Beginner’s Guide to Compound Archery Releases

Using a mechanical release aid to draw and shoot a compound bow is critical to consistent shooting. Look at a full selection of releases in a pro shop and you’re going to see a variety of styles. What’s the difference? And what’s right for me?

There are four main types of mechanical releases today. Let’s look at each type and what they’re commonly used for.

INDEX FINGER

Arguably the most popular release style on the market today is the index finger release. It’s like a gun trigger for your bow, since it’s activated by squeezing a trigger with your index finger.

Index finger releases typically are attached to wrist straps that assist the archer in drawing the bow. The weight of the bowstring is held by your entire arm, as compared to other releases held in your hand.

These are great releases for bowhunters and recreational and target archers who want the most control of when the bowstring is released. Bowhunters especially like them because, once they strap the release to their wrist, it’s always at the ready when the moment of truth arrives.

Scott Ghost

On the negative side, these releases are the easiest to anticipate, which can lead to flinching at the shot. Rather than slowly squeeze through a shot by pulling back with the release arm, archers will simply slam their index finger on the trigger when they want the release to fire.

When using an index finger release, try hooking your finger around the trigger and pull back with your whole arm to activate the release. This helps reduce anticipation.

THUMB BUTTON

The other most common release with a defined trigger is the thumb button. This is a release you hold in your hand, which has a trigger activated by your thumb. Thumb buttons are very commonly used by bowhunters and by target archers.

With a thumb button, it’s very easy to shoot it totally on command. That is, you squeeze your thumb on the trigger when you want it to fire. But they’re also easy to shoot by surprise.

The surprise shot eliminates flinching caused by anticipation, because the archer doesn’t know exactly when the release will fire. You simply keep pulling back on the string with your hand locked in place on the release. Keep aiming and the release fires when enough pressure has been put on the trigger by your continued pull.

TRU Ball Blade

You can find thumb button releases that you use with two fingers on the release, three fingers and four fingers.

HINGE or BACK TENSION

Hinge releases often are also called back-tension releases, because a common way to activate them is to use your back muscles to push your shoulder blades together, which drives your bow arm away from your release arm. When your arms expand, the head on a hinge release connected to the bowstring will rotate. That rotation releases the string hook and the bow fires.

Hinge releases are a favorite among target archers, and some bowhunters use them. These releases allow for a smooth, continuous-pull shot process that ends in a surprise shot. There is no trigger, so getting them to fire on command is much more difficult that index-finger or thumb button releases.

UltraView The Hinge

There is a steeper learning curve using a hinge than with trigger releases. Archers have to learn how to draw the bow without rotating the head of the release, causing it to fire prematurely.

Learning to draw with a hinge release takes some practice.

TENSION ACTIVATED

Tension-activated releases are the true “back-tension” releases because the only way they fire is by coming to full draw and then continuing to pull. When the tension increases to a certain level, the release fires. Most of these are hand-held releases, although a couple new wrist-strap versions have come on the market in recent years.

STAN Element

Archers set that firing tension to their specific bows. These releases have a safety that the archer holds to get past the peak draw weight. They are then set to fire at a weight above the bow’s holding weight.  The idea is that the archer continues aiming once full draw is achieved, and then they’ll just keep pulling until the release fires.

There is no trigger on these releases, so they also produce surprise shots. These are commonly used by target archers for training, although some will use them in competition. They’re great for getting over target panic and for learning to expand through a shot. Very few bowhunters use them for hunting.

T.R.U. Ball Bone Collector T-Rex Thumb Button Release

TRU Ball Archery introduced the Bone Collector T-Rex thumb button release for the 2018 season.

In this video, LAS TechXpert P.J. Reilly reviews the functions and features of this T-handle, thumb button release.

The T-Rex is a four-finger release that’s intended mainly for bowhunters, although it’s built to the same standards as competition releases.

Press the moving jaw to close it and set the trigger, then depress the thumb button to fire the release. It comes with a wrist lanyard and it has a set screw that allows the archer to adjust the trigger sensitivity.

T.R.U. Ball Copperhead TC Wrist Strap Release

TRU Ball revamped and relaunched their popular Copperhead wrist strap release for 2018.

In this video, LAS TechXpert P.J. Reilly runs through the features and functions of this bowhunting release.

The Copperhead features spring-loaded jaws on a head capable of swiveling 360 degrees. It has a sliding barrel with multiple screw settings, so an archer can set the head length exactly where they want it at full draw.

Perhaps the most notable upgrade to this release is the Tornado Connection. This system, which attaches the release head to the wrist strap, allows the release to be tucked back into a bowhunter’s shirt for the walk and climb into the stand or blind.

Michael Braden talks index finger releases for target archery

In the bowhunting world, the index finger release arguably is the champ. You’ll see hordes of bowhunters with this release strapped to their wrists.

For indoor target archery, however, the index finger release is uncommon, if not downright rare.

Carter Like Mike

Carter Like Mike

Index finger releases are activated by depressing your index finger on a trigger mechanism. Some feature jaws that are spring-loaded and pop open when the appropriate amount of pressure is applied to the trigger. Others employ springs that keep the jaws closed, and therefore require the trigger to be pulled until it travels far enough to allow the jaws to open wide enough to release the bowstring.

Some of these releases are hand-held, but the vast majority are attached to wrist straps, which aid the archers in drawing the string. With the release strapped to the wrist, the whole arm is engaged in the drawing process. With hand-held releases, much of the drawing pressure sits directly on the fingers holding the release.

Many target archers shy away from index-finger releases because they tend to be the easiest to anticipate, and therefore, to punch. That can lead to target panic.

Punching the release involves activating the trigger in a sudden, haphazard manner – usually when the archer sees the sight pin get close to the bull’s-eye.

There are some indoor archers who have learned to use index finger releases without anticipating the shot, and they’ve managed to do quite well in competition. Michael Braden is one such pro. He’s been competing with index finger releases for years, and he’s usually in the mix of tournament finalists.

Michael Braden2

While it’s not an indoor competition, Braden recently finished second in the Senior Open Pro Division of the ASA Hoyt Pro/Am 3D tournament in Foley Ala., Feb. 17-18, using an index finger release.

We asked him about using such a release for indoor target archery.

LAS: What release do you use?

MB: I am shooting the Carter Like Mike. It is a wrist strap/index finger release that I designed with Jerry Carter.

Carter Like Mike head

Carter Like Mike

LAS: Why do you use an index finger release instead of a hinge or thumb button?

MB: First, I find I can achieve a more consistent anchor. Specifically, I can bury the base knuckle of my index finger in the hole under my ear lobe and behind my jaw bone, extremely consistently every time.

Second, I believe the index finger release gives me better alignment between my bow hand grip, shoulders, and release arm elbow.

Lastly, and most importantly, I find that my direction of energy is better and more consistent.  Meaning that as I push my pin straight through the target, I can pull my elbow (and release) straight away from the target.

Michael Braden1

LAS: How do you activate your release?

MB: I guess the short answer is with my elbow.

The long answer, however, is with a process and not an action.  My process consists of a slow and steady, gradual increase of energy, with direction.

I slowly push my sight pin straight through the target, while pulling straight away from the target out the tip of my elbow.  For this process to fire the release, my elbow must be “attached” to the trigger.

Therefore, the trigger must be heavy enough that I can attach my index finger to it – 1.5-2 lbs. – without fear of it prematurely firing. It also must be heavy enough that I have to generate a little more energy to make it fire – another 1.5 lbs. So, my release is set around 3.5 lbs.

LAS: How do you avoid punching your release?

MB: I have developed a mindset where I refuse to control the release, no matter what.  But there is more to it than just that.

Learning to execute my shot with a process is a factor. Learning that I can hold the bow long enough and steady enough to wait for the process to execute the shot is another.

Learning to trust that the release will fire, while my elbow is attached to a heavy trigger, also helps to prevent me from having the urge to control or punch the trigger.

LAS: Do you set your trigger as light as possible? As heavy as possible? Somewhere in between?

MB: The Carter Like Mike is adjustable.  I can make it as light or heavy as I need to.  I always recommend starting close to a blank bail and making the trigger super heavy, so the archer learns the feel of attaching their elbow to the trigger, learns the feel of the direction of energy, and the rate of increased energy needed to make the release fire.  Then I begin to make the trigger lighter so that the release fires in a comfortable and steady window, while the archer executes a strong and steady shot.

LAS: How is your index finger touching the trigger when you are preparing to shoot?

MB: For me to shoot a heavier trigger with my elbow, the hook of my finger must be strong enough that it doesn’t collapse with the increased energy of my elbow.  Yet, it must not be so tense that it prevents the flow of energy from my elbow efficiently into the trigger.

Michael Braden3

LAS: What is the most common mistake you see archers making with an index finger release?

MB: Controlling a light release is the most common mistake new archers make. First, they are not taught properly how to execute a good shot.  Second, they do not have the stamina to hold the sight pin steady enough in the beginning to execute a proper shot.  Third, the release they are using wasn’t designed to be set heavy enough without trigger travel so they can attach without fear of a pre-fire.

STAN releases review

STAN came out with new features for several of its releases in 2016. Most notable, perhaps, is the training lock. The STAN releases that end with “TL” let you know they inlcude the training lock device.

Basically, this is a pin that doesn’t allow the hook on the release to open. So you can practice shooting with your own bow, include the release, but the string will stay captured in the hook.

Also, STAN is making many of its releases available in the new heavy metal finish. It’s a copper-based finish that makes the release good and heavy for maximum feel in the archer’s hand.

 

Here’s your basic guide to archery release aids

A good clean release.

It’s what happens when you correctly let go of the bowstring at full draw, allowing the energy stored in the limbs to be transferred to the arrow, which is propelled down range toward the spot where you’re aiming.

A clean release is something every archer strives for on every shot. Achieve it, and the bull’s-eyes will rip.

Whether you shoot a compound, recurve or longbow, there are many release aids that go between your hand and the bowstring, which can help you deliver that perfect shot.

Four basic classes of release aids are made for compound shooters – index finger, thumb trigger, back tension and resistance activated. For recurve and longbow archers, there are finger tabs and gloves.

finger-tab-release

 

back-tension-release

Here’s your guide to understanding the different types. When making a final selection, it’s a good idea to try what you want before you buy.

INDEX FINGER RELEASE

As the name suggests, these are mechanical release aids triggered by your index finger. Basically all of these releases are attached to wrist straps. The strap aids in drawing the string by joining the muscles of your arm and hand. Index finger releases are very popular among bowhunters, since the release is connected to the archer at all times. You can’t lose it in the woods or drop it from a tree stand if you’re wearing it.

TruFire Edge2

Index finger releases connect to the string via one or two moving jaws that completely enclose the bowstring or D-loop, by an open hook or by a rope loop.

When you come to full draw with one of these releases, you want to curl the forefinger on your trigger hand around the trigger post. If you have to stretch your forefinger all the way out to reach the trigger, you’re going to have problems with punching the trigger. Shorten the release head to reduce the gap separating it from the wrist strap.

Don’t activate the trigger by squeezing your finger like you’re shooting a gun. Wrap that forefinger around the post, and then pull through the shot with your whole arm.

THUMB TRIGGER RELEASE

These releases are triggered by your thumb, obviously. Most are hand held, although some also can be attached to wrist straps to aid in drawing. They connect to the bowstring or D-loop either by enclosed jaw(s), an open hook or a rope loop.

Stan SX3

Lots of bowhunters use thumb trigger releases, and so do many target archers – especially 3-D competitors. Most thumb trigger releases can be used like a back tension release – the favorite among target archers – yet you still have the control of the release provided by a trigger.

HINGE RELEASE

The best archery shot with a mechanical release is one that surprises you. If you don’t know when the release is going to trigger, then you can’t anticipate it with a flinch. This is the shot hinge releases are designed to deliver.

Scott Focus

A hinge release is hand held, and has a pivoting head that connects to the string or D-loop by an open hook. The idea is, you hook the release to the string, come to full draw, and then slowly squeeze your shoulder blades together, which pulls your bow hand and trigger hand farther apart. At some point, that squeezing motion is going to cause the release to rotate in your hand until it lets go of the string.

Another method for activating a hinge is to come to full draw and relax your release hand. That relaxation will cause your hand to stretch, which will rotate the release, and it will fire. A hinge release doesn’t have a trigger. It is a trigger.

You have to keep your sight pin or scope locked on the target the whole time you’re squeezing/relaxing, because you don’t really know when the release will go off. Target archers love the hinges because of the surprise factor, but it might not be the best choice for bowhunters, who need a little more control over when an arrow is released.

 

RESISTANCE ACTIVATED RELEASE

Another hand-held release, this is a triggerless release used mainly by target archers. It’s activated by a build-up in pressure at full draw. That pressure, again, is created by squeezing your shoulder blades together.

Carter Evolution

You clip this release’s open hook, closed jaw or rope loop to the string or D-loop, and then draw with your thumb wrapped around a safety mechanism, which prevents the release from triggering. At full draw, you release the safety and start squeezing your shoulder blades until the release triggers.

FINGER TABS AND GLOVES

It’s not that recurve and longbow archers can’t shoot one of the mechanical release aids we’ve already discussed. Rather, the style of archery associated with these bows calls for drawing and releasing with your fingers, as opposed to a mechanical trigger. Also, mechanical releases are not allowed for recurves and longbows in competitions.

Using a tab, you draw the bowstring with your index, middle and ring fingers, and the tab sits between your fingers and the string. It allows for a more consistent release, since the string is sliding off a single surface, rather than each of your three fingers. Tab surfaces come in a variety of materials – bare leather, hair-covered leather, plastic, etc. It’s up to you to determine which works best for you.

Infitec Perfect

Tabs are designed to allow archers to shoot either with their index finger above the arrow nock and the two others below – that’s called split-finger shooting ‑ or with all three fingers below the nock.

Gloves are probably the simplest of the release aids. In a nutshell, they cover your three shooting fingers for protection against the string, and they provide a smooth surface for the string to glide across during the release. The gloves typically are made of leather or nylon.