Recently I found my shooting had plateaued. I was consistently shooting 285/300 Vegas rounds with my hunting setup but I knew I could do better. On video my shooting looked pretty good. Even the pro’s I reached out to in my local shop told me I should be happy with my scores considering I was shooting a 30” ATA hunting setup at 70#. But EFFFFF that! With the precision of modern bows and all of the information and techniques available at our disposal I don’t want be just another hunter who can hold a 3” group at 40yards. I want to be the guy holding a 3” group at over 100yds.
As with any endeavor in life as you climb higher on the ladder of excellence it takes exponentially more effort to get incrementally further. Having my own knowledge and the resources at my immediate disposal I decided it was going to take a big leap outside of my comfort zone in order to reach that next wrung. This revelation coincided with the indoor archery season where I noticed a lot of the top archers were using hinge releases. I knew next to nothing about these releases but the results I was seeing from the top competitors lead me to believe there must be something there. As I learned in the competitive pistol shooting world, the best rarely use a piece of gear if it doesn’t provide them with some sort of advantage whether it be mental or physical.
Wrist strap release (left), thumb button (middle), hinge (right). Image not true to size.
For those unfamiliar with hinge releases, sometimes referred to as back tension releases, these are not new to the world of archery but their popularity tends to ebb and flow. The releases themselves resemble smaller thumb button style release aids. The different being that unlike a thumb button which requires the shooter to depress the trigger, a hinge is mechanically simpler and is operated by the rotation of the release which causes internal sears in the head of the release to slide along their contacting faces until they slip off one another, giving way, and cause the release to fire. The advantage of this is it produces a more consistent surprise shot.
Like any release it is possible to “punch it” but unlike a trigger style release these forced shots (A.K.A. “command shots” as some shooters call them) are more apparent and less accurate. You can fake a proper back tension shot with a thumb button or wrist release but you can’t with a hinge. For a deeper explanation of how a hinge works and how to shoot one we will simply refer you to a recent video from the Jedi Master Dudley which is available on the Nock On TV YouTube Chanel.
If you haven’t used a hinge release before the first time can be an intimidating experience. For me it was like the first time I jumped off a high dive. Logically I knew that the odds were good that nothing terrible was going to happen but I also knew that if I messed up my exit off the board there was also a good chance the result was going to hurt… The same feeling overwhelmed me the first time I pulled back my bowstring with a hinge. Because hinge releases fire by pivoting the release you have to draw your bow with only your index finger and thumb to avoid inadvertently activating the release. On a 70# hunting bow this is an intimidating prospect and doing it wrong means there is a good likelihood that you will either punch yourself in the face, send an arrow soaring through the air wayyy too soon, or both. I have done both... a few times… I am also guilty of launching my release directly into the back of my bows’ riser on one particularly hot, humid, and sweaty Florida afternoon. That’s what happens when you relax your hand a bit too much... Side note; both my Hoyt riser and my Nock On 2 Smooth were just fine but I wouldn’t advise trying it.
Instead, take my advice and first train extensively with some sort of release trainers which are nothing more than some d loop material and an old bow grip (see home made example below. For those of you looking to practice in style, Nock On and Right Release also sell practice release aids apply named the Right Release, which are more official and less Jerry rigged. Regardless of what you choose to practice with a release trainer is crucial as it allows you to practice your draw and release cycle without any of the consequences that come from messing them up on a real bow. And the best part is these items are small enough that you can bring and use them pretty much anywhere. I have been caught by my coworkers many a time practicing while on a conference call. I also find it helpful to practice in a mirror so I can simultaneously work on my stance and alignment all of which are even more crucial when shooting a hinge release.
I wouldn’t call a hinge release dangerous but it is certainly has a higher degree of consequences if you screw it up. This is actually a good thing. Hinge releases brought to the surface a lot of bad habits in my shot which were buried just below the surface and forced me to focus on every aspect of my shot execution with smooth and efficient economy of motion. The first time I accidentally sent an arrow down range before I was even anchored I quickly learned that my draw wasn’t as suave as I thought. With a hinge I had no choice but to raise the bow to the target and draw the string straight back. This forced me to remove those common inefficiencies like drawing with the bow higher or lower than your front shoulder or pulling back with a low back elbow. Once I started drawing my bow correctly my entire cycle grew more consistent and I noticed I was coming to anchor sooner. This had the added benefit of being able to hold steadier and longer because my support muscles weren’t getting as fatigued.
If drawing your bow is like climbing the ladder of the high dive, coming to anchor is like standing at the edge with a dozen other kids pushing and yelling at you to jump. The first few times actually felt really similar to the anxiety of a kill shot. After the first few shots (which I recommend just blank bailing) the anxiety of not wanting to mess up subsided and I noticed my mind began to focus more on the release and less on my pins. This was a big departure from the mental aspect of shooting a trigger release. Don’t get me wrong I could watch my pins all day but that arrow wasn’t going anywhere unless I released it and firing a hinge requires a lot more input than a trigger.
What this revealed to me was that I had actually been covering up some target panic. My first day of hinge testing I consistently found myself trying to fire as my pin passed over the X. This of course did not happen because I simply didn’t have the mechanics of the release down well enough to command it to go and that was a good thing. Instead the hinge forced me to hold my anchor, settle my pin in a constant hover over and around the target, and focus on driving the elbow of my release arm back towards something behind me while relaxing my index finger. Thus causing the release to pivot, the sears to give way, and hinge to fire.
The first time you execute this correctly you will know immediately. It might not be a bullseye but the feedback from your bow when the release fires is radically smoother and your bodies follow through feels effortless and natural like it was meant to do it the entire time. Perform a proper back tension release once and I promise you will find yourself chasing that same feeling until you master it. For me it took a few days and hundreds and hundreds of repetitions before I could consistently shoot my hinge like this. But once I did I noticed my groups were incredibly tighter than they previously were with a caliper or trigger release. This was especially true at distance where I was able to drill a Block target at 80 yards over and over and over again. Previously hitting a target at that distance felt like a great relief. Now it is more of a given and that is an incredible confidence booster in the woods (not that I would take a shot at a white tail at that distance). And my Vegas and three spot rounds? Those scores are now securely in the 290's/300 (still chasing 300) and my 3D scores are typically about the same.
The benefits of a hinge for me was that it exposed my sloppy draw cycle and target panic allowing me to clean up the first and eliminate the second. There are certainly a lot of advantages to shooting a hinge in all disciplines but I am not confident enough to hunt with one just yet. Especially now that I recently switched over to an 80# bow, the prospect of pulling that much weight back with just my index finger while 20ft up in a tree stand sounds like a bit much. Unless you are Kifaru’s Aaron Snyder who is famous for taking countless animals doing just that. But yeah, not for me yet…
It was Aristotle who said “we are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” Well it goes the other way as well and when you don’t practice something it is easy to fall into bad practices. To avoid this I still try and shoot my hinge regularly and when I’m not using my hinge I am shooting a handheld thumb release with similar ergonomics. This allows me to maintain almost the same economies of motion regardless of which release is in my hand.
Nock On 2 Smooth (left) and Nock On Nock 2 It (right)
So to wrap up, if you have found your shooting as plateaued then it might be time to wade into some unfamiliar territory and maybe try a hinge or other back tension release. There are an overwhelming number of great options on the market right now and I will be sure to post a follow up article detailing my testing and the rationale behind my personal purchase but in the mean time it is important for you to establish what your archery goals are, check out as many articles, reviews, and videos from trusted sources as you can, and finally go borrow a buddies release or ask your local shop to try a few different styles (with a release trainer) and get a feel for some of the styles and features that work best for you.