Andy McLachlan tackles the airgun shooter’s nemesis , the wind – and offers a few pointers to help ensure those pellets fly true
My airgunner who shoots outside will at some point have experienced days when all their time and effort spent in careful assessment and shot placement come to nothing, and their pellets fly off in a totally unexpected direction.
It’s a fact that most of the time we must allow for slight wind deflection when trying our hardest to work out just how the movement of the air will affect our shot placement.
This is because airgun pellets are significantly lighter and slower than the projectiles used by our firearm-firing cousins.
Not that windage and of course elevation adjustments aren’t as important to them as they are to us – but for airgunners, these tend to have a much more significant bearing when we try to assess an appropriate firing solution.
Our pellets fly a lot more slowly than most firearm ammunition; a bullet is much heavier and travels up to five times faster than our pellet, meaning that gravity has five times less time to pull down the projectile.
As a result it travels in a much flatter trajectory than our relatively loopy airgun pellets. Essentially, this mean less worry for the firearms shooter who is attempting a shot at anything within the normal parameters of their selected bullet, as both the windage and elevation requirements will not be quite as crucial due to the projectile getting to the target so quickly.
Having said that, my own personal experience of rimfire shooting confirms that anyone wishing to achieve the best standards of accuracy will still allow for variables such as range and wind direction to be considered.
No surprises there: any shooter not taking account of the many variables will never achieve a high standard of accuracy outside, or sometimes inside for that matter, using any type of gun (unless it’s a laser!).
So for those of us choosing to use the relatively lightweight and loopy airgun pellet, we have our work cut out when choosing to shoot in the great outdoors.
It is rare indeed for even a very slight breeze not to be blowing at an outdoor range most of the time. The lie of the land is also very important, with features such as trees, ditches and inclines serving the interests of the moving airflow against us.
These features are a major contributing factor in deciding if we’re going to have a relatively easy aim ‘down the throat’ straight at the centre of the target day, or the more usual day of ”How are the signs that I see likely to affect my pellet’s travelling time to the target?”.
This is all part of the fun of working out the correct individual firing solutions that top shooters are able to calculate more frequently than the rest of us.
If we consider the type of terrain of which an outdoor airgun target course – be that HFT, FT or even benchrest shooting for that matter – is composed, we will never achieve what we consider to be a good score unless we’re able to look around the individual target for signs to help determine just where we need to place those crosshairs.
The first thing we need to consider is the distance at which the target is placed. If we are benchrest shooting this is a known factor and can be taken out of the equation, obviously.
However, if we are attending an HFT event, apart from the individuals who have laid out the course (presuming they can remember), none of us know the precise distance to the target – so we’re faced with making our own best estimates.
The top shooters at most, if not all, HFT events will be those who have developed the very real skill of range-finding to such an extent that they are rarely out by more than a yard or so, although even those with this highly developed ability still get it wrong on occasion. Some shooters use bracketing methods to help them assess range, by using their scope’s reticle to help them calculate distance.
Course-setters have been on to this for a long time now, however, and will occasionally use strangely shaped targets to render the bracketing method less useful.
More usually, they use target faceplate and killzone sizes designed to confuse the mind of the shooter into either under-or-overestimating target distances.
Having been caught out myself on several occasions by this approach, I can only confirm that it remains an effective strategy and will usually result in quite a few shooters dropping relatively easy points.
Another method used by some shooters to assist with range-finding when faced with an HFT course is called ‘blurring’. As the shooter is unable to alter the parallax setting of their scope once the shoot commences, the usual method is to set the scope at approximately half the distance of anything between the eight and 45-yard target placement.
This equates to approximately 25 yards, and will hopefully enable both the very close and far-ranged targets to be visible for accurate shot placement. Close and distant targets alike appear blurred in the scope, allowing those using the method to assess just how blurry the image is to judge distance.
Much of this ability depends upon the particular scope’s specifications, which explains why most of the top competitors use expensive optics that tend to be less parallax-fussy, and retain the ability to view the target clearly at all ranges.
With optics, as with nearly all things, you tend to get what you pay for. If we are an FT competitor though, we can use the very precise parallax range-finding characteristics of large objective lens scopes to correctly ‘dial in’ the distance with our exposed target turret assembly.
At least in the particular dimension of range-finding, we can be sure that the target won’t be moving further away or getting closer (hopefully!). The same cannot be said for the often unknown effects of any sideways air movement as created by our deadliest enemy, the wind.
It’s not just sideways air movement that can cause a missed shot, of course. Depending upon any prevailing wind direction and target placement, the wind can be coming from any direction within a 360-degree arc.
Sometimes it even appears to be coming from multiple directions at the same time – and may be doing so in reality – which causes havoc to outdoor shooters’ scores.
So one of the skills required of the shooter is to make an accurate assessment as to which prevailing direction the air is moving in. If you’re faced with a constant breeze, for example, you can allow for wind deflection calculations to be made.
Aiming off to one side of the killzone, sometimes up to several inches away with your crosshair pointing completely off the target’s faceplate, is often necessary to secure the points.
Usually it won’t be quite so dramatic an adjustment as this, with crosshairs just pointing to one side of the killzone – or more usually, at my own Rivington club’s Turton range, somewhere on the faceplate itself.
It is of course the decision of just where to place those crosshairs that sorts out who, on the day, is best able to assess how the wind will affect the pellet during its flight time to target.
As with range-finding, there are many methods used by the outdoor shooter to gauge how best to cheat the accuracy-thwarting tendencies of wind-shear.
Obvious strategies include the pulling of the target reset cord to assess any prevailing wind direction; the careful observation of any effects wind might be having upon the area immediately surrounding the target, by using your scope when in the firing position; and checking out any target faceplate ‘history’ to advise you just where previous shooters’ shots ended up.
Despite assessing all the available information, it’s still possible to either mess up the range or fail to read the wind correctly for any individual target.
I feel this is one of the reasons why the sport of outdoor target-shooting with an airgun is such a fascinating hobby. One thing’s for sure: you will very rarely if ever, be faced with conditions that are the same from day to day.
Presuming that course-setters alter their target placement frequently, this helps to ensure that each day is totally unique – and, in my opinion, helps to explain the ever-increasing popularity of trying to knock over inanimate objects.
Some of you reading this have yet to experience the many challenges of either HFT or FT shooting. I can only comment that you don’t know what you are missing!