Winning over wind drift

The pronghorn buck grazed out in a grassy flat. Gilbert, lying prone in sagebrush on a ridge, used his rangefinder to determine the buck was 300 yards distant. He eased out his wind meter and determined the wind was blowing from his right to left at 5 mph. He knew from an online ballistic calculator that his factory load of Federal 7mm-08 Rem. with its 120-gran Fusion bullet, BC of .335, would require an 8-inch holdover for gravity and 3-inch to the right correction for the wind drift.

Confident of this shot, as he had a rock solid rest, Gilbert dialed in his scope for the bullet drop and held to compensate for the crosswind. He could already taste fresh grilled backstraps as he squeezed off his shot.

At the crack of the rifle, he was shocked to see the dust just in front of, and behind, the buck explode as the trophy whirled and ran off at full speed. Gilbert could not believe he had missed that shot. What he had failed to account for was the 12 mph right to left crosswind that was blowing across the grassy flat near where the buck was feeding. That unaccounted for wind took the slowing down bullet and pushed it just far enough, over 6 inches, for Gilbert to experience a clean miss.

CROSSWINDS ARE FICKLE

Today we live in a shooting world where target shots over 1,000 yards are taken and discussed on a regular basis. Newly developed long-range rifles, calibers, bullets, ballistic calculators, scopes with long-range shooting adjustments and rangefinders with ballistic data programmed in are causing many shooters to shoot at ranges much longer than in the past. In most cases, this is recreational and tactical shooting and not hunting.

Even with all the new shooting gear designed to make accurate long-range (over 250 yards) shooting possible, the long-range shooter still must master the skills of studying and evaluating varying downrange crosswinds. After that, they must make the necessary adjustments to their scope to make an accurate shot based on the caliber/load used.

At this writing, no device exists to measure the speed or direction of downrange crosswinds. Much of this skill is in learning how to judge downrange winds by studying the terrain features, heat waves and the movement of grass and other vegetation. This takes time and experience to learn. Also, it takes time to study and calculate before an ethical shot can be taken.

On many long-range shots, the wind may be blowing in one direction and speed at where the shooter is positioned, gusting much more strongly in a different direction half way to the target and again totally different at the target. You must take all of this into account to make the shot accurately. Not an ideal situation for a hunter who has limited time before game moves on.

In my opinion, this is too time consuming for most hunting situations. As responsible hunters, we should keep our shooting distances at shorter ranges in which we are confident we can make a clean, one-shot kill. At shorter distances — say 250 yards and under — the wind has less time/distance to affect the path of the bullet, and the odds of making a crippling shot are lower. On game further out, we should put our stalking skills to work and close the range, or admire the animal and wait for another opportunity.

SHORT RANGE WIND DRIFT TIPS

Here are some tips on how to win over wind drift at hunting ranges:

• The first step to learning how to hold for short-range wind drift is to obtain the wind drift ballistics for your hunting rifle caliber and load. Go online to get this information from ammunition companies for factory loads, as well as ballistic calculators for handloads. Also for handloaders, wind drift tables are in some of the reloading manuals. Take the time to learn the wind drift table for your rifles, and either commit this to memory or do what a lot of greybeard hunters do — tape it to your rifle stock.

• Use a range finder in the field to measure accurately the distance to targets. Knowing the distance to a target and the crosswind speed makes holding the correction easier.

• Use a wind speed meter on the range and when hunting to get a quick and accurate reading on wind speed at your location.

• Don’t stay home from a day on the range because it is windy; use it as a learning session. Practice shooting in crosswinds on the range. Using the wind drift information for your rifle, shoot at targets out to 250 yards and practice wind drift compensation.

• Learn to pick your shooting opportunities in gusting crosswinds. Shoot during calm periods when possible.

• When you are planning a day of hunting, get the weather for the area you plan on hunting. Be sure that weather forecast includes wind speeds/directions Use that information and calculate it into the wind drift tables for the load you are shooting.

As the late, great gun writer Aaron Fraser Pass once wrote of wind drift, “Like the weather, shooters must learn to live with the wind, and “wind doping” in the field is a learned and arcane art form, rather than a science.” This is a case where “practice makes perfect” really applies. — J. Wayne Fears

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