I have a student who is struggling and has been struggling for a long time with target panic. Recently he wrote me at length and I got his permission to share part of what he wrote with you. I know it is long but that is part of my point, so please bear with him and me. Here is his letter:
“Let me mention where I’m at with things. I hate to admit it but I’ve failed being able to shake the apprehension on the shot using a thumb trigger release. It’s rare I fail at something. I’ve spent weeks and months at a time doing holding drills, blank bale shooting, combinations of both many different ways. I just can’t hold on a target, thumb on the trigger knowing I’m actually going to make a shot while I can hold on a target for 8-10 sec knowing I’m not going to take the shot. I’ve had some fantastic days where everything did work but never got more than a couple of days of that if that much.
“I see there’s about five different ways people use back tension to release the thumb trigger release. One of them is squeezing your hand and the trigger gets pushed while using back tension to pull back. I believe that’s how I’ve been doing it. I’m unable to just wrap my thumb around the trigger and pull back and have it go off. The index finger keeps that from happening and it bears most of the weight. About a week ago I tried to shift the weight from the index finger to the thumb and ring finger as I’ve read is another method. I practiced that for days on the FLT & Rope first. Now I’ve seen first hand how you can’t concentrate on two things at the same time in archery. Trying to shift the weight made things bad enough where I let the release go, this time realized exactly how that happened. Tried to just shift the weight to the thumb and out of my hand it went. Luckily I had the lanyard you recommended. I’ve spent the past year at least, trying to change things, no actually shooting for fun. We have fixed a lot of things though, just not the apprehension described.
“My plan if this didn’t work was to revisit the T.R.U. Sweet Spot BT Release w/lock you recommended since I have it. I don’t really want to use this type of release but I looked at a note I sent someone in 2013 while I was experimenting with it and having a really good day. When I dropped down and got above the gold @ 40m, I clicked off the safety and when it dropped in the center released the shot. Sounds like I was punching with a BT release now that I fully understand punching. I had adapted the BT release to my style of offhand rifle shooting I’d been using in archery for a long time. We’ve come a long way since then and I don’t need to drop into the bull any more. Also back then I was only going out one day a week and now I can shoot every day in the garage. Several weeks ago I tried the Sweet Spot release and didn’t experience any apprehension.
“My final game plan is to work with the BT release for a month. If I see improvement over the apprehension, I’ll continue otherwise I think it’s time to put the bow down and move on to other things.
“I’d like to get together and make sure I’m using the BT release correctly so I don’t spend a month or more doing it wrong. I don’t think we’d need to spend a lot of time since I already know how to use it. Seems there’s many ways people use them. Squeeze shoulder blades together, squeeze right back muscle towards center, tighten your fist, rotate your hand, just pull back and the list goes on. Most big name archers who have videos on YouTube mention just pulling back until it goes off, no real mention of back tension or squeezing back muscles or shoulder blades. Viewing videos of these guys in the matches, they all seem to have their right elbow end up down after the shot, not straight back.
“For the past week using the T.R.U. release, I’ve been anchoring using my back muscles, squeezing more with the right side. Seems to go off nicely that way. Did try the squeezing both shoulder blades together and I seem to get tired out faster using that method. When I get tired out I don’t get a smooth release. I’m using a blank target right now with my eyes open, 30 shots a day. Between sessions I use the FLT a couple or more times a day.
“I’ve given it a good try. I’ve never shot the bow this much, even bought another Morrell Super Duper target. Got both stacked in front of each other. Since I’ve wasted the entire season, I’m willing to give it one last try, after all everyone says to beat punching/TP use a BT release. Being only 15 or 30 feet away with a large piece of one inch plywood behind my target my problem doesn’t seem fear of missing the target.
“Sorry for the epic,”
Your epic is … epic! It is rare for an archer to document what lengths they have gone through to deal with an issue. At some point it would be wonderful for you to write up your entire journey regarding your TP, but first I have to share with you something that happened to me.
I was shooting (compound release) in a July 4th fun shoot (900 Round) and at 40m (122 cm target) my groups blew up to the size of garbage can lids. (I was capable of 280-290+ scores at that distance at that time. I responded the way we all do … I panicked, but when I settled down and looked at my shooting analytically, I discovered that my bow hand was becoming more and more tense at full draw. Fiddling with it, trying to get it to relax at full draw didn’t help much but I got through that shoot. I then began a process that involved years of attempts to deal with this problem. (I never found out the root cause; it was just something I did. I also didn’t know a coach to consult.)
At one point I took off 1.5 years from shooting hoping my bow hand problem would “go away.” I ended inserting two steps into my shot sequence, both were “relax bow hand” one during the “set your hands” step and one just prior to “aim.” None of this worked.
What worked is I got busy and forgot I had the problem. (Although I still can feel echoes of it happening when I “look” for them.)
Basically I think that I paid way too much attention to my “problem” and made it more real than it was. Possibly you are doing the same. Possibly you should just try turning your mind off and shooting “automatically” for a while, with and without a target face. Each time you have a thought … of any kind … mentally brush it away (I visualize a broom) and go back to shooting “mindlessly.” As a long term approach I do not recommend mindless shooting as being much less effective than correctly engaged shooting (aka mindful shooting), but when our own minds may be reinforcing a problem, they need to be pushed out of the way a bit.
Now, I do not “know” this is the case for you, but it is a possibility. If you think it is, you might have another option for a way forward.
PS regarding “Most big name archers who have videos on YouTube mention just pulling back until it goes off, no real mention of back tension or squeezing back muscles or shoulder blades.” This is the problem with video and book advice (it is one-way) and in this case, it was way oversimplified. This is indeed what it feels like to the archer, but it not what is happening. If you pull straight back with a standard triggerless release aide, it will not go off, because the tripping of the release is based upon the release rotating relative to the direction of the pull. When you are “just pulling back” correctly, your draw arm is rotating around toward your back (because your draw shoulder is doing the same) and that motion causes the release to trip at the right point if it is set up correctly (I can’t emphasize this enough; too many release aides are not set up correctly).
PPS Regarding “Sounds like I was punching with a BT release.” This is why I do not refer to such release aides as “back tension” releases, instead I call them “triggerless” (no release aid requires back tension to use it and all release aids can be used with back tension). Most archers trip their triggerless releases by hand movements, that is they rotate the release in their hand, rather than rotate their hand by rotating their arms around toward their backs. This is the equivalent of “punching a trigger,” if you were switching from the correct operation of the release to a faster hand manipulation. I do not know that you were doing this. It is entirely possible that your arm was rotating your hand and release while you were dropping down into the middle and just tripped when you got there. (I recommend getting your aperture on center before starting the final approach to the release tripping.) Note that triggerless release archers do not shoot any slower than triggered release archers. They have just trained to do the correct movements in the minimal amount of time at full draw. There is no advantage to spending more time at full draw than is needed.