Traditionally, archers have used nothing but their fingers to pull back and release the string on a bow. Archers still do this, but in modern years, a device has been developed to make this process easier and more energy-efficient.
The archery release is a device that attaches to the bow’s string and helps the archer pull the string back and release it. There are several different forms, which can range from a simple glove-like covering for the archer’s fingers to a more complicated device similar to a trigger on a firearm.
An archery release’s most important function is to make the release of the string go as smoothly as possible.
Why Should I use an Archery Release?
Aside from traditional archery purists, almost everyone agrees that archery releases, or release aids, are a better way to release the bow’s string than fingers alone.
First and foremost is the positive effect they have on accuracy, but not to be forgotten are the major advantages of decreased rates of finger fatigue and accidental dry firing.
Accuracy & Power
In the days before firearms, no one even thought to wonder if bare fingers were the most accurate release method for archers.
It turns out, they’re not. In fact, they’re far from being the most accurate release method.
The shape of an individual finger is already not conducive to the quick travel of a string across it.
It’s cylindrical, bumpy, and fluctuating surface makes for a very rough transfer of energy, though we may not be able to ascertain that with our eyes alone.
Now, consider that there are usually three fingers on the string at one time, so when the archer releases the string, that’s three textured and bumpy surfaces that the string has to travel across.
This is not to mention the extreme inconsistencies that occur each time human fingers release the string.
You may feel like you’re doing the same thing every time you fire an arrow, but on a microscopic level, your fingers are most likely releasing at slightly different times and with slightly different speeds.
This will all affect the flight path of the arrow, and the more inconsistencies there are, the more energy your arrow will have to spend recovering from the rocky start it got.
An arrow relies on kinetic energy to make it to the target and then to stick in the target once it gets there.
The more energy it spends trying to correct its path, the less energy is left to propel the arrow to its target, meaning you’re not getting the accuracy or power you should be out of your bow.
Reduced Finger Fatigue
Pulling the string back over and over is an exhausting task for your fingers, especially if you have a bow with a high draw weight.
Additionally, there’s a lot of tension involved in keeping your fingers in the hooked position that’s necessary to hold the string back.
Release aids solve that issue by taking the place of your fingers, allowing them to relax a little more while the muscles in your arm do most of the work.
No More Accidental Dry Firing
If you’re unfamiliar with the term, dry firing refers to the releasing of a bowstring that has no arrow attached to it.
It might not seem like such a bad thing; after all, how could anyone get hurt when there’s no projectile to be fired?
Remember all that kinetic energy we were talking about earlier?
That energy is produced by the extreme tension that occurs when you pull back the string of a bow.
When you release the bow, all the energy transfers to the arrow, sending it flying.
When there’s no arrow for that energy to transfer to, where do you think it goes?
That’s right: back into the bow.
And when that happens, you get a lot of damage. Most liable to break are your bow’s limbs, but sometimes even the riser and other parts can crack and practically explode.
It’s as if you are holding a small bomb, which, as you can expect, will likely cause some damage to your hands, face, or any body part near the flying debris.
Needless to say, it’s not a fun experience, and more often than not, dry fires are an accident, a result of tired fingers or a simple slip-up.
When you’re using an archery release, the odds of this happening on accident are far less likely, as your device is usually clamped onto the string.
What Kinds of Archery Releases Are There?
Surprisingly, there are a lot of different variations of this small accessory.
The ones we’ll discuss here are those mostly used by archers who shoot compound bows.
Index Finger Release Aids
Index finger releases are some of the most popular release aids on the market, for good reason.
For one thing, most of them come with a thick, comfortable wrist strap that completely releases the archer’s fingers from having to do anything until it comes time to pull the trigger.
Because it requires the pulling of a trigger by an index finger, this kind of release aid is most like those found on firearms, which is another reason that a lot of people prefer these models.
The simplicity and familiarity of pulling a metal trigger gives people the confidence to use it, whereas some of the other release aids may have a bit of learning curve.
A lot of archers also praise the index finger release for giving the archer complete control over the exact moment the arrow separates from the string.
The phenomenon even has its own term: “command shooting.”
The only noted disadvantage to the index finger release is a learned behavior called “trigger panic.”
This occurs when an archer becomes so used to pulling the trigger once they see the pin in their bow sight cross the target that they do it instinctually, even when they didn’t mean to fire yet.
Handheld Thumb/Button Release Aids
These kinds of release aids are referred to as thumb releases, button releases, and even thumb buttons, but they are all the same thing.
Unlike the index finger release aids, these don’t often have a comfortable wrist strap, meaning that your fingers and hand will still be very much involved in the pulling-back process.
However, a lot of archers prefer this release method because of its preservation of anchor points.
Anchor points are the points of contact that an archer strives to make consistently every time they pull back the string.
Often, these points of contact are where the release hand meets the cheek or mouth when an archer is at full draw.
Keeping these points of contact consistent is key to shooting tight groups of arrows and being able to accurately adjust your aim if your shots are not landing where you want them to.
Other than that, thumb button release aids have a similar function to the index finger release aid except that the thumb is used rather than the index finger and instead of pulling, the thumb simply has to press on a button to release the string.
Hinge Release Aids
Hinge release aids are not for the faint of heart or beginning archers.
Like the thumb button release aid, the hinge release is handheld, meaning that it doesn’t have a handy-dandy wrist strap.
Its function, however, is quite different.
Rather than being set in motion by the archer himself, the hinge release only releases once it senses the handle being rotated backward slightly.
It is for this reason that I do not recommend new archers using this kind of release aid.
If you’re not familiar with the release process or the build-up of tension, which is what the release depends on to activate.
Even seasoned target shooters and bowhunters can sometimes be taken by surprise if they pull back too quickly or rotate their hand without meaning to.
It may seem like no one would ever want this kind of release aid, but there are benefits to not being in total control of the release.
One of those benefits is the elimination of subconscious preparation.
Though you may not have noticed it, it’s likely that you give a slight jump or tense up just before you release the string.
This is your body preparing for everything that goes on when you fire an arrow: the noise, the shock to your hands, the possibility that your arm may get hit by the string.
It’s all subconscious, but it all affects the flight path of the arrow, even in small ways.
If you don’t know the shot is coming, your body can’t anticipate the shot by doing these little things.
Additionally, the loss of control over the release gives you one less thing to think about, freeing you to concentrate solely on your aim.
There are a few other release aid styles out there that you can look into, but these three are a good introduction to the world of release aids.
If you’re looking into buying one, the best thing to do is test them all out for yourself and choose the one you’re most comfortable with.