Expert advice for choosing the right release aid.
It wasn't too long ago that everyone shot compound bows using fingers. There wasn't much of a decision to make; you either wore a glove or used a finger tab. Well, times change, and innovation drives this industry into making better archers and hunters. A good example is the continued development of the mechanical release aid. Many times, in the midst of a new bow purchase, there isn't much emphasis put on your choice of release. However, making the wrong decision could prove costly, and I'll tell you why. Your hands are two of the most important factors in shooting accurately. For example, the bow hand is the first and last thing to touch your bow on every shot. Everyone knows an improper grip can erode accuracy. Similarly, the release hand dictates the initial flight path of the arrow. If the arrow is released incorrectly, you are sure to miss the intended target. Consistency is imperative, and the biggest benefit of a mechanical release aid is consistency. With this in mind, lets discuss several critical factors in choosing the right release aid.
The most popular release aid style is the wrist strap. Wrist-strap releases are popular for two reasons. First, they make drawing heavier poundage more manageable, and second, they are equipped with an index-finger trigger that people easily relate to the trigger of a gun. Since a wrist-strap release will be connected to you all the time, it is important you choose something that fits correctly and comfortably. When making your next release purchase, be sure to try on all the different brands available from your dealer. Each company uses slightly different straps and materials. In fact, some companies offer the same release body with multiple strap options.
The material will most likely be nylon, leather or neoprene, with each having a different in cost. It's just like anything else in life; added comfort usually comes with a higher price. Since everyone is different, what fits perfectly for one may not fit well for another. Many straps can feel comfortable when you are just trying them on, but they may not feel as good once you apply the pressure of a fully drawn bow. With this in mind, it will be important that you actually draw your bow with the release so you know it fits comfortably with your setup.
Most wrist straps are locked into position using either Velcro or a buckle. The main advantage of Velcro is its adjustability, but I personally prefer and recommend buckle straps. Although I continually try all kinds, I like buckles because they provide a consistent fit, just like a waist belt. You can buckle it in the same spot each time so it always fits the same. Plus, buckles are a lot quieter in the field than Velcro. In addition, most buckle straps are leather, which is also something I look for. The reason I prefer leather is that nylon is a friendly partner to burdocks and annoying stick tights.
After you find a strap that is comfortable, you need to consider the release's adjustment options. It is absolutely critical to select a release that allows you to adjust the length between the trigger and your wrist. This is often the most overlooked detail in choosing a release aid. The importance of this option is directly related to maintaining proper shooting form. Proper shooting form consists of proper stance, proper posture, a relaxed bow hand and a consistent anchor point. When you are fitted for your bow and draw length at your local pro shop, they are trying to put you into good archery form.
However, even if your bow fits you perfectly, an improperly adjusted release aid can throw your shooting form off course. When I coach archers on shooting form, I teach them to have a consistent anchor position. With a wrist-strap release, you want to be able to put the knuckle of the index finger directly at the base of the earlobe. This position allows you to anchor in the same place each time, ensuring consistency.
It also keeps the release along the side of the jaw, which keeps the arrow from coming into contact with your face. Depending on the length of your release between the strap and the trigger, this may not be possible.
To be certain your release hand is in perfect form, imagine you are holding a pistol and your index finger is curled around the trigger. You want to be able to keep that exact same position with a wrist-strap release at full draw -- but with your thumb turned towards your neck. The index finger should be able to curl around the trigger and not fully extended so only the fingertip is touching the trigger.
A release that doesn't have adjustment options may force you to anchor incorrectly! Take a look at the two photos on p. 55. Note that in one photo, the strap adjustment shows perfect form, with the index knuckle securely anchored under the earlobe at the back of the jaw and the release finger curled perfectly around the trigger. The other photo, however, shows the strap being adjusted too long and putting the hand behind my neck, leaving me with no repeatable anchor position. When set too long, the trigger is also towards the tip of the extended finger, which leads to an urge to start punching the trigger. Not good! A quality release will offer adjustments to the length of the release, positioning it perfectly in your hand.
Ready, Aim, Fire
The internal mechanics of your release also will play a vital role in determining your shooting habits. When I select a release, the most important aspect I consider is the trigger. I make sure to look for a trigger that not only has pressure adjustment, but does so without sacrificing the movement in the trigger before it fires. I want a trigger that does not have any movement in it before letting go of the string, regardless of whether it is set light or heavy.
Consider what you would want in a gun trigger; the principle to making surprise shots is to set your finger on the trigger and squeeze until it fires. This is the same for a bow or gun. Most people can do this easily on a gun, because they don't feel the trigger moving before it fires. Since a gun trigger works from pressure and not travel, the results are surprise shots. This same surprise shot is what separates good archers from bad. The top-level competitors, and most successful hunters, practice unanticipated shots.
I am sure you have heard of target panic or buck fever. It is a bad thing that affects virtually every archer at some point. Target panic is one of the most frustrating things you can ever go through. The origin of target panic is rooted in anticipating when the trigger fires.
With any trigger, the more it moves before it fires, the more your brain will pick up on that movement and start anticipating the
shot. Do yourself a favor and find a release that offers a clean, crisp shot. Test each release by curling your finger around the trigger and slowly pulling, focusing only on the movement in the trigger. If you can feel any movement, I would avoid it! Be sure not to confuse travel with stiffness. Some releases can easily be set to being stiff or light with the turn of a screw without sacrificing travel. Ultimately, you want to be able to curl your finger around the trigger and have the same shot feel as a hunting rifle.
Too often we overlook simple factors that have big impacts on our accuracy. At the end of the day, your hunting success depends, in large measure, to having your equipment as perfectly tuned as possible. Choosing the right release is a crucial step in being set up to make perfect shots with perfect form. Every person is a little different, and everyone has their own preferences and budget. The great news is that we consumers continue to reap the rewards as manufacturers compete and develop new products that dramatically improve our effectiveness in the field.