If you’ve been following Harvesting Nature, it’s pretty safe to assume that you’re aware of what “target panic” is. You may have even experienced it yourself.
I am fairly new to archery hunting and really had no idea what target panic was; once I found out, I kind of disregarded it. I thought to myself, this can’t happen to me, or I just don’t believe it’s real – you find the animal, range the animal, and you take your shot. End of story!
Well, unfortunately, I’m a changed man, a believer, a full-on target panic connoisseur!
It was our group’s big 2022 archery hunt in California and we brought along a new hunter. We spent about five days in the Inyokern Forest, one of our regular hunting spots. We know the area well, and for the most part, have our system down pat. Every time we’ve gone, we’ve been able to put the stalk on a buck.
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First day of this trip starts out with us finding a group of two bucks with four does. We spotted the deer at about 300 yards from where we were glassing, using scopes and binoculars. We left the new hunter and another from our group at the glassing spot to help us keep an eye on the deer. Three of us broke off and tried to get in closer to put our stalk on them. We finally got about 100 yards away and we had some pretty good cover.
As we were working our way into the 80-yard range so we could successfully try to send an arrow, the deer stood up and split, despite there being any major commotion from the three of us. We were confused about what we did wrong, scratching our heads as we made our way back to the glassing spot. We realized, after reconnecting, that the new hunter decided that he would cut across to a different ridge to see if he could get a better view. Unbeknownst to us he spooked the deer and blew the stalk. Needless to say, he won’t do that again.
We spent the next few days glassing and hiking around to see if we could put something together, but unfortunately, we didn’t have much more action. On the bright side, we ate good food and had a great time with friends.
We didn’t end up getting any great opportunities until the last day. On the last morning, after spending a few hours glassing together, we decided to separate into a couple groups with a plan of meeting back at the glassing point in the early afternoon. We are allowed to use walkie-talkies in the state of California, but ours were not holding much of a charge, so we had to turn them on and off randomly to check in with each other. As late afternoon rolled around, we turned on the walkie-talkie because we were still missing one part of our group. Within moments we heard, “I took a shot, but I missed!”
They followed this with a muffled explanation that they were at the first day’s glassing spot. We were roughly 2 miles away from there, and tried, quietly but quickly, to get back to that location. Upon finding our friend, he explained that he found the same group of deer that we had found the first day. He had them at about 60 yards and tried to send an arrow that hit a branch in mid-flight, missing the deer by a few feet. He explained that they ran off onto private property that we had no access to.
We got as close as we could to the property line, and by some good luck, were able to find the deer and continue tracking them back in the direction of public land. Luckily for me, I left my pack at the top of the ridge when we first found the deer. I cut down to the bottom of the mountain and found a perfect little rock to sit and wait for the deer to come to me. I spent about 20 minutes watching the deer stop and go in my direction while continually ranging them.
I watched the deer range from about 150 yards all the way down to about 75 yards. Then it happened, I started shaking uncontrollably and could not stop. I couldn’t steadily bring the rangefinder to my eye to get the distance. The trembling was so bad I could not see the deer through the eyepiece of my rangefinder. I tried taking deep breaths, talking myself down, anything I could do to slow down. I was finally able to stop shaking enough so that I could get a range at about 58 yards. The deer stopped. I already had an arrow nocked and ready to go. I slowly stood up, drew back my bow, and began shaking uncontrollably again. I was able to send an arrow, but because I was shaking so much, it went under the belly by about 3 inches and completely missed.
By some kind of miracle, the other buck did not know what was going on and stood there long enough for me to try and range him in. Again, I began shaking but took another shot. The buck must’ve heard me stand up, because as soon as I did, he ran and I missed him by two feet.
After that, all of us met up by the cars and I told them my horrifying tale, before leaving empty handed. To be honest, I can still find myself driving or just hanging out and the memory of that day pops up in my head, flooding me with emotion and reminding me how bad I screwed up. It would’ve been my first buck that I took with my bow, which should’ve been the highlight of my hunting adventures, but turned out to be one of the lowest points I have ever experienced.
After reading through articles on target panic, the best way to simulate the same situation is by getting in a good workout, where I get my heart rate up and then try to send a couple arrows at a target. Still, it is nowhere near the same rush as when I was in the situation. The best you can do is shoot and prepare as much as possible for a hunt, then when you’re in the experience, everything will hopefully come together.