The breeze affects your accuracy in any outdoors competition. Andy McLachlan explains how you can assess how to compensate for being blown off-target
One of the crucial skills required to ensure that your pellet hits the target is the ability to assess how any air movement will influence its flight path. The very great skill of allowing for whatever the breeze is doing for the duration of time your pellet is spinning its way towards an intended target is hard-won, and requires lots of experience to manage.
It is simple enough to give it a couple of mils to the right if that is what was working for you on the zeroing range, or what you might have heard other shooters discussing. However, unless you are shooting in a wind tunnel with managed air movement, allowing for similar wind deflection adjustments whenever you detect a breeze will undoubtedly result in more shots missed than you’d like.
It’s obvious to anybody who has shot outdoors that any air movement can and does vary from peg to peg according to wind direction: any areas between you and the target that might need to be considered due to how they might result in the breeze either reducing or increasing accordingly. These will include trees, bushes, ditches and land gradients that will move the air in a different manner to how you have judged it from your shooting position.
Most competitors in the HFT prone position will use the target reset string to assess the direction and severity of any air movement. Some will also grab some leaves or grass and drop them for a visual clue to what the resident airflow is doing from that position. This gives the shooter a good idea of what allowances might be required when calculating shot placement. However, once you have loosed the shot, the chances that any breeze will have a uniform effect on your projectile’s flight path is usually minimal – unless you are, for example, shooting across an open area of ground with no additional features to contend with.
So, how can you maximise our chances of successfully hitting the target in a tricky wind? The method I adopt is to use the scope to assess how the breeze is affecting the target area. Look at any grass, twigs or undergrowth to establish if the air movement is the same as it is at the peg shooting position.
If the target is protected by a feature to its right and the wind direction is from the right, for example, this will result in slightly less windage allowance when you’re placing your aiming mark into position. Very often in similar scenarios, your carefully estimated windage allowance will result in your pellet landing precisely where you aimed on the face plate as it has not ‘taken’ any wind. It has still been affected, of course: it’s just that you haven’t allowed for it properly!
I have taken some shots this year that have required a not insignificant amount of confidence to drop. Some of the long-range shots have required four inches at least of deflection to allow for a strong wind. When estimating the correct aiming point for such difficult targets, it is often necessary to aim inches away from the whole target, never mind the kill zone.
This often causes problems for less experienced shots who find it difficult not to ‘feel the force’ by deliberately aiming completely off the target to secure a successful conclusion. It really can be a leap of faith to take on such a shot, but aiming off so drastically is the only way to succeed in such extreme circumstances. This does get easier with experience!
Unlike me, who had to shoot into the unknown with a long-range unmarked target in a considerable crossing wind for my first shot at one of this year’s round of UKAHFT competitions (I dropped it, much to my surprise), you can just take a bit of time to look at the target’s faceplate to establish just where the majority of shooters’ pellet strikes have ended up.
Once several competitors have made an attempt at the target, it will swiftly become apparent where they have gone wrong if you notice a group of strikes forming away from the killzone. The target ‘history’ will advise you of any additional considerations you might need to take into account when considering your own shot placement.
For example, consider a target placed at 40-odd yards across an open field. The wind is approaching from your right, and pulling the reset cord confirms the speed by the amount of deflection present. Taking a closer look at the target through your scope, you notice that a small group of shots has appeared at the seven o’clock position below the 35mm killzone.
This set of conditions is telling you two things. The first is that a lot of shooters have underestimated the range due to dropping low, or that the wind has affected the pellets’ flight path and pushed their trajectory down. The second clue is that the group of shots is to the left, which means that the unsuccessful shooters have failed to allow for sufficient windage within their mental trajectory calculations.
So, with this new-found information from the target, you can allow a tiny bit more elevation and right-hand windage than you might have done if you hadn’t studied the faceplate. Hopefully, your proper assessment of the target will allow a satisfying ‘clank’ to be relayed back to you as the target falls flat from your carefully considered shot placement.
The top shooters, of course, can make accurate predictions of how to take on a difficult shot more often than not. If you are an average shot like me, you’ll find this outcome very annoying! It pays to use every advantage you can to ensure success and to level the playing field in your own favour.
The ability to read wind effectively is one of the most crucial of all skills to master when you’re shooting relatively low-velocity and wind-affected pellets outdoors. The only way to improve is to get out there and keep on practising until windage calculations become second nature. To be honest, it is also a large part of the fun when you first start to work out your correct shot placement – success usually follows straight after!