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Conquering the Wind

September 18, 2012 - Bow & Arrows Wayahsti Perkins

The wall of my tent leaning against my face woke me before the alarm even buzzed. The harsh winds that had actually put me to sleep hours ago now had me up three hours before daylight. I laid there for a few minutes listening to the howls and gusts as they roared across the Montana prairie. Knowing that the local animals would be looking for refuge against the unpleasant conditions, I rolled out of my sleeping bag and got ready for the day to come. After a quick cup of coffee and some oatmeal, I re-secured my tent to the ground. With the way the winds were blowing, I wanted to make sure I did everything in my power to keep my tent from turning into a tumbleweed.

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After situating camp, I set out for the day. It was now 6:30am. With a half-hour till day light, I eventually made my way to the side of one of the higher hills in the area. The plan was to put a good mulie buck to bed then plan a stalk.

Bow setup and the type of arrow you shoot will have a big impact on your overall effectiveness on windy days. The author doesn’t recommend featherweight bows for windy day hunting. Why? Because the heavier the bow, the harder it tends to bounce in a crosswind, allowing you to aim better.

Within the first half-hour of light I had deer in my spotting scope. The next three hours were nonstop action as a parade of deer worked their way into cover, away from the fierce winds. As the show of morning movement died down, I started gathering my things to move to a different glassing spot. I had just taken my scope off of the tripod when a herd of does came trotting out in front of me. Before I knew it, the buck that had these does in a trotting frenzy popped out of a coulee just 100 yards away. It was game time.

I watched the herd till they dropped into the next coulee, then I made my move. Taking off like my life depended on it, I ran around the outside of the draw to try and cut the herd off before they made it out the other side. The plan worked perfectly. Just as I nocked an arrow, I watched the lead doe’s ears come bobbing out of the bottom.

The yardage on my rangefinder read 46 yards. Though the winds were blowing strong as ever, I knew I could make the shot. Just as I settled in, antlers started to appear over the rise. I came to full draw and let out a loud grunt, just as soon as the buck’s vitals cleared the draw. A split second later my Mathews bow thumped, and I watched my arrow smash right through the big deer’s vitals. Within 20 minutes I was sitting beside one of my best bucks to date.

I have the luxury of living in an area where windy days are nothing less than the norm. It’s not uncommon to have winds blowing 20 to 40 mph. With no other choice, I had to learn to shoot under these conditions, especially if I wanted to maximize my abilities on the local game. Though it was a chore in itself, learning to shoot in less-than-ideal scenarios has helped to build confidence in making shots on animals that would’ve otherwise walked had I not practiced in the wind. It can be frustrating, but learning to shoot in the wind can shape you into a more effective archery.

Unless you live in outer space, sooner or later you will have to deal with windy day shooting conditions. Being a realist, I understand that we are at the mercy of Mother Nature. Though the ideal scenario would be a steady breeze in our face while coming to full draw on buck at 20 yards, we must face reality and know that this is a rarity, at least in most western bowhunting country.

With that said, here are some helpful pointers for better shooting in the wind. Of course, practice is the most important factor for becoming a better windy-day shot, but certain insight learned through hours and hours of trail and error shouldn’t be ignored.

Overcoming Sight Movement

Your shooting profile can make a big difference in how well you shoot with the wind blowing. Instead of attempting a standing shot, it’s much better to shoot from your knees, which keeps you more inline with surrounding brush and trees that act as a wind shield. This will improve aiming stability.

The first thing that needs to be discussed here is the element of sight movement. You must understand and accept that your bow will move a bit in the wind, no matter what you do. The key isn’t to control the sight, but to accept the movement and to learn to work with it. Really, this is half the battle of shooting well in the wind.

Instead of trying to hold the sight pin dead on target, try to make small circles on it while executing a good shot. By staying busy with aiming, you’ll be able to cope better with the mental mechanics involved in windy-day shots. Of course, this will take some time getting used to but eventually you’ll begin to get a feel for it and trust it.

Aiming “Off” vs. Aiming “On”
Though it seems like the most logical thing to do, in my opinion, aiming “off target” to compensate for left and right arrow drift should be your last resort. Instead, learn to use your sight level to help compensate for it.

The way to do this is to cant the bow left or right (depending on wind direction) and watch the level, all while keeping the sight dead on the spot you want to hit. I think this method is more accurate because first off, you eliminate taking your sight pin and your eyes off the target itself.

The stronger the wind, the more you’ll have to cant the bow and the bubble one way or the other, but that’s okay. As you practice this method over and over, eventually you’ll know how much to cant and how much to tilt the bubble, based on the speed of the wind, to hit the target effectively.

To speed up the learning curve and to keep the method precise, use a wind meter and begin to note how much bubble tilt is needed for various shot distances and wind speeds. Then study the chart. After awhile, you won’t need your notes. They’ll become etched into your mind, equipping you for effective shooting in the field.

Optimize Your Setup

Western prairie regions hold a lot of game, such as mule deer, antelope and even elk. In such places, the wind blows more than it doesn’t, so you must be ready for what Mother Nature dishes out.

Bow: Let’s discuss the bow first. Featherweight bows may be the trend, since they are easier to pack around the hills, but I’ve found that heavier bows much more accurate when the wind is bucking. It comes down to simple physics. The heavier the bow, the harder it is to move. It’s as simple as that.

For this reason, I try to compromise by shooting a light enough bow that it packs easily yet weighs just enough to stabilize my aiming on windy day shots. I’ve found a fully rigged bow in the 7 to 7 ½ -pound range to be ideal.

Arrows: Again, heavy is better for arrows too. Though I like getting as much speed out of my rig as possible for flatter trajectory, I’ve noticed that light arrows don’t buck the wind as much—meaning that they drift a lot and don’t fly very stable.

Arrows in the 340 to 370-grain range are what I would label as light. My preference is to shoot a 380-grain arrow or heavier, depending on the setup. Really, finding a happy medium between a heavy arrow and an arrow that can keep a good speed is the goal here. Both speed and weight can help cut the wind, meaning it packs enough speed and weight that it will arrive fast yet fly stable.

Easton has just introduced its INJEXION line of arrows to the market, which are based on the same ultra-thin-diameter arrows Olympic archers shoot on 90-meter targets. They have a great grain-per-inch ratio (8.1-500, 8.9-400, 9.9-330), and an ultra-small diameter, which makes them ideal for windy bowhunting days.

However, there are other great arrows on the market, so experiment and see what works best with your broadheads of choice and bow setup.

When to Release
While aiming on target, keep in mind how the gusts are blowing. There’s usually a rhythm with highs and lows. Do your best to squeeze the shot off during the low.

Shooting in between gusts will give you the opportunity to execute a steadier shot. But remember; don’t allow a sense of urgency to creep into this phase. Focus on staying relaxed and making a clean release. Simply aim…aim…aim until the shot breaks. Don’t force it, no matter what the gusts are doing. If you must let down, then do so, and then start the process all over again. You’ll likely just get one good attempt here, so make it count.

Keep a Low Profile

The author bagged this Montana mule deer during an unpleasant windy day. His religious off-season practice paid off.

The more the wind can hit your body, the more it can affect your shot. Shooting from your knees while resting your bum on your heels can actually help to keep you steadier, so do this if you can.

On the same note, removing your quiver from your bow, or at least the arrows, will also help with aiming stability. But be sure to practice shooting with out arrows in the quiver well before attempting this in the field. Some arrow setups, and broadheads, are more finicky than others, and this change could cause some accuracy problems.

Remember, we owe it to the animal to only take shots that we know we are capable of making. That is why it’s so important that we practice as much as possible. If the shot feels wrong, don’t take it. There is always tomorrow, and trust me, waiting is always the right thing to do. There will be times when the wind is simply blowing too strong for a viable, ethical shot, which means you must pass.

But if it feels right, based on lots of practice and hands-on experience, and you feel confident in making the shot, then you should take it. That’s the essence behind practicing for windy shooting days. So you can up your capability and confidence as an effective hunter.

More FOC, More Flight Stability
Adding more weight to the front of your arrow will increase its steering capabilities. As an arrow flies in a crosswind, the wind will force the fletching (or rear of the arrow) to one side, causing it to fishtail. The stronger the wind, the greater the fishtail.

However, if the arrow has a substantial amount of front weight, this weight will help keep the arrow pointing straighter and on target, instead of fishtailing more severely to one side. The greater this front weight, the greater it will steer correctly and the faster it will straighten out (with the help of the fletching) once the crosswind lets up. This steering effect is crucial when using fixed-blade broadheads, because unstable air forces will catch the blades and force them off course. More front weight will help defy these wind forces, keeping the arrow flying more on course.

Ideally, hunting arrows should be equipped with an FOC weight of at least 10 percent, with 12 to 15 percent being ideal for windy shooting conditions. –Joe Bell, Editor

Vanes and Surface Area
More accurate shooting in the wind often comes down to creating an arrow that better bucks the wind. The only way to lessen this effect is to cut down on the arrow’s overall surface area.

There are two ways to do this: shoot a shorter, smaller-diameter arrow, and to shoot shorter, low-profile fletching.

The easiest to address here is the type of fletching you use. Of course, short, low-profile vanes will lessen arrow drift on windy days more than anything. However, smaller fletching is less forgiving, particularly with certain broadhead styles.

For this reason, you must experiment to see how small of fletching you can use and still achieve very acceptable, forgiving arrow flight.

If you find that three compact, 2-inch vanes aren’t quite as forgiving as 3 or 4-inch vanes, you may want to try four, 2-inch vanes. This configuration usually offers just as much fletching drag and arrow control as three 4-inch vanes, but with the same amount of side surface area as three 2-inch vanes. This may give you the best of both worlds. –Joe Bell, Editor

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