How to prevent flinching in archery (aka target panic)

When you just started with archery you probably never experienced this issue. But the moment you get very consistent and see that your scores increase dramatically you may experience this issue. Flinching in archery happens by once the archer get comfortable with using the bow. Flinching can really mess up the shot because the jerk can significantly impact the flight of the arrow.

In the world of archery flinching is often called ‘’target panic’’. I don’t really like the word, because you don’t have to ‘’panic’’ to flinch. In the contrary you often experience flinching when you are confident with your bow, which makes you anticipate the shot. Therefore I will not use the word target panic in this article.

Before I can explain how to stop flinching I believe we first need to know why we flinch in the first place. Therefore I first focus on why we flinch and then continue explaining how to prevent it.

Summary

Flinching happens when you overthink your release. Therefore to fix the issue, you should force yourself to focus on something else, like the tension in your muscles or your form. If you are a recurve archer, you can prevent flinching by using a clicker. Compound archers, on the other hand, can switch to a hinge or back tension release.

What causes flinching in archery?

Flinching in archery often happens when the archer is anticipating the shot. You can compare this with how we react when we are in a car crash or when anything else happens which has a sudden impact. If you are aware that you are crashing you will probably brace yourself, by contraction your muscles. Therefore people that saw the crash coming often experience muscle strain due to the sudden jerk on the muscles. People that did not see the crash coming often don’t have these issues because their muscles are still relaxed.

This reaction is completely automatic, involuntary and also happens in archery. When the string shoots forward, there is a lot of motion and our muscles want to defend ourselves by contracting the muscles. Therefore if we are aware that the shot is about to fire, and we will automatically react by contracting our muscles. Because we use a lot of muscles when at full draw, we dramatically jerk the bow to one side, because of this reflex.

Flinching in the bow hand/arm

The most common issue is flinching in the bow arm. The proper technique is to relax the bow arm and hand. But when we anticipate the shot, we often tension these muscles, thereby pulling the riser to one side.

Flinching in the release hand

An issue that is less common is flinching in the release hand or the back muscles. Normally we keep consistent tension to pull the bow at full draw. We keep this tension consistent which makes our hand move backwards after the arrow is fired. This motion is called a follow through and is essential to check whether the tension in our muscles is consistent. A common mistake however is to fake the follow through. Often archers believe that the follow through itself helps to increase accuracy, but it is only the result of the right technique. If we anticipate the shot, some archers do the ‘’fake follow through’’ before the arrow left the bow, thereby interfering with the arrow.

During this shot, I flinched my draw hand. I expected the shot to fall earlier, since I was using a release with a heavier trigger pull than normal. Therefore, I pulled my wrist downwards thereby jerking the string downwards.

How to avoid flinching

It can be really hard to stop yourself from flinching. Luckily you can make some changes in your technique to limit it, they are quite radical and it might take a while to get used to. Therefore it might not be worthwhile for every archer. You also need to have a consistent draw length and both techniques are more strenuous for your back muscles.

Recurve archery – the clicker

The clicker is a device that you add to your riser and is activated when you reach a certain draw length. When the clicker goes off the archer releases the shot. The main purpose of the clicker is to keep your draw length consistent, but it also helps you to prevent flinching. Because you release immediately after the clicking sound, you can’t anticipate the shot and flinch. Therefore most archers that shoot with a clicker have no issues with flinching.

Few archers however still experience flinching while shooting with the clicker. When you are ready to fire you pull the arrow through the clicker. If you are really consistent with your draw you will know exactly when the clicker goes off. Therefore the surprise effect of the clicker is eliminated and you can still start to flinch.

There is a lot of technique involved to shoot consistently with a clicker. It’s certainly not a quick fix. If you are considering shooting with a clicker I would recommend reading the following article:

‘’Mastering the clicker – recurve archery’’

Compound archery – the back tension release

In compound archery the draw length of the bow is not variable. When you are past the let-off point you reach what is known as the wall. After this point you can pull the bow back any further. For this reason compound archers can’t use a clicker.

Compound archers however can use a release that creates the surprise effect. There are two options: the canting and the back tension release. By far the most popular is the back tension release, especially under professional archers. You fire the back tension release by increasing the tension on the release, by using your back muscles. The canting release has a more unusual mechanism which activated by canting the release in a certain orientation.

Using a back tension release can by quite strenuous for you back muscles. Since the release has to be set high poundage, to avoid accidental discharges, you have to pull high poundage to activate the release. Therefore some archers prefer the less usual canting release. If you are used to shooting with a back tension release you might know the exact point where the release goes off. Therefore some archers experience flinching even with a back tension release. However, the same is true for the canting release, you can get use to the exact orientation, removing the surprise effect.

If you want to know more about the differences between the canting and back tension release, I would recommend reading the following article:

‘’How to choose the right release aid’’

How to train to break the habit

I don’t often recommend buying new gear to fix a flaw in your technique. Flinching, however, is not an issue regarding your technique, it’s a natural impulse from focusing on the shot. The problem is that you are over thinking your shot and focus too much on when you release. It’s however an instinctive response to focus on your release, since so much depends on it. Even if your entire technique and form is correct, you can mess up your release and still shoot atrocious. If you however can shift your mind, you can still prevent flinching. Below are a few tips:

  • Don’t focus on your scores: if you are thinking about your scores you will probably be too focused on where your arrows land. Therefore you will probably be too focused on your release.
  • Don't focus to much on where you are aiming: aiming will come instinctively with most archers, it might be even hard to aim away from the center of the target. If you are focusing to much on where the sight pin is on the target, you will probably rush your release when you are at the center. This rushed release will in turn lead to flinching.
  • Focus on something else: we can’t switch of our thoughts, but we can force our thoughts to something else. It’s a good idea to focus on your form and the tension of your muscles instead. Not only will this prevent flinching it will also make sure that you are consistent with your technique.
  • If you jerk the bow, immediately let down the draw: if you notice that you start to flinch try to let down the draw immediately. Thereby you force yourself won’t get into the bad habit and it can even prevent a bad shot. Often this is very difficult because most archers flinch right before or after the release, but if you can it’s the most effective way to reduce flinching.

Probably you will never really completely get rid of flinching, because it’s a natural reaction. But I hope that with these tips you can reduce flinching to a minimum. When I had mayor flinching issues these things really helped me, to get out of the habit.

Is flinching really the issue?

You might experience that you jerk the bow to one side and believe that this is because of flinching. This, however, doesn’t have to be the case; another common flaw in the technique can cause this issue. If you put too much tension on your bow arm you can jerk the bow in a certain direction, thereby interfering with the arrow. The result will be exactly the same as with flinching, a dramatic decrease in your accuracy, but the cause is completely different.

Therefore if you notice that you jerk the bow, you might want to check whether the tension in your bow arm is correct. Especially if you aren’t into archery for a long time, this is probably the issue. Beginning archers often don’t experience flinching, because they are not fully familiar with the shot process. Flinching is often an issue that arises when you have well established the technique and when you are very familiar to the feel of your bow.

Final words

Flinching is a very difficult habit to break. Some archers really struggle with it, while other archers found a fix that works for him/her really fast. In my experience, however, every archer ever has this issue at least once in their shooting ‘’career’’. If you have any experiences, tips or feedback that you would like to share, please leave them in the comments below. If you have any questions, please leave them down below as well, I will respond as soon as possible.

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