The Long Game: How to Beat the Wind When Shooting Long Range
It's time to address the biggest X-factor in long-range shooting: How to determine what the wind is doing
The Long Game is a new series designed to improve your long-range-shooting skills. This story is the tenth installment.
Wind is the invisible demon long-range shooters must learn to tame. Modern ballistic programs do a very good job of providing a firing solution based on range, and with a quality rangefinder, the distance to the target is easy to establish. However, when shooting in the wind, the best you’ll ever be able to do is to make an educated guess.
From the beginning, one thing you must accept is that there will always be wind. Somewhere between you and 1,000 yards, the air is moving in one direction or another. It’s your job to determine its speed and its direction/value. Wind meters can help, but they can only measure the wind at your location. Wind flags, ideally placed every 100 yards, are a much better indicator, but wind flags do not come with speedometers. You must learn what different wind speeds look like. You can establish wind flag speed values by standing beside a wind flag and measuring the wind speed with a wind meter. Short of that, the guess is a bit more complex.
Developing a Feel for Shooting in the Wind
A 3- to 5-mph wind will feel like a light breeze on your face. Smoke will move in a slow but consistent direction, and mirage or heat waves in your scope will appear to angle from 5 to 11 or 7 to 1 as it relates to a clock.
If your ears are exposed, winds in the 5- to 8-mph range can be heard as they swirl around your head. If mature trees are present, leaves—not branches—will be continuously moving, and mirage will appear at about a 45-degree angle in your scope.
When you begin to see leaves, paper, and dust blowing across the ground, you’re experiencing wind speeds around 8 to 12 mph and mirage will appear at about a 90-degree angle. At 12 to 15 mph, the branches of large trees will move, and small trees, ground shrubs, and brush will sway. The wind will also be audible to the unaided ear.
Shooting in High Winds
If you see big trees swaying, feel the wind pushing you while standing, or see hats blowing off heads, you’re in the 20 mph wind range. Shooting in the wind like this is tough, because there are often strong gusts. This makes judging wind speed hard, and the data you get is hard to quantify as reliable DOPE.
You also must learn how to adjust for a strong wind over the first 300 yards of bullet flight and then a lighter breeze over the last 700 yards, or vice versa. It’s complicated because the flight time of a bullet over the first 300 yards will only give the wind about 1/3 of a second to act upon it. But, over the last 700 yards, the wind will push the bullet for about a full second. Reading wind speed is a science that requires practice in varied wind conditions. Determining wind direction is just as important but easier.
Determining Wind Value
A wind blowing 90-degrees to your bullet’s path is considered a full value wind. If the target is at the 12 on a watch, a full value wind is coming from either 3 or 9. A 50-percent value wind would be coming from either 1, 11, 5, or 7 and a value of about 87 percent would be from the 2, 10, 4, and 8 directions. Good ballistic programs will accurately calculate how the wind direction/value impacts your firing solution, so you don’t have to, but you still must input the correct information.
Using Wind Flags
Wind flags work well. In their absence, you can make guesstimates based on how the wind is moving your environment or feels against you. The key to wind estimation is to establish the wind speed from a full value direction and then input that speed with the correct value as it relates to your target. For example, if you estimate the wind at 10 mph but it is blowing directly from the target to you, the actual wind value is zero. If you estimate the wind at 10 mph and it is blowing from the 11 to 5 directions, it is a 50 percent or half value wind.
How do you learn to shoot in the wind? Bottom line, you have to go shoot in the wind. The more you do it, the better you will get at it. The best way to learn shooting in the wind is to begin the lessons inside 500 yards—and shooting out to just beyond a quarter mile is what we will discuss in the next part.
Previous Installments in The Long Game
- Part 1: How External Ballistics Influences Bullet Flight
- Part 2: Why You Need a Ballistics Calculator for Long Range Shooting
- Part 3: How to Select the Best Long Range Cartridge
- Part 4: How to Pick the Right Long Range Rifle
- Part 5: How to Select the Best Rifle Scope for Long Range Shooting
- Part 6: What to Look for in Rifle Bipods and Other Shooting Accessories
- Part 7: Tips on Finding the Best Ammo for Long Range Shooting
- Part 8: How to Master the Prone Position
- Part 9: How to Zero a Long Range Rifle