Dan McCarthy on target archery with a thumb-button release

There are lots of thumb-button – or thumb-trigger – releases on the target lines these days.

After hinge-style releases, thumb buttons arguably are the second-most popular among indoor target archers.

Thumb-button releases have jaws or a hook that capture the bowstring for drawing. A trigger that’s activated by the thumb opens the jaws or releases the hook and the bowstring shoots forward.

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It’s a favored release because it can be activated in a surprise manner like a hinge release, yet it allows the archer to maintain control of when the string is released.

How is that possible?

Well, two of the most popular ways target archers activate thumb buttons involve no movement by the thumb.

They will rest at least part of the thumb on the front of the trigger at anchor, and then pull back with their whole arm, which naturally pulls the button into the thumb, which trips the trigger.

Or they will rest the thumb on the front of the trigger and relax the other fingers in the hand holding the release. That causes the release to move forward, shoving the trigger into the thumb, which trips it.

Other archers employ a combination of both techniques, but all result in surprise releases because the archer isn’t simply depressing the thumb, like you’d squeeze the trigger on a gun, to activate the release.

As for controlling when to shoot, let’s say a wind gust kicks up and an archer at full draw wants to wait for calm air. He or she can simply take the thumb off the button, and the release can’t be activated.

Mathews pro Dan McCarthy is well known for being one of the best in the 3D game, slaying 12 rings on the ASA and IBO circuits for the past two decades.

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But he’s also a highly accomplished indoor target archer as well. At the 2017 Lancaster Archery Classic, McCarthy came out of qualifications in the Men’s Open Pro Division as the No. 4 seed, after shooting an incredible score of 657 out of a perfect 660.

He then shot his way through the elimination brackets to be among the top eight archers to advance to the finals, where he finished in seventh place.

Here’s McCarthy’s take on thumb-button releases.

LAS:  Which release do you use?

DM: TRU Ball Absolute 360

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LAS:  Do you prefer 3-finger or 4? Why?

DM: I prefer a 3-finger. It’s just personal preference to me, but I like to allow my pinky to relax behind the handle of the release while at full draw.

LAS:  How do you activate your release? (Back tension, relaxation, etc.)

DM: I shoot mine through a combination of relaxation in my forearm, wrist, and hand—while simultaneously applying tension with my back. (Applying tension in the back squeezes the shoulder blade toward one another, which causes the release arm to move away from the string.)

LAS: How do you avoid “punching” your release?

DM: I made my mind up that punching isn’t an option. I decided that I’d rather take a zero for running out of time or miss the bullseye than punch my trigger. Once you commit to that, you’ll never even consider punching anymore.

LAS: Do you set your trigger heavy or light? Why?

DM: I set mine around 2 pounds. It’s fairly light, considering how heavy you can adjust most thumb buttons. I’ve found that heavier triggers cause me slightly more anxiety, and I often have to preload the trigger with my thumb – which I’d prefer to never do – in order to get them to fire. (Preloading involves applying more pressure than normal to the trigger.)

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LAS: How do you anchor?

DM: I usually anchor with my knuckles on the back of my jaw bone, then I roll my hand up toward my ear until I feel my hand by my ring finger barely touch my ear.

LAS: What’s the most common mistake you see archers making with a thumb button?

DM: Punching the release. Many people punch the release, which may be good for one or two bull’s-eyes. However, in the long run, punching will cause anxiety and ultimately target panic.

Also, rolling the release like it’s a back tension- hinge style release. Many people fire a button like this, but I’ve found that I get too many left and rights with this technique. I try to pull as evenly as possible on all 3 fingers, and stay as relaxed as possible while slowly feeling pressure building on my thumb.

LAS: Why do you choose a thumb button over other types of releases?

DM: On level ground or indoors, I don’t feel like there’s any major advantages to thumb button releases. However, I do feel like I have better control of the shot during certain circumstances like wind, extreme uphill or downhill shots or extreme side-hill shots.

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.