March 08, 2022
By Randy Ulmer
In recent columns, I have tried to convince index-finger, release-aid shooters to try a handheld release aid, specifically one with a thumb trigger. These release aids are a proven way for most archers to improve their accuracy. We've talked about how to get started with them, and now I’ll continue the discussion with how best to use these aids.
As I’ve said before, theoretically, it shouldn’t matter how you hold your release hand, forearm and elbow, as long as you do it exactly the same way each time. However, as with all things related to archery shooting form, it is important to find the position that is most "repeatable." And, the most repeatable position for archery is usually the relaxed position. There are only a few muscles that need to be engaged to execute an archery shot, and none of them happen to be in your release hand, forearm or wrist.
Holding and Shooting
When shooting a handheld, thumb-triggered release aid, try to relax your hand so that the fingers and wrist stretch out completely and remain straight. The fingers should only act as a hook to hang the release from. The bow should be held back by the muscles of the upper back (the back-tension muscles), not the muscles of the upper arm or forearms.
Once you’ve drawn the bow, try to imagine that your release arm, from your elbow through your forearm and wrist to your fingers, is inanimate. In other words, pretend you have no control over any other portion of your release arm, forearm, wrist or hand. At full draw, you should hold the elbow in the up and back position using only your back muscles.
Place the knuckles of your release hand (the "hook" knuckles) lightly at the back of your jawbone directly under your ear. Again, the thumb trigger should be pointed straight down.
If, while at full draw, you squeeze the body of the release aid with your fingers, or bend your wrist, you will be recruiting additional muscle fibers that are not necessary for the execution of the shot. This will create an additional level of variability and additional tension in your forearm, both of which will lead to inconsistency.
Ideally, the lines of force from the release aid, through the wrist and the elbow, should be as straight as possible. The more these forces bend, the greater the effect small changes in form will have on the impact point of the arrow. Because it is impossible for an archer to repeat perfectly, we want the small variations in our shooting form to affect the shot as minimally as possible. The position of the release hand, forearm and elbow that does this best is a relaxed, straight line.
Anchor Point Adjustments
The release aid should not be held out on your fingertips, as this creates a great deal of tension in your fingers and hand, making it difficult to maintain the position for any length of time. It should instead be held deeply in the fingers (a deep hook as opposed to a shallow hook).
This straight line of force is often broken or bent at the anchor point, as the back of your wrist and hand wraps around your face and neck. This is one reason I do not advocate for a rock-solid anchor. When you use a solid anchor, you tend to push hard into your face and bend the line of forces. The rock-solid anchor is very repeatable; however, the amount of pressure you apply to your face (and the degree of the bend) is not. Try to use very light pressure with your hand to your face. It’s still possible to place your hand in the exact same place every time without using firm pressure.
A rock-solid anchor point was extremely important before the advent of the peep sight. Now, however, nearly everyone uses a peep, and the peep itself serves as a type of anchor point, allowing your release hand to float more freely and unencumbered along your face. So just a "baby’s breath" touch of your release hand to your face is enough. (If, for some reason, you do not use a peep, then ignore everything I just said and use a solid anchor point.)
You must hold the release aid in a consistent left/right position as well. In other words, if you put a little more pressure on your ring finger during one shot, and then on your index finger during the next shot, the release aid’s positional geometry will change. This inconsistency will influence the directional forces on the D-loop and your arrows won’t hit in the same place from shot to shot.
Once again, the best way to minimize this problem is to fully relax all of your fingers. The release aid will naturally fall into its default, relaxed position on every shot.