How Much Do Release Aids Impact Arrow Flight?
September 21, 2016
Several years ago, as I was practicing at 70 yards for an upcoming elk hunt, something peculiar happened that I had never experienced in more than 30 years of shooting and bowhunting.
About 10 minutes into the practice session, our local UPS driver roared down my driveway to deliver a small package containing a new type of release aid. Perfect timing!
Without ever leaving my 70-yard marker, I opened the box, tore the release from its display packaging and put it on my wrist. The wrist strap was comfortable and the overall length fit me well, so it was time to let an arrow fly. It'd be no change from my main release, right?
Well, my jaw about hit the ground when the arrow struck the target nearly 12 inches to the left of center. Luckily it was still in the target, so no harm done. Curious if it was just a blown shot or the actual release aid that caused the errant arrow, another shot was in order.
It landed in pretty much the same place! In fact, all six of my practice arrows sunk into the target at essentially the same location, creating a group that would typically signal all is good. What was going on?
In an attempt to "fix" the problem, I experimented with different anchor points and still nothing. Yes, the impact point could be made to jump around on the target by varying the anchor point, but not one of them ended up all the way back to my original spot, and it would certainly not be easy to repeat.
Comparing the releases side by side revealed only one major difference. My primary release was a double caliper, and the new release had a single caliper. Could that be it?
Launching an Investigation
This was going to bother me, so my next step was to see if anyone else had ever experienced the same thing, and if so, did they figure out the mystery? Many shooters we questioned had no experience with this phenomenon. It seems switching release aids doesn't happen that often, especially in the middle of a practice session!
Still, we did find some who had experienced a broken release while shooting at the range or while on a hunt and were offered a different release as a backup. Those who did notice a difference in impact point between release types chalked it up to an anchor issue or simply "one release is more accurate than the other," which is relative if both tune well.
In either case, the solution always seemed to be the same — adjust your sights. One particular target archer had obviously given this considerable thought and had theories about anchor points, wrist strap differences, proficiency of the archer, etc. In the end, however, there was no one who had a definitive answer; only theories and guesses.
Sometime last year, it dawned on me that we don't have to guess — we have the X-Ring Machine and can simply put this issue to the test. In fact, it would make a great addition to our Practical Bowhunting Test Series. With that in mind, Chad Smith (Silks Outdoors Test Specialist) and I started to look at the release mount on the X-Ring Machine and see if there was a way to attach different release heads.
Chad created a fixture that matched to a common Scott Archery release barrel attachment and we were off to the races. We had three different release models with the following mechanisms; double caliper (Scott Shark), single caliper (Scott Little Goose) and string-loop hook (Scott Silverhorn).
A Mathews NO CAM was set up on the X-Ring and tuned to shoot bullet holes with a Carbon Express Maxima Blue Streak arrow. The X-Ring's original double-caliper release was used for initial setup and produced a speed of 282 feet per second through the Pro Chrono.
Tuning: Each release was attached to the X-Ring and a paper-tuning test was performed exactly as it had been for the original setup. Without exception, the Mathews and Carbon Express combo produced excellent, near-perfect paper tears regardless of the release used.
This is not to say that different paper tune results are not possible with other, more critical, setups — to be fair, the NO CAM tunes over a wider range of draw weights and arrow spines than any other bow we have ever used on the X-Ring. But the bottom line was that our paper-tuning test indicated nearly identical performance among our three release aids.
Speed: A Pro Chrono chronograph was set up with its first gate 36 inches in front of the NO CAM's grip for consistency. Using the same exact arrow, speeds were recorded for all release types. Again, all releases performed as the original setup, with a very slight exception.
The single-caliper release averaged half a foot per second slower than the others, at 281.5 fps. Again, the bottom line was that all three release aids produced nearly identical arrow speeds.
Impact Point: This is where things got interesting. Up to this point, most would guess that in consideration of the other two tests, the impact points would be the same or at least close (within an inch) to the same. That is what I was expecting.
However, that is definitely not what happened. To perform this test, we used the double-caliper Shark as our control and measured the others from that zero point. Three to five shots were taken with each release to ensure they were producing groups of less than one inch at 40 yards. The distance between the middle of each group was then measured in reference to the double-caliper group.
Here are the results:
It should first be noted this was not an exhaustive test. For instance, we did not account for the infinite number of trigger pull weights available on these release aids, as that would have been too time intensive.
We also kept the test within the Scott release family, as their mounting fixture was common across all three releases — extremely important to this test. There are many shapes and styles of release aid mechanisms available, but it simply would not have been practical to test them all. The goal of the test was served by the three chosen releases, and we learned enough to draw some conclusions.
The main conclusion to our observations is simple and to the point: different release aids are likely to result in different impact points downrange.
I also think the observed difference in our impact results could be significantly magnified if we included different manufacturers, mechanism structures or trigger-pull weights. Regardless, the takeaway is the same — do not take chances.
If you ever find yourself in a situation that requires a change in release, especially in mechanism (single caliper vs. dual caliper), you should ensure your bow is sighted in with the new release. There is a good chance pin adjustments will be necessary. My personal solution to this issue is to buy an identical backup to my preferred release aid. Both are shot interchangeably in practice to ensure a seamless transition should the need arise.