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.