Target panic. Two of the most dreaded and discussed words in the bowhunting lexicon today. Most bowhunters will experience it over the course of their lives and many struggle with it on an annual basis. In my personal experience, I would draw back, anchor and settle my pin, and then no matter what I did, my pin would always end up just below my desired aiming point. I just couldn’t get the pin on target. I’d then have to force the pin to where I needed it, and “punch” the trigger immediately. Sometimes it would work out in my favor, and other times it would result in a poor shot. Sound familiar?
Recognizing my problem, I started researching ways to alleviate target panic and get my confidence back. Through this research, I learned some drills and techniques from professional archers like John Dudley and Levi Morgan. In addition, Joel Turner’s Iron Mind material was extremely helpful in getting past the mental struggle. With help from these sources, 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 or hunting when I would experience it as if I had never fixed anything at all.
Over the last few years, I’ve paid close attention to my nutrition and how certain foods impact me. But I’d never made the connection between diet and my shooting performance. Finally, it dawned on me. Many of my worst target panic days were linked to how I was eating. During the normal work week, I eat clean and am disciplined with the nutrients that I take in to fuel my body and mind. When I travel, and/or spend a lot of time at hunting camp, I don’t necessarily eat the way I normally do.
I realized that when I was traveling and spending long weekends at 3D events, I wasn’t eating enough. Worse, I wasn’t eating the same quality of nutrients. For example, during my 3D leagues in the winter I found myself punching the trigger and messing up shots that I should have made 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 usual. This caused my blood sugar to drop and made my body feel shaky and anxious. I started cooking venison steaks on the mornings I would be shooting 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 the league event. With this type of meal, I felt full, energized and calm.
It’s obvious to suggest that eating a balanced meal with animal protein, vegetables, and high-quality fats will give your body the macronutrients and micronutrients it needs to perform its best. But this is easier said than done when you’re on the road or rushing from work to an event or the range. While many of our post-work recreational pursuits would qualify as high intensity—for example CrossFit or a loaded hike/ruck—target shooting does not require the same high energy output and should be fueled accordingly. Rather than reaching for quick and easily digestible sources of sugar, prioritize 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.
Although the idea of diet being linked to target panic hasn’t, to my knowledge, been discussed previously, archers should take note of the impact their nutrient intake may be having on their shooting performance and consistency. In a follow-on piece to this, we’ll dig a little deeper into how to identify diet-related target panic symptoms and some practical ways to make sure your weekly meal plan supports your accuracy and practice goals. For now, remember this…garbage in, garbage out.