Reading the Wind for Better Marksmanship
Anyone who has shot in the wide-open spaces in the plains states knows that wind is an old nemesis for marksmen. Wind is one element that’s ruined more than a few shots over the years for many shooters. Therefore, a better understanding of this gusty adversary could help put more hits on the scorecard.
Wind deflection refers to the physical effect of air currents that a bullet is forced to combat as it travels towards a target. Wind can come from any direction and the effect on the bullet can vary greatly depending on air density, humidity, temperature and other atmospheric conditions.
Though shooting in the wind can be intimidating it becomes a simple a matter of familiarity. Instead of sticking to fair weather shooting, shooters are better off forcing themselves to get out there in the breeze and learn from it. Let’s take a look at the wind’s effects and address some tips on what you can do to counter it.
What Is Windage
Windage refers to the correction for the effect of the wind. Rifles should be zeroed to the center of the Point-of-Aim. Then, wind is the obnoxious character that blows bullets away from that POA. Adjusting windage comes down to making small changes to your POA depending on how far away from the POA the wind pushes the bullet. For instance, if the wind blows your bullet 3-inches to the right of POA then you would aim 3-inches left of where you want to impact the target.
The effects of wind and other air currents are exacerbated with more exposure time. Simply put, the longer the bullet travels, the more the wind will affect its trajectory. Based on this concept, it’s important to note that bullets traveling faster will be less affected by wind than slower bullets, all else being equal. Regardless of velocity, however, the further away from the target the shooter is, the more shooters will have to account for the wind.
How to Determine Windage
Bullets drift with the air they are flying through. A marksman’s job is to know how much deviation they will encounter at a given distance or angle. There are many ways to calculate or estimate those offsets, including apps and charts designed to make the process easier.
Downloadable ballistic computing apps installed on smartphones and tablets offer a great means of predicting wind corrections in most scenarios. Some require hardware such as a wind-meter like a Kestrel, but then it’s as simple as inputting data to access corrections. Additionally, there are wind charts that offer estimates for specific bullets in a given set of conditions. Keep in mind they are estimates, and results may vary.
Calculating windage isn’t just about the speed of the wind, but also the direction. A wind coming at 90 degrees will have a greater wind deflection on the bullet than one that comes at a 45-degree angle. A wind coming from straight behind will cause the shot to hit high while wind coming head-on will cause it to hit low. When you compound the effects by the wind coming from strange angles it can get a little tricky and, to be honest, the best way to get better at it is to shoot and observe the results. Soon, you will realize that some shots require both a windage and elevation corrections.
Another thing to watch is multiple wind effects. The wind blowing from your shooting position might be different than one downrange. The wind up close could be blowing right to left, whereas 400 yards away it may be blowing left to right at different speeds. Again, sometimes the only way to know for sure is to make an estimation and just shoot. Be ready then for a quick follow-up shot that includes a better wind correction.
Holding or Dialing for Wind
There are a couple of ways to correct windage, the first and probably more common is to hold for it. If the wind is blowing from right to left, then hold aim right of the target and the wind will carry it into the target. The other common way to correct is dial a wind offset into the riflescope. If the wind blows a foot left of the target, then dial the equivalent of a foot to the right and then aim dead on. Much like leading a shot on a bird when shooting a shotgun, shooters must aim shots into the wind if the target is in a cross-wind.
Some people like to hold wind corrections using the reticle in the scope, while others prefer to dial the wind correction into the turrets of the scope. Which is better? Well, wind is fickle and always changing. Even between shots there can be significant switches in the wind. Using a good reticle with wind offset marks allows shooters to hold a precise value into the wind. Should that wind slow down or change, shooters can adjust simply by holding a different point on the reticle. Alternatively, dialing the wind into the scope turret requires shooters redial every time there’s a shift in wind. Often time, it’s easier to hold for current wind conditions.
Windage should be taken into account in almost every shot taken. When shooting even a .22 LR even the lightest of breezes could potentially blow the shot off the target. Distant shots are especially subject to the wind. During distance shooting, a slight breeze can blow your magnum rifle off the POA at significant distances.
Before shooting, take a good look at the conditions downrange. If there are signs of wind, such as blowing grass, it is good practice to analyze it before sitting down to shoot. This would be the point when a wind meter and ballistic app is helpful to determine how much windage to correct.
Whether shooters prefer holdover or dial, assess the wind by observing conditions or use apps, shooters need to be students of the wind. Pay attention to conditions and if a shot is missed or hit, learn from it.
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