Tag Archives: Compound bows

We Get Letters! (Part 1)

Responding to my request for topics you would like to know more about, Joe Seagle sent in “I would like to know what your thoughts are concerning release, if it’s done thoughtfully or subconsciously. If it’s the latter, what training process is used. Thanks!”

Note—If you don’t want your name used, let me know. I am obsessive about giving credit where it is due.

So, Joe, you didn’t specify whether you want me to address finger releases or release aids, so I guess I will have to do both.

The Finger Release
When I work with new Recurve students I ask them what part of their shot needs to most work and the most common answer is “My release.” And I have to tell them that that belongs on the bottom of their To-Do list, not the top.

The finger release is the action of, well, what? Basically all you are doing is stopping holding the bowstring. When you stop holding the bowstring, the string pushes your fingers out of the way on its way back to its original position (at brace). Because of Newton’s Third Law, the string exerting a force on your fingers means that your fingers are exerting a force on the string, so the string takes a somewhat circuitous path back to brace. The harder you make it for the string to push your fingers out of the way, the greater this effect, so practice involves relaxing the “hook” fingers as rapidly as possible. (There are drills, and one can shoot blank bale with a focus on having a “clean” release (which is a release with your fastest relaxation).

The finger release is not something you do. It is something that happens when you “stop” exerting yourself to hold the bowstring back. Thinking about this happening, as we are wont to do when we are “working on our release” often encourages us to “do something” so this is rarely recommended. So, a refined finger release appears to the archer to be subconscious.

The Release Aid Release
Most release aids today are mechanical (the first releases had no mechanisms, the bowstring simply slid off of a hook or ledge or a strap). There are two general kinds now: triggered releases and triggerless releases. Both need to be set up in the same way, in my humble opinion. The release aid and the technique of the user have to be set up so that the release trips when the archer is pulling straight back from the bow. If the archer is pulling sideways in any way, the bowstring will travel in some sort of S shape, like in the finger release, and that will be a source of variation (how far off line one is pulling will cause different impact points for the arrows shot).

Triggerless Releases There is more than one kind of these, the most common is the “Stanislawski” model, which is a “hinge style” release aid. When set up properly, the release trips when the draw elbow is aligned to pulling straight away from the bow. I have seen at least ten (a hundred?) set up incorrectly for each set up correctly. And the incorrect ones tend to get manipulated by the archer’s fingers to rotate far enough to trip.

I will say this over and over—if set up to trip when your form is correct, it gives you feedback on whether your form is correct. If you have to twiddle with the release aid with your fingers, you are getting no such feedback.

Another form of triggerless release aid is the “straight pull” releases, none of which has garnered much popularity, because they can be a bit “twitchy” to say the least. (Tom Dorigatti wrote a muli-part article for AF on why a particular release got grades of A and F and little in between.) These are set up to trip when the pull force reaches a certain amount. They have a cut out so they don’t trip on the draw, but when you reach the valley, the cutout is turned off, and a pull of 2-3 lbs. over your holding weight causes it to trip. This type of release gives no feedback as to your form.

Thumb and Finger Triggered Releases The majority of target archers tend to use a triggered release, one in which a trigger gets “pulled” to cause the release to trip. I think the popularity of these is they imply that you have some control over when the release goes off. Actually, most archers do not want that control. I set up my thumb releases so that the trigger presses on the stem of my thumb (not the pad, thumb and finger pads are never involved) and when I rotate my arm into position this pushes my thumb against the trigger and, poof, it trips. (I have, like most release archers, used variations on this technique.)

If you use a release with a index finger trigger, it is usually a wriststrap release aid. A strap is firmly attached to your draw wrist and the release aid is attached to that strap. (You do not hold onto the barrel of the release as an aid to drawing the bow.) Basic technique is, if there is much “throw” or “travel” of the trigger (usually a sign of an inexpensive aid) you squeeze off part of that as you draw, so that the finally tiny bit can be generated by the movement of the draw arm into “straight away” position. Or, if you want to take the advice of the teenage behind the counter at the archery shop, you just swat the trigger with your finger when you are ready.

Trigger Swatting/Punching There are more than a few names for manually operating a release trigger when you feel like it. Recently some pros have been advocating for “command style” release operation, which is just that. If you decide to go pro, that is something you may want to explore, but I suggest that most amateurs will benefit more from a style as I describe above, featuring the so-called “Surprise Release.” The pros have an almost complete command of their shooting form and execution and so may not need the feedback a properly executed surprise release provides.

And, the “Swat the Trigger” technique is not bankrupt. If you are a bowhunter and you take 1-2 shots per day (not counting warm-ups) that technique is not all that bad, although it does prime its user to experience target panic more than the other techniques above.

Release Archers and Target Panic If you think target panic only came about because of release aids, think again. I have read book references to target panic, before the invention of the compound bow, and certainly before the invention of the mechanical release aid.

While it is hard to say anything definitively about target panic, it seems to be linked to techniques that require decisions to loose shots. Olympic Recurve archers invariably use clickers now. Why? Because it relieves the process of when to shoot. I can remember when I first started in archery. I shot a compound bow “fingers” with no clicker. I was unsteady and my aperture pin would slide through the target center up and down and left and right. I would wait for it to stop moving, which of course I know now that it does not, and I could hear my self thinking “Now . . . no . . . now . . . uh uhn . . . now, yes!” Clickers and setting up release aids to trip when your form is right eliminates these decisions and, thus, protects one from the ravages of target panic (at least that is what I think now).

I’ll answer the training part in the next post.

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Wow, Great Bow!

I just read another personal bow review. (I have read not a small number of these, I just don’t know what that number is.) The bow was claimed to be “nice to shoot” and was “incredibly accurate.” And, of course, people are urged to “try it out.”

The reporter doesn’t mention whether he is a sponsored archer or not, which leads to me wondering about his motivation for the “review.” There are, in archery, fanboys of the bows of certain manufacturers. Just as I grew up with “Ford guys” and Chevy guys” and “Mopar guys,” there are archers who are Mathews guys and Hoyt guys. If this guy is a fanboy of this company’s bows, then he might have posted this review just to get some props from his contacts inside the manufacturer.

I also have to ask “why?” Why is this bow more “accurate” than his previous bows? What were his previous bows? How much more “accurate” was it?

Of course, bows are not responsible for accuracy at all, we are. So bows aren’t accurate in an of themselves. A better statement might be “I shot more accurately with this bow than any of my previous bows (list of previous bows).”

What we do ask from bows is consistency, that if we aim them the same way and release them the same way that the arrows land in roughly the same spot. (I say roughly because the arrows have a lot to say about whether they land in the same spot and no two arrows are exactly the same, etc.)

The bow has to impart the same energy to each arrow and the guiding bits, mostly the arrow rest but also the eccentrics and their synchronous actions, have to guide the arrows in the same way, etc. And we can’t just use shooting machines to test a bow’s abilities in this realm. Some bows are stable and steady in the hand and some are not. Some are positively squirrely. For example, the last time I bought Claudia a new bow, she absolutely loved the way the bow “fit her hand.” I, on the other hand, felt as if the bow (another bow as she is left-handed and I am right-handed) was going to slide out of my hand and fly back and hit me in the face. After several attempts to draw that bow, I declined to try any more, for reasons of personal safety. Clamp that bow in a shooting machine and I have no doubt that you could wreck some arrows (one crushing the previous one).

So, back to the review I read. The bow was a carbon fiber-risered bow. I am not sure there is a net advantage to using such bows, except to the manufacturer who can charge a great deal more for the whiz-bang technology. The largest stabilizing factor of a compound bow is the mass of the riser. Newer bows are using longer risers and shorter limbs, which makes them somewhat more stable. The bow has to stay still while it is driving the arrow out, otherwise it changes the position we put it in while aiming. We can’t hold it still because we just add to the movement of the bow through trying. So, carbon fiber compound bows are lighter, which may be an asset over time because you won’t get as tired lugging it around and lifting it into position, but you are also sacrificing some bow stability through that loss of mass. So, what the carbon bows allow is for mass to be added back, but instead of being near the bow hand, the added mass can be placed out on stalks, which we call “stabilizers or rods.” In effect this takes mass that was concentrated near the bow hand and moves it out away from the bow, which makes that mass more effective at stabilizing the bow.

So, did my reviewer do that? Did he change his stabilizer setup? (He didn’t say.)

So, when I read one of these “reviews” all I can say is “Well, one person was happy with his purchase.”

Does it say anything, anything at all as to whether that bow would please me?



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Why I May Never Bare Shaft Tune Again

The above title came from a post listed on Archerytalk Archery & Bowhunting News. The author went on to list nearly a dozen bows that he has had success and non-success tuning using the Bare Shaft method. All of the bows listed were compound bows with short axle-to-axle lengths.

Ah …

Bare shaft tuning was invented for recurve bows shot with fingers and loses much of its usefulness when applied to compound bows shot with release aids. (I assume the gentleman’s bows were shot with release aids because of the short ATA lengths, which makes them painful to shoot with fingers on the string.)

There is much you can learn from a bare shaft test, but when applied to a compound bow shot with  release aid, the list of benefits drops to about two, at most. It can help you determine if your nocking point height is correct and it can help you determine if your arrow rest position (aka centershot) is correct. For compound bows shot this way the arrow is very nearly square with the bowstring and parallel to the inside of the sight window cutout, so you can eyeball these into place and there is little more a bare shaft test can tell you.

I have commented before that archery’s “collective wisdom” contains a great deal of advice appropriate for one style of archery that really does not apply to another. This is one of those cases.

I suspect that most of his bare shaft tests were irrelevant, in that they gave results (they had to) but those results were not indicative of much of anything.

Compound bows shot with release aids are quite insensitive to arrow spine matches. Recurve archers must place an arrow spine match near the top of their tuning list, while compound archers can get away with a wide range of arrow spines. This is due to the force being applied to the nock of the arrow being directed very nearly straight down the shaft with little wobble, certainly not as much as a finger release creates.

Bare shaft tests will light up like a Christmas tree is you are shooting a recurve bow with fingers and your arrow is either under- or over-spined. Not so for compound bows.

In a couple of bow tests he expressed surprise that the bare shafts hit slightly low and left of the fletched group. For a right-handed recurve archer, many consider this test ideal. It indicates a slightly stiff shaft, which is considered more forgiving that a slightly weak shaft, with a slightly high nocking point position which gives the arrow slightly more clearance as the arrow slides past, aka above and to the side away from, the arrow rest. For compound bows, especially those using a “launcher rest” (kind of like a diving board, it has spring back only in the upward direction) some of those rests work better with  slight greater downward pressure on the rest blade, which is created by a slightly higher nocking point position which results in . . . drum roll, please . . . a slightly low bare shaft test result.

So, there was not much I could tell from his list of bows and his “success” or “nonsuccess” narratives, because there are way too many variables that would need to be checked to evaluate such claims.

What is sure is—when tuning, you do need to know what a test tells you . . . and what it does not.

Bare shaft testing works well for recurve and longbow archers and, believe it or not, “fingers” compound archers (I used to be one). But for Compound Release archers, not so much.

Addendum We are still figuring out the consequences of the recent movement toward short axle-to-axle compound bows. When I began, bows were 46-48 inches ATA. In the past a number had been considerably higher (up to 54 inches, I believe). Over time, bows became shorter and shorter, which is an advantage for bowhunters shooting from cramped positions, such as a deer stand, but for target archers not so much. (The biggest stabilizing force of a compound is . . . the riser. Making it shorter actually makes it harder to hold steady. This is possibly one reason why many designers went to flat limb or even “past parallel” limbs which require longer risers (I think, anyway).)

To make a short ATA compound bow, that can be shot by tall archers (I be one) you have to provide the bowstring to reach all that way back and the way they did it is to provide very large eccentrics. These pay out large amounts of bowstring that was previous wrapped around those large eccentrics, allowing people with 31-32 inches of draw to use those bows. But that replaces a simple limb movement with a complex play out and take up of a string around a cam. How this affects the way we tune is not yet clear to me. So, people are doing what they have always done and seeing what works.

The bottom line, is if a tuning procedure doesn’t seem to work for you, try another; there are dozens of the danged things. But be sure you know what the test will tell you, and it is most helpful if you know why (so you can figure out strange results).


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Relaxation: How Much and When?

I remember telling a student that any muscles not needed to make a shot needed to be relaxed and he said, “. . . but I would fall down.” I went on to explain that standing did indeed require muscle tension and was also required to make a shot, because “flopped on the ground” is not a solid platform from which to shoot.

Now, I am not sure what I meant back then. I recently saw a golf coach take on the “relaxation mantra” and claim that very little in a golfer’s body is relaxed when swinging a golf club. I tend to think this is true of elite archer’s also, but what do I think now?

And Now . . .
Now I think that it is more complicated that I thought then, but not a great deal more.

We are always talking about unnecessary muscle tension needing to be relaxed away (in golf, too). The goal is always to execute each shot the same way as the previous one and trying to achieve a consistent level of muscle tension is quite difficult. We can only maintain it in our bow shoulder (which is holding the bow up) because the mass of the bow is constant and so is the acceleration of gravity at that locale. So we need enough muscle tension to hold the bow at a particular level and that force is a constant force which creates a constant counter force in your musculature. Similarly the back muscle tension you exert at full draw is based upon whatever your holding weight is, which is a constant because your bow isn’t changing in draw weight (unless something is very wrong).

So, imagine keeping, say, your abdominal muscles slightly flexed. How much muscle tension is involved in doing that? How good are you at setting that level and keeping that level? I suspect not very good, so we . . . in general . . . start from a position of keeping non-essential muscles as relaxed as possible. This is a somewhat identifiable level of relaxation/muscle tension.

If, as an elite athlete, you decide that flexing your abdominal muscles allows you to shoot better (more consistently, more accurately, whatever) then you will have a baseline to work from, which is “as relaxed as possible.”

Whenever we make changes we need to compare the “new” with the “old” to find out if we have made an improvement, rather than just a change. We recommend that when making equipment changes, that you mark everything involved, e.g. clicker position, arrow rest position, number of turns on limb bolts, etc. and document that change in writing in your notebook. The reason for these recommendations is if the change isn’t an improvement you want to have the option to set everything back to that previous arrangement. The “relaxed as is possible” body condition is at least a somewhat findable condition if you want to retreat from some other body condition that was recommended for you.

In archery, we are almost always better off throwing body postures onto our skeletons than our musculatures. For example, Rick McKinney had what he called his “wind stance” (see photo above). In this stance his feet were roughly 80° from a square stance, that is both feet were almost pointing at the target. He then had to rotate his body 90° the other way to get into full draw position. This created a fair amount of torso twist. (I have never been able to even demonstrate this, let alone do it while shooting.) That rotation of the torso creates a very rigid shooting platform that is less susceptible to being blown around by the wind.

How much muscle tension is generated in that twisting? Heck if I know, but it is made regular through the positioning of the feet. Where you place your feet determines how much muscle tension is needed to get into your full draw position. This is what I mean by “loading body postures onto our skeletons.”

The “when” aspect of muscle tension is fairly simple. I argue that the shot actually begins when the bow is raised. Everything preceding that is part of what I call the “pre-shot routine.” All muscle tensions need to be in place before full-draw position is reached. I argue this because if you took a light weight bow and got on target and then flexed a new muscle, any muscle, I think you would see that your aim was affected. I often tell students that I want them to “pause at the top” to see if they have become still. Stillness only happens when muscles are in a fixed state of relaxation/tension. Muscles are to allow you to move. Flex one and you will move. Moving is not being still. So, the pause at the top is to see if you are still (there are signs). You should not shoot until you are still. And then for consistencies sake, you should hold as much of your muscle tension until the shot is over . . . and, boys and girls, how do we know the shot’s over?

The shot isn’t over until the bow takes a bow (as in a theatrical bow).



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Stop with the Bests, Please

I tend to “lurk” on several archery sites, such as Archery Talk, even Quora has an archery section. I call it lurking because usually I bite my tongue and don’t comment, so I’ll comment here instead! :o)

All too often I see questions on these various sites like “What is the best bow?” and “What is the best broadhead?” and “What is the best bow sight?” and “Can anyone recommend a good broadhead?” These questions irritate the heck out of me because they do not specify for what purpose. What makes a good bow sight for hunting doesn’t necessarily make a good bow sight for target archery. What makes a good bow for historical re-enactments doesn’t necessarily make a good bow for horse archery. What makes . . . do I need to continue?

So, these are stupid questions on their faces. And if one does try to answer them, one is necessarily put in the position of listing a great many different purposes and answering the question for each of those quite different categories, when the questioner is probably only interested in one of those answers.

On Quora, the following question was asked “What is the least expensive bow?” I lost my composure and answered “a free one.” My first bow (and second and third) were free in that they were loaners that got turned into gifts, so the answer wasn’t entirely facetious. Answers to this question would vary a lot if one had asked “I want to explore target archery, how much do I need to save up to get started?” or “What is the least expensive starter bow I can get to go hunting?”

So, pet peeves aside, I see too many posts on websites, articles in magazines, and videos on YouTube referring to the “best” binoculars, “best” spotting scopes, “best” bow sights, “best” hunting bow, “best” arrows, “best” broadheads, etc. The reason these are misleading at the minimum or stupid at the other end is there is no such thing as “the best” anything when it comes to archery . . . period.

Every piece of kit you can acquire for archery has caveats associated with it. One of mine was cost. I have never been what you might call “flush” to the point that money was no object. So everything I bought fit into the category of “the best I could get for under XYZ dollars.” On top of that are restrictions based upon application. Binoculars for most bowhunting scenarios should be small, lightweight, and moderately powerful, possibly wide field also. You may have to pack in these binoculars, so light and small are good, and deer hunters rarely take a shot over 30 yards, so not a lot of magnifying power is needed. Probably want rugged, too. If you are using the binoculars for long distance target shooting, such requirements may not apply. Field archers have to lug their gear around their ranges, so light and small might apply but target archers can have all of their gear in a wheelbarrow, right near their shooting station, should they need any of it.

A bow for target competition also has limitations. If you hanker after an Olympic medal, don’t come home from the pro shop with a compound bow, they aren’t allowed.

Then there is the matter of personal fit. When examining a new bow, the first thing I check is the grip section. I remember a bow Claudia fell in love with that I couldn’t draw because it felt that the grip was going to slide right out of my bow hand as I began pulling on the bowstring and there was nothing I could do to change that. She, on the other hand, felt she had never felt a more solid hold in her life. So, that bow might have been “best” for her, but it certainly wasn’t “best” for me.

What I would rather see are posts/videos/articles with titles such as “What Makes A Good Bow Sight?” and “What to Look For When Buying a Hunting Compound Bow.” Then you might be equipped to find something that is at least “good” for you.

Addendum When I finished this post it occurred to me that anyone who answers a “best” question straight on, “this is best,” or writes a “best” article is actually lying. This is based upon the simple fact that in order to declare a best of anything, you would have to test every possible candidate in that category. Do you think the people who declare a “best hunting arrow” actually tried all of them? Tested all of them? Can you imagine testing all bowstrings, bow sights, arrow points, broadheads, etc? I can’t. So, I sincerely wish people would stuff the “bests” where the sun don’t shine along with all of the other BS.

Apology If I have offended your sensibilities in any way, I do apologize. Being locked up due to the pandemonium gives me no one else to vent to.

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Compound v. Recurve Bows for Hunting

I was perusing an online article entitled “A Primer on Bowhunting.” By and large it was quite good but under the topic of bow selection I encountered the following:

“For the purpose of the rest of this article, let’s assume you’re in the market for a compound bow (which is highly recommended for a new bowhunter). The advantages are numerous, but the main ones are:
• increased effective range (usually 50+ yards)
• more accurate
• easier to hold in the drawn position (giving you time to wait for the perfect shot)
• faster arrow speeds/greater kinetic energy (resulting in a quicker and more ethical kill)”

Allow me to address the bullet points, point-by-point.

  • increased effective range (usually 50+ yards)
    Uh, most deer are taken within 25 yards, for example, so this is possibly a detriment. If a hunter thinks he is dead on accurate out to 50 yards, he may actually be enticed to take such longer shots. The problem here is the feeling of “dead on accurate” usual comes from experience at practice on an archery range, free of obstacles. In the field, however, there are branches in the way as well as other obstacles (cramped stances or no stance at all, etc.), and the farther away the game is the more time they have to react to a sound from the hunter (look up “jumping the string” for examples).
  • more accurate
    Uh, just no. The bow affects consistency, but not accuracy. Accuracy falls strictly under the archer’s responsibility. While there are aspects of bow design that do affect accuracy somewhat, it is up to the archer to use any advantage in every case.
  • easier to hold in the drawn position (giving you time to wait for the perfect shot)
    This is the primary, #1, bestest, mostest advantage of a compound bow. Because of designed in “letoff” the draw force at full draw is a small fraction of the peak draw force. Bow designs typically remove 65% to 80% of the peak draw force, often leaving less than 20 pounds of force to be held at full draw. More time means more time to aim. Recurve bows and longbows reach their peak weights at full draw and aren’t going to be held long because of that.
  • faster arrow speeds/greater kinetic energy (resulting in a quicker and more ethical kill)”
    Again, uh, . . . no. Arrows kill by cutting blood vessels that result in the animal bleeding to death. Ethical bowhunting requires the hunter to aim for the largest blood vessels, using an arrow fitted with a “broad head” which is not only broad but is very, very sharp. Larry Wise once calculated what arrow speeds were necessary to inflict lethal penetration on a deer and it came out to about 240 feet per second (fps) for a typical hunting arrow. Compound hunting bows are now promising arrow speeds of 300 fps to 350 fps. Higher arrow speeds result in what are called “pass throughs” that is the arrow penetrates the prey’s body and comes out the other side. Arrows that have left the body of the animal do no further damage, so are not any more lethal than slower arrows. (It is different for rifle hunters as faster bullets carry more energy (just as faster arrows do) but bullets kill through shock, not blood loss from severed blood vessels and there is less “drop” so longer rage shooting become easier.)

I am not a hunter. I gave up hunting when I was 18 and hunting squirrels. But I have been around hunters my whole life and I listen to them and read what they have written (a good book to educate yourself is Timeless Bowhunting by Roy S. Marlow). This allows me to work with bowhunters who are seeking archery advice and also for being able to communicate with target archers who also bow hunt.


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The Mindset of a Release Shooter

Note This is directed to release shooters, but coaches of release shooters should get the point as they should be release shooters themselves. Steve

If you shoot with fingers on the string, the tough nut to crack is deciding when to release the string (Now . . . no, . . . now, . . .). This is why clickers were so quickly adopted by recurve archers when they were first invented.

For Compound-Release archers (Are there any other kinds left?), the release of the bowstring is different, quite different, because a mechanical thingamabob exists between fingers and string.

My first release aid was mechanical (it was a Hot Shot) but prior to those were the various ledge and rope-spike release aids that were not mechanical. There are no such “non-mechanical” releases in use today because of the superiority of the mechanical triggers now available (mostly of the “double sear” type if that interests you).

What I am addressing in this post is the mindset needed to be a successful archer who uses a release aid.

I remember shooting a Flint Round (I miss the Flint Round, a wonderful competition) and on the final shot, my Hot Shot release failed to let go of the string. In exasperation I hammered the trigger several times (Whap, whap, whap!) and no luck. I borrowed the release aid of my mentor, who was shooting right next to me to get that last shot off. The feelings I had surrounding this event are very easily recalled. (Everyone on the shooting line was waiting for me to finish, for example.)

Release aids do fail to function, but this is a very, very rare occurrence. Much more often, a release failing to “go off” is due to the archer’s technique or the lack thereof. For elite Compound-Release archers this basically does not happen, but for us recreational archers, it does. This topic was brought up by a comment from one of my colleagues (slightly edited): “With other thumb trigger releases I know some shots just aren’t going to go off but with this new release, even if the shot takes longer I know it’s going to go off. That makes a big difference.” Yeah, baby! This is an oh, so important part of release shooting.

Part of the reason release shooters accumulate so many release aids (other than the general belief in magic, exhibited by all archers) is to find a release aid that combined with their mastery of the technique to use it, results in this level of dependability (IMHO, of course). Once you start having an internal debate (Me v. I) over whether the damned thing is going to go off, your shot is finished, done, kaput. A trustworthy release aid/technique combination is vitally important to the mindset needed to shoot well. (While waiting for the release to actuate, there should be no conscious thoughts about the release at all.)

In my first year of release shooting, I can remember the feeling of a shot carried on just a tad too long and the thoughts going through my head: Should I let down? Should I force through the shot? Will I run out of time if I do a let down? None of these kinds of thoughts are helpful. There is an optimum time frame through which all of your shots should occur and you can train yourself to do this, but a requirement for achieving this is that the release aid be compatible with your technique (and vice-versa).

For the curious, the venerable Hot Shot Release Aid.

Releases can be two-, three-, or four-finger models if handheld or even wriststrap releases. Release aids can be triggerless or have thumb, little finger, or ring finger triggers. Wriststrap releases can use the index or middle finger to set them off.

The only way to find out which of these types of release aid fit your archery is by trial and test. Do use a rope bow for your initial tries! I give a rope bow to each of my compound students (if they do not already have one) and encourage them to carry it in their quiver so they can ask other archers “Can I try your release?” without the danger of dry fires of wildly shot arrows.

Then it is a matter of try, try, and try again. The ideal release . . . for you . . . fits for hand/body and suits your personality. It will feel “right” once you have shot it for a while. And, like golfers with putters, there are golfers who use the same putter for 40 years and others who switch back and forth between a set of dozens of different models, adding to that set often. You need to find out who you are in this regard. Archery has always been a voyage of self-discovery.


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Shooting While Breathing

I got a great email with the following question that will be the subject of today’s post:

Hi Steve,

I was wondering if you had any thoughts about breath control and how breathing (best) figures into the shot cycle? In the book you recommended, Professional Archery Technique, by Kirk Ethridge, Mr. Ethridge recommends to “[i]nhale deeply as you raise the bow, and exhale as you draw. When you are at full draw, your lungs should be empty.” (p. 36) The rationale seems to be one of relaxation and stillness. 

On the other hand, both Byron Ferguson (Become the Arrowp. 18) and Anthony Camera (Shooting the Stickbow, 2nd ed., p. 275) advocate inhaling on the draw, allowing the chest to expand at anchor — though for different reasons. (Ferguson’s seems to be about using the inhalation to expand the chest and further bring the drawing elbow/arm into alignment; Camera’s seems to be that the act of drawing itself creates a natural expansion and therefore inhalation, though “while there is little if any chest expansion [at full draw], the logical progression is to continue inhaling, albeit at a slower rate.”)

What are archery coaches recommending? Is there one best (or better) answer, or is this simply a matter of “what works for you”? (For myself, the logic of breathing in makes sense, but I find the inhalation difficult on the draw, and it feels like I am having to hold my breath while at aim. I tried Ethridge’s suggestion and found, if nothing else, that I felt more relaxed/still while at aim. That seemed to be a plus. But is this physiologically “wrong”?

* * *

As far as I am concerned, you can do nothing wrong in this regard as long as you are open to what is happening to your body. The goal, is to be still and strong at the moment of release.

The only scientific study I have been made aware of reports that we are steadier/more still if we have slightly less than a whole lungful of air at that moment. If you want to try that, end with that (full breath, partial exhale) and work your way back to the beginning of the shot. I am unaware of any other serious studies, but they may exist. That, of course, is in archery. There is a great deal of study on breathing in weightlifting. In lifting very great weights, the common wisdom is to exhale upon exertion. This technique lowers internal pressures in the body and prevents injuries such as hernias. But in archery, the weights involved are not so great, so I think we are free to do almost anything.

So, I recommend you experiment as you have been doing. Try a number of breathing patterns. (Rick McKinney’s book, The Simple Art of Winning, lists several more.) The goal is stillness and control at the moment of release.

I have a couple of caveats.

  1. Note whether the source is referring to Recurve/Traditional form or Compound form. I think the requirements for these forms are different enough to require different approaches (Rec/Trad has max draw weight and min time at full draw, while Compound has reduced DW and greater time at FD).
  2. Take into account your personal situation. I tried all kinds of breathing patterns and couldn’t settle on one, so I just breathed as close to tidally as I could (look it up). Then I was diagnosed as having asthma which cleared a few things up. If I held a little long I ended up out of breath, so I included an extra breath into my pattern and it really helped.

So, don’t feel confined by what other people recommend and use your sense of how still and comfortable you are up to the moment of release, coupled with how you feel thereafter (you do not want to be panting and out of breath) as your guide to a consistent breathing pattern. There is no physiologically right or wrong that I can perceive in this topic.

Note For serious archers, this gets worked out one way or another, either through investigation (as you are doing) or through feedback training (doing something over and over until you find what works). Archery is a repetition sport and one based upon feel. Breathing irregularities lead to different feelings that have nothing to do with archery, so breathing needs to be consistent, whichever pattern you choose or learn.


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What Letoff is Best for Target Archery?

Often as not these posts are stimulated by questions sent in by my students. In this case part of one question included this:

Remember those 65% cam letoff modules? I didn’t notice any difference so I put the original 75% ones back on after a few months. Since using my trainer with two tensions, I see the higher tension seems to go off easier. In addition, I’ve read the higher tension lets you hold on target better. I have noticed even with my stabilizer with different weights I don’t get as steady as I’d like or should be.

Many coaches not raised in the world of compound bows are a little baffled by the concept of letoff. Simple stated, the letoff is the percent of the peak draw weight of a compound bow that you lose getting to the holding weight. So, if you have a 50# peak draw weight compound, if it is designed with 50% letoff, you are holding 25 of those 50 pounds at full draw. If you have a 60% letoff bow, then you are holding 40% or 20#. If you have a 75% letoff bow you are holding 25% or 12.5 lbs.

So, why not 100% letoff, it sure would be easier holding?

In the early days of compound bows (Hint: the 1970’s) compound bows had 35-40% letoff at best. The archers choosing these bows were shooting 40 and 45 pound recurves, holding 40 and 45 pounds at full draw, so knocking off a third or more of that was quite a deal. Shortly thereafter letoff reached 50%, then 65%. When I got started in archery the Compound-Fingers archers were often shooting 50% letoff bows and the release shooters were shooting mostly 65% letoff bows. The difference between the two groups is understandable if you grasp that the fingers do not leave the bow string in a finger loose, the bow string pushes them out of the way on its path toward the bow. If there is very little tension on a bowstring at full draw, where the loose occurs, then there is little force to move the fingers out of the way, which means the string will move much more than we want it to in response to the force exerted on the fingers by the string (action-reaction). This makes for inconsistent wobbly releases.

Bow manufacturers have raised letoffs up to 75%, even 80% but these are not used much for target applications. They are mostly used by bowhunters who may have to wait at full draw for a deer to present itself, for example.

Target archers still need a bit more string tension for the reasons implied in the question and more. As more and more compound archers switched to using release aids, which make our releases so much cleaner, we tended to give back some of that full draw bowstring tension (high letoff = lower full draw string tension), trading it for comfort. The holding weight at full draw which creates the string tension is a force we exert on the bow that (a) makes the bow easier to hold up (as the draw arm is pulling up, somewhat, as well as back), (b) makes the bow easier to hold steady, and (c) gives a reasonably clean release.

In my student’s case, his bow has replaceable modules that attach to the cams that change the letoff from 65% to 75%. (Letoff is an element of design that varies slightly with draw weight and draw length and since those are adjustable, these numbers are approximate.) He is saying that with the 65% letoff modules installed (giving a slightly greater holding weight/bowstring tension at full draw), that the release goes off more crisply and that he seems to be able to hold steadier. He is quite right.

Many cam modules are adjustable to create a wide range of draw lengths. Some adjust the letoff.

Basically there has to be a happy spot in the middle of the letoff range, somewhere where the amount of resistance at full draw is not taxing yet the tension on the string is enough to facilitate a stable hold and release. For target Compound-Release archers this happy middle ground is currently around 65% letoff. As with all things of this type, this is not a dictum, it is just an indicator that the farther you get away from that number the less easy things get. As the letoff goes down (toward, say 50%) the holding weight goes up and so fatigue becomes a factor on long shooting days. If you are in very good shooting shape, this may actually be desirable. As the letoff goes up, the ability to hold steady goes down a little, but if you are rock solid steady, that may be an acceptable tradeoff. So some archers favor higher and some lower letoffs than what most archers do.

If you hear compound archers arguing over “what amount of letoff is best” realize that the discussion is probably pointless as what is best for one person may be quite different for another. It also depends on the application: bowhunting, target, field, 3-D. But compound archers, shooting more complicated mechanisms (bows), have more of an equipment focus than do recurve and traditional archers. Arguing over “what <fill in the blank> is the best …” seems to be a way to talk about their sport and stay engaged. I never pay those discussions/arguments much attention.

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Are You Steady?

This is a BowJunky video that shows the apertures of top compound archers while shooting during competition. Whether you coach compound or recurve primarily, this is well worth watching.


Even top flight compound people show aperture movement while aiming. Do realize that compound bows are easier to hold steady than recurve bows due to their greater mass. [ More mass means more inertia, which equates to harder to move.” The simplest example is how much harder it is to move a boulder than a pebble. They are both made of rock and their size is not an issue … their mass is the issue.] Conclusion: recurve apertures move, too … probably more so than compound apertures.

You are steady when the movement is minimal, not when it stops. What “minimal” is must be learned … and improved upon if possible.

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