Releasing for Increased Accuracy with Back Tension

By: Brady Miller

When purchasing new equipment to compliment your bow typically the goal is to pump out more accuracy. Therefore most people seem to go right towards the big three- sight, rest and stabilizer, while little thought is given on a tool that drives great accuracy from your bow- your release and how you activate it.

From my experience people get caught up in the latest and greatest designs of new rests with lots of moving parts, sights with fancy bright pin fibers and stabilizers that have all sorts of rubber type dampening material that move in many directions after a shot, in hopes that it will increase their accuracy. When set up correctly, these items can do wonders on the range or in the field hunting; however, little thought is given to the ultimate producer of consistent results- the release used and the engagement of the triggering mechanism.

Nowadays, release aids come in many different shapes, designs and triggering mechanisms. A few of the main types are: the popular “caliper” release, “thumb” activated, “hinge” releases, “resistance” releases and all the way to tabs for finger shooting. We all know that release aids cause the string to be released in a clean, uninterrupted motion…that is if you weren’t punching the trigger…

A few release types; thumb activated, double caliper, and single hook caliper.

Each release aid can help you shoot better if used properly. Anticipating the shot or punching the trigger has long been understood as a way to quickly cause an arrow to fly off course from your intended point of impact. The distance off from the intended point of impact from a punched trigger release might not be enough to cause you to miss completely if you were shooting at an animal at close range. However, those few inches that your aim was off will exponentially increase the further your target is, and this inaccuracy is all due to punching the trigger.

I am not one who believes that if a bowhunter can hit a pie plate at 30 yards then their bow is ready for hunting. That theory doesn’t hold with me, because I like to think that you can always get more out of your bow. (See the following link: http://www.bowhunting.net/2011/04/building-arrows-for-maximum-performance/)

When selecting release aids, many bowhunters grab a wrist strap caliper type release, due to the similar look and feel of a gun trigger they might be accustomed to from growing up hunting waterfowl or shooting rifles. If used properly this can be a great release setup. I see and hear of a lot of people “squeezing the trigger” with their index finger on their caliper release to engage the shot. I feel this is where most bowhunters go astray from their accuracy potential. This is not a rifle on a bench and squeezing your trigger is a surefire way to develop bad habits which can lead to freezing off target and target panic. That is why learning the proper use of back tension is so important for a bowhunter to advance his or her shooting ability.

Before I go any further, having your draw length set correctly is of great importance to effectively shoot with back tension and for consistent shots in general. If you are pulling through the wall with a draw length that is too long there will be no motion left to allow your draw side rhomboids to contract and pull your elbow around to execute the shot, plus it will set you up for a form that is not easily duplicated in the rough terrain that most hunts take place in. I have gone so far as recording my shot sequence on video and still picture images with my digital camera to evaluate my form and draw length. I will then make adjustments on my bow accordingly all for the benefit of increased accuracy.

When looking to improve on downrange accuracy, shooting a release aid with back tension has widely been known to be the preferred method. But what is back tension and how does one learn to shoot with it?

Back tension is the contraction of the draw side rhomboid muscles, aided by the levator scapulae muscle which causes a slight rotation of the scapula toward the spine. That is the easiest definition I have ever heard and one that I feel bowhunters can easily get a grasp on.

Once you get set to draw, I like to think of it this way…set your body, draw to the wall, anchor, pull, pull, pull and follow through. There is no squeeze through the shot in my sequence. The only action that can trigger the release to go off should be the increase of the pulling back motion with the entire arm. Do not move your trigger finger or thumb independently to activate the shot, as this is shooting with your conscious mind controlling the shot which could lead to inconsistencies as times goes on.

While performing back tension, keep your draw side arm relaxed because tense muscles in your release hand, wrist and arm will lead to increased movement in your shot and decrease the ability to shoot back tension properly. The action of increasing tension with the draw arm will make your arm and the finger or thumb move ever so slightly, which is just enough movement to set the trigger off. You will know through repetitive practice when you’re getting the right amount of tension to activate the shot.

Year-round practice is the only way to truly master your shot sequence.

All of this leads to a surprise, unanticipated shot. To utilize an unanticipated shot you must execute the shot with your subconscious mind and focus on aiming your pin with your conscious mind. The conscious mind is the part of your mind that is responsible for logic and reasoning. So whenever you are aware of the thing you’re doing you can be confident that you are doing it by your conscious mind.

Take for example lifting at the gym; each time you are pushing or pulling a weight, you are doing it consciously. Your subconscious is the part of your mind that is responsible for all your involuntary actions, take for example breathing; you don’t think about breathing all day long…you just do it without being conscious of it. If you execute the shot with your conscious mind you are opening the doors for shot anticipation. This will lead to an anticipated shot, causing a slight miss like I discussed earlier.

Archery is all about repetition and with proper repetition you will soon have your subconscious mind take over the shot execution. That bull’s-eye shot you just made at 50 yards? How did you accomplish it? Did you just draw, aim and fire? Or was there a rhyme and reason to your arrow leaving the bow? My guess is if you want to put that arrow in the same spot twice in a row … there are some repeatable steps you are doing each time to achieve that accuracy and thinking about squeezing or punching that trigger is not repeatable in my opinion.

One of the best quotes I have ever heard describing the perfect, unanticipated shot was from professional archer, Larry Wise: “Immersing your conscious mind in aiming and allowing your subconscious mind to continue back tension leads to the release.” Sounds easy right? Well let’s think about it, leave aiming your pin 100% up to conscious mind to center the focus on to the spot you intend to hit and perform back tension execution with your draw side rhomboids and levator scapulae or subconscious mind. Your conscious mind can only think about one thing at a time.

I feel that shooting a release with a degree of trigger creep is not setting yourself up properly for an unanticipated shot, as trigger creep can cause movement in your form that can lead to a punched shot. When I look at releases I make sure the manufacturer has set up the release for zero trigger travel. If not, I will look at another release. Then I like to experiment with spring tension in the release, which basically is adding or subtracting tension to the release activation…so how much force is required to activate the shot, usually this is accomplished by the use of different springs.

Modifying the release in terms of spring tension, trigger travel, and different triggers all have the ability of benefiting the bowhunter. I prefer to go one step further and wrap my releases with hockey tape to prevent them from slipping while bowhunting in rain and snow.

This past summer I really wanted to take my shooting to the next level. I knew the only way to do this was to practice bank bale shooting to further ingrain back tension shooting. Blank bale shooting is the best way I have found for developing that perfect shot execution. For those times I could not head outside and shoot, I made a back tension training device. Basically I cut a small section off an old ski pole, attached an old bow grip to the ski pole with epoxy, attached a length of parachute cord to the ski pole, followed up with a section of shock cord, and then created a type of d-loop to the back for my release to attach to. I gradually adjusted the length of the p-cord, and shock cord to get my draw length set perfectly. I like to use this device as a tool to assist in back tension repetition.

Draw length specific back tension trainer.

While using this back tension training device, I like to switch off every now and then and close my eyes and mentally engage myself drawing back on the bull elk of my dreams and releasing that perfect arrow. Mental imagery is huge in archery- without having a tough mental game, you will fold in that moment of truth and “buck fever” will take over to a point that you cannot control the moment.

While I was researching methods last summer on how to make a new habit act subconsciously, I read that psychologists believe it takes roughly 21 days to form a new habit but new research has shown it could take upwards of 66 days. So if I can effectively practice on a blank bale in combination with my back tension trainer, I can basically reprogram my subconscious mind to perform my release activation.

Effectively shooting back tension requires proper practice, it is not something that you can pick up and start doing. Failing to put the work in will hamper your downrange accuracy.

The joy of the back tension trainer is how portable it is. You can practice back tension in your house, back seat of a truck, hotel room, etc.

In summary, if you prefer to shoot with a wrist strap caliper release or a thumb release, then the following may help you gain a grasp on how I have shot these types of release aids in the past with back tension. When setting up a release, I would lean towards a stiffer spring in the trigger. This enables you to place some pre-load tension on the trigger without fear of it going off. As you begin your draw back sequence, try to focus on keeping the muscles in your wrist, back of your hand and bicep as relaxed as possible. Then, after coming to full draw and settling into your anchor points, wrap your index finger deep onto the caliper or place your thumb around the trigger- both in a repeatable position. Start applying pressure (the amount of pressure you apply will come from practice on both the blank bale and with a back tension trainer) and get your draw side elbow set and begin to pull back into the wall with your draw arm. This slight, unperceivable movement of your arm with your back muscles will cause your finger and arm to move slightly back and will perform the release for you, without you having to squeeze the trigger.

I suggest trying a bunch of different release aids in an effort to find one that best fits your hand and leads to the most consistent, repeatable shot. In the end, all release aids have their place in bowhunting. Shooting with back tension can be accomplished with any release, from the wrist strap caliper releases, to thumb activated releases, all the way to finger shooters. Back tension has its place for the bowhunter and should not be left strictly for tournament archers. It is ultimately up to you as a bowhunter to choose a release that you feel confident in and one that will aid in downrange performance to increase your bowhunting success.
Work Hard, Play Hard, and Bowhunt Even Harder!

Brady is sponsored by: Muzzy Products