The most challenging thing I have ever done with a rimfire rifle was learning to hit 4 inch clay pigeons at 200 yards in variable winds that were gusting from 4 mph to just over 15 mph. There were shots where I really began to doubt the repeatability of my scope. I didn't realize how much effect wind can have on point of impact with a small .17 caliber bullet.
With no wind sock or other device to confirm wind direction and speed, some shots that were right on target when fired would miss anywhere from one half inch up to almost 3 feet. I was shooting a Savage 17 hmr with CCI 40 grain standard velocity ammo. I knew it wasn't that I was just having a bad day because my buddy shooting a 17 hmr was missing by the same amounts.
I also knew my rifle would shoot under a half inch group, less than 1 MOA at 50 yards reliably. After shooting through 50 rounds of ammo I finally understood how important it was to develop skills for shooting in the wind.
In these conditions, it didn't take long to realize that other than correctly estimating distance, wind speed and direction can have the largest influence on the outcome of your shot at longer ranges. Learning to accurately read the wind and how it will affect the shot is paramount for long range shooting success.
Since then, I have done quite a bit of shooting in similar conditions and have learned both with help from more experienced friends and trial and error how to impact these small targets with a high frequency.
As I began to study how to compensate for wind I quickly found out that there was a lot of material available on the subject but most of it was written for big bore, ultra long range shooting from 500 yards out to a over a mile. Not much was available for guys like me who shoot rim fires because there is just not that many places where you can attempt 1 mile shots without running a very high risk of shooting someone where I live.
Before we get started discussing how to estimate point of impact in the winds, let's cover a few basics first.
Can wind effect be reliably estimated?
There are math formulae that you can use to calculate point of impact on all cartridges based on environmental factors like wind, speed, cartridge trajectory, etc. If you are like me you are a shooter and don't want to spend a lot of time doing math calculations. I'd rather be shooting. When hunting or in competition, we wouldn't have time to do these calculations anyway.
If you are one of those people who love to do their own calculations and understand completely how they are done and why, just google "ballistics wind calculations". There is a ton of information out there on the subject. If you just want to learn to shoot rim fires in the wind, read on.
There are many ballistics apps available for cell phones that will do all of this work for you. All you have to do is enter the correct inputs rifle, muzzle velocity, wind direction, wind speed, elevation above sea level etc. and these little apps can come up with a really accurate hold over or hold off to allow you hit your target quite often, assuming you execute the shot properly.
There are many of these apps available in the software store on your cell phone. Some of them are free but you will pay for them by watching ads and constant notifications that you need to upgrade for a few dollars in order to get the full features of the app. Still, some of them are worth the effort and well worth the small price if you want to improve long range accuracy.
If you are serious about precision long range shooting take a look at these units. There are several models all used by the pros. More on these later.
Shooter's skill is a requirement
If all that was required to make an accurate long range shot on target was to enter numbers into a cell phone app, dial the suggested adjustments into our scope, then make the shot, anyone could do this. Sounds really easy. Well, it's not.
There is an amount of experience and judgement that still comes in to play - or in other words, you must develop the skills to be really good at long range shooting. Accurate shooting data is just the beginning.
If wind is blowing in a constant direction at a constant speed, hitting your target is really not that hard, but in reality, this is rarely the case. There are variables that can't be entered into a calculator such as variable wind, gusting wind, and wind doing two or three different things between the muzzle and the target. This is where shooter, or spotter skill comes in to play.
We will use environmental signs both close up and down range to make our best estimation of point of impact. We will dial distance and hold for wind using scope reticle graduations simply because wind changes frequently. By the time you make a determine of adjustment, dial the setting on your windage knob, the wind conditions may have already changed.
In the rest of this article we will walk through making an accurate shot in the wind with the goal of being on target with the first shot.
Do your homework first
Using printed ballistics charts is not the best option. You will probably never be able to find one on the internet or anywhere else that will perfectly match all of the variables of you set up. The most accurate ballistics calculators whether generated from your computer at home or from your cell phone will complete calculations in seconds that would take you hours by hand.
The most complete solution that I know of on the market today, and the one I use is the Kestrel 5700. It can be linked to most popular range finders to detect and feed environmental data. The Kestrel 5700 is an anemometer, thermometer, ballistics calculator and more all in one small device. I use and recommend the 5700 because it is perfect for the rim fire range that I shoot. It works great for extreme long range shooting with big bores as well.
If you have the time, you will be very accurate by using the units above on every shot, but not every situation will allow that much time. Use whatever tools you have available to build your trajectory chart for your specific combination of variables. Make a simple chart you can refer to in the field that sticks to the inside of your scopes lense cover or stock Here is a device that allows you to always have your data handy without sacrificing your shooting position.
The chart should look like the chart below. Don't try to use these numbers they are hypothetical but this is the format you need to have a good starting point. Again, this should be attached to your rifle at all time so it is available when you need it. From this you can get both elevation settings needed at different distances and windage starting points for each wind speed and distance.
Once you have this information you are ready to go the field to fight the evil demon known as wind.
Determine the speed of the wind
First we must know wind speed. The Kestrel will tell you the speed is at your position but you must look further. Look at indicators near the target. Is the speed higher there? Is there a hill, bank, fence, or stand or tree between you and the target that could cause different wind speeds between you and the target?
The leaves on trees, tall grass, weeds, what you feel on your face, are all things that you should pay attention to. . If there is water between you and the target ripples and wind gusts across the surface can tell you a lot. Pay attention to any mirage you might see through the scope and the direction and angle of the heat waves. diagonal heats waves indicate a medium wind, horizontal a high wind, and vertical indicates no or low wind. In the right situation, this can be an excellent indicator.
A full wind sock indicates winds of at least 15 knots, while it takes at least 3 knots to lift the sock at all. Obviously wind direction can be observed by the direction the sock is blowing. If the sock is about half full, you can safely assume about 7 knots of wind. A knot is 1.15 mph.
Is the wind gusting or is the wind steady, should we wait for another condition to take the shot or should it be taken now ? From all of this information what is the correct hold when the condition we are waiting for occurs. This is the challenge of shooting the wind. All of the math, charts, and cell phone apps in the world are only starting points. Success comes from practice and experience.
Next determine wind direction
This is usually pretty easy to do and while you are observing indicators to estimate wind speed you will probably already have an opinion on direction.
Pay attention to what is happening both at your location and at the target. It's possible that the wind is blowing in different directions in each location which does definitely change poi.
Use everything available to you. A wind sock, a piece of tape hanging from something, the feel of the breeze on your face, direction of the bow of tall grasses or tree limbs, leaves being blown across the ground, ripples on any nearby water, anything you can find that is being affected by the wind.
Shooting in canyon is particularly tricky due to wind effects as it hits canyon walls etc. Wind in this scenario tends to act like water which makes accurate shots hard to make except or the most experienced shooters.
A breeze of 10 mph can blow your shot by an inch at 50 yards. And if you shoot in variable winds, as most of us do, a 2 MOA (1") group is the best you can hope for even with a rifle that shoots tacks, unless you know how to compensate for wind drift, and can consistently judge wind speed.
How to put it together
To put it all together we will use the clock reference. A wind coming from directly in front of you is at 12 o'clock. If the wind is coming from 9 or 3 o'clock you have a full value wind and you can make a full windage adjustment for the specific wind speed according to your chart. Wind coming from 12 o'clock or 6 o'clock has a value of zero and needs no windage adjustment. Any other direction is a half value wind which only calls for a half adjustment based on your full value data from the table you created.
Other things that must be factored in for a first shot hit
Now we have our plan, or do we? Almost, but we must think about a few other things and how our plan would be affected by them. If you have used a Kestrel for calculations to build your bullet flight chart above, all of these things were taken into account when the calculations were done and the results are built into your numbers.
If not, make sure you have taken into account
-Ballistic coefficient of your bullet is nothing more than a measure of drag placed on a bullet by flying through the air. Those with a lower coefficient was have more drag as it flies through the wind and therefore will impact differently. The belief that faster bullets are affected less is not the whole story without ballistic coefficient.
-The wind will have more effect on the bullets flight path where it spends more time exposed to the wind. This is closest to the target. So if you have a stronger wind close to the target the bullet may drift more.
If the items above have been calculated in to your hold, here are some more things that can't be calculated. Estimating these it what separates the amateurs from the pros.
-If your target is large enough use it all. Only hold off enough to make contact. At times you may have an edge hold where a large target will give you more room for error.
-If winds are variable, should you wait for the right condition. How urgent is the shot? Do you have the time to wait.
- How will topography affect wind which will change bullet trajectory. Remember, canyons and small valleys tend to guide wind like water as it bounces off of the walls.
-When shooting from a high postion, your impact should be higher than zero and vice versa when shooting up.
Getting really good at estimating these things takes experience, coaching from pros who know how, and trial and error. Like Lee Trevino used to say, "the more I practice, the luckier I get". The same is true here.