Basics: A Few Wind Reading Tips

Today we have a letter from our friend Wayne in New Zealand who inquires about my method of wind reading. Although this topic is of central importance to our sport, I have always found written material on it to be of limited value compared to shooting under a coach. I certainly am not attempting to make this short item into a comprehensive lesson in wind reading, but there may be a nugget or two in here for the newer shooter. There is, however, no substitute for range time and coaching. - GAS -

Basics: A Few Wind Reading Tips
by Germán A. Salazar

Hi Germán,

I hope you are doing well and congratulations with you’re placing in the recent Berger shooting competition. I have just read your “Back in the Sling” blog and a sentence caught my eye. Firstly let me provide some background. I am a novice shooter coming towards the end of my first season's shooting, I currently shoot a 6BR (95 gr. VLD  at about 2985 fps) in F-Open at a range where 7mm cartridges rule supreme. Yes, I could move to a 7mm as well, but I like the 6BR and the main reason I am not doing much better, is simply my ability to read the wind.

I have learnt that competitive shooting is unlike other sports in that, while you are competing against other shooters, in reality there is only one thing that you need to beat – the wind. So, while I am hurrying up and waiting for my wind skills to grow I am devouring anything to do with improving wind skills and techniques, thus “It's difficult to adjust to being a slow shooter when I've built my whole wind reading technique around shooting very fast.” caught my eye in your blog.

I am hoping you could take the time to explain further your techniques and approaches to wind readings, maybe things you have tried that have worked and perhaps even those that haven’t worked and why. I am currently working my way through The Wind Book for Rifle Shooters so I can appreciate that my question probably requires a book of its own - anything you can offer would be appreciated. Certainly nothing will replace trigger time at the range, however I do want to approach each days shooting with a plan and a process to get myself onto the leader board.

Kind Regards

Wayne

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Hello Wayne,

Thanks for writing and I'm glad to hear that the site is useful to you!

I like the 6BR a lot also; in fact, I think it's a far better cartridge with which to learn about the wind than any of the 7mm cartridges. The 6BR is inherently more accurate so it gives you a better indication of what you did, and the barrel life is so long compared to those big ones that you can really work on your shooting and learning for a long time before having to go through the hassle, expense and delay of a replacement. Good choice! However, the 105 to 108 gr. bullet weight will probably be better in many respects, at least past 300 yards.

When I wrote that piece, I wondered about whether or not to include the specific line that you quoted. My doubts about it arose from the fact that someone (you as it turns out) would ask that very question and it is a very difficult question to answer, perhaps impossible in writing. Of course, if I hadn't included the line, the concept I was trying to explain about the recovery would have been lost!

Preliminary Matters
Let's begin by eliminating one topic altogether; you mentioned that you're shooting F-Open and I realize that the predominant method of wind correction in F-Class is holding-off with the crosshairs rather than adjusting the windage knob. I am a firm believer in aiming at the center and turning the knob as needed, but we'll leave that for another time and focus on seeing what the wind is doing.

Another preliminary matter is that of how your matches are arranges in terms of shooting order. In the US, we shoot string-fire almost exclusively. If you are shooting two or three to the mound, my technique may be of little value, although the general wind indicators remain the same. With that out of the way, let's think about wind a bit - not in the usual attempt to correlate flags to windage, but in a manner that will hopefully develop a deeper understanding of what's happening between you and the target.


The Wave
I find that most shooters begin to shoot immediately when the time commences rather than waiting for an appropriate moment in the cycle, this often leads to lost points early on. If you've been scoring prior to shooting, hopefully you've observing the flags and your shooter's shot placement. It's a very useful way of gaining some insight into the day's wind patterns before shooting.

My technique, alluded to in that earlier article as "shooting very fast" is based on the understanding of wind as a cyclical wave motion. That statement alone should give you plenty to think about next time you're on the range. Imagine for a moment, a surfer. He waits for a gentle swell, gets moving on it and rides it through it's growth and ultimately its crescendo and hopefully avoids being swallowed in its crash. Wind typically behaves in the same fashion as that wave and a smart shooter behaves as does the surfer - get on early in the wave, ride through the major change and get off at the right moment. Knowing when to stop shooting is every bit as important as shooting quickly through the predictable portion of the wave; getting back on to the next wave is a matter of delicate judgment and timing.

When you are on that rising (or falling) wave, the idea is to shoot very quickly to minimize the amount of change between shots and to make a small adjustment on each shot. Too many shooters waste time trying to analyze the exact amount of the change, by which time it has changed even more! Get on with it, click or hold over a set amount and fire the next shot quickly. This is the foundation of how I shoot and it is very effective as long as you know when to start, when to stop and you have a good man working the target - a slow marker is the death of this method.

Good Neighbors
We all watch the wind flags, of course, and the trees if your range is so blessed (ours are fairly barren), and many other small wind indicators. As you watch all these things, don't forget about those living, breathing, grunting and occasionally cursing wind indicators lying next to you - yes, your neighbors near and far. Assuming that you know your neighbor's relative skill level, his shots can be a very useful tool and should be observed whenever possible. When a good shooter next to you comes up with a poor shot, it should signal you to stop and reassess conditions as they may not be what they appear. When you hear your neighbor grunt and curse, thank him for the advance warning!

While scoring for another shooter, take a moment to scan the line of targets. You'll be surprised at how most of the shot markers move in unison to one side and then the other. The sad truth is that most shooters are behind the changes in the wind and they will get carried to either side of the bull as the wind changes. You'll see this in the targets as they come up, and once learned, you'll find that the line of targets is as useful as another row of flags. Good neighbors are one of the best ways to determine the right moment to step off the wave and wait for the next one.

Wind Flags, Ten-Speed Gearboxes and Honky Tonk Women
Yes, over-the-road trucks, eighteen-wheelers to us in the US, have a great deal to teach us about the wind. We've all seen a heavily laden truck struggle to go up a mountain road, turbos glowing red hot, each gear change timed perfectly to minimize speed loss and keep the engine at peak torque output, the driver sweating and struggling to maintain speed, never mind increasing it. Should the driver let off the throttle, thus reducing the energy input, the truck's speed will drop precipitously. Try not to cut-off a truck driver going uphill, it seems to anger them for some reason...
 
What could that possibly have to do with reading wind? Quite a bit as it turns out. Remember our wave? Well, like the truck going uphill, the wave and the wind depend on energy input to keep increasing.

Increasing the height of the wave and the speed of the wind is much more difficult than decreasing them. Wind is simply moving air, a very large mass of air - and it takes constant energy input to make that mass accelerate and move. Energy can almost always be dissipated much more quickly than it can be increased or stored. Climb up the stairs with a very large rock then drop it from a window - when did the rock move faster, going up or going down? Did the truck increase or decrease speed faster while going uphill? Does wind increase or decrease velocity faster? Now you've got it, it decreases velocity faster than it increases - much faster.
 
What should you do with that little nugget as you duel the wind? Watch targets while scoring and you'll see many more points lost as wind decreases than you will when it increases. Even shooters who understand the wave theory and shoot and adjust quickly frequently fail to increase their rate of adjustment when the wind speed begins to drop off - as it inevitably will. No source of energy is infinite, not even the sun's heat; the wind will die down, it's up to you to understand and recognize when it happens.

An overly simplistic, but useful, rule of thumb is: as the wind speed drops off your rate of change should be twice what it was when the wind speed was increasing. The shooter who fails to understand the laws of physics will lose many more points than he should, and like the truck driver who crashes in a smoldering heap at the bottom of the hill (a different sort of problem), he will have to seek solace in the arms of someone who cares (or can be paid to care) for he will find precious little of it at the range.

Each day is different, and ranges certainly vary in their prevailing conditions, but the wave motion of wind and the basic understanding of energy as applied to the mass of air on the range remain constant and can be applied almost anywhere.
 
Final Thoughts
As much as I'd like to continue with some other concepts, I think this is a good beginning for you and we'll leave some for another day if there is any interest out there. Like so many topics related to actually shooting (position, trigger control, sight picture, etc.) versus technical subjects, it is very difficult to convey good information in a written one-way article as opposed to a person-to-person dialogue on the range as things are really happening. Hopefully this hasn't been too boring and will have some value to you and others.
 

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