Article originally posted over at the Journal of Mountain Hunting. It has since been modified.
Article and photos by Beau Martonik
Target panic… As a bowhunter, I am sure that almost everyone has experienced it in one way or another. Target panic can be described as a psychological disorder that is caused by increased anxiety when trying to go through with a well executed shot resulting in not being able to hold your pin on the target. In my personal experience, I would draw back, anchor and settle my pin, but my pin would always hold just below my aiming point. It seemed that no matter what I did I couldn’t get the pin on target. Once I would get the pin where I needed it, I would “punch” the trigger immediately. Sometimes it would work out in my favor, but sometimes it would result in missing the target.
Recognizing my problem, I started doing research on how to alleviate this target panic and get my confidence back. Through this research, I learned some drills and techniques from professional archers John Dudley and Levi Morgan. In addition, Joel Turner’s iron mind philosophy was extremely helpful in getting past the mental struggle. With this being said, my shooting improved and most days I felt as if my target panic had been fixed. But, there were days when I would be traveling to shoot 3D, competing in leagues and hunting when I would experience it as if I had never fixed anything at all.
Over the last 5 years, I’ve really paid attention to my nutrition and how certain foods affect me. Finally, I had an “Aha moment” and was able to correlate target panic to how I was eating those days. During the normal work week, I eat really clean and am disciplined with the nutrients that I take in to fuel my body and mind. When I travel and spend a lot of time at hunting camp, I realized that I wasn’t necessarily eating the way I should’ve been. Different food affects each person differently, so it’s not an easy distinction. I realized that when I was traveling and spending long weekends at 3D events that I wasn’t eating enough, and what I was eating wasn’t quality fuel. For example, I was having trouble during my 3D leagues in the winter with punching the trigger and really messing up shots that I should be able to make with my eyes closed. What I realized was that since I would go straight from work to the 3D event, I wasn’t eating dinner like normal. This caused my blood sugar to drop and make my body feel shaky and anxious. I started cooking venison steaks on the mornings that I would have to shoot in leagues at night. I would eat some of the steak with my morning eggs, and save the rest to eat along with some vegetables in between work and shooting at night. With this type of meal, I felt full, energized and calm. I want to note that nutrition is/was not my only issue with target panic, personally. I do believe it is and can be a huge contributing factor.
Heather Kelly, of Heather’s Choice, recommends that you ensure that you are eating enough high quality protein, such as unprocessed wild game, poultry, grass-fed beef and wild caught fish. Eating a balanced meal with animal protein, vegetables, and high quality fat will give your body the macronutrients and micronutrients it needs to perform its best. While many athletic endeavors that are incredibly glycolytic or high intensity, practicing target shooting does not require the same high energy output of say CrossFit or Olympic weight lifting. Rather than reaching for quick and easy sources of sugar to prepare for practice, reach for a more balanced snack in the two hours before shooting. This could be a small meal (animal protein, vegetables, healthy fats) or it could be a protein rich snack such as greek yogurt with berries, beef jerky with an apple, or a scoop of coconut butter and hard boiled eggs. Caffeine in small doses can help with focus and intensity; however, it is easy to overdue. The effective dose would be the equivalent of half a cup of coffee, so loading up on caffeine before shooting is only going to heighten your anxiety and adrenaline.
Imagine giving a little kid a ton of candy and how they are bouncing off of the walls for awhile, but eventually crash. After their sugar rush or blood sugar spike, they fall hard with shakiness and feeling low. The same effect happens to adults when we eat processed foods and high levels of sugar which makes our body increase its insulin production to remove the sugar from our bloodstream. Although this idea of diet being correlated to target panic hasn’t been talked about in the past, archers should take note of this. By keeping it simple and utilizing some of the foods that Heather suggested above, you should notice less anxiety and stable blood sugar levels, resulting in better shooting! Next, we will release a Part 2 that will dive into exactly how this is related to actual hunting, a more in-depth look at mental focus and performance, and some menu options for you to consume after work or on the road!
Listen to the East Meets West Hunt podcast with Brady Miller discussing his struggle with target panic and how he put together a game plan to fix it from a process and mental standpoint.