Wind speed can be calculated in the field with a simple test: 3-5 mph is felt lightly on your face; 5-8 mph keeps tree leaves moving; 8-12 mph raises dust and loose paper; 12-15 mph causes small trees to sway. Anything less than 3 mph can hardly be felt, but it’ll still produce a mirage, the heat waves or light reflections of light through air layers of different densities and temperatures. That mirage is important to read correctly, because it’s used to estimate the “dope” you apply to your sights or the “hold-off” you apply (see below).
Wind direction is noted based on the clock system, so shooters and spotters can communicate the hold-offs needed at long range. A 6 o’clock or 12 o’clock wind is blowing with or directly into the line of flight of the bullet; it has no value because it does not affect trajectory. A 1, 2, 4, 5, 7, 8, 10 and 11 o’clock wind has half-value; it minimally affects trajectory. But a 3 o’clock or 9 o’clock wind has full value, because it’s blowing directly across the bullet’s line of flight.
To compensate for a full-value wind, Dog taught us another formula: The product of wind velocity multiplied by the range (in hundreds of yards), divided by a constant, equals the MOA correction needed for that wind. (The constants are simple, but they must be memorized: for ranges from 100-500 yards it’s 15.) As an example, suppose you’re shooting at 300 yards with a 10 mph wind blowing from 9 o’clock: Your formula is: 10 x 300/15. The answer is 200. But that number by itself means nothing; to convert it to something you can use, move the decimal point two spots to the left, for a final answer of 2.0 MOA. So while shooting at 300 yards in a 10 mph 9 o’clock wind, you’d adjust windage 2 MOA left (or hold 2 MOA to the left) to compensate for the effects of the gales blowing your bullet to the right as it travels downrange. (I should note that this formula works for me and the load I shot at SAAM, which was a .308 Win. 168-grain Barnes Tipped Triple-Shock X. If you shoot something much lighter or heavier, say, a .223 Rem. or .375 H&H Mag., your formula might vary considerably.)
Still one more consideration is involved when shooting at any range beyond roughly 100 yards (or the range at which you’ve zeroed): the distance to the target. Range estimation is viewed somewhat as an art form. Indeed, I’ve seen some guides do it quite accurately, the product, no doubt, of living in the field for hundreds of days a year. And at times I’ve done it successfully. But if you’re like me and you spend most of your year looking at manmade objects in suburbia, it’s best to use a laser rangefinder—shooting at game should not be guesswork.
At SAAM, I used my new favorite setup, a rifle/scope combo I like to call “peas and carrots,” as in, “That rig and I go together like peas and carrots.” It’s a Kimber Longmaster Classic chambered in .308 Win., and it’s topped with a Leupold Mark 4 2.5X-8X-36mm MR/T M1 scope. The optic sports a nice combination of tactical and hunting features: a 30mm maintube for 90 MOA of adjustment range; Leupold’s Tactical Milling Reticle (TMR), which expands on the mil-dot system with various sized and spaced hash marks on each vertical and horizontal stadia; and finger-adjustable turrets for quick adjustments in the field.
Once I zeroed at 100 yards, I needed only to learn the distance to the target to know precisely how much to come up on my elevation adjustment—a 250-yard shot required 2.75 MOA; a 400-yard shot required 6.75 MOA. Remember, we spoke only in minutes of angle, because clicks, as most riflemen think, are really worthless. Think about it, why go through the formula described above for doping the wind, only to use another formula to convert those 2 MOA into eight clicks? Once you have the MOA adjustment, make it, counting your clicks as you go.
It all sounds simple, right? It is, academically. In the classroom we readily multiplied and divided any combination of range/wind speed Dog cooked up. On the range, under pressure, it was another matter.
And that, of course, is what you pay for at SAAM. Anyone can read about the basic field-shooting positions, about the principles of marksmanship, come-ups, doping the wind and more. But applying it successfully requires trigger time.
I grew to love trigger time. I’ve shot all my life. Indeed I learned marksmanship formally when I joined the Marine Corps. But since then I’ve rarely had the opportunity to shoot beyond 200 yards.
The majority of targets on all the ranges were steel plates 7 inches or 12 inches in diameter. Hitting them made them swing, and depending on the wind sometimes a clang drifted back to the firing line, which produced smiles. But inducing those smiles required concentration.
“Okay, Scott, set up on the large plate at 300 yards,” said Dog at one range. “Let’s see what our wind looks like; it’s full-value, roughly 10 mph; give me a full-value hold to the right.”
I adjusted the elevation on the Leupold 3 MOA, held at 3 o’clock on the orange plate and squeezed … clang!
Oh yes, it can be that easy. But if your emotions get the better of you things will get dicey. It’s easy to lie there, check the range, do the math, make the proper come-up in elevation and peer through the scope, waiting for a hold-off command from your spotter. But you must also remember the principles of marksmanship. You must breathe, relax, squeeze the trigger and continue to concentrate on the reticle when the rifle fires.
A subsequent shot on the little plate at 300 yards produced a miss. “Where’d that go?” Dog asked.
“Did you call your shot?” he asked.
“Um, obviously not,” I replied sheepishly.
Obviously, you must call your shot, too. You must concentrate solely on the reticle as you squeeze the trigger. As the rifle fires, do not peer through the scope at the target expecting to see the bullet’s impact. With proper focus, you will know where the reticle last resided when the round fired, which should give you a reasonable expectation of where the bullet impacts the target.
“Okay,” said Dog, “try it again, and this time call your shot.”
Of course that wasn’t the only admonishment I heard in my time in Texas. There were others, to be sure. But that was one of the most important. I’m sure now that one of the chief factors in some of my recent misses on game had to be the complacency that led me to focus on the target rather than the reticle. I’d fallen prey to easy pickings; I’d had so many good stalks, so many good shots at game that I’d regressed. Like a nimrod, I pointed the rifle at my quarry, squeezed, followed through and expected the game to fall. Many times it did. But when it didn’t I couldn’t explain why. All the range time at SAAM solved the dilemma.
Now, lest you think SAAM is all about long-range shooting, trust me when I say it’s not. But shooting at long range is the best way to find your sweet spot—the maximum effective range of you and your equipment.
It’s safe to say that rifles sold today can shoot better than those of us who buy them. It’s probably why the first question every elk guide asks his client is, “How far are you comfortable shooting?” It’s a simple question, because most elk guides have seen some horrendous displays of marksmanship. But your answer is simple only if you’ve developed the attitude and skills necessary to limit yourself to your maximum effective range. There’s no shame in saying it’s 200 yards. And it’s not bragging to say you’re comfortable shooting at game at 400 yards, if you can do it accurately every time.
That last bit is what interests Fallon and his crew. Have you practiced shooting from field positions enough to be comfortable adopting one when the chips are on the line? Can you quickly and accurately range the distance, and judge the direction and speed of the wind? And can you accurately put your bullet in the vital zone of your quarry the first time, every time?