The buck you’re after walks within sight. Immediately, your cool, calm demeanor vanishes, and you lose it. Your heart starts racing and your breath becomes labored; your legs and arms begin to shake. How can you make a perfect shot when your body turns against you?
Practice. Although you can’t perfectly simulate how you’ll feel “in the moment,” you can practice shooting in intense, high-pressure situations to better cope with the excitement and adrenaline you’ll experience during real-world encounters.
Jeff Greer, owner of Music City Archery in Franklin, Tennessee, said, “To execute at peak performance, an archer must create challenging situations, push the boundaries of perceived limits and strive to perform beyond expectation even when no one else believes they can succeed.”
Greer said everyone processes pressure differently, so no magic tip works across the board. But all top-performing archers and bowhunters have one thing in common: They’re confident.
“Successfully executing the high-pressure shot is more about confidence than anything else,” he said. “The archer must practice the art of humble self-confidence and believe they have the skills, training and determination to be successful regardless of the situation.”
Try the following strategies to increase your confidence and learn to cope with your mental and physical reactions during high-pressure situations.
Braden Cytlak, owner of Somerset Outdoors in Jerome, Michigan, says you need to elevate your heart rate if you’re at home without much going on. When he practices, he tries to imagine a scary situation that will get his blood pumping, “almost like in a horror movie,” he said. Think about monsters, dinosaurs, shooting at a charging grizzly, scaling the side of a building, or something else that gives you that sense of shock and panic.
You can also try shooting around other people; that’s Greer’s No. 1 tip. Practicing with peers, he said, increases the pressure to perform. You’ll also have more distractions to overcome, which teaches you to focus. Head to your local range for a change of pace, scenery and environment.
When the rush from shooting casually around people wears off, join a league and shoot for a score. Keeping track of your performance, especially compared with competitors, adds excitement and peer pressure. Some leagues have qualification rounds and others have head-to-head challenges that put you in the spotlight.
Challenge yourself further by signing up for tournaments with varying target shapes and distances. Most tournaments attract many competitors, which increases stress and the pressure to perform, meaning you’ll have to work harder to maintain the focus and composure necessary to make good shots over and over again.
Get out of your comfort zone and test your skills with drills and exercises you can do alone or with friends. Search online to find archery drills, games and shooting activities. Greer recommends trying the “Shot of Faith,” which has advancement opportunities for those at different skill levels. Ensure you have a large backstop and a spotter who can ensure the range is clear as you complete this drill. Here’s how it works.
Once you complete Level 4, move back a few more yards and start over.
As you participate in each of these situations, you’ll hone your emotions and reactions to intense, high-pressure situations. Being intentional and creating more realistic shooting experiences will make you a better, more prepared archer who can perform flawlessly under pressure.