I may as well come clean and reveal my bias; I prefer to use brass nock sets above the arrow to locate my nocking point. Though I have hunted with them on and off, I have never been comfortable with a bowstring nocking loop. It just takes me too long to load my release. To its credit, the loop does improve serving life and top shooters insist it promotes better arrow flight. In this column, I am going to set my bias aside long enough to compare and contrast the many styles that archery hunters use to establish their bowstring nocking point.
Crimp on nock sets and a rubber eliminator button are a relatively heavy combination. Adding weight to the center of your string decreases your bow's efficiency slightly and results in reduced arrow speed (up to five fps).
Specialized releases designed for use with nocking loops have a short distance between the trigger and the jaw or jaws and eliminate the need to change your bow's draw length when using a loop.
Down pressure is the slight downward press of the arrow on the arrow rest during the draw and while at full draw. Whenever the center of your release aid is below the center of the shaft, the string goes across the arrow's nock at an angle and this torques the arrow, which in turn applies downward pressure on the rest.
Allen Conner, one of the world's best archers, likes a little downward pressure on his arrow rest for all his shooting. According to Conner, down pressure produces more consistent arrow flight because it forces every arrow to correct the same even if there are slight variations in the arrows themselves.
Those in favor of a system with no down pressure feel that centering the arrow in the nocking loop improves arrow flight because the shaft makes less contact with the rest as it speeds forward. They feel they can eliminate inconsistencies in arrow flight by focusing on their arrows and removing or fixing those shafts that don't group with the rest.
Testing done by Steve Johnson using his Hooter Shooter shooting machines suggests that Allen Conner has the best approach for the average archery hunter. Steve noticed that he can improve his consistency by increasing the amount of time his arrow shaft slides along (and is guided by) the rest.
If you plan to use a drop-away rest then you should be looking for ways to produce some down pressure and then set the rest so that it drops just in time to clear the fletching. In this way, you will provide the maximum amount of guidance to help stabilize the arrow before it is on its own.
Regardless of the philosophy you adopt, there are several options available for attaching the arrow to the string and each has tradeoffs.
Crimp-on Nock Sets
My typical setup includes two brass nock sets crimped onto the string above the nock. Below the nock, you place a rubber donut sometimes called an "eliminator button" to cushion the nock from the release aid. And below the eliminator button you attach your release aid.
You should also over-wrap the serving where the release contacts the serving using some kind of protective layer. I've used strand material from an old bowstring and it works just fine. You can also use a small diameter serving material that pulls snugly down into and between the wraps of your string's primary serving.
Pros and cons: With the brass nock set option, the release head is placed well below the centerline of the arrow and presses firmly into the bottom of the nock. This creates plenty of downward pressure on the rest. For this reason, some archers don't like using the setup with a drop-away rest because they feel it produces too much down pressure. However, I use it all the time with drop-away rests and don't have any problems with arrow flight.
A typical setup with two brass nock sets above the arrow nock and a rubber eliminator button below. When using this system, you attach the release aid directly to the string under the arrow nock.
But, there are also advantages. This method of nocking the arrow creates the least distraction when hooking up the release. I can do it easily without ever taking my eyes off the approaching animal.
Setting up: Initially, set the bottom nock set so its lower edge is roughly 1/8-inch above the center of the cushion plunger hole. For bows that are less than 35 inches long, consider raising it another 1/8-inch above center to account for the sharper string angle.
The Centered Loop
The centered bowstring nocking loop is the conventional setup that you see on most bows. The cord is tied above and below the arrow's nock, and the knots are snug to the arrow.
Use specialized loop cord that you buy from an archery dealer or mail order shop. This specialized cord material is stiff enough to hold its shape making hook-ups with the release easier and it won't stretch nearly as much as others I've tried.
Pros and cons: Of all the nocking systems, the simple loop has become the most popular. Here's a list of the things this simple system does well. First, because the loop pulls equally above and below the arrow it delivers the string's force more uniformly to the shaft. There is no downward flex in the shaft that could cause the shaft to spring back on release.
Second, the loop significantly reduces the likelihood of string serving failure because the release head never contacts the serving. Third, a simple loop is lighter than most other options so it doesn't rob your arrow of speed.
On the downside, some archery hunters find it more difficult to load the release using a loop than when going straight to the string.
Using a loop once required that you give up at least one half-inch of draw length and the arrow speed/Kinetic energy that goes with it. Today's specialized string loop release aids have short "noses" (the trigger is close to the jaw or jaws) so you no longer have to give up draw length to shoot a loop.
Setting up: Start with the bottom of the upper knot roughly 1/8-inch above the center of cushion plunger hole and work from there if needed.
Metal D Loops
Metal D loops serve the same purpose as the cord loop. The metal loops are easier to attach than a cord loop and are obviously more d
urable (they are made of metal). However, they are also slightly heavier. The tradeoff between D loops and cord loops is not great--to each his own.
The Uncentered String Loop
There are a number of ways that you can use a string loop and still create downward pressure on the arrow rest if that is your goal. Many archers place a nock set or tie on a nock point below the arrow and then they tie the bottom knot of the loop below this point and the top knot above the arrow nock. Another option is to slide both knots together below the arrow and then place a nock set or tie on a nocking point above the arrow's nock. Both of these methods produce slight downward pressure between the arrow and the rest.
Pros and cons: The below center loop is a good choice for archery hunters who want to assure that they have some downward pressure on their arrow rest but still want all the other advantages of a loop.
Wrapping It Up
You can't go wrong with the standard string nocking loop and you will be plenty accurate enough for bowhunting when using two brass nock sets above the arrow.
I like brass nock sets because I can attach my release quickly to the string. The nocking loop has the advantage of reducing string wear and most top archers say it is more accurate. Try them both to see which fits your shooting style best.