How Does A Back Tension Release Work?

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Many compound archers leave the thumb and caliper releases for a back tension release and enjoy the benefits. But looking at it, it’s not quite obvious how the hinge release works. I’ve done the research and I want the share with you what I’ve found.

A back tension release employs a metal hook mounted on the head of the release, locked in place by a pin. Its handle can be moved around a second pin, which connects the handle and the head. The hook is triggered once the second pin is rotated past its edge, releasing the bowstring.

These popular releases use a triggerless mechanism, where its head sits on a hinge and can move freely. This is where they get their name from. Their other common name, back tension releases, comes from the requirement of proper back tension while using the release.

If you also need a hinge release recommendation, you can find them in my recommended release aids page. I’ve listed a great back tension release recommendation there and detailed the different things I’ve considered. It’s a great resource.

There actually are multiple different methods of using the hinge release, which I’m going to detail in this post. I’m also going to cover some important aspects of using the release, regarding accuracy and target panic. So make sure to read on.

The mechanics of a back tension release

The release has three major components, all connected to each other: a handle, a head, and a hook. Both connection between the handle and the head, and the head and the hook are done with pins.

The hook is connected to the head and is held in place. It’s the part that’ll hold the bowstring and actually pull it back. When it’s triggered, it releases the bowstring, which propels the arrow forward.

The pin that connects the head to the body is typically called the gate. To release the hook, the archer needs to rotate the handle until the gate is passed a certain point, and the release is triggered.

The sensitivity of the release can be manipulated so the gate will trigger the release at different points, requiring more or less rotation.

Some back tension releases also have a clicking mechanism. This audible click sounds just before the release is triggered to let the archer know the shot is close.

Others claim that the clicks defeat the whole purpose of the hinge release, which is to not be able to tell when the shot is about to happen.

How to use a back tension release

A back tension release works on hand rotation. When you pull it, most of the weight will be on your thumb and index finger. To release the arrow, you’ll shift some of the weight to your ring finger, and the hinge moves, until the head releases.

Simply enough, when enough weight is shifted from one side of the release to the other, it releases the string.

Since drawing a hinge requires some practice, I’d suggest you avoid using it with your bow straight away and try to practice with some string first. You can tie the string in a loop and practice the feel of the release.

When you first start using it, set the required weight shift to be high, so you’ll be able to get the feel of the release. A release that’s set to a high amount of rotation is called “cold”, while releases that require little movement to be triggered are called “hot”. After training and getting some muscle memory, you can slowly lower the weight to your comfort level, making it “hotter”.

After you get the feel of the release, you can practice with your bow, close to the target, just drawing and letting down, so you’ll be able to lower the bow without shooting. When you’re comfortable, you can start practicing shooting, first close to the target, then farther and farther away.

If you prefer the video format, I found this detailed youtube clip that explains using the back tension release really well:

In any case, there are two main techniques to using the back tension release. The first is done by manipulating the position of the release with your fingers while relaxing your hand. Your thumb and index finger will naturally release some of the tension, which will move to your ring finger, and the release will rotate.

The second method you can use involves more of your back muscles. You’ll spread the weight evenly between your fingers, and pull your elbow backward, engaging your back muscles.

When you squeeze your shoulder blades together, your elbow will go behind your head, and the weight will naturally go to your ring finger, triggering the release.

I think the second method benefits more from the hinge release because it allows you to trigger the release slowly. But there are successful archers using both techniques. Just use what feels natural to you.

How to set up a hinge release

Besides the technique you choose to use with your release, there are a few things you can play around with to make your shooting more comfortable for you: the amount of rotation for the release trigger, and whether or not to use a click.

We’ll start with the click setting. Most back tension releases will come set to click, and I’d argue that when just starting out, using the click will benefit you.

In the beginning, when you’re just trying to figure out how to use the release, having the consistent starting point for the shooting will make your life much easier and will enable you to get used to the release much quicker. You’ll also be able to time your shots better.

After getting used to the release, you might benefit from shooting without the click. This will help to eliminate any shot anticipation you might have and encourage you to take time with your shots and properly aim.

Regarding how to your release is set to be, you’re probably better off starting with a cold release, lowering the required amount of weight for the triggering over time.

You’ll increase and decrease the setting until you find a spot where you’re comfortable. You’ll know you’re there when you don’t feel like you have to manipulate the release too much, but also not have to worry about the trigger set off before you’re ready.

Over time you’ll be able to find the best settings for you by trying and playing around with the release. Every archer is a bit different, so you’ll just have to find what fits you best.

The benefits of using a back tension release

Back tension releases are quite different from the traditional trigger release, like thumb or index finger release, and have multiple benefits you might enjoy by using.

Unlike the traditional releases, the triggering process of the hinge release is gradual. This allows the triggering to become a part of the shooting motion, instead of a quick squeeze.

This can significantly increase the archers’ accuracy, because they’ll be able to take their time, steadily hover over the mark, and seamlessly release the arrow.

This gradual release is slower and more relaxed. Physically pulling the release trigger encourages the archer to pull the trigger as soon as their sight in on the mark, instead of taking their time and properly aim.

Another benefit of the hinge release is that it encourages proper posture. Especially if you decide to trigger it by pulling with your back, you can’t get by with bad back posture with this release.

I mean, the release got its name for a reason.

When you use the release, you’ll notice you’re more inclined to keep the tension in your back throughout the shot, keeping good posture.

Many archers suffer from a phenomenon called “target panic”, which hinge releases are recommended to combat. Target panic is a psychological condition where the archer is anticipating the shot, and flinching while triggering the shot. It limits the ability of the archer to practice and enjoy the sport.

Back tension releases release the arrow in a somewhat surprising time, which makes it almost impossible to anticipate the timing of the shot. This makes the flinching impossible and helps to combat target panic.

Switching to a hinge release is actually one of the recommendations that I’ve made in my 4-step guide to beating target panic. I actually detailed an extremely actionable process there, which might benefit all archers, not only those who suffer from target panic. Give it a read!

Can bowhunters use a hinge release?

While it’s possible to use any type of release for bowhunting, It’s really uncommon for bowhunters to use a hinge style release. The main reason for that is that bowhunters need to precisely time their shots, which back tension releases make impossible.

Additionally, if you decide to use the click sound, a hinge release can make your hunting practically impossible by scaring your target away.

While the actual bow hunt is typically not done with a hinge release, many bowhunters to decide to use these releases for their training. As discussed, these releases can help you achieve a much better shooting posture and push you to improve your archery skill significantly.

Conclusions

In this post, we’ve discussed both the mechanics of back tension releases, how to use them, and general information about these types of releases.

While the technical question of how the release works are interesting, it’s much more important for your skills to understand how to use it, and how to enjoy its benefits to develop better archery habits.

I’d urge any archer to at least try using a hinge release, and include it as a tool for developing better shooting skills. You’ll be surprised at what you’re capable of after putting some attention to the basics.

If you want to learn about other types of release aids, I got a detailed post that details the differences between the types of releases and their benefits. I think you’ll really benefit from reading it.

In any case, I hope you’ve learned something new reading this post. Happy shooting!


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I'm an outdoors lover and sports enthusiast. I enjoy researching and writing about archery between my university semesters.


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