Whooping The Wind

Wind is one of Mother Nature's toils that can spoil a hunt the quickest ... yet VERY FEW hunters practice or prep for it. Do you know what different winds do to the bullet or arrow you're shooting?

So, let’s talk about hunting challenges. How about that wind? Few natural phenomena mess up a hunt and spoil success more than the rapid, mass movement of air. At 10 mph it’s not a significant challenge (except for long-range shooting,) but from 15 mph and up, it makes sitting, walking, talking and just being out there a major chore. Big winds will wear you out.

On the plus side, they cover a lot of sins. In 30 mph winds, I’ve walked right up to whitetails bedded under cut banks and behind hay stacks. I’m talking 20 feet. And I wasn’t even trying to step lightly. Over the roar of the gale they can’t hear the crunch and snap of footsteps, and even scent seems to be tattered and dispersed.

The downside to wind is enduring it while figuring out where game is hiding. The cold, the buffeting and the roar wear you out. Holding a binocular steady is impossible. Even on a short tripod, spotting scopes are “vibration station.” And shooting accurately in the wind? Well, we’ll address that in detail in another paragraph or two.

But first, some good news: Contrary to common perceptions, wind doesn’t shut down wildlife activity. Deer, pheasants and other desirable game don’t bury themselves in heavy cover until the wind quits. They’d starve if they tried that in the Plains states. I’ve seen not just pronghorns and mule deer, but whitetails, elk, coyotes, pheasants, ducks and sharptails moving, rutting and feeding right out in the open with winds howling at up to 40 mph.

This past fall we found a whitetail buck bedded with a doe in an open pasture with the nearest clump of brush hundreds of yards away. Other deer were bedded in fence lines with naught but a thin line of grasses to block the wind. Sure, plenty more were down in the creek bottoms hugging cut banks and willow thickets, but no more than usual. In late afternoon they pranced out into open fields to feed, just as if the winds were gentle.

Don’t make the mistake of assuming your quarry will be deep underground on gusty days. Get out there and look: You’ll find them.

The biggest challenge in the wind is shooting. It can be nearly impossible to stand, kneel or even sit to get a reasonably steady shot with a rifle or bow. Even if you do get off a well-aimed shot, your projectile is at the mercy of the gale.

So, here’s your best approach to big winds:

  • Hunt in the lee of a wind break. Trees. Brush. Cut banks. Anything that reduces velocity. Such places might not be ideal for finding game, but if they’re reasonably productive, take advantage of them.
  • Get as low as possible with as much contact with the ground as possible. Prone is best, then sitting with your back against a solid object and your gun’s fore-end firmly on a bipod or tripod. Wait for a lull between gusts to shoot. You’ll easily see this through your sights. Bowhunters will have to time the gust perfectly or work from behind the wind shelter of a thicket, bale pile or cut bank.
  • Understand what wind does to projectiles. It blows them and redirects them in the direction it’s moving. A 10 mph wind at a right angle to the projectile’s flight can direct even a hyper-fast (3,300 fps) bullet more than 4 inches off point-of-aim at 200 yards, and more than 9 inches at 300 yards. A 20 mph wind doubles that. Worse, those errant gusts that come and go, or shift slightly left and right, make guesstimating the amount of deflection an exercise in frustration. Best solution? Shoot straight upwind or downwind. Head- and tailwinds barely alter bullet flight. Also, stalk within 200 yards or less—preferably a lot less. At 100 yards, even a 30 mph roar will push bullets only about 3 or 4 inches off line.
  • Live to hunt another day. Yeah, if you have the option, do laundry, chop wood or put in a day at the office when winds howl. Save your precious hunting time for better conditions. However, if you’re already committed to a day’s hunt, brave the wind, hunt like you mean it and overcome.

Many a hunter has seen a tempest blow a buck right into the skinning shed …

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