January 09, 2023
Aside from the shooting fundamentals, wind calling is one of the most important skills you should develop for long-range shooting. Knowing how to read the wind will have a greater effect on your precision than reducing your groups through reloading. This helps any shooter who is hunting, competitive shooting or just having fun.
Wind often intimidates shooters because it is out of our control and can be highly dynamic moment to moment. Although we can’t see the wind, we see its effect on us and the environment. With time and effort, we can learn to read these clues to gauge the speed and direction. These two factors steer the bullet toward the target center or away from it. Figuring out how much to hold to compensate for the wind is always tricky, even the best shooters are guesstimating wind speed. Their estimate is sharper due to practice.
A wind meter is essential for learning how to estimate wind speed. Kestrel wind meters are the standard for the shooting sports. They have various models available from strictly wind readers like the model 1000 to full-featured ballistic solvers like the 5500 and 5700 models.
When starting out, learn to read the wind in your immediate vicinity. Raise the wind meter above your head so your body isn’t blocking the wind and face the back of it until you find the highest wind speed. Learn to associate the wind speed to how it feels on your body. You’ll notice you that your face is the most sensitive to wind speeds as low as 1 to 3 mph. As the wind increases, the more it pushes the cheeks, then the head. Strong winds will then begin pushing on your body. Assign a wind value to each of these and you’ll be able to use your body as a wind meter to get a good wind speed estimate without pulling out a wind meter.
Next, using your wind meter again, associate wind speed to the environment. Use grass, shrubs, trees, and dust that are close to you and not far off in the distance. The wind speed and direction may be different at far distances. As you check wind speed, associate the wind pressure you feel on your body to the way the vegetation is moving. Test yourself to see if the wind meter, your body, and the environment corelate. From there, compare the vegetation and trees farther out to ones nearby. This will help train your eye on the terrain that is familiar to you. You will quickly build up a mental database that you can refer to at any time.
Once you have your wind speed, you need to figure out the wind direction in relation to the target. When you have these two, you will then be able to derive wind hold from a ballistic solver to get the bullet centered on the target.
Think of the bullet as a weathervane pointed at the target. A head wind keeps the bullet pointing forward, as the wind moves to the side, it causes the bullet to point off center giving an impact to the left or right of the center. A 10-mph head wind has no effect on the horizontal movement and while wind hitting squarely on the side will have the greatest effect. Anything in between will have a proportionately smaller effect. This is why it’s important to know the wind direction.
To determine wind direction with a wind meter, hold the wind meter to the headwind. The highest reading will tell you that is the wind direction. Sometimes with light winds direction is hard to detect. In those cases, turn the wind meter until the propellers stop spinning and begin to reverse direction. This headwind will be 90-degrees to this dead spot. Now you are ready to enter the wind speed and direction into your ballistic solver to get the hold over. Some solvers use degrees, and some use a clock face like 2 o’clock.
Putting It Together
There are times when you won’t be able to use a wind meter or ballistic solver and must rely on yourself and a dope card. Your dope card will have the elevation and wind holds. Let’s assume that the wind hold for your rifle for a 12 mph wind at a target 600 yards away is 1.2 MILS. If our target is in a headwind, we know that the wind has no effect, so we can ignore the wind hold adjustment and place the reticle on the center of target. For a left or right wind, we’d hold 1.2 MILS. What if the wind is coming from 1 o’clock direction? The calculation is simpler than you think, and it’s something I learned from Accuracy 1st’s Todd Hodnett. Using simple percentage, we can figure that out in our brain, even if you say math is not your strong suit. You need only to divide a number in half to get the most important values.
Pretend you’re standing on a clock face. With a 1’oclock wind, you will factor in 50 percent of the wind speed, therefore 12 mph becomes 6 mph. Look at your wind table and see what the wind hold for a 6 mph, it should be .6 MILs. There are two other clock positions that you need to know, that’s it. The position between 12 and 1 o’clock is a 25 percent of the full wind value, and between 1 and 2 o’clock will use 75% of the full wind value. I use shortcuts to figure out the wind values here. For 25 percent, I divide the 50 percent value in half which makes it 3 mph. To get my 75 percent, I subtract 3 mph from the full value of 12 mph, and I get 9 mph. With 25, 35, 75, and 100 percent, you will have good resolution on your wind calls off the top of your head. See the wind chart for a visual reference.
Mirage is its own unique wind indicator. It will give you the wind speed and direction, and the direction will always be standing still, left or right, you won’t have to figure out clock positions or percentages. If you see a 5-mph wind, you will use a hold for 5 mph.
Mirage can be present in warm and cold environments. If you’re lucky, you will be able to see it mid field and at the target. To find the mirage mid field through your optic, turn the parallax knob so that mid field is in focus. For the mirage at the target set your parallax a few yards before the target. You should now have three wind speeds as a reference, one at your shooting position, another midfield, and the other at the target. This should give you a good idea of what the wind is doing across the terrain if there are no other indicators.
There are three types of mirages. Using the target as a clock face is handy here too. A 0-mph wind will look like a mild boil with the water bubbles rising from 6 o’clock to 12 o’clock position. Once the mirage tilts slightly left or right to the 1 o’clock or 11 o’clock positions, it is moving from 1-3 mph. At 2 o’clock or 10 o’clock, the wind has picked up 4-7 mph. An 8-12 mph wind will flatten the waves.
Now that you have a general idea of reading the wind speed and direction, where does the wind matter most? At your location, mid field, or near the target? You should always know the wind speed and direction at your location and give to that priority since it is something you can directly measure it and it has the potential to affect the bullet’s horizontal path the most. Ultimately sending a shot downrange will tell you where the reading is the most accurate. It may surprise you as to what part of the terrain gives you the accurate reading, it may be an average of the whole field, or it may be only a part. You will learn that each place may have a unique indicator.
For example, I’ve had left winds at my location but right winds near a 600-yard target. My best wind hold for that instance was to hold dead center. I’ve also had the flags at my location show a left 5 to 7 mph wind, but the mirage at the 1,000-yard target was a boiling up, meaning no wind. After I shot and missed the target, I learned the mirage was the best indicator. The farther you shoot the more critical it is to get an accurate wind reading within 1 to 2 mph.
Holding or Dial
Once you determine wind hold, should you use the hash marks on the reticle or dial the hold on your turret? It depends on the situation. Mostly, in fluctuating winds, I use the reticle. I will note the high and low value of the wind on the hash marks and move the hold as conditions change. It’s much faster to respond to changing conditions holding versus dialing, and you don’t have to break your concentration on the target to rotate a turret. When the wind is constant, I will dial based on the average wind speed, I then use the reticle to make minor adjustments. The advantage to this is that it allows the center of the reticle to stay close to the center of the target instead of out in the dirt. I found this very handy especially in high winds and shooting small targets. It was easier to spot my impacts and make quick corrections on my misses. Experiment to see what works for you.
Wind is, and will always be, an elusive shooting factor. The more you study it and shoot in windy conditions, the sharper your wind calling will be and the more precise your shots will become. Learning to do the wind calculations without tools is helpful when you need to respond quickly. Use the tools when you want the most precision.