Shooting in the Wind

“I believe that studying the nature of wind deflection should be the highest priority for long range shooters” 

–Bryan Litz, Rocket Scientist, Ballistician, from his book Applied Ballistics For Long Range Shooting, 1st Edition (P. 63)

One of my primary shooting goals for the year 2012 is to become competent at shooting longer ranges in the wind.  I’ve been avoiding addressing the subject of wind in my blog for a few months.  The main reason is that I honestly don’t consider myself as good at shooting in the wind as I am at the basics. 

So far this blog has been primarily in a tutorial vein, I’ve been sharing what works for me.  I’ve probably expended 75-80% of what I have down pretty well, so I’m going to have to adjust my approach to this blog.  Instead of a “here’s what works well for me” approach, it’s going to be more of a “here’s how I’m going to approach this problem and we’ll see how it works as I progress” type of approach.  It will be more of a training journal from now on, which is actually more along the lines of what I was looking to do when I started it. 

My current ability as a wind shooter is that I have a decent understanding of the theory behind it, and I have gotten lucky for the most part in the few times that I have attempted to apply it.  The farthest I’ve been out is 500 yards.  I was able to coach a buddy into a sub-minute group into the “A” zone of an IPSC target in a 12-15 mph wind coming from 4-5 o’clock just by looking at a chart and guestimating.  That was about a year and a half ago.  I haven’t had to dope much wind since. 

Wind is different from a lot of the other variables we deal with as shooters.  Distance can be known to within a few yards pretty easily these days by referencing a screen.  Muzzle velocity, and therefore trajectory can be calculated fairly easily and accurately.  We have a lot of technology at our disposal that our forefathers did not.  Temperature, density altitude, and humidity can even be accounted for on the spot these days.  Enter in your data, get an answer, and make an easy adjustment.  Wind doesn’t work that way. 

It’s easy enough to calculate what a steady wind that’s consistent along the flight of the bullet will do.  I have it right there in my computer screen that a 10 mph wind from 3 o’clock will move my 155 grain Nosler Custom Competition bullet with a muzzle velocity of 2950 fps 44.19” at a distance of 700 yards in approximately the atmospheric conditions that exist right at this moment.  So I can just dial 6 minutes right and voila, HIT!  Sounds great in theory. 

The problem with wind is accurately estimating its magnitude and direction along the course of your bullet.  The wind is not considerate enough to maintain a consistent speed and direction from your position to your target’s location.  The direction of wind tends to shift, as does its speed.  It may be blowing in an opposite direction downrange.  There may be whirls and eddies along your bullet’s path that confound your attempts to adjust for it. 

In a match, you get may get a sighter to get a feel for what the wind is doing.  This lets you “calibrate” yourself to the wind pattern at your location and how it effects your bullet.  In field shooting you probably won’t get any sighters (although it can happen).  You want to hit with your first shot.

What is Known 

As I mentioned above, the theory of how wind affects bullets is not all that hard.  Find your bullet’s BC (that means ballistic coefficient, if you didn’t already know that read this).  Plug your bullets BC, preferably the G7 version (thank you Bryan Litz) into a ballistics program like this one and take a look at the results.  A 10 mph wind is a good place to start, because it makes calculations pretty simple if your actual wind is something else. 

The default setting for the ballistics program is for a crosswind.  This is also called a full-value wind.  Typically wind is expressed in clock values expressing where the wind is coming from, 12 directly from the front, 6 from the rear, 3 would be 90° from the right, and 9 would be 90° from the left.  A crosswind coming from 90 degrees is called a full value wind because all if its power is applied laterally to the bullet.  Wind coming directly from 6 or 12 will have no effect on your bullet from left to right, but may have a minor effect on your bullet’s elevation. 

Wind coming from another angle will only apply part of its force laterally on your bullet.  You would probably think that wind coming from a 45° degree angle would impart half the effect as a full value wind.  That’s a good guess, but wind doesn’t work that way.  Earl doesn’t like it when I explain how it doesn’t work, but he also knows that I’m “an independent lot, kind of self-reliant”.  Earl,let’s just pretend this paragraph never existed, shall we? 

One of the books I have about wind explains that wind is a “vector force”, meaning it has both magnitude and direction.  If you think of the wind blowing from the outside edge of a clock’s circle to the center of the clock, and you look at only the left or right distance from the outside edge of the circle at any given number to the center, you would get an idea of what the actual wind value would be.  This is all paraphrased from The Wind Book for Shooters, by Linda K. Miller and Keith A. Cunningham (pages 9-10).

Here’s my already busy wind clock without the vector force illustration:

Wind Clock Resized
It’s too much visual input for a field reference, and maybe too much for a learning aid, but it should give you some idea of the wind values for various angles.  Notice that although the angles for 8 and 10 are the same, the values are a little different.  This takes into account that a 10 o’clock wind is also partially a headwind, and will slow the bullet down a bit more.  Totally academic, because the number you assign to the wind speed will be a wild guess (more or less).

Entering the Unknown

When you find yourself out on a windy day shooting, and you haven’t shot that much in the wind, it can be intimidating.  You probably have no idea how to put  a number on the wind that you feel and see via moving vegetation and similar cues.  I’ve noticed that most people overestimate wind speed when making an uneducated guess.  You might think that a10 mph wind is 15 mph.  Here’s a commonly encountered type of reference to give you some idea: 

    1-3:    Barely felt on face.  May see drifting smoke.
    3-5:    Felt lightly on face.  Leaves rustle.
    5-8:    Felt on face.  Leaves rustle.  Twigs move.
  8-12:    Raises dust and loose paper.
12-15:    Small branches move.  Bushes sway.
15-20:    Small trees/bushes in motion.  Dust clouds form.

20-25:    Large trees sway.  Wind whistles.  Spray on water. 

Visual indicators like this are helpful, and quite necessary, because you’ll have to get an idea of the conditions downrange.  If a tailwind condition exists, it would also be helpful to know what’s going on uprange to have an idea of the conditions heading your way.  That’s one reason a spotter or wind coach is so helpful.  They can keep an eye on the wind condition that hasn’t reached your bullet’s line of flight yet. 

Another helpful tool to have is a wind meter.  This Kestrel 4500 will calculate all of the pertinent information that your ballistics software will ask of you.  A good approach to using this is to generate some natural curiosity within yourself about what wind conditions look and feel like.  If you see a tree, a bush, some tall grass, a piece of fabric, etc…, moving in the wind, you should want to know how fast the wind is that’s moving it.  You should also want to remember what that wind speed is to go with a mental picture of the condition. 

Keep your wind meter with you (might as well make the most of it- it was expensive).  When you see or feel wind, make a guess as to what it is before consulting your device.  See how close you were.  Repeat.

My Kestrel 4500.  The 4000 would also be a good choice, but I wouldn’t go lower (you’ll want to have the density altitude).

As your curiosity develops, start noticing wind patterns.  Notice how topography, both man-made and natural, affects wind patterns.  I might be off base, but I think of wind as similar to water in the way it flows.  Wind does not flow in one homogenous direction, but  varies surprisingly.  Where I live, wind typically blows in one direction, but I often notice that it’s moving in the exact opposite direction.  Sometimes at the range, the wind will change to an opposite directions.  There are often somewhat predictable patterns to these changes.  Watch the wind and try to learn these patterns.

Approaches to Dealing With Wind

I’ve been reading up on wind to refresh my knowledge.  I’ve come across some helpful pointers.  David Tubb advises in his book, The Rifle Shooter that your ability to learn to shoot in the wind will be aided by your ability to shoot in normal conditions.  Put another way, the more confidence you have in your ability, and your equipment’s ability to not only make good hits, but call your shots, the better your feedback will be from your attempts to dope the wind. 

Tubb further advises the reader to get away from wind charts as soon as possible.  His approach is to get out and shoot, then take a look at what is actually happening as you make windage changes.  He makes an excellent point that it doesn’t matter what the wind speed actually is, rather what matters is your ability to observe wind and adjust for what you see.  Labeling it doesn’t affect the hit.  What I think it does give you is knowledge of what exactly is going on and the ability to communicate that effectively with another person.  Still, his point is well taken. 

Bryan Litz, in his book Applied Ballistics For Long Range Shooting has a good overview of wind, and the importance of learning to shoot in it.  He makes a good case that carefully considering the performance of the bullet you choose can make a very significant change in how well you can hit in the wind. 

The other book I mentioned earlier, The Wind Book for Shooters, by Linda K. Miller and Keith A. Cunningham, addresses the topic of wind shooting from a competition perspective.  I have previously found this a limiting aspect of the book for me, because every time they mentioned wind flags, my eyes would kind of gloss over.  Recently, I’ve found the book to be very helpful.  Every time they say “wind flag”, I read “tree”, “bush”, “tall grass”, etc…  They also discuss the mental side of making wind corrections, which is good for me, because I’m very mental (JOKE ALERT).  The more I read this book, the more I realize that it is a more valuable resource than I had previously realized. 

What was missing for me in all these books was the importance of a good wind call for the first shot.  Being competition shooters, they explain how to use your sighter shots to give you feedback.  In the type of shooting I’m interested in, you don’t get a sighter.  You get one shot.  I want to make a good decision right out of the gate.

My Plan To Get Better At Shooting in the Wind

The primary component of improving my wind shooting is to make a priority to do it more often.  I’ll be looking at strong winds as an invitation to the range.  I’ll also be looking to shoot from as far as I can to magnify the effects of the wind.  I’ll also keep the .22 rimfire in mind if I can’t access longer ranges, because it will get blown around a lot more than a .30 cal will. 

A second component of improving my wind shooting will be to take meticulous notes of my shooting (using a data book of course).  I want to know what my wind call was, what my correction was, how I called my shot, where it actually hit, and what the correct wind correction would have been, in addition to all the other things I usually want to know.  If you read some of the above books, you’ll get an idea of the information that will help you.  I plan on making a set of pages, oriented so they can be viewed in the book simultaneously, that include a topography sketch, a call plotting diagram, a hit plotting diagram, a diagram that plots groups according to sight settings (which will hopefully demonstrate the wind pattern at work), and all the other normal things such as atmospherics, range, and sight settings. 

I plan on using the Remington 700 .308 more in reading the wind.  Why?  First of all, as I’m learning, I want to dial my wind rather than hold for it.  I want to eliminate my ability to utilize Kentucky windage as a variable so I get the most accurate feedback I possibly can.  I can dial with #1, but the scope was made to “set in ‘n ferget it”, so I’ll use something better adapted for learning.  Secondly the rifle is more accurate, which again, will give me more accurate feedback.  Thirdly, the cartridge I’m using, the Federal Gold Medal 168 grain load will be slightly more affected by wind than my 30-06 load, which will give me more feedback. 

I will be using my wind meter in the manner I described above.  Whenever I feel wind or see it, I’ll be curious about it.  I’ll be measuring it.  I’ll be wondering how long before it changes, and where it will change to.  These skills will also help me to get my cigar lit on windy days with wooden matches. 

I will probably join a friend shooting some Highpower in F-Class.  Getting out to 600 on an unfamiliar range will undoubtedly help my wind chops.  It couldn’t hurt my general shooting either. 

I hope that I can make good on my goal to become a solid wind shooter.  I hope this will help you to do the same.  Thanks for reading.

6 thoughts on “Shooting in the Wind

  1. Dude, I am trying to save up for some firearms, and you are killing me with all these great looking books! I am kidding of course. Thanks for sharing what you have found. Your blog has been one heck of a resource for me.

  2. Wow! Very comprehensive, well done!
    Here’s a tip: if you haven’t already, watch “Rifle Marksmanship with the M1 Rifle Part 2”. They have an interesting field method of estimating and correcting for wind. You might want to give it a try.

    Also don’t forget the Appleseed “Fred’s simplified wind rule”, which is, for a stiff (about 10 mph) full-value (9 or 3 o’clock) breeze to compensate 1 minute of angle for every hundred yards to the target. Apply proportionate fractional increases/reductions as necessary with variations in wind speed and direction.

    Also, if you have a spotting scope, learn to use it to read wind mirage like bullseye shooters do. Not much use in the field, but if you spend much time doing competition it’s a good skill to have.

    The main thing is: pay attention to conditions!

    • Thanks Pete. My plan is to try to get off the charts ASAP and to try to shoot enough to just come up with a correction estimation based on my observations. The real voodoo seems to be in interpreting how the topography will shape the wind downrange and spotting changes.

      I’m hoping to get in some F-Class this year to work on wind reading.

  3. 44.19” at a distance of 700 yards So I can just dial 6 minutes right. what am i missing? should that not be 10.5 minutes? great article thank you.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *