Release Aids: Conscious or Unconscious Execution?

In an online AMA question and answer column (AMA = Ask Me Anything) elite compound archer Tim Gillingham was asked the question “Do you still prefer command release versus surprise release?” Mr. Gillingham replied (in part) was “Absolutely. It’s the most accurate way to shoot a bow in all conditions. All top rifle and pistol shooters shoot the same but surprise shots are prevalent in archery because people don’t know how to control anticipation.”

I am trying to get Mr. Gillingham to write about how one controls anticipation but I wanted to get some of my thoughts “on paper” while waiting to see if he is willing.

Tim Gillingham is a very successful archer who shoots by consciously tripping his release aid. He is one of a small group who does this. Most archers use a “surprise release” process in which the release is not tripped consciously. Many compound archers do not realize that both techniques have been used very successfully.

The consensus wisdom currently is that a surprise release is better in a number of ways, but it is important to recognize that both approaches have strengths and weaknesses.

Here I am just addressing the comparison to rifle and pistol shooters and whether they are comparable and not the larger context.

Shooting Arrows vs. Shooting Bullets
There is a big difference between shooting arrows and shooting bullets. When shooting arrows (except in the case of crossbow archers) the archer is supplying the energy to be transferred to the arrow in the process of shooting. When shooting bullets the energy to be transferred to the bullet is supplied by gunpowder and not the marksman.

A consequence of this is that an archer is under the stress of the bow (if he is pulling 50# the bow is pulling 50# back) and that situation must be held for some time before that load can be released. Riflemen and pistol shooters have to hold their weapons up against gravity, as do archers do their bows, but do not have that much larger force involved in their shooting.

Rifle and pistol shooters, who are in good shooting shape, only have to focus upon the aim and execution of their triggers. Archers have to focus on their aim, maintaining their bow at its proper draw length against the pull of the bow, and executing their triggers. Archers have three things to focus on, rifle and pistol shooters have only two. Note There are long lists of things that people claim are important at this moment in time and many of those points are valid, but how many of them can you pay attention to consciously?

You may have been taught that the conscious mind can only handle one thing at a time. I have taught this myself. But more recent studies show that people can actually hold two things in their minds consciously. The shooters of guns have only two things to attend to: aiming and triggering and so both can be done consciously. Archers have three things to do at that moment so, they must choose which two of the three (aiming, maintaining full-draw position, and triggering) they can do consciously.

So, the comparison is not exact.

My current understanding is that the vast majority of Compound-Release archers are better off with a surprise release because the proportion of shooters that have a personality that allows for conscious triggering without creating excess anticipation is somewhat small. This means they concentrate on aiming and maintaining their full-draw-position, while an automatic process works the trigger which “goes off” when it “goes off.” This process avoids the anticipation associated with a conscious triggering of the release aid. (Note, even with a surprise release technique employed, many archers are regular enough that the release trips at an exact point in time anyway.)

If I am wrong in this I would love to find out why.

If Mr. Gillingham has techniques that conquer the anticipation bugaboo (which leads inexorably to Target Panic), I will certainly give them a try.


Filed under For All Coaches

2 responses to “Release Aids: Conscious or Unconscious Execution?

  1. Punching is looked upon as being wrong by most archery experts for compound target/field/3-D archers. Recurve shooters do not have any option other than their excellent clean release on command. I still fight punching in my own shooting as I have like many compound shooters, shot recurve disciplines before going to compound release. I have tried almost every style of release, too.


    • Punching, in my mind, is a related but not identical issue. Conscious triggering of a release does not have to involve punching as I consider it punching when one vigorously works the trigger. So, one can squeeze a trigger off and that would not be punching.

      I too, shot “fingers” before release (and now, in my dotage, am back to fingers). This switch to release shooting was partly due to injuries caused by shooting too much while not practicing enough.

      As a coach, I look to see if I can see a student’s finger or thumb move when triggering his/her release. If I can’t see any movement, then the release was pretty much unconscious. If I see the digit moving I suspect a conscious release. If I see the digit moving rapidly, that’s a “punch” in my book.

      As to recurve archers having no other choice, have you not heard of shooting through the clicker … or “clicker panic?”

      On Wed, Jan 27, 2021 at 4:21 PM A Blog for Archery Coaches wrote:


      Liked by 1 person

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