Mastering The Surprise Release - September 2009

Question: I was wondering, have you ever experienced target panic and if so, how did you cure it? -- Chuck Barbato, South Huntington, NY

I have definitely experienced target panic and I have killed it, for the most part by learning to perform a surprise release.

Simply put, "target panic" is the inability to hold the pin on the intended spot while aiming. You may find yourself sticking on the low side. That is very common. No matter how hard you try, you just can't smoothly raise the bow that quarter-inch required to put the pin on the spot you're trying to hit and hold it there. How did it suddenly get so heavy? So, instead you try to flip it up there with your wrist at the moment of release. Not exactly a consistent approach to archery! Or you may experience slightly different symptoms, such as trying to punch the trigger as the pin zips across the spot. You see guys flinching all the time when trying to shoot. That is another outward sign of target panic.

Typically, target panic gets started because you try too hard to control the exact timing of the shot. Your brain waits to scream "NOW" as soon as the pin settles for just a moment on the spot. Soon you're so paralyzed by the anticipation that you can't even get your pin on the target. Getting target panic is not the hard part — we have all done that. Here I will focus on getting rid of it.

If you really want to reach your potential as an archer and bowhunter, you need to learn to perform a surprise release. I can almost guarantee that if you'll give it a fair trial, this technique will fix what ails you. This plan calls for a release that takes you completely by surprise. Without any way to know when the bow is going to fire, you can't anticipate the shot or issue a "now" command and ruin it.

To first experience the "explosion" of a well executed shot, have a friend or spouse trigger your normal hunting release while you're at full draw, arrow nocked and aiming at a target. Your only task is to aim and keep your finger behind the trigger - don't think. When the bow goes off, I guarantee that you'll be surprised. Don't tense up or try to control the shot. Do this drill repeatedly until the release no longer scares you, but instead is simply a comfortable surprise. It may take 20 shots one afternoon or it may take 100 shots over four days, but eventually you will learn to be comfortable shooting this way. This drill is the first step toward learning to perform the surprise release on your own.

The second step is to get a good back tension release. These are great training aids for building on this foundation. Carter Enterprises, Stanislawski and T.R.U. Ball make good models. You fire such a device by pivoting your hand in response to pulling through the shot. They're called back tension releases because the best results occur when you use your back muscles to pull through the shot, much like squeezing your shoulder blades together. These releases have adjustable mechanisms that automatically fire when your hand turns a certain amount. When you start to anticipate the release point, simply change the setting.

Once the feeling of a proper release is ingrained into your nervous system (it takes a couple weeks of regular shooting) you'll know the true joy of archery. And your old enemy has just received his walking papers. As the hunting season approaches, you can easily make the transition back to your normal hunting release while still concentrating on squeezing off the shot using back tension and a surprise release.

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