August 05, 2022
By Clint Casper
The stage was set; I had perfect weather, including a cold front out of the north. My stand was prepped and in place, with a shooting lane to the big scrape nearby. The wind direction was perfect for my entry route, and I had things planned perfectly so no deer could see me as I slipped into my spot. All I needed now was a little luck that resulted in “the perfect 10” showing himself before dark.
That evening, as the sun started to set and the wind calmed, I heard the unmistakable sound of leaves crunching due west of my stand. I knew right away “my buck” was on the move, leaving his bed and approaching my location. Sure enough, it wasn’t long before I could see his antler tips coming through the timber. He was headed for the scrape a mere 22 yards away from my perch — my plan was working perfectly!
As the buck reached the scrape and began to work it, I came to full draw and swung my pin onto his chest. Once my pin had hair behind it, I quickly punched the release and sent an arrow right over the buck’s back! Knowing exactly what I had done made for a very long walk back home and really got me thinking about the state of my shooting. I knew it was time for a change, and looking back, I realize that failure was a pivot point that forever changed my mind about release aids and shot execution.
Read the Signs
Truthfully, the warning signs about my trigger punching had been there for a while; I simply refused to see them. In order to be consistently accurate with a bow, archers must repeat a series of events subconsciously while releasing the arrow. Many top shooters will describe it as simply doing their job — aiming — while allowing the bow to do its job — shooting the arrow. Of course, this is easier said than done.
What a proper shot sequence really boils down to is a “surprise release” and what that method of loosing the bowstring does to cancel “human error.” Human error can be myriad things, from bad form to shot anticipation that leads to flinching to rushing the shot or even the inability to place the sight pin on the desired point of impact. Taken collectively, all these are symptoms of the dreaded “target panic” malady that steals the joy from shooting and makes it virtually impossible to consistently hit where you are aiming.
As described in the hunt at the start of this article, I unfortunately was stricken with target panic, and without serious treatment, my prognosis wasn’t good. I needed to retrain my body and mind to shoot properly, and I knew the best way to do that was to get rid of my index-finger release aid and switch to a handheld, hinge-style release. It wouldn’t be an easy process, but it was necessary if I wanted to become a consistently successful bowhunter.
Making the Switch
With a hinge-style release, the goal is to come to full draw and then engage your back muscles to “push and pull” the bow apart. The increasing “expansion” of your bow and release arms during this process will gradually rotate the release aid until it fires. When used correctly, a hinge release removes the anticipation of the shot, freeing the archer to relax and let the sight pin float on target until the shot breaks. This is the oft-discussed “surprise release,” and it’s amazing to see how accurately your arrows fly, even when the exact moment of the shot’s firing catches you off-guard.
In switching to a hinge release, my goal was to replicate a surprise release on every shot and train my mind to focus on aiming while trusting my form and my bow to do their jobs without interference. As humans, we have a natural desire to control things, and this is certainly true when shooting a bow. Things such as forcing the pin to the center of the target, or trying to hold the pin perfectly still (which is impossible) are common mistakes archers make by consciously trying to do things that aren’t necessary to achieve the desired result.
I began my retraining process by taking my sight off my bow and focusing solely on getting used to the hinge release while reprogramming my form and shot sequence. The goal was to draw my bow back a few feet from the target, settle in at anchor, close my eyes and slowly work the release until it fired. This would allow me to feel what a surprise release was and force me to replicate it on every shot. My plan was to do this for two months straight, until I felt very comfortable with my new release and form. Then, I would put my sight back on and start working on pin float.
This process, commonly referred to as “blank baling” because you shoot into blank targets with no aiming points, went extremely well. I quickly fell in love with the process of a surprise release and triggering the shot with my back muscles. This push-and-pull method seemed to make my shooting stance very solid, and my accuracy skyrocketed. Within a few months, my shooting confidence went from an all-time low to an all-time high.
For the first time, I also found I had the mental fortitude to let down if things didn’t feel right. In the past, whenever I had doubts at full draw, I’d always just bang the trigger and hope for the best. But now, if things didn’t feel right, I’d let down and start over. This new shooting style and release really helped me focus on perfect form and helped me feel as though I was in total control of every shot without actually trying to control the arrow.
It’s no secret that many of the top professional target and 3-D archers absolutely love hinge releases; after all, they are proven to be extremely accurate! Despite that, relatively few bowhunters carry a hinge afield, or even train with one during the off-season. Many bowhunters resist moving away from the familiar, wrist-strap releases or claim a hinge is an inconvenience because it doesn’t lock onto the nocking loop. Others complain that a hinge release cannot be fired immediately when needed. While those last two digs are true, I’d actually argue they are advantages rather than disadvantages in a bowhunting release. Let me explain.
Stick to the Plan
A lot of bowhunters have the mindset that they need to make their release fire “now” — maybe it’s when an animal stops walking for a split second, or maybe it’s when the animal steps into a shooting lane. Regardless, the ability to activate a release on command is NOT a good thing in my opinion. In fact, it leads to many bad habits and bad bowhunting outcomes! When our minds tell us to consciously do something “now,” we feel a sense of urgency to act as if there is no turning back. When this happens in the bowhunting woods, it leads to rushed shots, misses and wounded animals.
One of the many reasons I use a hinge release for hunting is because it has given me full mental control of my shot. If the animal does not stop or seem calm, I don’t shoot and let down. I do not allow myself to force the release to activate (which is extremely hard with a hinge) and make a “drive-by” shot as I rush the pin past the center of the body.
Another reason I love hinge releases is because they take away the anxiety and anticipation shooting can create. Instead of being worried about when, or how, the shot will go off, I just worry about aiming and my form. That’s it! I do my part and the bow does its part. Together, this creates an extremely accurate tandem!
In bowhunting, things happen fast. Shooting a hinge release has forced me to slow my shot process and keeps me cool and collected when a big buck or bull steps out. Shooting it has made me a better bowhunter, and the days of hoping I hit my mark are long gone. Instead, I now know that if I get back to full draw, that animal is really in trouble!
Top Handheld Release Options
There are many quality options for bowhunters looking to make the switch from a wrist-strap, index-finger release to a handheld model. These generally fall into one of three categories: hinge-style releases, resistance-activated releases and thumb-trigger releases.
Hinge Releases: As discussed at length in the main feature, hinge-style releases are designed to help you shoot using back tension by using a continuous “push-pull” resistance between your bow arm and release arm. This causes the release head to pivot until the shot is fired. Hinge releases are an excellent training aid to teach yourself to execute each shot with a true “surprise release” and are also favored by many top target shooters and bowhunters because of the consistent accuracy they provide.
The B3 Archery Ranger ($164.99 | b3archery.com) offers a hinge release in tandem with a familiar wrist strap, making it a great choice for competition, training and bowhunting. Featuring a wide-track, aluminum, three-finger handle that delivers consistency and comfort, the Ranger comes with B3’s patented flex connector that can be adjusted with a single screw to customize the fit for any archer. You can even remove the release from the wrist strap and shoot it as a handheld release, if you prefer. The release head features an auto hook return for easy loading and a micro-adjustable moon system for precise sensitivity adjustments.
The T.R.U. Ball Sweet Spot II ($169.99 | truball.com) was designed with new hinge release shooters in mind and incorporates features making it safe and easy to learn the benefits of this type of release. Billed as the finest back-tension training aid on the market, the Sweet Spot II has a patented activator you can push to safely draw your bow without fear of accidentally releasing the string. Once you are settled at full draw and ready to begin executing the shot using back tension, simply release the activator and pull through.
The Tru-Fire Sear-X ($209.99 | feradyne.com/trufire) has earned high praise from shooters for its extreme comfort and ease of use. Made with a heavy, brass handle and fully machined precision components, the Sear-X can be set up in either a three- or four-finger configuration. There are also three positions for the thumb knob. Finally, the Sear-X features a four-sided sear release mechanism with micro-adjustable hot/cold settings so you can make the shot as light or heavy as you like.
Resistance Releases: A resistance-activated release works in much the same way as a hinge release. However, rather than a head that pivots to release the bowstring, a resistance release features a locking string hook with tension that can be adjusted based on the shooter’s preference. Simply set the tension at a desired amount above the holding weight of your bow and the shot will fire when you build sufficient tension against the release hook while at full draw. Like hinge releases, resistance releases reinforce good shooting habits and are designed to help archers execute each shot with a classic “surprise release.”
The Nock On Custom Archery Mini Silverback Plus ($234.99 | nockonarchery.com) is a tension-activated release designed specifically to help those with smaller hands and fingers achieve the perfect shooting technique. The Silverback Plus is fired by building increasing tension against the back wall of the bow until the release hook gives way, resulting in the perfect surprise shot on every arrow. Better yet, the Mini Silverback Plus is shaped to match Nock On’s Mini Nock 2 It thumb-trigger release so archers can switch seamlessly between the two while training, competing and bowhunting.
The Stan PerfeX Resistance ($269.95 | ishootastan.com) is extremely precise, featuring a wide range of adjustability from zero to 28 pounds of pressure required for activation but still triggering within ±.125-pound from shot to shot. The PerfeX Resistance is also available in long and short (increases your draw length by .25 inch) neck versions with handle sizes from S-XL to fit any archer. Other highlights include the ability to configure the PerfeX as a three- or four-finger setup and your choice of five post lengths and two barrel sizes for the thumb-activated safety. Stan also offers the PerfeX in a thumb-trigger version so users can switch between the two while maintaining the exact same point of impact with their arrows.
Thumb-Trigger Releases: Although thumb-trigger releases appear very similar cosmetically to hinge and resistance releases, they differ significantly in that they are fired via a trigger mechanism activated by the thumb. Thumb-trigger releases are favored by many bowhunters who like to train with hinge and/or resistance releases to reinforce good shooting habits but prefer to head afield with a release they can manually fire.
The Apex Gear Surge ($90.99 | apex-gear.com) is a four-finger, thumb-trigger release featuring a thin head and single-caliper jaw to reduce nocking loop torque. The Surge also features trigger travel and tension adjustments, multi-position thumb barrel, built-in lanyard and quiet trigger mechanism. The entire unit is enclosed in a CNC-machined aluminum housing.
The Cobra Archery Harvester ($209 | cobraarchery.com) is a high-quality, versatile thumb-trigger release that can be set up in your choice of three- or four-finger configurations. Featuring machined aluminum and stainless steel construction, the Harvester has a crisp, roller-sear mechanism with independently adjustable tension and travel. Meanwhile, the thumb button offers adjustments for length, angle and rotation. Other highlights include great ergonomics, an included wrist lanyard and lifetime warranty.
The Scott Archery Sigma ($259.99 | scottarchery.com) features a highly ergonomic design very similar to a hinge release. Designed to maximize comfort and confidence while placing your fingers in an optimal position, the Sigma’s thumb trigger offers tension and travel adjustments along with a newly designed trigger mechanism for unmatched reliability. The thumb button can be adjusted for length, angle and rotation.
The Spot-Hogg Friday Night Delight ($139.99 | spot-hogg.com) was designed with bowhunters in mind. This thumb-activated release features an open jaw to aid in fast, easy attachment of the release to the nocking loop during the moment of truth. The smooth, three-finger handle design offers great comfort, while the short release neck helps maximize your draw length for added speed from your setup. Finally, the micro-adjustable trigger can be customized to be as light or heavy as you prefer.
The Trophy Ridge Precise Pro ($109.99 | beararchery.com) is a T-handle release with a four-finger design to help you handle higher draw weights. The thumb-activated trigger mechanism features a smooth-operating sear with tension and travel that can be adjusted to your preference. The dual-caliper release head pivots to eliminate string torque while aiming, and the included wrist sling keeps the release at the ready. — Editor Christian Berg