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FISHING THE WIND

The hardest part of target air rifle shooting is reading the wind.
When you first start in your blissful ignorance you tend to just aim directly at everything regardless of range
or conditions, not expecting to knock anything down but celebrating when, by chance you manage it.

As you learn more about shooting your expectations steadily grow and that innocent glee at hitting a KZ is
replaced by mild annoyance at the ones you miss and when you do miss most of the time you can put it
down to the wind.

Shooting at below 12FPE means you are at the mercy of even the slightest gust and the biggest problem
we novices find is that the wind we can feel has probably changed at where the target is placed so what
we think we should do isn't necessarily what we ought to. After windy competitions the plaintiff call of the
novice FTer is heard, How do you read the wind?.

It certainly is what I've said several times to more experienced shooters than I when I've had the chance
and their response is generally the same. A shrug of the shoulders, a muttered phrase or two about
watching the trees around the target but certainly no great insights or arcane wisdoms are imparted, there
is a reason for this but before I say what it is, I want to tell you a little story........

Last Winter League Season at the competition held at my club Millride, the wind blew mercilessly, you
were certain that bushes and trees would come tumbling past you on the shooting line!.
Now, as luck would have it that wind seemed to be mostly behind us when we shot the course so apart
from a little right to left drift you didn't have to aim too far away from the KZ but the last three lanes of the
course were out in an open, exposed field facing straight into the fierce teeth of the gale!.

Top score towards the end of the competition was england team veteran and my Millride clubmate, Dave
Harrison. I'd finished my shoot and had wandered back up to the aforementioned exposed lanes to watch
my fellow Millrider, Jonta finish.

Just in front of him was James Osborne, a phenomenal FTer who has been British, European and World
Champion. He realised that he couldn't beat Dave Harrison's score but, if he got the last lane he could
equal it.

The wind howled across that field, standing watching James square up to the last lane, I had to hang onto
my cap to stop it blowing off!.

He sat down, loaded, ranged and altered his top turret for the first target on that lane, then he dropped the
hood of his fleece and took his cap off and sat there fixed on that target. I'd have thought he was waiting
for a break in the wind, a lull he could take advantage of but there just wasn't one, although the blow
occasionally changed intensity it never really dropped.

Still he waited, there being no time discipline in our Winter League until whatever decision he arrived at
regarding the wind was made and he took the shot...It fell!.
He moved to the next target and after the same procedure and a similar wait, that too went over and he
secured the draw!.


James Osborne, Overall Winner of the 2008 The Open, exposed field Grand Prix Season and the European
Championships.

Now, what was the significance of dropping his hood and taking off his cap?. It wasn't because he was
suddenly hot!. The wind chill was enough to make you wish you were in front of a roaring fire.

I think he was feeling for the subtle wind changes that were happening in that exposed field that day.
Although the wind was fierce and coming straight at the shooters in that field, there were occasions when it
shifted it's bias from left drift to right.

Think of wind as water in a river, it flows consistently in one direction, downstream but where it moves over
and around rocks or encounters small hollows in the bed of the river it EDDYS and SWIRLS flowing faster
in parts and slower in others, seemingly changing direction haphazardly.

Wind is effected by the terrain it flows over and this is what James was watching for and I think he was
feeling it on the bare sides of his face, he was literally shooting those targets with his EARS!.

This isn't so strange a thing to say, there is, after all, the old Hunters Trick of wetting your fingers with your
own spit and touching your cheeks, when the wind changes direction one cheek will feel cooler than the
other. This is to make sure your scent doesn't reach your prey of course, rather than anything to do with
wind deflection on the bullet. But the principle remains the same.

Many FTers, including myself, attach a piece of light material to the front of their rifles which will then be
blown by the wind. These windicators give a good indication of sudden gusts and general wind direction
but it should be remembered that the wind at the shooters end of the lane may be different to the wind
effecting the target at that moment. You should look for other signs of the wind effect down range and we
will discuss them momentarily.



Notice the Windicators on these rifles. I may mention terms such as, CROSS WIND, HEAD WIND, TAIL WIND or indeed
QUARTER WIND. What are they and how will they effect your pellets?


A cross wind is the worst kind of wind, it blows straight across the direction of fire and will take
your pellets across the KZ or right off the plate!

A head wind blows straight into your face and may have the effect of pushing your pellet down.
Be prepared to add clicks for a strong one!

Tail winds blow from behind you and as in my little story, may not effect your pellet much even if
it is strong but it is possible that it may lift your pellet under the right circumstances.
It is rare that you will find a pure head or tail wind, they generally have some natural bias, either
left to right or vice-versa so although there may be a very strong wind if it comes over your
shoulder rather than straight across, you will not need to allow as much for it.
The problem with quarter winds is that the bias can switch and you can find a left to right bias
suddenly becoming a right to left!

The truth is, my friends that there is NO ONE SECRET TO FISHING THE WIND! So when they
are asked how they manage to shoot so consistently well in windy conditions, the top echelon
shooters are genuinely at a loss to answer. They dont know how they can shoot so well because
their success is based on vast experience of shooting in these conditions, they notice the many little
pieces of evidence that you and I would not and they are able to build a picture in their minds of
what the invisible river is doing between themselves and that target.


So, what are the Many little pieces of evidence?.

1) Look for debris drifting across the field of fire, leaves, pollen, seeds.

2) If it is raining, look for the direction the rain slants as it falls.

3) Watch for movement in the foliage around the target.

4) Observe the reset cord, does the wind make it billow in one direction, lift it to eye level and let it drop,
does the wind take it one way or another?. Gauge the weight of the cord, the wind will pull the cord as a
fish would on a line, stronger winds will pull more. I have seen a reset cord snake, that is billow one way
at the shooters end and the other way near the target. We have a saying here, when in doubt, give it
nowt!. When you cannot decide on a changing wind drift, aim straight at the KZ, you effectively halve the
margin of error.

5) Can you feel wind chill particularly on one side of your face or hands.

6) Look for peoples mistakes, are there many misses evident on the target plate, is the paint missing
particularly on one side of the KZ? Remember to allow for THEIR compensation as they were unlikely to
have aimed directly at the KZ either.

7) If you miss at the beginning of a course when the targets are still largely unmarked, take a second or
two to look at the missed plate to see where the pellet impacted. Likewise, if you hit the target much can
be learned by pulling it up and seeing where on the KZ you hit it compared with where you actually aimed.
40mm KZs can sometimes be too forgiving.

8) Look for objects between you and the target that could either block the wind on the target or openings or
passages that may allow a flow of wind onto the target.

9) I have missed targets because I have taken on board too readily what others are saying around me.
See for yourself, believe what your scope and what your own eyes tell you and make your own decisions.
If you get it wrong learn from the mistake.

10) If the conditions are so bad that you really have no idea what to do, there is a tactic where you sacrifice
the first target by deliberately shooting the plate to see where in relation to your aiming point the pellet
impacts. If it works you will probably get the second target, guessing for both will probably lose the lane.
How many more can you think of?



Grass and seeds, a good indicator of wind direction and strength. Look at the pellet impacts on the target plate.


These compensations are of most use on the longer range shots where the wind has greater time to effect
the pellet. The shorter range targets, out to 35 yards will still be effected by a strong wind but the misses
on these closer ones may well be caused by allowing too much for a perceived wind, similarly as 25mm
reduced KZs are, under BFTA rules anyway set out to a limited range and the size of the KZ allows less
margin for error, a good Rule Of Thumb is to aim inside of the KZ but perhaps allowing for a slight edge
preference.

All this of course, can only give you clues to DIRECTION OR CHANGE OF DIRECTION of the wind, once
you have made up your mind which side the wind is coming from, HOW MUCH DO YOU ALLOW FOR
IT?.

Firstly, it is probably wise to allow half as much as you first think you should. If you think you should aim
outside of the KZ, aim on the edge instead. If you think you should aim on the outside edge of the KZ, aim
on the inside edge instead. The reason for this is that we novices tend to overestimate correction when we
feel it is needed. It is as easy to allow too MUCH for wind as too LITTLE!.

Undoubtedly, there will be times when the wind is so great that a large correction is needed, then the
proper use of your scope reticule is the important factor. There are several different types of scope
reticules available and unless you have plain cross-hairs such as can be found on a Leupold Competition,
many will have Hold-over/Hold-under marks on the vertical and likewise, marks to aid wind aiming on the
horizontal. I have a NATO reticule on my Nikko Sterling with three hash marks along the horizontal.

Milldots are perhaps the most popular of the Rreticules available. You must learn what these aiming points
mean at the magnification you shoot at in practice. When you are having to deal with a strong cross wind
and you can see that there is a lot of paint missing out to, maybe two centimetres from the KZ, you have to
know how many milldots/hash marks that means. If you can do this then you can always aim at the KZ
using these windage markings. If you use only the centre cross hair as an aiming point it can be unnerving
to aim off plate in a strong wind and the tendency is to creep the cross-hair back into the target, especially
if the target has a mil-dot reticule.




Now we come to the selection of pellets.

This of course, is very reliant on the preference of your barrel, what groups well through one rifle will be
poor through another but it is of some debate whether a heavier pellet is better in wind than a lighter one.

The benefit of the heavier pellet is greater mass that will be effected less in lighter wind, plus if you Split
the pellet, that is impact on the inner rim of the plate KZ hole and ricochet into the KZ there will be more
energy to knock the target down. A lighter pellet however, will fly faster and flatter, spending less time in
flight so less time to be effected by the wind. I think if you are shooting an Air Rifle of above 16 joules a
heavier pellet should be your choice but for us Internationalists, a lighter pellet of around 7.9 grain would
be correct.

ONLY IF IT GROUPS WELL THROUGH YOUR RIFLE THOUGH!

Do not force a pellet selection on your rifle if it does not suit.

Sometimes a top FT shooter will say that he can see the flight of his pellet onto the target, they
will describe how the pellet swerves into the KZ or perhaps, away from it at the last moment.
This illustrates how the path of a pellet is not the straight line that a novice might imagine. Not
only is there a trajectory curve from the rifle muzzle to the target but also the effects of air on it's
lateral flight making it turn one way then the other. But how is it possible for someone to watch a
pellet travelling at 800 feet per second? The answer is FOLLOW THROUGH!.

Follow through is a technique that we as shooters should all use, in a nutshell it is staying on the
target through the scope and keeping your finger on the trigger AFTER you have made the shot, it
is linked to LOCK TIME in your gun and is a great shooting discipline.
Simply, it will improve your shooting considerably if you utilise it. Every target sport uses follow through
regardless of whether you are shooting a pellet, a bullet or an arrow, it is essential!.

What the top shooters are seeing is the last split second of the pellet's journey to the target, it is
reliant on good light, a rock steady shooting position and follow through. It will show that last
instant when the pellet either goes into the KZ or turns away from it to impact on the plate, it is the
last indicator of how much wind is effecting the pellet and from what direction it is doing it. Not
always visible, (I've never seen my pellet in flight!) but possible with good technique, a steady
shooting position and good observation.



A pellet in flight showing displaced air. If we could only see Air/Wind we wouldn't have a problem.
You may have noticed that I have referred to the skill of wind judgement as READING the wind, it is the
English term. Americans say DOPING but my favourite phrase is the Spanish PESCANDO EL VIENTO
(FISHING THE WIND), which is why I have used it as the title of this article, it expresses an art form that
is part of the air movement we call wind, where as Reading and Doping imply a Mastery that I don't
think can ever be fully achieved. Good Shooting to all of you.

!"#$% '()*