In my early days of archery, I had this idea that the more I shot, the better I'd become. So I did this, and that's when I began to deal with "freezing" below the spot and target panic. Consequently, I figured out that the opposite was the best tactic for becoming a better archer — shooting less and making sure each shot attempt was consistent and high in quality.
One tool that has helped reinforce this process for me is the back-tension release. I usually shoot a standard index-finger release with an exceptionally crisp trigger, but I find that shooting the back-tension release strengthens that calm, waiting-for-the-shot-to-just-happen cycle. In my opinion, this keeps my mind more resistant and better prepared for serious shooting pressure, such as when shooting at game or in a 3-D tournament.
Here are two vital reasons you should consider shooting a back-tension release, how to choose the right one, and to know if using this same release for hunting is the right thing for you.
Feeling the Flow, Removing Bad Habits
There's a lot to be said about the element of mastery. Whether you're on the range or at work, you know when you're "in the flow" because everything falls into place and things seem effortless. This is the progression that leads to skill mastery. Good archery works this way, too.
If you've acquired some bad shooting habits, a back-tension release can help reboot your mental system and restructure the important fundamentals behind a good shot. By shifting your focus away from the "old way of doing it" and letting the release of the arrow operate independent of your conscious mind, you can begin to establish the right muscle memory of an effective shot and begin to feel the flow all over again. This is the sensation you want to acquire and maintain going forward into your archery regimen.
"The ideal situation for archery occurs when the conscious mind is centered," writes Thomas Whitney and Vishu Karmakar, authors of ADVANCED ARCHER, an excellent book I read heavily in the mid-90s. "The subconscious mind is then able to move freely and easily, unencumbered with tension and worries; and when the intuitive mind is familiar and comfortable with the task before it, a centered conscious mind will be calm, relaxed, and will not interfere with the working of the intuitive mind."
How does the back-tension help with this? The basic purpose to using this release is to free your mind from thinking about the triggering of the shot, because it has no trigger. This forces you to stay engaged with the target, or to think about using the muscles in your back to pivot the release and eventually free the arrow. Eventually is the operative word here because it is the secret to shooting relaxed and in the flow. The shot must not be timed or immediately anticipated. This way you can keep the conscious mind focused and centered on aiming or dynamically using your back muscles to cut the shot.
Strengthening Good Habits
Despite lots of instruction and analyzing archery form, I'm still very susceptible to losing control of the shot, and it usually sneaks up on me when I fall out of a regular routine. This can happen easily during those segments of the year when I happen to be shooting a lot, and especially when testing new archery gear.
Instead of being focused on just my shooting, my mind begins to waiver and think about the new bow, arrow, or accessory I'm using. I want to see the results of using it. This can quickly put me into the danger zone of losing the flow and falling out of shooting sequence.
The back-tension slows me down and reinforces those crucial elements needed to stay in command. This is why I favor using this release for a lot of my shooting.
Once you slow down and your conscious mind is centered, then you can stick with your specific shot sequence, never going out of order, and begin laying down the right shooting foundation.
Selecting the Right Release
As an equipment specialist, I've tried a number of back-tension releases. You have the standard hinge style, hinge with safety, and pure resistance. Overall, I gravitate toward the hinge with safety since it's so user-friendly.
This style of release is also ideal for first-time users who may be scared to keep a hinge properly pivoted during the draw cycle, especially with a full-weight hunting bow. The models I highly recommend are the Carter Honey and TRU BALL Sweet Spot series. The Scott Hex is a hybrid-style hinge that uses a built-in safety design. It is another excellent choice.
The other two choices are the tried-and-true hinge and the pure-resistance type. The standard hinge is the top choice of the vast majority of tournament archers. There are two reasons for this: they are very consistent, because the sear is simple and non-intricate, and without a safety, the handle rotates the same on each and every shot.
With the safety models (i.e. Sweet Spot), you can sometimes pivot the handle slightly different each time as you reach full draw before deactivating the safety. This can alter the dynamics of the shot a bit, if we were to point out the nitty-gritty negative. Also, there are more moving parts on a hinge-safety release, making it more prone to failure or inconsistency.
The pure-resistance release, such as the Carter Evolution or Stanislawski Element, fires only through a build up of back tension. This makes it incredibly effective for establishing the right muscle memory by keeping those back muscles active during the shot. These types of releases are adjusted for the holding weight of your bow, plus a desired increase for that strong pull-into-the-wall shot conclusion. The downside to this style is that you must adjust it for a specific bow and let-off weight.
Using It for Hunting
I used to think that a back-tension release could be disastrous for hunting, but I no longer feel this way. You should hunt with the release that gives you the greatest amount of confidence. So, if you feel like you're stricken with punching the trigger, or prone to some strong anxiety during the moment of truth, then consider a back tension in place of your trigger release. Do whatever you need to do to keep your conscious mind centered and focused on making a good, consistent shot.
I've used both the Carter Honey and TRU Ball Sweet Spot releases to take game. I typically keep the release on a lanyard and wrist strap and tuck the release inside the wrist strap or around a web of elastic band when hiking, glassing, or anytime a shot is not eminent. This allows fast, effective use in the woods.
Shooting a bow well is nearly all mental. This is why it's important to keep the mind relaxed and centered on the core essentials that make up a smooth, consistent shot. Notice how I didn't say accurate shot. In my opinion, shooting mastery isn't about accuracy or the end result. Mastery is a progression that never stops. After all, we are always growing, always learning and, hopefully, always becoming better (and wiser).
By keeping the mind centered, entering the flow, and sticking to the basics, a good end result simply happens. The focus has to stay on learning and executing the shot to the best of our ability, while we stay centered. The back-tension release is one tool you can use to delve into this state of mind and help you progress as an effective archer.