September 17, 2021
Last month, I encouraged all you index-finger release aid shooters to try a handheld release — specifically one with a thumb trigger (as opposed to a hinge-style or resistance-activated release).
This month, I’d like to discuss why they might be just the ticket to improve your hunting accuracy. We’ll get into the basics, as well as the fine intricacies of shooting this style of release aid. I’d also like to give you some recommendations as to which styles might work best for hunting.
Choosing a Release
When selecting a handheld release aid, two considerations are critical.
First, you must find a release aid that fits your hand well. The best place to do this is at a very well-stocked archery pro shop. Or, if you are the sociable type, you may want to go to an archery shooting range or an archery league and ask some of the folks there (those who happen to be shooting this style of release aid) if you can try their release aid. Most archers are very friendly and more than willing to help. Unlike asking someone to shoot their bow (which is considered ill-mannered, unless they know you very well), asking them to shoot their release aid is no big deal. The vast majority of shooters like to talk about their equipment (as well as themselves) and will let you shoot their release aids without hesitation. Listen closely to what they have to say.
Make sure you find a brand and model that fits your hand comfortably. If you have fat fingers and a big hand or thin fingers and a small hand, the average release aid may not fit you well. Manufacturers make specific models designed for large hands and small hands.
Second, you must find a release aid with a “crisp” trigger. In other words, the trigger should have no discernible movement before it fires. This prevents you from anticipating the shot. We’ll talk more about this in a future column.
Keep It Handy
One concern archers often voice when first making the transition to a handheld release aid is that they may let go of the release aid, or that it will slip out of their hand as they are drawing the bow, sending both the release aid and the arrow down range. In my experience, this is a very rare occurrence. If you are worried about it slipping out of your hand, you can put tennis racket tape on the release to give it a firmer grip and make it less slippery.
However, if you are transitioning from finger shooting to a handheld release aid, it is much more likely that you will let it go, as your instinct is to loose the arrow by relaxing your hand. If this is a serious concern of yours, you can find commercially available handheld release aids with a wrist strap attached for extra security. These wrist straps will also prevent you from dropping or misplacing your release aid while hunting. Unlike most wrist straps on index-finger release aids, these straps are not typically used to help you draw the bow; they are just there to keep the release aid attached to your wrist.
One of my biggest fears is to reach for my release aid at a critical moment in a hunt and find it is not there. When you use a wrist strap, this scenario is less likely to occur. I have a hard and fast rule I always follow: My release aid doesn’t come off my wrist without being immediately attached to my bow. And, of course, when the release aid comes off of my bow, it must go directly onto my wrist.
Along these same lines, I’ve heard of one guy who wears his handheld release aid around his neck like a pendant. When he is ready to shoot, he merely pushes the trigger, releasing the device from the cord necklace. He can then immediately attach it to the D-loop on his bow string.
If you are hunting from a treestand, you can attach the release aid to your D-loop while you are on stand. All you need to do is grab it and pull back when you are ready to shoot. I wouldn’t use this particular method when spot-and-stalk hunting, because the release might swing around and clang against your bow, or you might accidentally hit the trigger, dropping the release to the ground.
Making the Switch
When you are ready to make the transition to a handheld release aid, do it during the off-season, so you will have time to adapt. It is also important to remember that your shooting will get worse before it gets better. It will take a bit of time to get used to your new form, because a handheld release will require a different anchor point and technique to activate. It will take some time to be able to hit this new anchor point quickly, every time.
Some folks become frustrated immediately upon trying a handheld release, because their arrows don’t hit in the same place as they do with their index-finger release. They fail to realize that minor differences in the combined geometry of the shooter, release aid and bow will change their point of impact significantly. Usually, you will miss either slightly to the left or right. Most often this is caused by increased or decreased chin drag. To minimize these changes with any release aid, remember to have a “baby’s breath” touch of the string to your face You must always re-sight your bow with each different release you use.
You may also need to adjust your peep up or down the string to fit your new anchor point. Don’t ever try to adjust your head position to “find” the peep. Rather, adjust the peep to a position where it is most comfortable. To find just the right peep position, I like to draw my bow back with my eyes closed, get very comfortable with my form, and then open my eyes and see where the peep is. Then I’ll move it up or down the string until it is in just the right position when you open your eyes.
We’ll continue our discussion on the proper use of handheld release aids next month.