The Right Release

February 7, 2012 - Joe Bell

Not every bowhunter is the same.

This means subjective tastes will vary when it comes to equipment. Most important, everyone has a different mental tolerance when it comes to shooting. This is why one release aid type or model may not work as well for one person as it does for another. In the end, each archer must use what gives him or her the most confidence and the greatest shooting consistency.

This is where it can get tricky, though. What performs exceedingly well on the backyard or 3-D course may not necessarily excel well in tough hunting conditions. Some archers can certainly take their polished target releases and adapt them well to certain bowhunting scenarios, but not all archers can. And so the selection process begins.

In this article, I’d like to cover five areas of concern for selecting the right hunting release. Ultimately, there is no right or wrong answer for what constitutes the best release—only you can decide this through lots of experimentation and then gauging your options.

#1 Trigger Quality & Accuracy

A crucial component behind any release is accuracy. How well can you shoot it? As an industry insider who gets to sample a lot of gear, I can tell you that not all release aids are created equal. Some are simply smoother, crisper and more precise than others. In other words, trigger quality varies greatly.

A well-made release has a creep-free trigger that prevents anticipation during the shot. This is vital for day-in, day-out shooting consistency, as your mind has a way of picking up on the slightest pre-release creeping. When it does, it will lead to a break down in form (i.e., punching the trigger, flinching, peeking, etc.).

The only way to gauge trigger quality is to shoot several releases. As you do this, you’ll notice that cost is usually indicative of trigger quality. The most expensive releases almost always come with polished trigger assemblies for supreme smoothness and creep-free action.

In contrast, mid-grade releases often have trigger aberrations, or assemblies that become loose and “creepy” as time goes on and more arrows are shot. But not all of them are bad. I have many “mid-grade” triggers that are deadly accurate, and I tend to favor them for hunting because they are simple in design and contain fewer moving parts. But the problem is, I had to filter through several models of the same release before finding that “special” one. The average person doesn’t have that luxury.

My advice is to visit a well-stocked archery shop and shoot as many releases as you can. If that isn’t an option, visit your local archery club and start asking around for what’s a great hunting release. You’ll probably get all kinds of opinionated answers, but if you notice the popular use of a particular brand or model, then that’s a good place to start. Going online and reading reviews helps, too. Again, look for consistent remarks to help guide you to the best release.

I hate to comment on my preferences, because like I said, the best release is highly subjective; however, I’ve always been impressed with the trigger quality of Carter and Scott releases, as well as many models by Fletcher, TRU Ball and Tru-Fire.

#2 Preventing Punch

Index-finger releases require a great deal of discipline to shoot well, yet these are by far the most popular hunting releases on the market. The obvious reason is simplicity and ease of use. They are comfortable to wear, quick to load, and very practical for fast-shooting and tough stalk-hunting situations. They also wrap around your wrist, so you can’t lose them.

However, the index finger is extremely sensitive to “touch,” which can increase one’s propensity to whip the trigger rather than gently tug on it. This leads to punching and poor shooting, especially under pressure.

The key to making successful hunting shots is to ingrain solid shooting habits. This begins with squeezing the trigger on each and every shot. If you seem to have problems doing this with your index-release, then you should consider a thumb, pinkie or back-tension release, which are “less sensitive” to operate.

Depending on your mental tolerance, you may be able to practice with this type of release during the off-season and then switch to your index-finger release for hunting, all without any accuracy hitches. Many pro hunters do the same.

However, if you find yourself punching or “thinking” about the trigger too much, you should hunt with your handle release for a season or two, which will allow time for your nerves to build stronger.

If you despise handle releases for hunting, as many bowhunter do, consider a wrist-strap “tension” release, such as the Carter Back Strap or Squeeze Me. These promote a similar feel to an ordinary index-finger release but fire only upon increased tension at full draw. They are excellent off-season trainers.

#3 Field Function

I absolutely despise releases that operate noisily and/or hook up to the loop slowly. This will lead to blown shot opportunities in the field.

By noisy I mean: How quiet is it when the jaw is locked or closed? If it produces an audible “snap,” it will cause problems when game is nearby and the woods are dead quiet.

Another concern is hook-up speed. For aggressive-stalk hunting, bowhunters often require a release that can latch on to the string or loop very quickly, with barely a glance.

A slow release has a way of exasperating the symptoms of buck fever, which will only cause lots of fumbling, frustration and movement.

In my opinion, an open-hook release is no faster than a wide-mouth closed-jaw design. Both work equally well. If I had to choose the ultimate, though, it would be a closed-jaw, because it allows better function when still-hunting through a “prime” area or when covering the last few steps in a stalking situation. In both cases, I want to be “latched” and ready to go.

#4 Comfort & Reliability

Comfort in a release—basically how well does your hand and body respond to it—is important because being relaxed, calm and comfortable at full draw is all a part of good shooting form.

Each year I try new releases that may feel great in one area (body, trigger, strap) but not in other areas. That’s not good enough. I want every element of the release to feel outstanding, as I know it’ll improve my performance.

The release body or trigger assembly rarely can be altered, but the strap or trigger can. Be willing to try different straps on different releases until you find what you like. Same with the trigger peg. If the shape seems awkward or uncomfortable, grind it down or modify it using a different peg (if available through the manufacturer) or sleeve until it feels better. These adjustments can go a long way in creating the ultimate setup.

I also dislike releases that are overly engineered with complicated sears and trigger assemblies that spell trouble in rain, snow or dirt. They may shoot awesomely on the target range, but they won’t work well out in the elements. Don’t risk it; choose something more reliable.

My personal test is to shake the release. If it rattles or vibrates, then I grow leery of it for hunting work. Release malfunction, believe it or not, can destroy you mentally in the middle of a hunt. Your mind has a way of growing attached to a certain release—one that you’ve used for countless shots—and rectifying a broken one with a back-up model could take more shots or time than you think in order to be comfortable and confident again.

#5 Adaptable Speed

No bowhunter wants to shoot at a moving animal, but when the hunt grows long and you find yourself with a close, moving shot, it’s hard to pass on it. And really, you shouldn’t, given you know your limitations, have practiced it before, and know where to aim. Just make sure the animal is 20 yards or closer, and you allow some amount of sustained lead from the center of the vitals.

Of course, index-finger releases excel in this area, as they fire with similar speed to a fingers release. T-handle releases, however, can be trickier to use in fast-shooting situations. But they can be easily adapted to handle these shots given you practice enough.

Back-tension releases, on the other hand, are not recommended for these shots, as quick operation of them tends to produce a gross flier. This is their main hunting liability; however, some bowhunters have pulled off moving shots with back-tension “hinge” releases before. But this is a difficult accomplishment in my opinion. I’ve shot one whitetail using a hinge release that I could’ve shot walking, but my mind insisted on waiting for it to stop. I did and made a great shot from 15 yards.

Bowhunting is serious business, and any piece of equipment you bring to the field should be chosen with absolute care. I frequently rely on past, worst-case scenarios to help guide me to what will work best.

This is especially true in hunting releases. Go with the proven choice. Overall, worthwhile hunting release should give you all these things: crisp, accurate trigger; comfortable feel; fast function; relentless dependability; and aesthetics that prevent trigger punching. When all these points are met, you’ll have the right release in hand.

Importance of Back Tension

Consistent shooting begins with consistent triggering. To do this, rely more on your back muscles to fire the arrow rather than a single finger movement. Why? Because your back muscles are more reliable and less sensitive at pulling through the trigger. Whereas independent finger movement, on the other hand, promotes “yanking” and not squeezing.

These muscles can be used to activate any type of release, but it will take a lot of time to get it right (a couple months), so stay determined and disciplined. The feeling you’re working for is moving that draw-arm-side shoulder blade in toward the other. A tighter and tighter “squeeze” or “burn” of these muscles will eventually pull your hand-and- finger unit into the trigger for a surprise execution. Done over and over this way creates the utmost in shooting consistency—the same way the pros do it.

With an index-finger release, make sure you adjust it so the trigger rides “deep,” from the first crease or higher, so the tip of the finger points downward. This will create a “hook” that just cradles the trigger. As you work your back muscles (which eventually operate through your subconscious mind and through repetitive muscle memory), the shot will just break without you knowing it.

With a T-handle thumb release, grasp the release by making a wide, comfortable fist, making sure your thumb rests solidly on the handle and not the trigger itself. Then, as you pull with back tension, the body will rotate somewhat and force the trigger into the side of your thumb, creating that surprise shot.

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