Beginner's Guide to Understanding the 5 Types of Bow Releases – Foundry Outdoors
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Beginner's Guide to Understanding the 5 Types of Bow Releases

If you learn the differences between the 5 types of bow releases you'll be able to choose the best style for you.

I’ve heard it said you can’t find truth in advertising. While this may be accurate in some instances, there are exceptions. Years ago I was flipping through my favorite bowhunting magazine and I came across an ad for a bow release. It was a big full page ad with a black background and big red letters. The ad read, “The only thing standing between you and your bow is your release.” I remember thinking to myself the ad was pretty much hitting the mark. Although it did forget about the bow hand, the ad was correct that having a good release is very important for accurate shooting.

bow thumb release

Since Holless Wilbur Allen invented the compound bow in the 1960’s, the sport of archery has never stopped innovating. Our bows have become faster, more accurate, and more efficient shooting machines. We’ve gone from wood arrows to carbon arrows that are laser straight and more durable than ever. Broadheads are also in a constant state of experimentation, and each year more exotic models are released. Some of these ideas work, others fall by the wayside. Releases have also underwent 50 years of modernization and today we have an array of different types of bow releases to choose from. Knowing the differences between the types of bow releases, and choosing the correct one for you, is a big step for someone breaking into archery. Releases do have a major impact on accuracy and having the correct release will greatly impact your experience.

If you are putting your archery gear together for the first time you may want to learn the differences between the 5 types of bow releases.


The first kind of release mechanism, your fingers, is the oldest. Obviously the first archers would have used their fingers to release the bowstring. Today a few modern archers still shoot fingers. Shooting fingers is most popular in traditional archery circles, and you’ll find scant few traditional shooters who use a mechanical release. It can be done, it is just not popular.

On the other hand, the vast majority of compound bow shooters will choose one of the mechanical releases we’ll discuss later. However, there are a handful of shooters who still shoot fingers with a modern compound bow. These archers generally buy bows with long axle to axle measurements since longer bows create less finger pinch. Today’s trend toward shorter axle to axle bows reflects the popularity of mechanical releases. It also makes it harder to find a compound bow to shoot fingers with.

If you are considering shooting fingers there are a few routes you can go. You can actually shoot just your naked fingers and be just fine. Personally, when I’m shooting my Bear Montana longbow I shoot bare fingers most often. However, after long practice sessions your fingers will get sore and this can impact your accuracy. Lots of traditional shooters use a shooting glove. These are basically three finger leather gloves that make shooting more comfortable. Watch old footage of Fred Bear or Howard Hill and you’ll see they used a shooting glove.

Shooting tab.Today many finger shooters use a shooting tabs. These tabs serve the same purpose as as glove and protect the fingers from the string. Many also have a finger spacer to block the archer from pinching the arrow. Tabs, along with gloves, seem to be the most popular option for today’s finger shooters.

Back Tension Release

Now let’s take a look at the mechanical releases. The first kind of release is the back tension release. Of all the types of bow releases, the back tension release is most often referred to people as a coaching tool. That being said they are perfectly capable for hunting and is used by many tournament shooters. Oftentimes though, people who are having a difficult time with target panic or relaxing when they shoot are encouraged to pick up a back tension release.

Back tension release.These releases are a bit of a misnomer, because they don’t actually need back tension to fire. They operate on a hinge principle, where the shooter is actually rotating the release rather than hitting a trigger. After the archer has come to full draw they slowly extend the draw and pivot the release around the hinge. This pivoting motion eventually hits a point where the release will no longer hold the string and the bow will fire. This type of release encourages shooters to keep back tension while being used. Hence the name back tension release. These are regarded as being very effective in helping people slow down and focus on the shot.

One negative to these types of bow releases is the fear that you will punch yourself in the face when drawing the bow back. True enough, more than a few archers have accidentally knocked themselves in the teeth, but if used correctly the release will not go off. When using this kind of release it is important to draw with tension placed on the correct part of the release. When used correctly they are an exceptional way to improve your shot.

Index Finger Release

The index finger mechanical release seems to be the most popular release used today. This is especially true in the hunting community. There are several different variations of this style of release, but they all have a few main components. First off, each index finger release will have a wrist strap that connects it to your shooting hand. This is one reason they are so popular for hunters. Whether you are climbing a tree in the deep woods, or scaling a mountain, you won’t have to worry about your release falling off.

Index finger release.Secondly, these releases all have a caliper of some sort. Some models have two calipers that close together, others have one. Folks who use the one caliper release argue they are more accurate and can be hooked on the D-loop without taking their eyes off the target. That being said, the twin caliper design still seems to dominate the market. Finally, each index finger release has a trigger. This is the mechanism that opens the caliper and releases the string.

These releases are so popular because they are easy to use and they have proven to be accurate enough. The downside is that shooters can develop poor shooting habits with them, such as target panic and trigger punching. While some shooters argue that punching a release can be good, most believe punching the release is the root of poor shots and inaccurate shooting. If you buy one of these releases make sure to focus on your shot and squeeze the trigger rather than punch it.

Thumb Trigger Release

Another style of release that blends the two previous mechanical releases is the thumb trigger release. They have a similar design to the back tension release, although unlike the back tension release, the thumb release actually has a trigger. Also, because it has a trigger it is similar to the index finger release. That being said, it may be better at reducing target panic and trigger punching.

Thumb releaseTo operate a thumb trigger release, draw your bow to your anchor point. Like the back tension release, thumb releases are designed to have your hand turned outward while holding at full draw. Once at full draw the shooter wraps their thumb around the trigger and slowly begins to squeeze the trigger. Like a back tension release, this squeeze can encourage a slow and steady pull and clean shot.

The thumb trigger release don’t seem to be as popular as index finger releases. That being said, sizable populations of both bowhunters and target archers use them. They are a good option if you are having trouble with target panic and trigger punching but still want more control than a back tension release offers.

Tension Activated Release

Tension activated releaseThe final of the 5 types of bow releases you need to be aware of is the tension activated release. This style of release works on the same principal as the back tension release, in that they don’t have a trigger to push. In a sense, they are the trigger. These releases require the shooter to come to full draw while holding a manual safety mechanism. At full draw the shooter let’s go of the safety mechanism and the release is ready to go. Next, the shooter begins to put more pressure on the bow. Eventually the pressure will hit a certain point where the release will break and let the string go. For example, if you are shooting a bow with a 20 pound holding weight, your release weight will be at 23 or 24 pounds. The exact poundage difference is based on your preference. The idea is that as you exert more force on the release you’ll eventually hit the poundage it is set at and make it drop the string.

These seem to be most popular in the target archery community where a surprise release is desired. Bowhunters may shy away from them because at times they want more control over the time of release.

 Determining which bow release is right for you will depend largely on your personal situation. All types of bow releases have positives, and all have negatives. If you are getting into target archery you may opt for some sort of back tension or tension activated release. On the other hand, most hunters seem to be using trigger releases, whether they are index finger activated or thumb activated. Finally, if you are a traditional archer, or want to go old school, you may just find yourself wanting to buy some sort of finger protection. Whatever you choose, make sure it increases your accuracy and makes you a better shot at your chosen pursuit. Good luck and shoot straight.


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Paul Caldwell - Nov 04, 2018

Good review of the hand side of the release. So what about the string side? That is what does the work.

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