A few years ago, I was bowhunting Dall sheep in Alaska when I had a small accident. The horse’s saddle cinch broke, and my saddle rolled to the side. Trying to keep myself upright, I shoved the saddle horn, hoping to roll the saddle back upright and keep from tumbling onto the rocks. It worked, but in the process I cracked a bone in the back of my right hand. Every time I exerted pressure on that hand — like drawing my bow with my fingers — it brought tears to my eyes.
I was out of business as a bowhunter. I was leaving for an elk hunt in two weeks and was sick. What was I going to do? In desperation, I tried using a wrist-strap-type mechanical release aid. The strap took all the pressure of drawing the bow off my wrist, placing it instead on my back muscles. And it didn’t hurt! I taped up my hand, retuned my bow and was back in business.
As I continued to practice with my release aid, I was amazed at how well I began shooting. My arrow groups tightened right up, and those disgusting “flyers” all but disappeared. Soon I was putting five broadhead-tipped arrows into a 6-inch square from the 50-yard line. I had to quit shooting more than one broadhead at the same spot, as I was continually cutting the fletching off the shafts. The big 6 x 6 bull I took three weeks later would never have been mine had I not switched to a release.
Release Aid Benefits
Precision is the big advantage of mechanical release-aids. As mentioned earlier, in target tournaments, release-aid shooters have their own class, simply because no fingers shooter can come close to matching the precision with which arrows can be shot with a mechanical release aid. Release aids do, without question, make you the best bow shot you can be.
Another closely related benefit of using a release aid is consistency. With fingers, you grip the bowstring across a wide area, usually two or three fingers covered by a shooting glove or tab. All that contact surface makes it extremely difficult to release the string exactly the same every time. On the other hand, a release aid grips the string at only one or two small contact points, enabling the string to slide free the same way shot after shot.
With a release aid, tired shooters can still perform up to their potential. Say that after hiking hard all day long, you are bone-tired. All of a sudden, a mule deer, elk, black bear — or whatever your quarry is — suddenly appears, and you’re in position for a shot. Your fatigued arms, hands and fingers may let you down, effecting a release that’s not quite the same as your normal release, potentially causing a poor shot. But with a release aid, your fatigue won’t be much of a factor at all. If you can draw and hold the bow steady, you just have to squeeze the trigger, and the arrow flies as it normally does.
Extreme cold can produce the same effect. When your hands are so cold you can barely move them, shooting with fingers becomes a real chore. Wearing a shooting tab over a thick glove just doesn’t feel the same as it does when you’re wearing a thinner, warm-weather glove. With a release aid, it’s not a problem. Again, simply squeeze the trigger and perfect arrow flight is assured.
That’s not to say that switching from fingers to a release aid will transform you into Robin Hood overnight. It won’t. It takes practice, a well-tuned bow, more practice, an ability to judge distance, more practice, skill at uphill and downhill angle shots, and even more practice to get where you want to be.
Release Aid Concerns
There are three major concerns when shooting with a release aid.
The first concern is a consistent anchor point. When shooting with fingers, placing the index finger of the shooting hand in the corner of your mouth or using a kisser button are easy ways to ensure a consistent anchor point. With most release aids, this doesn’t work. You have to develop your own consistent method of returning to the same anchor point time after time. When using my wrist-strap release, I place the knuckle of my thumb at the back of my jawbone.
Adding a peep sight will also ensure a consistent anchor point. Many release shooters touch the bowstring with the tip of their nose at full draw, giving them three reference points for their anchor: thumb knuckle at the back of the jaw, nose on the bowstring and looking through the peep sight with the head erect. This formula makes for very consistent shooting.
The second major concern with release aids is a premature release. This can occur during the draw if you let your finger get near the trigger. To prevent this, on my trigger-style release I make sure to put my trigger finger behind the trigger as I come to full draw, moving it into position only when I’ve found my anchor point.
Reliability is the third concern. In the beginning, cheaply made release aids were easy to find; malfunctions were not unheard of. Also, snow, ice and mud jammed some release aid mechanisms to the point that they reacted sluggishly, if at all, when the shooter touched the trigger. But today, the best release aids are precision tools designed to take the abuse a serious bowhunter will dish out. I’ve shot a bucketful of different release aid designs and styles over the past several years and have yet to find one from a reliable company that has let me down in this regard.
To help eliminate potential malfunctions in the field, try the following. In dry, dusty conditions, wash the release aid down with a good solvent to remove all oil and grease. Grease will pick up dirt, dust and grit that can lock up the mechanism. In wet weather, oil the release to keep it from rusting. In extreme cold, lubricate the release aid with powdered graphite, which will not freeze like light machine oil will. Following this program, one season I used the same Scott Mongoose release problem-free in temperatures ranging from a humid 90-degrees Fahrenheit during the early whitetail season in the South tominus 50-degrees Fahrenheit on a Northwest Territories muskox hunt.
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