Shooting Tips: How to Read Wind

The wind had undone many a shooter. Accurately reading the wind's effect on a bullet's flight is something that requires a lot of trigger time and concerted effort to develop the skill.

One of the most impressive shots in the wind I've witnessed occurred during an antelope hunt in Wyoming a few years back. The last guy in our party was trying to fill his tag when a blizzard descended on us. He was using an AR chambered in .223 and though I don't recall the specific bullet he was using, I'm sure it was one of the heavier 60-plus-grain loads.

We finally spotted an animal for him and made a stalk. The wind was ripping across from left to right and at 200 yards my friend held off about two feet, making a perfect killing shot. (The 6 inches I had held off the day before with my antelope, using a .260 Remington, was a pretty tame by comparison.)

This is an extreme case, but wind is often a factor when hunting the West and you better know how to handle it and, more importantly, when to not pull the trigger.

There are plenty of sophisticated ballistics programs out there that'll help you figure out how your load will perform in the wind. I've taken to using Kestrel's wind meters for this task. The 4500 I have is expensive ($589), but, in my mind, worth it for anyone who wants to get serious about making first-shot hits under challenging circumstances.

It gathers all the relevant environmental data and even has the ability to calculate your hold-off no matter the vector of the wind. (You do this by taking a full-value reading of the wind and then rotating the meter to point at your target. The internal compass then determines the correct value for the wind at that angle.)

It also can hold data for numerous rifles, a nice feature for guys who have more than a single go-to gun.

As good as the Kestrel is, however, it only reads the wind at the shooter's position--which can be vastly different from what's going on down range. So you can't rely on that single measurement, especially when shooting in hilly regions where the wind moving through canyons will swirl and shift at a moment's notice. To master this requires learning how to read mirage. (This assumes that the wind isn't blowing too hard. After 12-15 mph, mirage lays down and becomes difficult to impossible to access.) And this is where the art of reading the wind--honed by practice--comes into play.