By Joe Bell
Archers who hunt out west know that executing shots under windy conditions is more the rule than the exception. I once took a shot at a Wyoming pronghorn in a stiff, 30-mph crosswind. The shot seemed true, yet I missed my target by a full 14 inches! I also remember a follow-up shot on a mule deer at 55 yards when the wind was whipping with intermittent gusts. I had to aim about two feet off-center to send the arrow through the buck’s chest. When the wind blows that hard, a well-gauged aim is critical, but so is your use of specialized tackle to help counter the wind’s forcing your arrow off course.
Unfortunately, being a precise shooter and knowing how to aim in the wind is more art than science, since wind speed is usually unknown and variable. Also, everyone’s setup is a little different, too, when considering arrow diameter and speed, and fletching and broadhead type — so, no handy arrow-drift chart exists for all archers’ setups. With that said, let’s focus on the important factors that do remain in our control.
Start With The Arrow
Diameter and Mass: A lot has been written about the benefits of using a micro-diameter arrow to counter the wind’s effects. By using a shaft with less surface area, a reduction in aerodynamic drag will occur, and the arrow will exhibit less drift and fly more accurately.
Mass weight and arrow velocity are other elements of aerodynamics. A heavier, smaller-diameter arrow improves momentum and reduces the shaft’s deceleration rate. In other words, it won’t slow down as much when compared to a lighter, larger-diameter shaft. This allows for a higher ballistic coefficient and improved downrange punch.
Micro-sized arrows with sufficient mass such as Easton’s FMJ Injexion, Gold Tip’s Kinetic, and Carbon Express’ Maxima Red SD are all top choices for improved shooting in the wind. I prefer shafts that weigh close to 10 grains per inch using a 400-spine shaft. This strikes a nice balance between speed, energy, and aerodynamics.
In addition, “skinny” arrows spin faster in flight (due to the rotational axis of the shaft) when compared to larger-diameter shafts using the same fletching and helical. This premise is based on centrifugal force. As an arrow spins quickly and its fletching builds up air friction, it becomes stable and will no longer wobble. With small-diameter arrows, you can lessen the drag or air resistance caused by larger vanes without jeopardizing arrow stability or control.
For this reason, micro-diameter arrows go well with ultra-compact vanes and less helical, both of which improve speed and aerodynamics.
Broadhead Weight: A shaft’s front of center (FOC) weight also ties in with this accuracy gain. By using a heavier broadhead, you can increase the shaft’s FOC weight and effectively transfer the center mass or balance point of the arrow further toward the tip. This extends the fletching’s leverage effect over the shaft, which accentuates centrifugal force and flight control.
Furthermore, increased FOC weight also pulls or directs the arrow better through the wind. This helps minimize oscillation to the back end of the arrow and improves flight performance. For this same reason, it gives the arrow increased straight-line energy when the broadhead cuts into game — a win-win proposition.
A simple switch from 100-grain to 125-grain broadheads will boost FOC by two to three percent. However, for bowhunters looking to increase point weight by 50 percent or more, brass inserts are the obvious answer and are available from most arrow manufacturers. When using Easton’s 4mm Injexion arrows, I often use two inserts in addition to using a 100-grain broadhead. I prefer 100-grain broadheads for the Deep Six inserts, because there are more broadhead models to choose from. Overall, this allows me to boost point weight to 140 grains, giving the arrow better control in the wind.
With fletching, I prefer the smallest profile that allows for consistent flight properties, whether using a mechanical or ultra-compact, fixed-blade broadhead. Again, this will minimize drag and lessen the effects of arrow drift. I’ve achieved superior results using Arizona Archery’s Pro Max vanes (4.9 grains each) with a profile of 1.7 x .46 inch. I use a four-fletch setup, which produces about the same amount of steering control as three larger Arizona Archery Max Hunter vanes (7 grains each and a profile of 2.1 x .58 inch).
Prep The Bow
Next on the list is the bow. For windy day shooting, fast bows are an advantage because they propel the arrow at a higher velocity. Speed is good, because it cuts down on the time the arrow is subjected to air forces and wind drift. However, I won’t spend too much time on this topic, since the fastest bows don’t automatically qualify as the best bowhunting bows. Why? Some of them can be temperamental to shoot. Bottom line here is to shoot a forgiving yet highly efficient bow to promote solid all-around consistency. Any new compound with an ATA speed rating between 330-340 FPS is an excellent choice.
Perhaps more important are the accessories you place on the bow. For best results, choose quivers, sights, arrow rests, and stabilizers that have the least amount of surface area. This will keep the bow more streamlined and less susceptible to air forces as you aim. A bow quiver is the biggest culprit here. Practice removing the quiver prior to taking a shot. Of course, a quick-detach quiver is needed in this case. If not, try removing all the arrows in the quiver and then shooting. A cluster of arrows and fletching can act as a wind sail, causing severe “bouncing” to occur and ruining your aim. Some bowhunters prefer a back or hip quiver for this reason. Please experiment heavily to find what works best for you for your specific style of hunting.
Wind Speed & Aiming Techniques
Wind speed: In a perfect world, a bowhunter would tape to the bow limb a chart with specific wind speeds and arrow-drift amounts, use a Kestrel Meter to acquire the wind rate prior to the shot, reference the chart accordingly, and then aim “off-center” the predetermined amount to lethally strike his or her target.
The problem is, it takes a significant amount of time to create this wind chart, since it must be created by using your specific bow, arrow velocity, and shaft setup. This could take months, if not years, to acquire.
For this reason, most archers are forced to shoot in the wind by “feel,” and lots of practice in various windy conditions. Also, if the wind is blowing exceedingly hard, say 40 mph with intermittent gusts, you should not take a shot. It’s unethical.
Shooting by feel could also mean using techniques to help you gauge the wind’s angle and speed. Some archers prefer to do this with a piece of yarn or twine attached to the stabilizer. Depending on how taut the string suspends in the air, you can estimate the wind’s speed. Other archers prefer to toss blades of grass at waist level to assess wind speed and angle. Use what works best for you.
Aiming: Besides aiming off-target a significant amount, archers can use a secondary method commonly used by outdoor tournament archers. This is known as “bubbling,” and it’s done by using the bubble level on the sight and canting the top limb a slight amount in the direction of the wind to acquire a “quarter,” “half,” or “full bubble” out of center to compensate for arrow drift and impact. With lots of practice, this method works surprisingly well.
Archers who use this method like the idea of keeping the pin on the target, rather than holding way off-center. However, skeptics of this technique say “bubbling” can disrupt normal shooting form, and it also requires using the same bubble on every bow.
Shooting in the wind is an expert’s game that requires dedicated practice under various types of windy conditions to ensure consistent results. By improving your arrow’s speed and aerodynamics, reducing the bow’s surface-area features, and getting a feel for different arrow-impact patterns in various wind speeds, you can deliver on that important shot and show the wind who’s the real boss.