When shooting an index-triggered release, shorten the release stem until the trigger contacts your finger at or behind the first knuckle. That will make it much easier to make a proper surprise release.
Hunting releases essentially come in two styles: thumb trigger and index trigger. Of the two, index trigger releases are by far the most popular. In this column, I'm going to run through a few small changes you can make to your index-triggered release to make it more accurate in the field.
Surprise Is Key To Success
I realize you get a steady pounding in this magazine about the need to make a surprise release. Yet when I watch hunters shoot, I see very few who actually take this advice.
First off, it is important. It is the absolute key to shooting well under pressure. I changed my shooting style to this method about five years ago. I would never go back. I still get excited and fight off the adrenaline as before, but now I feel much more in control of the shot. By reprogramming my nervous system over the course of a few months to accept a surprise release, my shots at game have become much more consistent.
Please take my word for it; you absolutely need to be shooting this way. Now, let's look at two tweaks you can make to your release aid to help achieve this result when hunting.
Release Aid Length
It's possible you've never considered the length of your release aid. As long as you can reach the trigger with your fingertip, you may be satisfied it works just fine. I thought that way for many years. But by shortening the distance from the wrist strap to the trigger, I greatly improved my ability to make a surprise release.
Rather than using the first articulation of your index finger to pull the trigger -- from the first joint to the tip -- use the second articulation. This puts the trigger on the pad of flesh between the second joint and the first joint. To do this, you merely have to shorten your release aid and extend your finger a little farther forward when reaching for the trigger.
This simple change may be one of the best-kept "secrets" in archery -- or at least one of the most overlooked.
This setup works better because the second joint isn't nearly as sensitive to trigger tension as the first. So, it doesn't give you enough feedback to anticipate the shot with the same degree of accuracy as you can when triggering with your fingertip. Moreover, the second articulation is much less mobile. This means that once you start squeezing the trigger, you are much more likely to achieve the kind of consistent pull that produces a surprise release. Just keep aiming as close to the spot you want to hit as possible. Don't worry if the pin isn't glued there -- it won't be. Just keep squeezing and aiming. You will be shocked by how consistently and well you can shoot this way.
Most release aids are adjustable for length in one way or another. Some have a cord; others have a threaded stem covered by a rubber tube while still others have a screw or bolt. Shorten the release until the trigger falls right across the second articulation of your index finger when you hold the bow at full draw. This will feel foreign at first, but it is correct. You also will likely have to get used to a different technique for loading the release on the string, since the trigger will be farther back in your hand.
Now that you've gotten the release set up correctly, there are three ways you can make the release fire; one is bad, one is better and one is best.
First, the bad: pull the trigger abruptly when the pin crosses or momentarily stops on the spot you are trying to hit. This is the method used by 90 percent of release shooters and is probably the number one reason people drop out of archery. In trying to time the shot, you will forever fight target panic. Trying to consciously command the trigger eventually results in a nervous condition that is about as much fun as paying taxes. You may be able to get away with it when you are young and your nerves rock steady, but as you get older, you will find it increasingly difficult.
Most index-triggered releases permit easy adjustment of trigger tension. Once you have found your ideal setting, it makes sense to use a dab of Loctite to keep the small setscrew from moving later.
The second method for firing an index-triggered release is to squeeze the trigger using just the movement of your finger. For reasons already mentioned, this almost never works if you are using the first articulation of the index finger. But with the trigger crossing the second articulation, you at least have a fighting chance of producing a surprise release. There is still a better method, however.
The best action is to hook your finger around the trigger solidly and then use the tightening of your back muscles, rather than a conscious movement of the finger, to make the release fire. It should feel like you are trying to squeeze your shoulder blades together. This virtually assures you of getting the kind of surprise release that forever defeats target panic and leads to a lifetime of archery enjoyment.
There is only one release aid setting that still needs attention before this technique will work well for you: trigger tension.
Trigger tension or trigger pull is a somewhat personal thing, but for most archers, a light trigger works better than a heavy trigger. A light trigger permits the bow to fire within the first few seconds of starting the squeeze, and that is important. Beyond the obvious reasons of needing to get a shot off quickly when hunting, most archers become impatient after about three or four seconds of aiming; the longer they aim, the more mentally distraught they become.
I face the same problems. If the shot takes too long to fire, it becomes increasingly tempting to simply pull the trigger with a movement of the finger and be done with it.
This defeats the whole process and soon leads the archer to doubt this new method of shooting.
This is where it becomes personal. To assure the shot takes place during the first three or four seconds of squeezing, you may have to play with your trigger tension. You don't want a hair trigger for hunting, because with gloves on you may accidentally trigger the shot before you even get settled and start the squeeze. Most releases permit easy trigger tension adjustment.
Refer to your packaging or ask an archery shop attendant if you are unsure how to do it. With a little experimentation, you'll find the perfect tension.
The Final Step
Now, you have all the tools and techniques in place. The final step is simply to force yourself to do the same thing when aiming at game. Your tendency will be to rush. Force yourself to squeeze the trigger just as you learned on the range. After a few successes, it will be much easier to trust this method. You will be shocked at how well it works.
Shortening your release and experimenting with your trigger pull will make it much easier to produce the kind of surprise release that will lead to better accuracy on the range and in the field. You can say goodbye to target panic forever and look forward to a lifetime of enjoyment in archery and consistent shots at game.