Finger vs. Thumb Release

The index-finger or caliper style, wrist strap release is by far the most common release aid used by bow hunters. I haven’t hunted with one in years.

Why?

Because I discovered the many benefits of a handheld, thumb-trigger release.

Archer at Full Draw

The author seen at full draw using a hand-held thumb trigger release.

Don’t get me wrong, there are many great things about a typical wrist strap release: they are simple, easy to use, economical, and easy to replace or borrow if yours becomes lost or broken. And both thumb-trigger and index-finger releases share a lot in common when it comes to the basic premise of release functionality (a trigger that releases a hook/jaw, which releases the bow string).

To highlight the differences between the two styles of releases let me focus on the lesser-known, lesser-understood release and highlight why I use a thumb-trigger release these days.

Finger vs Thumb — First and Foremost

My main problem with index-finger releases has nothing to do with the release itself and has everything to do with my weak mind and my itchy trigger finger. First and foremost, I stopped shooting an index-finger release because I cannot shoot one for an extended period of time without struggling with target panic.

“Well, that’s your problem,” you might be saying. And you’re right. But it either is, or likely will become, your problem as well. Target panic comes in various forms, and there are many ways to diagnose it.

Hot Shot Vapor Release

Thumb trigger releases such as the Hot Shot Vapor seen here are becoming increasingly popular with bowhunters.

For example, I used to struggle with not being able to hold dead-center on the bullseye. I was rock-steady holding just below it, but I could not get on the middle of it. That is target panic. At other times, I noticed that I could get on the center of the bullseye, but I could not comfortably keep my sight’s pin there without a strong urge to “SHOOT NOW!” That, too, is target panic.

Does A Thumb Trigger Release Cure Target Panic?

So, did all of my issues with target panic immediately disappear when I began using a thumb-trigger release? And is a thumb-trigger release the end-all, be-all cure for every person’s case of target panic?

No, and no.

A thumb-trigger release itself will not automatically cure target panic, but it will help you defeat it. Slapping, punching, jamming, or swiping at a trigger — with your index finger or with your thumb — is not the right way to execute a shot. So, it is still possible to make a bad, panicky shot by hastily slapping a trigger with your thumb.

But if you use a thumb-trigger release the right way, you’ll develop proper shot execution, understand how a shot should break, and eliminate target panic.

What is “the right way” to use a thumb trigger release?

There are a lot of details and many variables that could be covered in a small book answering this question, so let me just touch on a few key aspects:

Your thumb should not move to activate the trigger. (Yes, you read that right.) Although it is a thumb-trigger release, your thumb is not the “lever” which activates the trigger. Instead, think of your thumb as a “wall” or “block” that “trips” the trigger. If you shoot with back tension — building up tension between your shoulders, pulling “through” the shot — then your release hand will either rotate or otherwise move in such a manner that the trigger is pushed into your thumb. And, with your thumb steady, the trigger will eventually get “tripped” by your thumb.

For proper execution with a thumb-trigger release the barrel should rest securely back into your thumb, almost near the palm of your hand.

For proper execution with a thumb-trigger release the barrel should rest securely back into your thumb, almost near the palm of your hand.

You pull, tension builds, the trigger suddenly and surprisingly trips, the arrow flies where you were aiming, and you now get what a properly executed shot feels like. Goodbye target panic!

Handheld vs Wrist-Strap — At Anchor

Besides the benefit of helping me overcome target panic and keep it at bay for the past few years, I love the way that a handheld, thumb-trigger release helps me anchor at full-draw with more comfort and greater consistency. Before I began using a handheld release, my anchor point used to vary wildly. Almost every few weeks I would adjust my wrist-strap release, put my thumb on different parts of my face or neck at anchor, or change the angle of my hand and wrist to try and find a comfortable and repeatable anchor point.

As soon as I began shooting with a handheld release, though, I discovered that I now had a much more defined area to work with; the interface between the side of my face and jaw could make a solid connection with the top-side of my hand. Because there are more defined points of contact (bones in the hand and face), I could easily identify these points of contact on each shot, which lead to greater consistency at anchor, and more consistent accuracy downrange.

On Your Bow, Not Your Body

 The author seen here at full draw with a wrist-strap style release aid

The author seen here at full draw with a wrist-strap style release aid

The fact that a wrist-strap release is worn on your body and always immediately available to be used is great. That is, until it isn’t. A release that dangled from my wrist was always banging on my bow or treestand, getting caught in clothing (sleeves, gloves, etc.), and was generally annoying to deal with while maneuvering. The addition of a fold-back head helped some, but didn’t eliminate all of my issues.

With a handheld release, however, many of these annoyances are gone. I don’t have to wear it. It isn’t in the way when I’m changing clothes (adding or removing layers while hunting). It isn’t in the way when I reach in my pack, or climb into my treestand, or reach for my bow. My release of choice, the Scott Exxus, features a jaw that locks closed, which means that I can clip the release on my bow’s d-loop and then simply set my bow as I normally would when hunting from a treestand or ground blind. The release is there, with my bow, ready to go.

When hunting on the move — chasing elk through the Rockies, for example — I keep my release stored securely in a release pouch or hipbelt pocket on the pack that I am wearing. It is stored out of the way, but accessible in a moment’s notice when needed. The fact that the release isn’t worn on your body is mostly a benefit, but I will admit that it does open you up to losing a release easier, or fumbling to grasp for it when an unexpected encounter presents itself (neither has been a real-life problem for me).

Not having your release fastened to your body throughout a hunt provides a variety of benefits, but a few drawbacks as well.

Not having your release fastened to your body throughout a hunt provides a variety of benefits, but a few drawbacks as well.

Adjusted Just For You

With a wrist-strap release, you often get what you get; sometimes you can make minor adjustments — moving the head further/closer from your hand, or making slight adjustments to travel or tension. However, with many thumb-trigger releases, you have a much greater range of adjustments that allow you to customize the release exactly how you want it. I can adjust the trigger tension with an incredibly wide variety of pull-weights; I can adjust the trigger travel (how much the trigger moves before it releases the jaw); I can adjust the trigger position, size, angle, and more. These seemingly-minor adjustments are a big deal when it comes to squeezing the most comfort, consistence, and accuracy out of your setup.

Always Right, Maybe Not

It’s now beyond obvious that I am a huge fan of thumb-trigger releases, but that doesn’t mean that I think every bow hunter should be using one. As I mentioned earlier the standard wrist-strap, index-finger releases are cheaper, simple and more readily available. The release that is right for you can only be determined by your preferences, budget, and needs.

Comments

  1. Corgalore says:

    Thanks for the pros and cons of using a wrist-strap, versus a hand-held release.

    Reply
  2. Awesome, thank you!

    Reply
  3. Nice article ,keep them coming ,Thanks.

    Reply
  4. Peter Skinner says:

    Excellent analysis of a subject many archers deal with. Thanks a lot.
    Peter

    Reply
  5. Nice article. How does the hand held release deal with target shooting where you are constantly pulling a new arrow to nock onto the string? Do you ever find yourself fumbling around with it?

    Reply
    • It certainly takes some getting used to but in time it becomes almost second nature. Nearly all of your professional target archers are shooting hand-held thumb trigger or back tension releases which shows it’s not really an issue.

      Reply
    • I find myself fumbling with my handheld release while nocking an arrow. I dropped my release once and it landed in the sand. Now sand is jammed in it and has affected the way the jaws open. I’m still working on getting all the grains of sand out 2 weeks later.

      Reply
  6. Lonestargeek says:

    I tried to use a hand release but I kept setting it off too soon. Perhaps for another article you could cover how to properly use one.

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  7. joe schmitt says:

    Great article! Switching to a thumb release has been one of the best changes I’ve made.

    Reply
    • Just bought a hand held release. Haven’t got to try it yet. By using one will it change my draw length.

      Reply
  8. would it be possible to do an article on the correct release procedure, for a thumb release.
    cheers grey.

    Reply
  9. Looking at the pics I notice a little twist on the string loop and I’m seeing that with it being shorter than a finger trigger that the anchor point is got the string pressed in to the nose and face guessing dew to the shorter distance. All the bow hunting tips say to remove any manipulation of the string each affects your shot

    Reply
  10. Jeremy costy says:

    I have them both but I noticed when I use the thumb release I have a tendency to jerky or pull my shot any remedies

    Reply
  11. Not a fan of this article. Poor mechanics and lack of confidence lead to target panic. There are many cures for this issue…of course not mentioned in this article. Article reads like a manufacturer trying to justify the use of a thumb release in order to sell a product that is uncommonly used. Expect better articles from a website like this.

    Reply
    • Uncommonly used? What are you talking about. Over 90% of professional archers (spot, field, and 3d) use thumb or back tension. The proper technique to use any release is let the backward pull of your arm release the trigger, not your finger/thumb.

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    • Terry – first off, sorry you feel this way. The article was directed towards the various benefits that using a thumb-trigger release can have, which does including helping to overcome target panic among others. Nobody’s trying to sell you anything, we’re merely trying to bring perspective and offer information on a product that can help benefit certain people. If you look around at your local bow shop or archery range you’ll see thumb trigger releases are steadily gaining popularity with bowhunters and are used almost exclusively by target archers. This is all for good reason. However as they say, to each their own!

      Reply
    • Terry, you are a moron… Did you even read the article? I am strongly considering switching to a thumb release because I struggle with target panic and I am looking for something to help with it. This article was extremely helpful in telling me the pro’s and con’s for both. If you knew anything about bowhunting.com or Bowhunt or Die you would know that Justin Zarr is the most unbiased person ever. He only writes about what he has learned from his personal experiences and what works best for him. He never tries to ‘sell’ anything in these articles. Just stay off the website if your going to just make negative comments like this, no one cares!

      Reply
    • I strongly disagree with your comments about target panic. I concentrate on form before, during, and after every shot i make. I’ve been shooting bows for 20 years now and have confidence that I can put an arrow anywhere I need to within 50 yards. I’ve struggled with target panic since I was 14 years old and can assure you that it is 100% a mental game. Everyone that struggles with this has their own form of the problem, therfore meaning that everyone will have to find their own solution that works best for them.

      Reply
      • Jayme Hatt says:

        Hello there. I have been struggling with target panic for 3or 4 years now. I switched to a thumb style release. Helped for awhile. But now it’s back and I can’t seem to get rid of it. Just wondering how u overcame it.

        Reply
        • Rbarbee says:

          Best way I fix it. Is don’t “punch” the trigger. You should be surprised when the release goes. If your form is good and your bow/arrow is tuned tight. Just float the pin on your target and let the release and your body do the work. It’s not like shooting a gun. You don’t oull the trigger. Your form determines when it’s released

          Reply
  12. Kris Henderson says:

    Thumb releases are intriguing and I’d love to try one. But, even consider I did want to make the switch from my wrist strap, there’s no way I can afford one! Any chance of these things coming down in price in the next few years, or are we in a market that’s got the customer stuck in this price range for eternity like bow manufacturers “flag ship” bows that come out with the same $1,000 price tag every year?

    Reply
    • Phillip Hays says:

      Hot Shot makes the Vapor which is $100 or less. It’s not quite the quality of a Scott, Stan or Carter but very reasonable for you to test out.

      Reply
      • The Vapor is a great release for sure and I wouldn’t necessarily says it’s lesser quality than any of the ones you mentioned. It’s a different style thumb trigger that uses a direct linkage rather than a sear which means it’s less complex and cheaper to produce. I have both a Hot Shot Tempest (with sear) and a Vapor (without) and they’re built equally as well despite a pretty significant cost difference. In my opinion it all boils down to which one feels best in your hand and shoots well for you.

        Reply
        • Phillip Hays says:

          I probably worded that wrong. What I meant is it just wasn’t my cup of tea I prefer the sear style releases. My wife shoots the Hot Shot Eclipse and it’s very nice I’m just a huge fan of Stan’s releases.

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        • Brian S says:

          Justin, is this a 3 finger or 4 finger Hot Shot Vapor in the photo in this article?

          Reply
  13. i got mine from an archery shop for $170 brand new. the same release goes for 200 retail. (lancaster archery. com)

    you can find them on archerytalk.com/classifieds for all kind of prices. i could shoot mine for a year or so and sell it for 150-175, then put that money into something different if i choose. but i did a lot of practice and research on the release i have (stan sx3) and it comes with a no questions asked lifetime warrenty

    Reply
    • Kris Henderson says:

      $170 may be a good price, but it doesn’t change the fact that it’s still $170. I love the classifieds on Archerytalk too, but problem is that guys on that site know what they have or what they’re looking at and know that items like these releases may not depreciate too much. Just like you say, you bought yours for $170 and could sell it next year for at least $150…$20 saved when I’m dropping $150 already isn’t great incentive. This might be an option someday, but not until the kids are out of the house I think.

      Reply
      • not trying to judge anyone. but if saving $170 for a release is hard. i would focus on other things in my life. not saying its going to happen over night. but i saved for my bow for about 4 months and used birthday and christmas money (yes i still get that stuff at 35) to buy my bow. then i put my OLD stuff on my bow. then i upgraded to a different sight (thinking about selling and going back to a multi pin) and then i saved for the release. i took a $26K pay cut to get the job i have now. if my wife and i werent on the same page with money and our budget. i never would have been able to take that cut. now we are able to put more in the bank and have more play money. and WE make less then we did before. it comes down to priorities. and for the record, i have 2 daughters.

        Reply
        • Kris Henderson says:

          Yep, that’s pretty much how I saved up for my used bow 4 years ago. But to drop that much on a whim or hopes and dreams of finding a new great thing for my bow is a big pill to swallow. And for the record I have 5 daughters and 1 son.

          Reply
  14. I am a Bow Hunter from South Africa
    My Name Is Dorrin Van Heerden
    Glad that I read this post as it clears up some of the issues which I have with wrist releases
    I find that on cold days and hot days the wrist strap id looser or tighter this messes abit with nocking points to some degree
    the leather straps also tend to stretch over time and the holes on strap become slotted
    I also find that after some time my nocking points become inconsistent and I then have to make adjustments on my wrist strap
    I have tried a few thumb releases however the ones which I have tried do not have a crisp release therefore I shot inconsistently with them
    I need advice on a thumb release which has a definite crisp release when activated
    these thumb releases are not cheap and I cannot afford a trial and error approach in selecting one
    well done on a very concise explanation of your findings

    Reply
    • Phillip Hays says:

      I’ve shot Carter, Scott, Hot Shot and Stan. The Stan Shootoff is the best I’ve ever used hands down.

      Reply
  15. I agree Mark. I cant get a repeatable anchor with the finger release either. I think it has a lot more to do with the strap around the wrist, and the trigger position that allows limited contact points between face and hand.

    Reply
  16. Josh Knobloch says:

    I just switched to a thumb release a couple weeks ago and I love it. Wish I would have switched sooner.

    Reply
  17. I’m new to archery and really don’t understand the whole target panic thing. Put the sight on the target, squeeze the trigger. I don’t like the idea of the bow firing ‘being a sutprise’. I want the bow to fire exactly when I’m ready for it to fire. Why for example don’t marksmen suffer target panic? I tried googling ‘do marksmen suffer target panic’, only search answers related to archery. It seems odd given its the exact same process…so for now at least, happy with my finger release.

    Reply
    • Carsten Grillenberger says:

      Target panic is the automatic reaction of the body to prevent recoil. If your procedure of shooting the bow isn’t yet executed automatically you’re not vulnerable to this. For firearms it is called ‘flinch’, for golf it is called ‘yips’

      Reply

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