the process. There were times I regretted moving to this release last spring, but it ended up being the most impactful equipment change I made during hunting season.