A beginner’s guide to release styles.
When it comes to choosing archery equipment, the options seem nearly endless and paralysis by analysis can certainly become a real thing. Enter any online forum and ask for advice and you’re bound to be inundated with a lot of opinions, and most of them, well-meaning. Having such a plethora of options is both a blessing and a curse to an archer. It certainly makes finding the right “fit” a possibility, regardless of the product type; but it also makes the selection process much more difficult. Throw into the mix the influence of social media and it is easy to be thrown off course by what other hunters and shooters are doing instead of what is the best option given an archer’s own unique circumstances. Release aids are a product that is offered in a wide array of styles, from a wide array of brands and manufacturers. Finding the right release aid depends on application and what feels comfortable to the archer; but it’s imperative he or she understands the difference in the functionality of the four main types of releases on the market, so as to be able to make an educated purchasing decision.
-Index Trigger- Index finger releases are widely popular with hunters. Typically, these releases utilize some kind of wrist strap, (usually with a Velcro or buckle closure), which attaches to the shank of the release. Index trigger releases have a trigger similar to a firearm, which is activated by the shooter’s index finger. This type of release is extremely popular with hunters for multiple reasons. First, the release is always attached to the hunter’s wrist and so it is “at-the-ready” when a target animal steps into a shooting lane. When still hunting, the release can’t fall out of the hunter’s pocket, and it allows for a quick connection and draw sequence when milliseconds count. Additionally, index trigger releases are, by and large, the most economical release option on the market. While there is, indeed, tremendous variation in pricing, some models of index trigger releases can be purchased for as little as $20-30. This gives the entry level archer and hunter an economical option. Many index trigger releases offer the benefit of simplicity, as well. While the lack of adjust-ability may be a deterrent to some, many hunters appreciate a basic design that works reliably, without the need for tweaks. Still, there are several index trigger releases that offer a wide range of trigger adjust-ability, including both tension and travel. These highly adjustable releases sit atop this category, but the adjust-ability comes with a higher price; though many archers will find it to be a worthwhile investment in order to achieve gains in both accuracy and consistency.
-Thumb Trigger- Thumb trigger releases are handheld release aids that use a barrel-like trigger that is engaged with the archer’s thumb. Some archers who are experiencing target panic with a basic index trigger release will graduate to a thumb trigger in attempt to overcome their symptoms. A thumb trigger release utilized properly can, indeed, help an archer achieve a surprise release and help avoid shot anticipation that leads to target panic. However, when the shooter utilizes the thumb barrel like a simple trigger, it can be just as easy to “punch” a trigger with a thumb release as it is with an index finger release.
Many thumb trigger releases offer trigger tension and travel adjust-ability. A thumb release that is adjusted for minimal trigger travel, and enough tension to allow the shooters thumb settle around the trigger without firing, can be correctly activated with much the same shot sequence as a hinge style release. The movement to activate the trigger doesn’t come from the shooters thumb, or wrist, but instead from the motion of applying back tension against the bows back-wall through the contraction of the muscles in the archer’s back. This expansion movement causes a slight rotation of the release in the shooters hand, at which time a correctly adjusted thumb trigger will be activated as it is pressed into the shooter’s thumb. The result is a surprise release.
Some hunters who choose a thumb release may gravitate toward a closed jaw style that can be clipped onto the bows D-loop so that it is always in position to quickly draw on a game animal. Others may opt for an open hook design that allows for faster loading on the D-Loop. Many hunters feel that a thumb trigger provides a similar feel and shot sequence as the hinge release they use for target practice or competition shooting, but still gives the same deliberate trigger pull option (although less technically correct) as an index finger release, in the event a fast shot needs executed before the window of opportunity closes. In this manner, this style of release becomes a very viable happy-medium.
-Hinge- Hinge releases are another type of handheld release that are popular with target archers. As mentioned, the shot activation sequence with a hinge has similarities to that of a thumb trigger release, but a hinge release lacks a “trigger”. The release is activated by the contraction of the shooter’s back which creates an expansion motion. The shooter, almost as if pushing with their bow hand and pulling with their release hand, continues to draw through the shot, applying back tension. As the elbow of the shooter’s draw arm moves behind his or her shoulder, the rotation achieved through this motion activates the hinge release as it moves with the shooters hand. The rotation should not come from the shooters wrist, but instead, the actual “hinging” should come from the contraction of his or her back. Archer’s who choose a hinge release and begin to rotate the release with their hand become susceptible to the same kind of anticipated shots and target panic symptoms that can plague shooter’s who punch index finger or thumb trigger releases. The “trigger”, so to speak, has just moved from the release to their wrist. Hinge releases that are utilized correctly provide an archer with a surprise release and incredibly accurate results.
Hinge style releases can be more susceptible to misfire than some of their counterparts. However, when a hinge is adjusted and used correctly, it is a very safe release aid option. Some manufacturers are developing “safeties” for hinge releases. This way, if the shooter’s draw or form is a bit off and the release is not positioned correctly during the draw cycle, a misfire doesn’t occur. The precise form and consistency that many hinge releases require make them a less popular option for many hunters. Hunter’s often find themselves drawing in awkward positions and shooting at awkward angles. Coupled with the lack of an actual “trigger”, less hunters utilize hinge releases and they are far more prevalent in target competition. Still, some archer’s successfully hunt with a hinge style release aid and are incredibly successful in doing so.
-Tension Activated- Tension activated releases operate just how you would guess. When enough tension is applied to the release mechanism, the release will fire. Tension activated releases are a fantastic way to combat target panic. Because, like a hinge, there is no trigger on the release and an archer just keeps applying back tension until the shot is activated. This eliminates the hand-eye-brain coordination that needs to take place with many trigger style releases. With a trigger release, the shooter’s eye sees that the pin is on target, sends a message to the brain and the brain tells the shooter’s finger to engage the release. Overtime, this sequence leads to the aforementioned and dreaded shot anticipation. By nature of its design, a tension activated release eliminates one of those steps and allows the shooter to float the pin around the bulls-eye, or vital area, while they continue to apply tension until the release activates. Many tension activated release aids can be adjusted so that the shooter must apply significant force before they will fire. Other manufacturers have tension activated release aids that can be turned to “training mode” and will not fire. This forces an archer who is dealing with target panic to practice their shot sequence, including their expansion motion, without being able to anticipate a shot, because there is no shot.
Most tension activated releases use a lever that must be depressed by the archer during the draw cycle. Once over the peak of the draw cycle, and holding at full draw, the shooter can release the lever. The tension activated release must be set to slightly more than the bow’s holding weight. As back tension is applied, the additional pounds of pull activates the release. To let the bow down from full draw, the safety lever must again be engaged so that the bow does not misfire.
Tension activated releases are popular and effective training tools, but their adjustability makes them a very popular choice with many target archers. Although, technically speaking, it is possible to “punch” the trigger on a tension activated release by abruptly pulling through the shot, this style of release is thought by many to be one of the most helpful ways to curb target panic symptoms. As with hinge style release aids, the lack of an actual trigger on a tension activated release keeps them out of many hunters’ hands.
So how does an archer choose the right release? Everyone’s situation is different and unique. The best approach is one that is based around understanding the use and application for the release, i.e. the type of hunting or shooting, and the specific problems, if any, each individual archer is personally facing. Understanding the way each style of release works, and how to properly employ its use is key, but that knowledge has to accompany a certain amount of honest self-reflection and introspection on the part of the archer in order to have maximum effectiveness.