While having quality equipment is important, the biggest thing to avoid is for the shooter to lose their cool and stop being calm and collected. Professional hunters call it “buck fever”, CQB operators sometimes refer to it as “tunnel vision” and in shooting sports it often manifests as “target panic”.
According to BowHunting Magazine: “At its core, target panic is a form of anxiety related to shooting, or, more specifically, accurately shooting. In other words, you experience anxiety when aiming and releasing the shot.”
Firstly, it is okay to experience this. Believe it or not, you’re not alone - athletes in other sports also experience anxiety. In fact, anxiety is a common issue among athletes across various sports Here are some examples of athletes in other sports who have spoken openly about their struggles with anxiety:
Despite the abundance of resources available on how to overcome target panic, shooters may still find it challenging to overcome this phenomenon.
Conventional advice talks about getting more practice in, and various drills in order to gain more confidence and muscle memory. Lots of practice also helps instill confidence in your equipment. This is all great advice and you must absolutely try to be the best you can be. However, even going through all these steps still leaves many shooters experiencing sudden target panic attacks on the firing line.
So what if we think back to the BowHunting Magazine definition of target panic as “a form of anxiety” and take inspiration from unconventional anxiety management techniques from science and other sports and professions?
According to a study published in the Journal of Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, mindfulness meditation has been shown to improve mental health, including reducing anxiety and depression.
By practicing mindfulness, shooters may become more aware of their target panic triggers and learn to let them go more easily. If you don’t know where to start - there are several free apps on the market that “gamify” meditation to make it easy and fun.
A recent Forbes Health article also suggested L-Theanine and Vitamin B6 could also be helpful, and a MedicalNewsToday article “Herbs for Anxiety” suggests Chamomile and Valerian. And a Cleveland Clinic article cites Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) as “known for producing a calming effect [and] thought to play a major role in controlling anxiety, stress and fear”.
More modern compounds such as Theacrine are also being studied for their effects on anxiety. One such study mentions that “theacrine may have the ability to counteract depression and anxiety induced by chronic stress, elevate mood, and may have benefits in antidepressant treatment."
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In his book “The Way of The SEAL”, Commander Mark Divine writes that the SEALs always visualize their success, and that “visualization in this depth is super-quiet and super-calming”. Combining visualizations with writing them down in a journal can help amplify their powerful effects, as suggested in another Forbes Health article: “Handwriting increases neural activity in certain sections of the brain, similar to meditation”
In conclusion, target panic can be a challenging condition to overcome for shooters, but by taking inspiration from unconventional anxiety management techniques, such as mindfulness meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, breathing exercises, supplements, visualization exercises, and experimentation, shooters may be able to find relief and improve their performance on the range. These techniques can help reduce anxiety levels and improve mental clarity, allowing shooters to stay present and focused on their targets.