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Developing the Perfect Release

 Practical Bowhunting
with Dr. Mark Timney


Developing a Perfect Release, Part 2.

(If you didn't get the opportunity to read Part 1 of this feature, take the time now. You'll get a lot more out of what you'll read here if you do.)

One of the key principles of good form discussed in Part 1 was that you SHOULD NEVER have a "Now!" command in your head signaling you to let go of the string or trigger the release. A good release happens entirely on a subconscious level.

This is a difficult concept for many archers to accept. Many resist the idea because it would seem there are advantages in being able to launch an arrow on command, especially in the field. But as discussed in Part 1, a "NOW" command is very likely to result in poor or inconsistent shooting. And eventually, it will lead to some degree of target panic.

I'm going over this again now because I want to re-emphasize how important it is to not shoot like this if you want to become a better archer. While it's possible for some individuals to shoot adequately, or even well, this way, it's very difficult for the average person to ever become good with a bow using such poor form.

Consider what a "NOW" command does when you're shooting a firearm. It results in jerking the trigger (flinching) and generally poor accuracy. You have to squeeze the trigger to get the best accuracy, which means you don't know exactly when the weapon will fire. The same with a bow.

Squeezing the trigger with your finger isn't enough in itself with a bow, however. The physical differences between shooting a bow and a gun require a slightly different technique. You have to counteract t the fact that your muscles are under tension while holding the bow's draw weight. This is accomplished by using these very same muscles to fire the bow.

There's always time for good technique

If you shoot a release you must trigger with your back, not your finger. If you shoot fingers, you must engage your back muscles and "refuse to hold the string" rather than "let go of the string." Doing so will allow the shot go off subconsciously and eliminate the "now" command. (You may want to review Part 1 again to review how this is accomplished.)

"But when will the bow go off?" you ask. You should know within one-to-four seconds of when the shot will go off, but not exactly when.

"But what about when the animal isn't going to stand still for that type of shot?," you ask. My answer is, "Don't worry about it. It's rarely a problem." At least it wasn't for 21 of 22 deer I've taken in the past 7 seasons. I've only had to `rush' one shot off on a deer in all that time, and I only took that shot because it was at very close range at a walking animal.

Maybe I've been lucky, but for the most part I believe there is almost always time to make a perfect release.... even if you're `rushed.' Consider the elk I took in Oregon in September thanks to a couple of people I met because of the BOWSITE, Dan Huckabee and Mark DeViney.

I heard a cow "bark" and hooves moving my way. In the next 8 seconds it was all over. I knocked an arrow, saw the animal, watched it move into range, judged the distance, drew and shot. The distance was long, up a very steep hill, and I had no time to think about anything. Despite all this, I tagged my first elk. If I hadn't spent a lot of time perfecting my form this never would have happened.

And even if you're pressed for time or the animal is moving, you still don't want to pull the trigger or let go on command. If the animal is walking, then you can stop it by whistling or calling with your mouth. If you absolutely have to take a shot at a slowly moving animal just lead the animal a little and continuing aiming as you follow along and execute the shot with back tension.

If you're worried about the animal moving before you get the shot off, you can speed up the unconscious release slightly by pulling a little harder/faster with your back muscles. While this isn't as accurate a way to shoot, it's still better than punching the trigger or letting go of the string.

If the animal is moving quickly or is so nervous that you're certain you must shoot `NOW,' you may want to pass the shot up entirely. A spooky animal is likely to jump the string or move when you least expect it, and moving targets are very difficult to hit.... so very few shots are going to be good ones under these circumstances.

Everything Moves

One thing many archers worry about when they try to execute a proper release is sight pin movement. They ask, "How can I hit where I want when the pin is always moving on the face of the target? It only makes sense to pull the trigger the moment when the pin crosses the bulls-eye. Right? You're asking me not to do that."
This is a logical question. I always answer it like this: "Not even the world's best archers can hold perfectly steady on a target. But they don't worry about it. They accept sight pin movement as being NORMAL and they just aim as best they can while executing the shot."

By using back tension and aiming "through the movement...and through the duration of the shot," you'll improve your accuracy. You'll also help get rid of that "NOW" command in your head.

You must concentrate ONLY on aiming, but this isn't as clear cut as it sounds. DON'T think, "Move the pin up to the center more.... now over a little....too far, now back some," etc. You don't want to consciously try to move the sight pin into place. This introduces muscle tension and even more movement.

Instead, you want to let the sight pin "float" around as you think `aim,' or `center,' or whatever thought works best for you. You want to let your body center the pin by itself. As a result, you decrease muscle tension and lessen pin movement.

Don't move your fingers!
Traditional shooters have to worry about a different type of movement since they don't have sight pins. They have to FORGET about moving their fingers to let go of the string. The release of the string has to be done unconsciously. If it isn't, then the tension between the muscles controlling the bow arm and ones controlling the drawing arm are likely to become unequal and spoil the shot. Releasing the hand consciously can also introduce wild string oscillation which causes poor arrow flight.

The trick is to let the string pull itself out of your fingers. You only need to push with your bow hand and pull with your back hand while you relax your drawing hand. You're fingers don't actually move, your hand muscles just sort of fade away and the string takes off o its own. It's like when you were a kid holding on to a chin-up bar for a long time and you couldn't hold on anymore even though you wanted to. You never really let go with your fingers.... they just kind of slipped off in the last instant. It should feel the same here.

And while you're waiting for the string to slip away your job is to think about aiming. For the traditional shooter, this means 100% concentration upon where you want the arrow to hit. (See Part 1 for more detail.) If you think about your release, you can't be thinking about aiming. And that usually results in a less than accurate shot.

Perfect practice

Many archers fail in their attempt to develop a perfect release. Most are unwilling to practice to make their release entirely subconscious. The practice schedule below may not be as fun as it is to just shoot, but this is the type of practice you need.

Developing a perfect release begins by shooting at point black range with your eyes closed. This is call `blind bale' shooting. Forget about shooting at a target for now. You must first develop "muscle memory" of what a good shot is...what it "feels like." You must train your mind/body to get the release to go off or your fingers to let go without conscious thought.

It may take several weeks of practice a minimum of 20+ shots three times a week before your subconscious will begin to get the idea, but don't give up.

By the way, don't be surprised if your sights are off on your bow now or if your bow needs re-tuned. You may have significantly changed the tuning or point of impact by correcting your form.

Make a practice string
I often practice my release while I'm sitting in front of the television. I don't use a bow, just a piece of broom handle with an old bow string attached to it.

With this simple device I can simulate shooting a bow any time I want. I also have an old sight pin mounted on the broom handle so I can practice aiming while I'm getting off a good release. This device may look silly, but it's very practical and can go a long way toward helping you perfect your release.

I started Part 1 of this column with "Form is EVERYTHING when it comes to shooting a bow... for bowhunters as well as target archers." Granted, bowhunters don't need to be able to shoot as well as tournament archers to be successful in the field. But would it hurt?

Wouldn't it be great to be able to push back your effective range a few yards? Wouldn't it be grand to know the odds are VERY good you'll make a perfect shot on the next buck that comes along? Of course it would.... and that's what developing a good release, and good form in general, can do for you.