Published Aug 5, 2022 1:03 PM
Bow releases are the magic wand to bow hunters. Most have spent years—some decades—searching for the exact model and type of release that will help them put carbon in the 12-ring on a 3-D target and through the lungs of a gagger buck. If you’re new to the stick-and-string game, you’ll quickly learn that choosing the proper release isn’t as easy as walking into a sporting goods store, finding the release aid aisle, and selecting. Why? There are endless releases to choose from. To help you with this buying process I’ve put together some of my favorite releases, which have all been tested and proven. Everything from thumb triggers and index finger releases to back-tension and resistance releases—here are the best bow releases on the market.
Things To Consider Before Buying
You have many release aid options to choose from, and we haven’t even scratched the surface. So, how do you know which release is proper for you? First, go to a quality pro shop, not a major box store chain. A pro shop worth its salt will have multiple release options; you must test and tinker with as many as possible before making an informed buying decision. Plus, when visiting a pro shop, you will receive professional instruction.
Comfortability & Confidence
While shooting different releases, forget what is cool, what is trending on social media, and what anyone else says. Choose the make and model that feels best and fills you with shooting confidence. Archery is all about trust, and being your release is what triggers your bow into action; you must have complete faith in it.
Other things to consider include if you plan to use the release just for bowhunting, or if you plan to use it for bowhunting, target archery, and 3-D. Most bowhunters, especially those that don’t suffer from target panic, prefer an index finger release due to its simplicity, function, and that they attach it to the wrist. Many bowhunters who shoot year-round and compete in indoor and outdoor tournaments opt for a hand-held release. Once mastered, a hand-held release will boost accuracy and creates a more consistent anchor point for the archer.
This is the most popular style of release. Index activation requires the archer to press a trigger; some triggers are skinny posts, while others resemble a rifle trigger. The release attaches to a buckle or Velcro strap, which the archer attaches to the wrist. You’ll notice open-hook index-finger releases, single-caliper, and double-caliper makes. All are effective, but you’ll find hundreds of designs promising to make you more accurate, making index-finger selection difficult.
You’ll also see several hand-held releases in the form of thumb, back-tension (hinge), and resistance. These releases earned their name because they traditionally don’t attach to the wrist but are held in hand. At one point, hand-held releases were used more by the target archery crowd. Today, due to their customization, design, functionality, and ability to help archers achieve a repeatable anchor point, they are coveted by the bowhunting masses. Some hand-held designs, like thumb-activation models, are simple. Like an index finger, thumb releases have a trigger, but the trigger is depressed by the thumb. Back-tension, or hinge releases, is another animal. These releases have no trigger. Instead, the hook-style jaw of the release sports a sear that rides on a half-moon. Tension, which the archer produces by driving the bow arm into the target and the release elbow back while relaxing the hand from the wrist down, causes the sear to break and the arrow to fly. It sounds more complicated than it is, and these releases are excellent for curing target panic, which is the fear of putting your pin on a target. Then there are resistance releases. Most mirror the specs of a back-tension but come with a safety to prevent accidental arrow discharge.
Why It Made The Cut? Because everybody wants to be like Mike. The open-hook design paired with the crispest, no creep trigger I’ve ever fingered makes it a tack driver. I love the nylon rope attachment, and this release can take a beating and keep on ticking.
- Heavy-duty head design
- Nylon rope attachment
- Comfortable strap
- Perfectly angled trigger
- Crisp, clean trigger
- Easy access tension screw
- Tension adjustment from 10 ounces to 3.5 pounds
- Repeatable accuracy
Make no mistake, this is the best index-finger release aid, single-caliper, double-caliper, and open-hook design I have ever shot. Though still heavy-duty, the case head has been shortened, which makes the release less bulky. The big story with the Like Mike II, though, is the customization of the trigger. A tension adjusting screw on the side of the release case allows for a tension range between 10 ounces and 3.5 pounds. This means shooters can opt for a hair-trigger, ultra-heavy trigger, or something in between. The trigger is as crisp as they come, and no creep means no panic.
Why It Made The Cut: This release has been responsible for more double-lung shots than you can imagine. It’s economical, feels great on the wrist and hand, and is bulletproof.
- Five adjustment positions
- Velcro or Buckle wrist strap
- Single caliper
- Solid swivel connector
- Forward position trigger
- Slim trigger post
- Increased string clearance
- Limited tension adjustability
- Only a solid post, not a rope option
A legendary release aid that promises a clean arrow release and excellent fit and feel. The release is as durable as the day is long, and the new slimmed-down head makes it even more appealing. The forward position of the knurled trigger design maximizes draw length, and the archer can customize release length via a patented five-hole adjustment that is super easy to use. The single-caliper angled jaw design boosts string clearance and ups functionality. During my archery tenure, this has been my go-to index-finger release. It sports a slim design, and the single-caliper design means only one jaw of the release moves while the other stays in place. The strap is comfortable, and the release head is adjustable on the post.
Best Double-Caliper Index-Finger Release
Why It Made The Cut: Slim, sleek, and comfortable, this double-caliper index-finger release aid promotes a clean arrow release and has never failed me in the field or on the range. The design is simple, yet the archer does get customization options in the form of length adjustment, trigger travel, and the head of the release folds back and out of the way when not in use.
- Foldback design
- Comfortable leather strap
- Quality trigger
- Easy to adjust
- 2.5 times more padding in the Buckle II strap
- Trigger functions on linear motion bearing
- Dual jaws for a clean release
- Lockable length adjust
- No Velcro strap option
- Extra padding in the strap retains moisture
This release is a winner because of its easy-to-operate, no-fail build. Whether making a length adjustment or tinkering with trigger travel, you’ll find the process elementary, which means you can spend more slinging purposeful arrows. The Foldback design is brilliant. I hate climbing into a treestand and having the head of my release hit the metal. This design prevents that; plus, it’s nice when walking the elk woods not to have the head of the release flopping this way and that. The length adjustment is lockable, which leads to increased shot-to-shot consistency, and the trigger is crisp and smooth. Another hat-tipper is you won’t find a more comfortable leather strap.
Best Thumb-Activated Release
Why It Made The Cut: This hand-held release aid is light, airy, and feels great in hand. The barrel-style thumb release button promotes great thumb-to-button contact, and the aluminum on the barrel button is gridded and roughed up. The three-finger handle is perfectly recessed, and if you do your job, this release will make you a better archer than you are.
- Great fit and feel
- Barrel Adjustment
- Tension Adjustment
- Universal fit handle
- Self-closing jaw
- Set screw tension adjustment
- Great head-to-handle length ratio
- Lock button can be ultra stiff
When I shoot a thumb release, this is what I use. For hunting situations, especially in a treestand, I love the locking jaw, which means you can click the release on your D-loop and forget about it. Tension can easily be adjusted, and when you combine tension adjustment with a crisp trigger design that promotes excellent fit and feel, you can relax and execute. The length of the neck and release head matches many of Carter’s standard target models, which is a plus, and the barrel-style thumb button is easy to find. The feel of your thumb pad against the barrel promotes excellent functionality.
Why It Made The Cut: This is the release I went to when I started getting target panic three years ago, and I’ve not changed since. I hunt with it from east to west and shoot multiple 3D tournaments yearly. The heavy brass handle feels lovely in hand, and the hot-labeled arrow with laser-engraved marks on the head makes the hot/cold setting easy and visual. The release is crisp, and I love that it will attach to a wrist strap for hunting application purposes.
- Heavy brass handle
- Three-hole thumb post position
- No fail
- Easy to adjust
- Visual hot/cold adjust
- Multiple handle size options
- Gnarled thumb post for feel
- Deep recessed handle
- Clean break every time
- Tension unlock screw will strip
Used by top tournament pros across the globe, this hinge release is the creme de la creme of back-tension release aids. The heavy brass handle falls into the hand like butter, and the fingers grooves are deep to promote excellent fit and feel. The thumb post can be moved to a trio of locations, and once the appropriate screws are loosened, you can visually watch as you make the release hotter (speed up the sear) or colder (slow down the sear). The weight of the handle allows the release hand to fall into it, creating tension and causing the open hook of the release head to fire. The release is crisp and clean, and I’ve never had a single malfunction over thousands of shots. It also comes with the audible click engaged but can be turned off easily.
Why It Made The Cut: If you want to test the back-tension waters but are worried you’ll discharge an arrow prematurely, this should be your release of choice. The release is super consistent, has an easy-to-operate safety, and its lightweight build and open-hook design are unparalleled.
- Multiple handle configurations
- Full package with four-finger extension
- Easy to set weight
- Wide weight setting range
- Multiple thumb barrel options
This resistance release is excellent because it’s a hand-held design that operates like a back-tension; however, there is safety. The holding weight can be set to just above zero, up to 28 pounds. With your release poundage set, depress the thumb-button safety, draw your bow, climb into anchor, release the thumb button and start pushing and pulling. This release promises consistency to within +/- 1/8-pound from shot to shot, and the package comes with a pair of thumb barrels, and you can easily convert the release from a three-finger design to a four-finger. The open-hook jaw means quick D-loop hook up, and you’ll find that it’s ultra-clean when the release breaks over.
Why It Made The Cut: A release that can be swapped from thumb-activation to back-tension mode in 30 seconds and then back again should raise some eyebrows. This is one of my all-time favorite hand-held release aids; if you give it a go, you may never put it down. It’s that sweet.
- Swap between thumb and hinge modes
- Heavy-duty brass and aluminum build
- Three- and four-finger options with extension
- Easy operation
- Multiple thumb-barrel positons
- Deep recessed handle
- Crisp and smooth in either mode
- No wrist strap attachment
Bowhunters love hinge-style releases to practice with, but once the season arrives, they want the functionality of a thumb release. In the past, this meant buying two releases, and because handle and neck configurations were different, accuracy was affected. You get a hinge and a thumb in the same release with the GOAT, and swapping between the two takes seconds. You’ll love the Flex Technology (ring finger—three-finger shooters and pinky—four-finger shooters) that allows the shooter to set infinite finger locations. The sizeable barrel promotes excellent fit and feel, and the release is nicely weighted. When in hinge mode, the release has an audible clicker that lets you know the release is loading up, but the clicker is easy to turn off for those that don’t want it.
Every release in this article was chosen for a reason. Each release earned its ink, and I’ve shot each no less than 1,000 times. I have hunted and shot numerous tournaments with these releases, and they are proven performers.
Q: What bow release is best?
This question will never be answered because a release that feels great to one archer and promotes remarkable accuracy won’t necessarily do the same for every archer that uses that same release. Like many things in archery, release choice is a matter of personal preference.
Q: How much does a bow release cost?
It depends on the features of the release. Traditionally, index-fingers are the least expensive, and some great makes and models will run you under $100. As you add features and release material improves, the price goes up. Most hand-held release models run between $150 and $250; however, it’s not uncommon for a top-tier hinge, thumb, or resistance release to wear a price tag over $300.
Q: Who makes the best archery releases?
This is another debate that will never be settled because there are so many great release makers out there; I will note you can’t go wrong with T.R.U. Ball, Scott, and Carter.
Q: How do you use a bow release?
Depending on the type of release, you wear the release around your wrist or hold it in your hand. When firing the release, shooters will depress a trigger with their index finger or thumb. There is no trigger when shooting a tension-activated release like a hinge-style release or a resistance release, and activation depends on back tension or hand rotation.
Q: Can you shoot a compound bow without a release?
Yes, shooting with a finger tab is still possible, but this release method is nearly extinct due to the speed and design of modern-day bows.
Don’t take the advice of another shooter as gospel, and stay away from social media trends. Release choice is highly personal—as personal and vital as bow choice—and the only way you’ll ever find the perfect-for-you release is to shoot as many makes and models as possible before making a choice. Never settle. New releases hit the market each year, and it’s never a bad idea to try something new, especially if you feel your accuracy is waning or you start struggling with target panic.