Anyone who has shot in the wide-open spaces of the plains states knows what wind is. It’s an old nemesis for marksmen and one that has likely ruined more than a few shots over the years. But could a better understanding of this gusty adversary put more hits on your scorecard?
Wind deflection is the physical effect of air currents that your bullet is forced to combat as it travels towards your targets. Wind can come from any direction, and the effect it has on your bullet can vary greatly depending on air density, humidity, temperature, and other atmospheric conditions. In this article we’ll address those effects, and what you can do to counter them.
What is windage:
Windage is the correction for the effect of the wind. Your rifle should be zeroed to the center of your point of aim (POA), and the wind is that obnoxious character that blows your bullets away from that point of aim. You adjust your windage according to how far away from your point of aim it pushes the bullet. If the wind blows your bullet three inches right of POA, then you can aim three inches left of where you want to hit.
Shooting in the wind can be intimidating, but as with most other disciplines, it is simply a matter of familiarity. Instead of fair weather shooting, you’d be better off forcing yourself to get out there in the breeze and learn from it.
The effects of wind and other air currents are exacerbated with more exposure time, the longer your bullet is flying in the wind, the more the wind will affect it. And a wind blowing you off target up close will stray your shot farther than a wind downrange. A simple way to look at that is the further distance your bullet travels, the longer time the wind will have to affect its trajectory. It’s important to note then that bullets traveling faster will be less affected than a slower one all else being equal.
Regardless of velocity, the further away from your target, the more you will have to account for the wind.
Bullets drift with the air they are flying through. If the wind is blowing from your nine o’clock your bullet will impact right from your point of aim and so on. Your job as a marksman is to know how much that deviation will be at whatever given distance or angle you may be shooting.
There are many ways to calculate or estimate those offsets, and you are probably looking at one of the easiest ones as you read this. Ballistic computing apps that you can download to your phone do a great job of predicting how far you need to correct for wind in most scenarios. You will need to have input data to get what you want from it, which could require additional hardware such as a wind-meter like a Kestrel.
There are also plenty of wind charts you can research that will give you good estimates for particular bullets in a given set of conditions. Keep in mind they are estimates, and your results may vary some.
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 your right to your left, then you hold your aim right of the target, and the wind will carry it into the target. The other common way to correct is to dial a wind offset into your riflescope. If the wind blows you a foot left of the target, then you dial the equivalent of a foot to the right, and then you can aim dead on.
Much the same way you have to lead a shot on a bird when you shoot a shotgun, you must aim your shot into the wind if your target is in a cross-wind.
When to adjust your windage:
With an understanding then of what windage is, when do we need to apply it to our shooting?
In my opinion, windage should be taken into account in almost every shot you take. I say almost because a slight breeze will barely affect most center-fire rifles inside one hundred yards, so in that case, you are probably safe to disregard the breeze. But if you are shooting a 22LR, even a light breeze can blow your shot off the target sometimes. Distant shots are especially subject to the wind as I mentioned above, even a slight breeze can blow your magnum rifle off the point of aim at significant distances.
Before you shoot, you can take a good look at the conditions downrange. If you see signs of wind, such as blowing grass, or by reading the mirage on the ground, it is good practice to analyze it before shooting. This would be when you pull out your wind meter and ballistic app to determine how much windage you will have to correct. Or if you are an old hand at it, you might just lick your finger, or toss a pinch of dust into the breeze.
Know your Wind:
An important thing to keep in mind is not just the speed of the wind, but the direction. A wind coming at 90 degrees will have a greater wind deflection on your bullet than one that comes at a 45-degree angle. A wind coming from straight behind you will actually cause your shot to hit high, and one 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 just shoot and see. You will soon realize that some shots require both a windage and elevation (up & down) corrections.
Another thing to watch for is multiple wind affects. The wind blowing from your shooting position might be different than one downrange. The wind up close could be blowing right to left, whereas four hundred yards away it may be blowing left to right, and both of them at different speeds. Again, sometimes the only way to know for sure is to take your best estimation and shoot. Then be ready for a quick followup that includes a better wind correction.
Wind holds VS. Dialing:
Some people like to hold wind corrections using the reticle in their scope, while others like to dial the wind correction into the turrets of their scope. I am more of a wind holder myself, and I’ll tell you why. The 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 you to hold a precise value into the wind. Should that wind slow down, or change, you can adjust your hold on the fly by simply holding a different point on your reticle. Whereas if you dial the wind into the scope turret, you will have to redial every time you see a shift. I find it a little simpler to just hold for what the wind currently is.
Whether you holdover, or dial, whether you dope the wind with dirt and grass, or use the tech gadgets, get out in the wind and let it teach you something. Keep your brain turned on and pay attention if you miss a shot and don’t know why, you are wasting time and ammo. Pay attention to the conditions and learn from every shot, hit or miss.