with Dr. Mark Timney
Developing a Perfect Release, Part 1.
Form is EVERYTHING when it comes to shooting a bow.... for bowhunters as well as target archers. Having the ability to consistently hit the ten-ring or make perfect shots in the field comes only with proper form.
If we were able to force our bodies to duplicate complex physical movements perfectly every time then form wouldn't matter. But since we're not shooting machines, the best we can do is learn the style of shooting that's the easiest to duplicate from shot to shot.
And that's my definition of proper archery form: The method of shooting that is the easiest to repeat over and over again. And not surprisingly, that method of shooting is virtually identical for everyone since we all share a similar physiology.
This is the first of a series of columns in The Practical Bowhunter dedicated to helping you develop proper form. The form that I'll be passing along is based upon the teachings of the world's best archers and coaches, most notably, G. Fred Asbell, Steve Gibbs, Bernie Pellerite, Terry Ragsdale, Tim Strickland, Randy Ulmer, Terry Wunderle and Larry Wise, among others.
Since one of the most important, and most troublesome, aspects of good form is perfecting the release, that's where we'll start. The mechanics of a good release, with fingers and mechanical devices, will be discussed in Part 1. Applying the mechanics in the field will be covered in Part 2.
Turn off Your Brain!
A good release, with fingers or a mechanical device, is entirely subconscious. While you begin the shot consciously, the rest of the shot should be carried off without conscious thought. Good form demands that you NOT KNOW when the arrow is going to be sent on its way after you decide to shoot. You should be surprised when the bow fires.
If a little voice in your head is telling you NOW!signaling you to pull the trigger or let go of the string then there's no way you can be surprised. And if you're not surprised, then your form stands a good chance of being off....which means inconsistent shooting. Granted, there are times while hunting when you must shoot at a specific point in time, but this should be a rare occurrence. More on this in Part 2.
A surprise release is essential to good form. If you're thinking shoot now, then you can't be thinking about aiming. Aiming is what you should be concentrating on at this point in the shot sequence.... and nothing else. This will also be discussed in greater detail in Part 2.
A surprise release allows you to maintain muscle tension through the shot, which is an absolute necessity for consistent accuracy. It's almost impossible to maintain correct muscle tension if you know when the bow is going to go off. If this happens you'll either ease off tension at the moment just before the bow fires (what's commonly called collapsing) and let the bow wander off target, or you'll increase muscle tension on one side or the other and pull the bow off the mark as you move to hit the trigger or let go of the string.
Collapsing and increasing tension both reduce accuracy, sometimes considerably so. Sooner or later they're likely to lead you to even worse form and possibly even target panic.
Take a SURPRISE Test
RELEASE SHOOTERS (those who use a release with an index finger trigger) Stand about two yards away from a target and have a friend stand right beside you. Now, draw an arrow, aim at the target and close your eyes. While you're holding steady, have your friend reach up and trigger your release for you. Let your buddy be sneaky about this.
Surprise! That's what a release should feel like! Having the bow go off without you knowing it's going to happen may seem scary at first, but you'll get used to it... especially after your shooting improves.
When you're surprised by the release, the continued muscle tension through the shot will cause your release hand to fly backward and your bow hand to move forward and slightly left (for a right-handed archer). Watch the following video clip to see what this looks like. This clip was provided as a courtesy by expert shooting coach Bernie Pellerite of Robin Hood Video. It's from his excellent series of "NFAA Shooter's School" tapes.
Video Demonstration A Perfect Release with a Mechanical Aid
Video tape yourself to see if your bow and release hand move after the shot like this. If not, then you're probably anticipating the release. Later in the column I'll discuss how you can use your mechanical release so that you can be surprised by the shot.
FINGER SHOOTERS Unfortunately, there isn't as simple a method to demonstrate a surprise release for you as the one above. However, your physical movement immediately after the shot is also an indicator of whether or not you're consciously letting go of the string.
Watch the following video for an example of what you should look like. This clip is also from Robin Hood Video and shows the perfect form of world-class archer Ed Eliason.
Video Demonstration - A Perfect Finger Release
Do you look like this? If your tab/glove hand doesn't immediately come backward along your face and then inward toward your shoulder, then you're probably consciously letting go of the string. The same thing should happen for traditional shooters who immediately let go of the string when they reach their anchor point.
If your release hand stays near your mouth you have what's called a dead release. This is a sure sign of a conscious effort to let go of the string. The dead release is easy to learn, but almost impossible to master. It not only results in poor form and inconsistent shooting, but can lead to serious target panic.
Video Demonstration - Avoid Doing This!
Another sign of bad form is when the release hand pulls outward from your anchor point. This is called plucking the string, and is also another sign of a conscious effort to let go of the string.
Dumb it Down!
Fingers are too smart for a good release, so much so that you're better off not using them to execute a shot. For the release shooter this means learning to pull the trigger with your back and elbow. For the fingers shooter, this means refusing to hold the string rather than letting go of it.
RELEASE SHOOTERS Despite what you might have heard, squeezing off a release trigger like you would the trigger on a rifle is incorrect. Over 90-percent of all shooters who attempt this end up punching the trigger instead. And even if you are capable of squeezing the trigger off, you're still in the hole. Having to think about squeezing prevents you from concentrating on aiming. It can also hinder your effort to involve your back muscles in the shot.
You want to pull the trigger with your back and elbow, not your finger. I'll explain how to do this with an index finger release first since they're the most popular style of releases with bowhunters, and then I'll explain the proper method for triggering thumb and pinkie releases.
1) How the release fits your hand is very important. Set up your release so that your index or middle finger meets the trigger at the first joint. Make sure to adjust the strap the same way every time so that your finger always falls at the same place on the trigger. Also, set the trigger pull to no less than two pounds. Three to four pounds, or higher, is preferable as a light trigger is easily set off by accident (or punched). The illustration shows how your release should fit your hand.
2) When you're at full draw and ready to aim, apply light pressure to the trigger with your index finger. DO NOT grip the release with your hand.
3) Begin to lightly contract your back muscles, but do not apply any more pressure to the trigger with your finger. The following clip shows what the proper contraction of the back muscles looks like. Watch the two orange dots placed on the shoulder blades move toward one another as the back muscles contract. The movement here is slightly exaggerated, but the motion is otherwise correct.
4) Continue contracting your back muscles. This will cause your elbow to move backward. This, in turn, will move your entire hand backward and pull your finger into the trigger. The finger itself won't move in relationship to your hand, but it will still trigger the release within four seconds. Again, you should have no idea of when this will actually happen.
There's only one thing you need to do differently in this process if you use a thumb or pinkie trigger release, and that's to put the trigger as close to the base of your thumb or pinkie as possible. As you contract your back muscles, moving your elbow backward, the release will rotate on it's own in your hand. This will sending the trigger into your finger and cause the release to fire.
I prefer using thumb and pinkie finger releases, like those from T.R.U. Ball, because they're easier to use proper form with. Index finger style releases make it too easy to trigger punch.
You may have some trouble getting the release to fire at first. If so...
You may not be applying enough initial pressure to the trigger, but remember the finger itself does not move or fire the release;
You're not pulling/contracting hard enough with your elbow/back muscles; or
Your release is not set up properly. (See step 1 above).
If the release is firing before you've engaged your back muscles, then set the trigger heavier. Easing off on the initial pressure you place on the trigger before you engage your back muscles will also work, but make sure you still have solid contact on the trigger to start with.
FINGER SHOOTERS You must refuse to hold the string. You must be able to fully relax your hand to do this as you continue to apply back tension. Once you do this, the string will suddenly slip through your fingers without your knowing it's going to happen. Never try to fling your fingers open.
Here are the steps to follow:
1) Begin by hooking deep on the string with your fingers, making sure that the back of your hand is as flat as possible. Don't try to hold the string with the end of your fingers thinking that it will slide off better that way. It won't. You can't physically relax the muscles in your hand when it's `cupped.'
2) Once you've come to full draw and have your anchor point, begin to contract your back muscles. Watch the video clip on back muscle contraction in the previous section on shooting with a release if you're not sure how to do this.
3) Continue to pull through the shot with your back and elbow as you aim and begin to relax the back of your hand. Within about four seconds from the time you begin to relax, your fingers should suddenly refuse to hold the string any more. The string will fly out from under your fingers without your having to consciously open them.
If you can't get the feel of relaxing the back of your hand. Try practicing by letting go of a full can of paint (lid closed, please!). Once you've done this for a while, try it on your bow string. Just pull back about an inch and let your hand relax. When your hand is flying backward and inward from the bow you've got it made. Watch the video clip for a demonstration.
Video Demonstration - Hand Relaxation Practice
If you're a traditional shooter who likes to let go of the string the moment you reach your anchor point, I encourage you to change your style and shoot from a stationary anchor. It's much harder to get a surprise release and maintain good form if you don't. A few noted bowhunters shoot/shot in this fashion, but they had years of perfect practice to develop the proper form to shoot this way.
If you want to continue to shoot in this manner, at least begin by practicing from a stationary anchor. Get the right technique down before you go back to such a quick release.
More to Come
Please don't rush out to a target and try to employ the techniques described here. You'll only frustrate yourself (and curse me for every word I've written). You're going to have to spend some time shooting at point-blank range without a target, and preferably with your eyes closed, before you can get these techniques down. Only after perfected the described techniques should you move back and shoot at a target.
More on employing what you've learned in the field in the next Practical Bowhunter.
A special thanks to Bernie Pellerite of Robin Hood Video (255 S.W. 96th Lane,
Ocala, FL 34476, 352-237-7614) for permission to use video clips from his NFAA Shooter's School tapes.
Thanks also to Tomorrow's Resources Unlimited (P.O. Box 11529, Lynchburg,
VA 24506, 800-724-4878) makers of the excellent line of T.R.U. Ball Releases, for sponsoring this column.