July 01, 2014First off, if you're happy with your performance at the moment of truth, then read no further. For me and many other hunters, we have struggled with consistent accuracy at crunch time. The problem is often called "buck fever", which very well may be the case, but sometimes the issue is poor shot execution or even target panic.
For descriptive purposes, let's define what I'm referring to when I talk about "buck fever," "poor shot execution," and "target panic." When I say buck fever, I'm referring to getting extremely nervous, excited, and even shaky while drawing back on a big buck. Obviously this can result in poor shots.
When I refer to "poor shot execution," I'm referring to punching the trigger. This is when you hold your finger off of the trigger and then punch it as soon as your sight pin hits the bull's-eye or vitals. Some people use this method and can be extremely accurate, but for many it can lead to some serious target panic issues and inconsistency when taking that most important shot.
When I refer to "target panic," I'm referring to a fear of missing, which begins to cause serious problems that can be very difficult to overcome. The "target panic" sufferer often experiences anxiety of missing, due to the unsteady sight picture and then punches the trigger as soon as the sight pin hits the target. In some severe cases the shooter flinches or even freezes his sight pin just below, above, or to the side of the target only to force the pin over to the target/vitals and punch the trigger as soon as the target is acquired. Some refer to this as "drive by shooting."
I've been shooting archery for over 20 years and I have always been what I call a "trigger puncher". It served me well in archery competition as well as in the field on big bucks most of the time. A few years ago I started struggling and began to develop minor forms of target panic. I started rushing my shot on animals and during practice I started timing my shot as my pin crossed over the bull's-eye. At the time I didn't know what was going on, but I knew it wasn't good and I couldn't seem to control it. Although I recovered most deer my shot placement was often poor. Things slowly got progressively worse to the point where I would uncontrollably freeze my pin just off of the bull's-eye or deer vitals and subsequently swing the pin across the target or animal and time the shot by punching the trigger. So many people do this and don't realize it. For someone that loves archery and bow hunting it is an absolute nightmare and can wreak havoc on hunting success and the enjoyment of archery in general. It cost me a number of big bucks over the years and I had finally had enough.
We've all heard it before, but many guys/gals have no idea what it is. Releasing an arrow using back tension requires you to only focus on aiming while your back muscles slowly contract causing the release to fire with no anticipation. This is what back tension shooters call the "surprise shot" or "unanticipated shot" and when mastered can lead to a whole new level of accuracy and more importantly …consistency! The surprise shot occurs in a relatively short window when performed correctly.
The best way for me to describe the back tension shot execution is after you get to full draw, find your anchor points and settle your pin on the target. Next, slowly pull your release arm elbow straight back as if to touch it to a wall behind you. This subtle movement moves the slightly pre loaded trigger just enough to make the release fire.
Picture this scenario. A big buck steps into view and you prepare for the shot. You draw your bow back, anchor, and place your pin on the vitals. Now you slowly contract your back muscles and you only focus on aiming and nothing else. The back muscles contract slowly, thus firing the release within a very short time frame, sending the arrow exactly where you were aiming because that's all you were focusing on. Your focus can't be on firing the release…only on aiming while your subconscious slowly contracts your back muscles to execute the shot.
• Increase Your Accuracy...This picture demonstrates the correct motion to execute the back tension shot. Author photos
Back tension shooters learn to accept their pin float, meaning it's ok for your pin to float around your target mark. Your brain likes to automatically center your pin at whatever your visual focus is on. Your only job is to focus on your target, allow the pin to float within it and subconsciously execute your shot using your back muscles.
This may sound far more complicated then it is. Once you learn to shoot using back tension it becomes a very calm, stress free way of shooting, even on big bucks! Essentially it helps you cure buck fever and will rid you of the dreaded target panic. It virtually eliminates those rushed shots that seem to happen when the pressure is on and allows you to only focus on one thing...aiming.
Making the Switch
If you're going to make the switch to shooting using back tension there are some steps to take. First you need to make sure your bow is set up properly to fit you. Make sure you find a knowledgeable pro shop to set your draw length properly. This is the foundation of good form, which is important to accuracy with bow and arrow. I like Schupach's Sporting Goods in Jackson, Michigan. Perfect draw length is the foundation of good form which is important to accuracy with bow and arrow.
Next you have to decide on a release aid. Index trigger releases that have extremely light triggers or ones that have a lot of trigger travel are often the culprit of target panic. This tends to cause problems because the sensitive index finger can feel the trigger move causing you to anticipate the release. There are many hunters that use these types of releases just fine and do well. For myself and many other experienced shooters we must avoid these types of releases like the plague. Instead we choose a release that fires on pressure with no travel and perform the shot execution in a different manor all together, back tension. A moderate to heavy trigger with no travel allows you to load your finger/or thumb with no fear of the release going off. Then you can slowly execute your shot by pulling your release arm straight back using your back muscles. There are many releases on the market that will work but nothing teaches you how to shoot back tension like a hinge release, as there is no trigger. Most hinge shooters are target archers as there are some down falls to using one for hunting. For me personally, I use a hinge release during practice in the off months and use a thumb trigger during hunting season because the transition is very easy between the two. I also have an index finger release that has a no travel, adjustable trigger set to heavy that allows me to execute using back tension.
The next part of making the switch requires determination, patience and time. You have to make the back tension shot execution automatic. Whether you're making the switch to back tension to cure target panic or just to be more consistent in accuracy, I recommend at least a month (preferably more) of blind bailing at close range with no sight attached. Simply set your target at roughly five yards, stare at a spot and execute your shot with your back muscles. Focus on the spot and let your shot execution run on its own while you maintain your focus on aiming only. Don't worry about where your arrow hits at this point. After a while this shot execution becomes automatic and can run subconsciously while you're only conscious effort can be on aiming. As you master back tension shot execution you can start tinkering with the release setting to get it dialed in so your shot execution fires within a 1-4 second window for hunting. After it becomes automatic, you can put your sight back on and then you can start pounding the target at longer ranges. Take it slow and move back as you get more comfortable with the newly learned shot execution. It is very important to ingrain this technique into your subconscious or you will be at risk of falling back in to your old habits.
Now that you have mastered the back tension shot execution you're ready to continue with it in your daily practice just to reinforce the new technique. I recommend continuing to incorporate blind bailing as part of your practice routine. You should also start taking "hunting situation" practice shots from elevated stands, though small holes of brush, and even shots where you have to execute a little quicker, just like a realistic hunting situation. Executing your shot back tension in a hunting scenario will have its pros and cons, but I believe the positives far outweigh the negatives. There may be the occasional shot that needs to happen extremely fast that you may miss out on, but one could argue that you shouldn't take that shot anyway. Conversely I think, once mastered, the back tension shot will make you significantly more accurate and consistent while under the intense pressure. The shot will fire while you focus on aiming and your back muscles slowly contract to execute the shot. This makes for a much more relaxed shooting situation and will help you so much with the so called "buck fever". Thinking back on the big bucks I've taken over the years, I think back tension shooting would have cost me one animal. On the other hand, shooting back tension would have probably made me successful far more on the poor shots and wounded animals because of my rushed, drive by shooting method.
If you look at all the top archers in the world, it is by far the most popular shooting method because it holds up well under intense pressure and is very consistent. There are very good resources out there if you choose to learn this method. A book by Larry Wise called Core Archery, is a great book for serious archers. There are also many pros out there that explain the technique and what works for them. Much of this information is free for all to access online. You can also check with your local pro shop shooters. These guys are usually happy to get you started down the right path as most of them made the switch to back tension for the very same reasons that have been mentioned in this article.
So whether you are suffering from target panic, buck fever (which is often just target panic), or just looking to be a more consistent shooter in the hunting situation, I personally believe learning the back tension shot may be the way to go. I love archery and enjoy shooting every day, but I got to a point where I was getting frustrated at my consistency and really struggling to enjoy it. Making the switch got me where I wanted to be. Like I mentioned, if you're happy with your performance on the range and when the pressure is on then just disregard this article. If not, maybe it can help you achieve your true potential in archery.