How to Release the Arrow in Archery

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The sixth and final step of the beginner’s shot sequence: the release and follow through of the arrow as you shoot!

Like aiming, the process of your arrow’s release is built around the work that has come before it. You should already know how to:

Once you have the target lined up – the release of your arrow follows on from these core principals. The key to a clean release of the arrow is understanding how to do an accurate ‘follow-through’.

The importance of a clean release and follow-through of the arrow

Before we delve into the techniques behind releasing the arrow correctly, it’s important to understand what ‘follow-through’ means.

The process of releasing the arrow is not really about that exact moment when you let go of the bow string or press the trigger. It’s about how your body moves during that split second before and after the arrow is released. It’s a continuous motion.

For example if you were to jerk or twitch your body or hand as you release the arrow, you won’t hit the target. Erratic movements on release can disrupt the flight of the arrow and negatively impact your accuracy. A clean release and follow-through allows the energy stored in the bow to transfer to the arrow smoothly, resulting in a cleaner and more accurate shot.

The follow-through motion is every action your body makes as you release the arrow but BEFORE it hits the target.

You must therefore think of the arrow’s release as continuing the motion of your full draw. It is a split second of follow-through movement just as you’ve finished the ‘aiming’ stage of the shot sequence. You almost forget about the target and just focus on continuing to move your body correctly, just like in the previous steps.

This is common in all sports. Take golf, cricket, tennis, or baseball for instance. You’re taught to continue your swing after hitting the ball. You don’t think about hitting it, you think about how your body moves towards it and follows-through. The same applies here. Focus on your body’s movement at the moment of release and even after the arrow has released. This will allow a smooth and clean follow-through.

The body movement techniques you’ll learn for this smooth release are:

  • Pinching your shoulder blades in a continued motion after the full draw
  • A gentle finger release (finger stays in same position after release)
  • Relaxed bow hand (no twist or tension)
  • Limited movement in upper body
  • No postural sway

The techniques that help you release the arrow correctly

Further pinching of the shoulder blades to enable a smooth release of the arrow

In our guide on how to draw a bow, we explained that draw tension takes place in your shoulder blades. It’s these muscles that pull the string back, as opposed to your hand or arm. The shoulder blades are therefore also where you focus on how the arrow is released.

If you’ve calculated your draw length correctly, you’ll reach your anchor point and ‘full draw’ with your elbow parallel to your arrow. See the below image for an example of this (courtesy of World Archery).

Though this is known as the full draw, this should not be the fullest extent to which you can extend your elbow backwards. Your shoulder blade muscles should have the capacity for an additional extension of the bow string. During the ‘release’ of the arrow, you must simply continue the motion of moving your arm backwards. This will be led by your elbow and enacted by retracting your shoulder blades. It is only during your shoulder blades additional pinching that your fingers should release the string.

The image below follows the image above. You can see the elbow has extended backwards as the arrow was released.

As your arm moves backwards, your fingers must relax to allow the string to release the arrow on its own

In synchronisation with this additional extension of the back elbow and shoulder blade, must come the feeling that the string ‘escapes from your fingers’. This may sound odd, but it’s very important. The feeling you must have is that the string is leaving your fingers due to its own will, rather than your fingers forcing the string to move. Having this idea in your mind will minimise the movement in your draw hand as your fingers’ release. This will prevent any disruption to the arrow.

The wrong mindset to have is the idea of actively ‘opening‘ your hand to release the string. Instead, your fingers should simply just ‘let the string go’ during the follow-through motion of your draw arms backward movement.

A perfect stance set for the moment of release.
You can see hardly any change in the draw hand as the arrow is released.
Draw arm continues to move backwards in the follow-through motion described previously. Hand maintains same position.

Let the string slide from your fingers in a natural momentum – the softer and gentler the better. The expert-level goal is that the string leaves all fingers at the same time and you don’t touch the arrow shaft at all. The draw hand should therefore hardly move at all. Only the draw arm moves backwards.

ONCE AGAIN:

Don’t open your draw hand – let the string slip from your fingers as your draw arm continues to move backwards. Don’t overthink this. You will know if you’ve done this correctly if your draw hand is still parallel to the knock after release.

A close up of the hand from the above release. You can see how little it moves as the string ‘breaks free’.

Another key mental tip for this is to let the release of the string ‘surprise’ you.

Don’t anticipate the moment your fingers loosen and the string is released. Let it happen organically in the moment, so that you don’t even know exactly when it will happen! Not to be taken too literally, this means letting the release happen almost subconsciously, without over-thinking the moment too much. Learn the physical routine and remove your thoughts from the moment.

How the bow arm and bow hand should follow-through on release

In the ‘how to hold a bow’ section of the shot sequence, we discussed the feeling of pushing the bow towards the target. This is still the focus on release. Though it’s worth reminding again that your intention is not to literally push it forwards as you release. You just let it fall forwards to the target from the natural momentum of the released tension in the bow string.

Your bow arm and hand, by staying straight and having the ‘feeling’ of forward momentum, will prevent movement. Everything about the follow-through is minimising any type of sudden movement during the release phase.

The video above showcases how the bow arm should release:

  • Bow arm maintains straightness
  • Follows the forward momentum towards the target
  • Keeps the bow still, does not literally push in any direction
  • Lowers slightly as the arrow hits (don’t do this before the arrow has hit the target)
  • In this specific example, bow is allowed to fall forwards.

A quick note on the rest of your body

As your draw arm continues to pinch the shoulder blades, your fingers release, and your elbows and arms maintain straightness: your chest should also expand.

This is indicative of proper form. You should not purposely expand your chest. However if the rest of your body is in perfect stance, and your follow through correctly, it will.

Release aids and clickers

You may choose, either via bow type or accessory, to use a device that helps your release. These are known as release aids.

They can come in all shapes and sizes. However they are typically always either strapped to your draw wrist or held with your draw fingers. The reason you might want one is to help on the previous technique of a ‘gentle release’. If you have a contraption to release the string instead of your fingers and hands, it reduces human error. However, there are still tricks to using them correctly.

A typical 4 Finger Trigger Grip release aid
  • If the release is triggered, you must still complete the draw-arm follow through. You just press the trigger as you would have loosened your fingers.
  • The key is that you must not tense and ‘wait’ for the moment of release. By having a trigger, you can possibly distract yourself from the follow through. This is because your mind will focus too much on the act of pressing the trigger. Instead, you should almost ‘surprise yourself‘ by triggering in synchronisation with the shoulder blades extension, the same as mentioned above

Automatic or ‘resistance’ release aids

Automatic wrist release

If your release is automatic, it will most likely be attached to the wrist. This normally works whereby the release occurs at a particular level of resistance during your draw. It works on the tension from your draw arm or shoulder blade.

If you’re using an automatic or resistance-based release:

  • You must not release too early in your draw, or too late. It has to release during your phase of additional shoulder blade extension, just after your anchor point
  • We recommend automatic release aids for advance users only. You need to achieve high consistency and get use to expanding your shoulder blade backwards. It can also be frustrating to set it correctly.

Clicker

  • A clicker (pictured above) indicates for you when the arrow is ready for release. You’ll set up the clicker so it understands your maximum draw weight and length. The arrow will ‘click’ in to place at full draw. To follow the steps above, you’ll need to make sure it’s configured properly.

Compound bow releases

Compound bows will more often use release aids due to the nature of the full draw. Because the weight is ‘let off’, using your fingers to release the string will feel less natural. This is where a trigger can be more useful.

In any case, keep your draw hand relaxed. Most issues with release aids come from too much tension in the draw hand.

Common mistakes with releasing the arrow

There are a number of mistakes you can make to negatively impact the arrow on release. However they all come down to the same issue: involuntarily moving parts of your body. Any flinch or twitch can make all of your attempts at alignment and aiming useless, which is very frustrating! In this section we’ll delve into the reasons why this happens and how we can avoid it.

Postural sway and how it impacts the arrow’s release

If you have a heavy bow or high draw weight, you may already be swaying side-to-side whilst holding your anchor point. This is known as postural sway. If you recorded yourself holding your anchor point and compared it to Olympic archers, this is one of the key differences. They will stay completely still, even at full draw.

Your full body and head should stay within the T shape even at full draw. Having stability will also impact your release as it will ensure you are properly aligned to your target upon release.

Your stability to reduce postural sway on release can be increased in a number of ways.

  • Mainly, you must train your back muscles to hold your anchor point
  • Or, you can decrease your draw weight.

If your back muscles are tiring quickly, try dropping drop draw weight first. Then practice some general shoulder and back exercises when you’re not doing archery. Eventually you can move back up in draw weight.

Remember also the basics again of your stance, which apply also to the point of release.

  • Head and shoulders over the feet
  • Bum tucked under hips
  • Don’t lean forward or backward
  • Equal weight on each foot, however if you think you’re swaying from lack of strength, you can put 60% on front foot.

Target Panic

Target panic is the conflict between your desire to maintain accuracy and the instinct to anticipate the release of the bow string. Especially as a beginner, you might be fearful of the bow string. In either case, it’s perfectly normal to feel a sense of anticipation for the moment the bow string pressure is released.

This is actually something that happens naturally to our muscles. When we expect some type of impact, we tense. It’s this tensing or anticipation that causes us to twitch or move at the moment of release. Often, these sudden movements will veer the arrow off course.

With target panic, a slight shift in your body movement will veer the arrow off target

As with all other steps, the key is to stay relaxed. With practice, the fear of the bow string will disappear. In the section on ‘how to hold a bow‘, we covered elements of your preparation that will help battle against target panic:

  • Channelling the pressure backward with the bow string, pushing the bow hand forward
  • Having a soft grip on the bow, simply keeping it in place
  • Due to this, you might almost let the bow fall from your hand on release

This form will help you to reduce the bounce of the bow string and maintain accuracy even with small movements.

However the real key to avoiding target panic, even for experienced archers, is to avoid anticipating the release. Trust your instincts. Don’t get too familiar with a routine, surprise yourself with the release as we have already mentioned before.

Concept art of ‘target panic’

How to surprise yourself and avoid target panic, a quick rundown:

The shot sequence can be a lot to learn, but eventually, it should become instinctive. The more instinctive your shooting, the less target panic you’ll have. Here’s a breakdown of the timing of the shot sequence timings so far with the addition of an instinctive follow-through:

  • The order of your mind’s focus should be first on reaching full draw and aligning your body into the correct stance. This can take 2-8 seconds depending on experience level.
    • As you maintain a consistent anchor point, simply a second or two on aiming
      • At the same time as these one or two seconds on aiming, begin to focus on extending your draw. As the draw extends, and your fingers begin to loosen, focus on your instincts. Do not time this moment or think on what to do. Let this moment of release happen instinctively.
  • You want as many references as possible to be accurate, but too many pins and sights can take you out of the moment. If you’re struggling with the follow-through being instinctive, try removing some of these pins and sights.
A compound bow and arrow being aimed at a target with a special scope that uses pins and a level
Gadgets are great, but too many can limit your instinct as a beginner

Mistakes in your stance

Finally, a reminder that probably the most common reason your follow-through isn’t working is because there’s mistakes in your stance to begin with. It’s common that as a beginner you will:

  • Open your hand too much or too little on the bow during full draw
  • Drop or raise your bow arm shoulder too much due to the pressure
  • Have your fingers too tight on the bow string
  • Not keep your shoulder blades and elbows aligned as you draw and release

You can see if you have the correct stance in place as you follow-through by following your draw hand. It should have moved from one side of the neck across to behind the neck. All the time more or less parallel to the nock. This ensures the elbow and shoulder blades have maintained the correct angle during the draw process. If your hand is elsewhere, you’ve shifted or moved too much during release. Watch the below video to see how the body maintains synchronisation during follow-through, with the hand as the key thing to watch:

Getting the basics right is more important. This archer’s posture and draw are not correct so the release is guaranteed too not be accurate!

That’s it!

If you’ve come this far in your reading of the shot sequence, you know all of the fundamental theory to get started. The next step is simple: practice, practice and more practice. We will have blogs written on the best ways to practice and how to practice safely at home, but the rest is really up to you. There’s no right way from here on out. Even a lot of this the shot sequence theory can be taken with a grain of salt. Every archer is different. We’ve just collated what we understand to be the best methodology to get you shooting accurately.

So, happy shooting!

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