If you have compound archers in your classes, they may be looking forward to shooting with a release aid (if they haven’t already made that decision). Many coaches do not know that release aids were invented before compound bows were and therefore were used with recurve bows but since the competition divisions only allow the use of a release aid with a compound bow, we will stick with that restriction: release aids are used with compound bows only. (Of course, what you do for fun is up to you.)
In the AER Curriculum, we save learning how to use a release aid until last. Here’s why. Learning to shoot well at all is quite a complicated task, throwing a release aid in from the beginning and the task gets even more complicated. Some beginners start with a full unlimited compound setup, including a release aid, but that is learning the hard way. We only recommend that to people who have a coach or parent who can oversee each and every shot, which means not in a class setting.
For the purposes of this article, we are going to assume that your student shoots her compound bow fairly well with her fingers on the bowstring and she has added all the accessories to your bow she wants. (Since the competition categories allowing release aids also allow stabilizers and bow sights, it makes to sense to not use those also, so our assumption is a student will have all of those things, all set up and working fairly well before the release aid is attempted.) This is actually a shooting style: called Freestyle Limited in the NFAA and Compound Limited in USA Archery (only available to those who are in the Masters-50+ and older categories). And this exposes another part of our strategy of adding one accessory at a time: many of those stages are actual shooting styles. In the NFAA shooting a compound bow with just a short stabilizer is called “Bowhunter,” with a longrod stabilizer it is called “Barebow” and with all the goodies, it is called “Freestyle.”
Freestyle Limited (NFAA) allows everything but a release aid to be used!
Where to Begin
Please, please, please, whatever you do, do not allow your students to just borrow a release aid and try it on their bow. They could injure themselves and/or damage their bow and/or arrow. Wait, you say, you’ve seen this done? Of course you have, but so has jumping off of a cliff. The question is is it wise to do so and the answer is no. Ask any release aid archer if he has an funny stories about shooting releases and they will immediately begin telling you stories of people who knocked themselves out or knocked teeth loose when their releases tripped mid-draw. (Very funny! Don’t let your students do this!)
In order to test out and practice with release aids, they need something called a “rope bow” or a “string bow.” If you have the AER Recreational Coaches Guide, all of the instructions are in the appendices. If not, rope bows are made from a piece of parachute cord or polyester clothes line (not cotton as it is too stretchy). The length of this cord needs to be twice as long as your draw length and then about 10% longer. So, if your student’s draw length is 30˝, you need a length of 30˝ x 2 + about 6˝ = 66˝. Then, make a loop out of it by lining up the two loose ends and putting a single knot it them. You need to fit this loop to your students draw length by drooping the loop over your bow hand and then attaching your release aid. If you then adopt your normal full draw position, everything should be in place (see photo). If the loop is too short, take the knot out and tie another closer to the cut ends. If the loop is too long, take the knot out and tie another farther from the cut ends or just tie a second knot inside of the first. Keep adjusting it until the length is just right.
We often give away these loops to young archers as a safety precaution. We get 100 foot rolls of highly colored cord from Home Depot for just a few dollars.
To use the “rope bow” you just made, loop the thing over their bow hand and attach their release aid and then have them adopt their full-draw-position. They are to pull slightly against the loop (resisting the pull through their bow arm) to simulate the holding weight of their bow. The holding weight is the draw weight of their bow at full draw (after the letoff). If they do this right, when the release is tripped the rope will fly out of their bow hand and land on the floor/ground 1-2 m/yds away.
You should encourage them to keep this loop in their quiver because you never know when another archer will show up with a cool looking release aid and you will want to try it or they will need a little practice to sort out a kink in their release technique.
Acquiring a Release Aid
This is quite a problem for beginning release aid archers. Ask any veteran release aid archer how many release aids they have or have owned and they will always respond with “dozens” or “too many to count.” The reason for this is that there are so many different types and styles. Plus the only way anuone can figure out whether a particular release aid will work for them is to shoot with it for several weeks.
So, if they are looking for their first release aid, they have a bit of a quandary. They must balance their budget with the style and fit of the release. Because many beginning release aid archers are on tight budgets, they may want to look into borrowing your first release or buying one used. Many release archers have any number of release aids just sitting in a drawer at home and would willingly lend you one to try. (Remember “try before you buy”?)
They will have to decide on the style: we tend to recommend a trigger release aid with a “safety” for first timers. The safety is a button that can be pushed that locks out the release so it cannot go off until you reach full draw and turn the safety off. These releases have the advantage that if they are set up properly, they will go off all by themselves when they reach their correct full-draw body position, so they give you feedback on whether their form is good.
A Great Release Aid Starter Kit!
Whatever release aid they select it has to fit them. If it is a handheld, it must fit in your hand correctly (basically when your hand is fully relaxed; you shouldn’t have to spread your fingers out to make your hand fit the release). This can be a problem as releases are sized for adults and even if it is labeled an “XS,” that is extra small, it may still be too big for a youth with smallish hands. If it has a trigger, it needs to be able to be adjusted into the correct position in your hand (up against the shaft of your thumb for thumb triggers or just behind the first crease of your index finger for index-finger releases when your hand is relaxed. No reaching!).
Setting Up the Release Aid
Even if their release aid is properly fit as to its size and trigger location (if there is one), there are settings that have to be made. One critical one is trigger pressure (if there is a trigger). They do not want a very light or “hair” trigger. They need a trigger that is fairly stiff. This allows them to get on or off that trigger without fear that it will cause the release to go off. Then they can slowly squeeze it until they reach the tripping trigger pressure and it goes off. The “squeezing” technique is coupled with the draw elbow swinging into position so that the draw elbow aligns with the arrow line.
If the release aid is triggerless, you want the release to trip when they are in perfect alignment. They must start these adjustments with their rope bow and then check them on their bow. You can help, basically you want the point of the draw elbow lined up with the arrow line when the release trips. (It is that simple.) Consult the manufacturer’s adjustment instructions.
Should They Use a D-Loop?
Yes. If they don’t know how to apply one (quite likely), the instructions are available in the Appendices of the AER Coaches Guide and on the Internet. You do need to use “release rope” purchased specially for this task and we recommend you start with a 4.5˝ piece to begin with. This should give you a loop about 1/2˝ long when installed. Adding a D-Loop also affects the bows draw length, so that might need to be adjusted, too. Adding a 1/2˝ D-loop requires the draw length to be reduced 1/2˝ (assuming it was set up correctly before).
Developing Skill with a Release Aid
It is important for them to practice their release technique with their rope bow only until they are proficient before they then try with their bow.
Since success using the rope bow requires them to pick the thing up off of the floor over and over again, most folks catch the loop in their bow hand instead of letting it drop. Just make sure the loop is flying out upon release when they do this. Once they are more than comfortable with their release setup and operation, then you can switch to their bow but do so blank bale and very close up. The rope bow makes to noise when it is used which is not true of their bow. Since what we are looking for is for the release to trip without them knowing it is happening (this is called a “surprise release”), the abrupt shock and noise can cause them to flinch. They need to get used to this and we prefer to do this in a manner where arrows can’t go flying around in all directions.
After they are comfortable shooting with their release aid blank bale, a target face can be put up but keep the distances short because a) you don’t know how the focus on the target will affect their release technique and b) they haven’t sighted in yet. You should check before they make their first shot at each new distance to make sure their arrows will hit the butt.
Anytime they experience confusion or a string of poorly executed shots, they should go back to their rope bow and regain their competence and rhythm and then try again. The whole process for a first-time user will take at least a couple of weeks of regular practice. (Note two weeks of five days per week practice is equivalent to five weeks of two practice days per week)
And if you personally have never used a release aid before, you have two choices: tell your compound archers to go elsewhere (not recommended) or set up a loop and acquire a release and try it yourself. You can acquire enough skill to help beginners. Also, there is quite a bit that has been written on this topic for you to read up on. But, don’t expect to be “up” on all of the latest release aids, we are not sure anyone can be that well informed.