Tag Archives: release aids

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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Release Triggers: Size Does Matter

My Carter Target 3 with three thumb trigger options I have used.

This posts concerns the photo attached (right). The release aid is my #1 release (has been for a very long time). When I bought that release the spot that my thumb rested on was a simple post (in photo just below small barrel). Then at a Las Vegas Trade Show I bought a number of Tom Thumb adjustable “barrels” to adapt the trigger to a somewhat larger size. This was just before Carter came out with their own version, the “Adjusto Trigger,” so I felt I was very much in the avant garde.

Recently one of my students made me a trigger barrel much larger than the Tom Thumb version. It is 1.0˝ wide (25 mm), as compared to the Tom Thumb version (the purple one in the photo) which was 5/8˝ wide (0.625˝ or 16 mm). I noticed immediately the different feel associated with this new, larger thumb barrel which got me to thinking.

Perfect positioning of the trigger on a thumb release aid: nowhere near the sensitive pad.

When encouraging a “surprise release” approach to release technique, the standard instructions are to tuck the trigger back away from the tip of the finger/thumb. The argument is that the very sensitive finger tips can feel the position of the trigger as it moves and thus lead to anticipation in the form of flinches, freezing, etc.

My thinking is that the nerves associated with those finger- and thumb-tips are pressure nerves. (The pain and temperature change nerves don’t get engaged.) The force required to trip the release aid is built in with springs and whatnot. But spreading that force out from a narrow pin, to a small barrel, to a much larger barrel, I have created small and smaller amounts of pressure on the trigger. This diminishes the feel of the trigger on the skin, which should be a good thing.

So, if you coach release shooters, or are one, and you haven’t tried a larger barrel or a “shoe” trigger, give it a try. You may like the results.

Note I am never satisfied with the “Gee, I like it better” approach to equipment recommendations. I much prefer for there to be reasons as to why such changes might be advantageous. Still, you do have to try things out to see if they work for you.

Thumb barrel, thumb shoe, whatever. The aspect that is important is the amount of contact area between archer and trigger.


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Helping Them Try a Release Aid

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.”

FSLK Archer

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.

Rope Bow in Use

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!

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.

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An Epic Problem that May Require an Unusual Solution

I have a student who is struggling and has been struggling for a long time with target panic. Recently he wrote me at length and I got his permission to share part of what he wrote with you. I know it is long but that is part of my point, so please bear with him and me. Here is his letter:
“Let me mention where I’m at with things. I hate to admit it but I’ve failed being able to shake the apprehension on the shot using a thumb trigger release. It’s rare I fail at something. I’ve spent weeks and months at a time doing holding drills, blank bale shooting, combinations of both many different ways. I just can’t hold on a target, thumb on the trigger knowing I’m actually going to make a shot while I can hold on a target for 8-10 sec knowing I’m not going to take the shot. I’ve had some fantastic days where everything did work but never got more than a couple of days of that if that much.
“I see there’s about five different ways people use back tension to release the thumb trigger release. One of them is squeezing your hand and the trigger gets pushed while using back tension to pull back. I believe that’s how I’ve been doing it. I’m unable to just wrap my thumb around the trigger and pull back and have it go off. The index finger keeps that from happening and it bears most of the weight. About a week ago I tried to shift the weight from the index finger to the thumb and ring finger as I’ve read is another method. I practiced that for days on the FLT & Rope first. Now I’ve seen first hand how you can’t concentrate on two things at the same time in archery. Trying to shift the weight made things bad enough where I let the release go, this time realized exactly how that happened. Tried to just shift the weight to the thumb and out of my hand it went. Luckily I had the lanyard you recommended. I’ve spent the past year at least, trying to change things, no actually shooting for fun. We have fixed a lot of things though, just not the apprehension described.
“My plan if this didn’t work was to revisit the T.R.U. Sweet Spot BT Release w/lock you recommended since I have it. I don’t really want to use this type of release but I looked at a note I sent someone in 2013 while I was experimenting with it and having a really good day. When I dropped down and got above the gold @ 40m, I clicked off the safety and when it dropped in the center released the shot. Sounds like I was punching with a BT release now that I fully understand punching. I had adapted the BT release to my style of offhand rifle shooting I’d been using in archery for a long time. We’ve come a long way since then and I don’t need to drop into the bull any more. Also back then I was only going out one day a week and now I can shoot every day in the garage. Several weeks ago I tried the Sweet Spot release and didn’t experience any apprehension.
“My final game plan is to work with the BT release for a month. If I see improvement over the apprehension, I’ll continue otherwise I think it’s time to put the bow down and move on to other things.
“I’d like to get together and make sure I’m using the BT release correctly so I don’t spend a month or more doing it wrong. I don’t think we’d need to spend a lot of time since I already know how to use it. Seems there’s many ways people use them. Squeeze shoulder blades together, squeeze right back muscle towards center, tighten your fist, rotate your hand, just pull back and the list goes on. Most big name archers who have videos on YouTube mention just pulling back until it goes off, no real mention of back tension or squeezing back muscles or shoulder blades. Viewing videos of these guys in the matches, they all seem to have their right elbow end up down after the shot, not straight back.
“For the past week using the T.R.U. release, I’ve been anchoring using my back muscles, squeezing more with the right side. Seems to go off nicely that way. Did try the squeezing both shoulder blades together and I seem to get tired out faster using that method. When I get tired out I don’t get a smooth release. I’m using a blank target right now with my eyes open, 30 shots a day. Between sessions I use the FLT a couple or more times a day.
“I’ve given it a good try. I’ve never shot the bow this much, even bought another Morrell Super Duper target. Got both stacked in front of each other. Since I’ve wasted the entire season, I’m willing to give it one last try, after all everyone says to beat punching/TP use a BT release. Being only 15 or 30 feet away with a large piece of one inch plywood behind my target my problem doesn’t seem fear of missing the target.
“Sorry for the epic,”
<name withheld>


Your epic is … epic! It is rare for an archer to document what lengths they have gone through to deal with an issue. At some point it would be wonderful for you to write up your entire journey regarding your TP, but first I have to share with you something that happened to me.

I was shooting (compound release) in a July 4th fun shoot (900 Round) and at 40m (122 cm target) my groups blew up to the size of garbage can lids. (I was capable of 280-290+ scores at that distance at that time. I responded the way we all do … I panicked, but when I settled down and looked at my shooting analytically, I discovered that my bow hand was becoming more and more tense at full draw. Fiddling with it, trying to get it to relax at full draw didn’t help much but I got through that shoot. I then began a process that involved years of attempts to deal with this problem. (I never found out the root cause; it was just something I did. I also didn’t know a coach to consult.)

At one point I took off 1.5 years from shooting hoping my bow hand problem would “go away.” I ended inserting two steps into my shot sequence, both were “relax bow hand” one during the “set your hands” step and one just prior to “aim.” None of this worked.

What worked is I got busy and forgot I had the problem. (Although I still can feel echoes of it happening when I “look” for them.)

Basically I think that I paid way too much attention to my “problem” and made it more real than it was. Possibly you are doing the same. Possibly you should just try turning your mind off and shooting “automatically” for a while, with and without a target face. Each time you have a thought … of any kind … mentally brush it away (I visualize a broom) and go back to shooting “mindlessly.” As a long term approach I do not recommend mindless shooting as being much less effective than correctly engaged shooting (aka mindful shooting), but when our own minds may be reinforcing a problem, they need to be pushed out of the way a bit.

Now, I do not “know” this is the case for you, but it is a possibility. If you think it is, you might have another option for a way forward.


PS regarding “Most big name archers who have videos on YouTube mention just pulling back until it goes off, no real mention of back tension or squeezing back muscles or shoulder blades.” This is the problem with video and book advice (it is one-way) and in this case, it was way oversimplified. This is indeed what it feels like to the archer, but it not what is happening. If you pull straight back with a standard triggerless release aide, it will not go off, because the tripping of the release is based upon the release rotating relative to the direction of the pull. When you are “just pulling back” correctly, your draw arm is rotating around toward your back (because your draw shoulder is doing the same) and that motion causes the release to trip at the right point if it is set up correctly (I can’t emphasize this enough; too many release aides are not set up correctly).

PPS Regarding “Sounds like I was punching with a BT release.” This is why I do not refer to such release aides as “back tension” releases, instead I call them “triggerless” (no release aid requires back tension to use it and all release aids can be used with back tension). Most archers trip their triggerless releases by hand movements, that is they rotate the release in their hand, rather than rotate their hand by rotating their arms around toward their backs. This is the equivalent of “punching a trigger,” if you were switching from the correct operation of the release to a faster hand manipulation. I do not know that you were doing this. It is entirely possible that your arm was rotating your hand and release while you were dropping down into the middle and just tripped when you got there. (I recommend getting your aperture on center before starting the final approach to the release tripping.) Note that triggerless release archers do not shoot any slower than triggered release archers. They have just trained to do the correct movements in the minimal amount of time at full draw. There is no advantage to spending more time at full draw than is needed.


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