Hitting your target in practice is one thing, but doing so under pressure is another. Whether you’re competing at the range, hunting big game or fighting for your life, a nasty combination of stress, adrenaline, fear and other factors can make even the most practiced shooters miss the mark at the moment of truth.
Thankfully, there are ways to steady your aim. Just ask shooting star and Federal Premium brand ambassador Julie Golob. The decorated U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit veteran and champion competitive shooter has made a career of coming through in the clutch.
Golob has more than 120 championship titles to her credit in seven different action-shooting disciplines, and is widely considered the most accomplished female shooter on the planet. Although much of her success stems from a relentless pursuit of excellence, she seals the deal with a proven four-step plan of attack that ensures her end game doesn’t unravel when the chips are down.
Golob’s first order of business is making peace with the fact that she’s in a high-stress situation, and she advises other shooters to do likewise. “It’s absolutely critical to accept where you are in that moment of truth,” she says. “If you’re feeling stressed, excited or otherwise worked up, you need to acknowledge that yes, this is indeed happening.
“It’s absolutely critical to accept where you are in that moment of truth.”
“Some people think they can program themselves to be somewhere else, but if you’re on the line in a national championship and the whole world is watching, it’s pretty hard to escape the heat of the moment,” she continues. “I’ve found it’s far more conducive to shooting your best to simply accept that you’re in a heightened state of awareness and do what needs to be done to push through it.”
2. Have Faith
Self-trust is Golob’s second pillar of performance. “Trusting yourself is key to success,” she says, noting that her trust springs from the knowledge she’s done everything possible to hone her skills for the task at hand.
“If there’s something you really want, whether it’s an Olympic gold medal or getting your name engraved on a high-score plaque at the local trap range, you should go through a series of steps and processes to meet that goal,” she says. “Once you develop the skill set necessary to achieve the desired outcome, you can approach the opportunity to accomplish it with a positive attitude and healthy dose of self-confidence.”
On the flip side, shooters who fail to prepare and question their abilities are vulnerable to attack from within. “If you don’t trust yourself, self-doubt starts to creep in,” she warns. “And that’s the absolute worst thing that can happen, because your mind can become your most brutal adversary.”
3. Give Thanks
Rather than fear the risk of failure, Golob encourages shooters to embrace the chance to prove themselves. “Whenever I’m in one of those ‘holy cow this is really happening’ moments, I focus on how awesome it is just to be in that situation,” she smiles.
“If you’re thankful for the situation, you’re a lot less likely to be tripped up by fear and doubt.”
“Instead of worrying about the outcome or what could go wrong, I concentrate on being thankful that I’m standing there, about to do the very thing I’ve prepared so hard to accomplish. If you’re thankful for the situation, you’re a lot less likely to be tripped up by fear and doubt.”
4. Catch Your Breath
Regardless of your prep and mental toughness, it’s easy to fall apart under pressure if you forget the basics of good shooting—which explains why Golob religiously catches her breath before sending a single round downrange.
“The last thing I always do when I’m in that moment is breathe,” she says. “It’s a really simple step to better shooting, yet a lot of people forget about it.”
Jittery nerves can cause shooters to breathe shallowly and erratically to the point of hyperventilation, effectively killing their chances to perform at their best. Which is why Golob advocates a far more measured approach to respiration.
“Controlled breathing is key,” she offers. “Taking a series of slow, deep breaths counteracts stress and produces a calming sensation. Your heart rate goes down, your body gets enough oxygen, and the overwhelming rush of adrenaline subsides just enough to give you the edge to make things happen, without adversely affecting your end game.”
“Taking a series of slow, deep breaths counteracts stress and produces a calming sensation.”
Without such controlled breathing, she cautions, “It’s possible to get so stoked and so caught up in the heat of the moment that you jerk the trigger, push too hard, too fast and make other costly mistakes.”
So important are these four steps, Golob says they’ve been critical to some of her most hard-won, white-knuckle victories, including ladies champion’s titles in the Action Pistol Women’s Division of the prestigious NRA Bianchi Cup.
“The Bianchi Cup is probably one of the most difficult and challenging matches I shoot, because you can achieve a perfect score,” she explains. “The final event—moving target—is as hard as it gets. You’re aiming for a 4-inch circle moving 10 feet per second at different distances 48 times straight.
“For me, facing this challenge successfully is a matter of walking up to the line and accepting where I am. I tell myself I’ve prepared for this, I’m thankful to be here—and then I just breathe through it.”