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Trapshooting In The Wind by Phil Ross

Shooting in the wind requires the shooter to take several factors into consideration. Speed and direction are just two of them.

y home throughout almost my entire life has been Southern California’s Inland Empire bordering the Mojave Desert, and my home field has been Redlands Shooting Park. Because of that, I have been exposed to a significantly above–average degree of dry and windy conditions during my shooting career. Arid areas in Southern California, particularly those abutting mountains, are very prone to afternoon winds. Sometimes our arid part of California receives winds for an entire day, winds strong enough to blow over semi–trucks and trailers driven too quickly.

Earlier in my career, I traveled throughout the United States and was fortunate to experience shooting under windy, yet “different” conditions due to extreme cold or humidity. We have two different natural parameters to consider when talking about windy conditions: temperature and air density. And I have not even addressed how moving air can affect the flight of the target. Nature provides us with more than one parameter to consider and from which to learn if we want to shoot well in the wind.

The first aspect a shooter must consider when shooting in wind is not only to observe that it is windy but also to understand the direction of the wind. It is helpful to pay attention to indications of the direction of the wind, which can sometimes be subtle. Stand at the fence and observe exactly what the wind is doing out on the field. You must be aware if the wind is a headwind, a tailwind, a left–to–right wind or a right–to–left wind. The very toughest wind to work with is known as a “swirl” or a re–directional wind, where one faces, for example, a headwind, a tailwind, left–to–right or right–to–left wind all within the same hour or less. It is important to understand such a situation can happen while you are shooting an event of 100 targets. Sometimes a re–directional wind can manifest itself while the shooter is on a single post!

There are also differences in approaches and challenges when you shoot in cold winds versus heated winds. Desert winds — generally “heated” winds — do not present the same quality of harshness found in cold winds. The likelihood of becoming physically uncomfortable in cold winds and one’s likelihood of experiencing temperature–induced fatigue is higher in cold than in heat. Cold winds, in contrast to heated winds, can bring more of a “jumpy” quality to the target during the initial time of the target’s flight. I also believe cold weather is more likely to impinge upon the shooter’s ability to react fluidly and quickly, due to encumbrances from cold–weather clothing.

I suggest cold is a much tougher circumstance under which to score than hot weather, even without winds. Targets in a cold–weather situation are usually more challenging than targets in warm weather due to the shooter’s physicality and, I suspect, the target having denser air acting upon it. In very cold situations, if a shooter feels uncomfortably cold, he/she can feel lethargic. All–season motorcyclists are particularly familiar with this phenomenon. Appropriate clothing is important in all outdoor activities for comfort and safety.

Wind Direction

It is imperative that the direction of the wind be in the forefront of your awareness in windy conditions. Let us first consider the headwind.

A headwind will act upon the target to make it climb higher than it would under calm conditions. A headwind changes your hold over the traphouse. Rhythm and timing remain the same, but the gun must be held higher on the house. You are not drifting from best trapshooting practice, but you are trying to break the target with the least amount of gun movement. If you find yourself shooting in a headwind and holding a medium or low gun, your travel to the target will be much greater than necessary.

Windmills

Until the wind reaches 20 to 25 m.p.h. targets aren’t affected too much. But 30–m.p.h. winds and higher can make targets hop considerably.

In a tailwind, the shooter must bring the gun down to the house. Tailwinds impact targets by forcing them downward. Once again, the shooter is attempting to break the target with the least amount of movement. A shooter’s tendency to use a “normal” hold above the house would very likely induce too fast of a move toward the target, a target that is very difficult to catch, and the potential for shooting above the target is greatly increased.

A left–to–right wind on Post One presents the shooter a hard–left target that will go higher. When the shooter moves to Post Five, the hard right becomes a lower and far more diverse driving right. That hard–right target from Post Five takes more of an acute angle and often presents a diving trajectory. In contrast to this increase in sharpness on Post Five, the acute left–angle target on Post One will have its acuteness diminished but will present problems by flying higher in a left–to–right wind.

A wind blowing from right–to–left will present a mirror of the target reactions presented by the left–to–right wind. The acute–left target on Post One will tend to be driven at a more acute angle, and its trajectory will often be diving. On Post Five, a wind blowing from right–to–left will cause the hard–right target to climb and not seek angles as acute as under calm conditions.

One must be aware of these changes, as they are predictable during crosswinds. You must be aware of the direction and degree of wind velocity at all times while on the line. Gun hold on the house from Posts One through Five are determined by the wind and by the “static” setting of the mechanical trap. If we observe and logically surmise targets from a particular post will be higher than usual (e.g., a left angle in a left–to–right crosswind will fly higher than usual), the gun’s hold must be adjusted accordingly. If we observe that a right–to–left wind pushes targets in a right trajectory downward and in a more driving and acute trajectory, we must bring the hold down on the house. Observation and experience are paramount in learning to address wind–driven targets!

Location

We are also well served to address other aspects that are very closely related to shooting in the wind: terrain and relative humidity. There might be a gully, bump or undulation below the target rather than a relatively flat field of consistent topography and temperature.

I do not enjoy shooting on a trap field that has a water feature in proximity to the stand. A water feature will often introduce colder and denser air than the atmosphere of the rest of the range. This denser air will often cause a target to “hop” due to a sudden “shot” of added lift and then to slow and lose altitude a bit more quickly than expected due to a decrease in speed caused by air resistance.

Paying attention to terrain and weather is paramount. Always look for the “predictable yet unfamiliar” characteristics in a target’s flight. The topography below the target will often cause unfamiliar target habits. “Heavier” or humid air will not allow a target to mobilize itself with erratic movements in the wind as easily as in dry air. I have observed that heavier air tends to dampen erratic target movements to an observable degree. I have also observed targets can quickly become almost impossible to hit due to immediate, almost–upon–launch wind effects that occur most often when the air is dry.

Look Twice

I believe there needs to be little or no change in one’s rhythm and timing when shooting in the wind. But I emphatically believe one must develop skills to allow what I call a “second look” when shooting in the wind. This merely means you must know you are best served by looking at the flying target a bit longer than you would under quiet wind conditions.

The necessary skills are developed starting with a quiet eye and disciplined preparation before calling for the target. Taking a second look can be illustrated with a headwind, where one may want to snap–shoot a target as opposed to your typical manner under normal conditions. Under non–windy conditions, you first take a look at the target, subconsciously make an initial move to the target and consciously move to the target and slap the trigger under the guidelines of your most common conditioned timing. In windy conditions, you may have looked at the target in your typical fashion, but the target may have moved another yard or two and made an unexpected move, sometimes a jump or two jumps. If you do not take a good second look at the target prior to shooting, you take away from your timing and trigger control and are likely to “stab” at the target or shoot too reactively for that unusual wind condition.

I wrote an article for Shotgun Sports regarding trigger control (see July 2011). Read that article to see how you can stay within your normal ranges of trigger control even in the wind. Shooting in the wind should not jeopardize your timing. It merely involves taking a second look. After all, that second look is really no more than a really good, slightly longer look at the target flight than on a calm day. On a calm day, that target will fly at the same altitude and angle and with the same movement almost every time, but when you get into wind movement, things will not be as predictable.

Winds do not really affect target movement all that much until you face conditions of 20 to 25–m.p.h. When you start dealing with 30–m.p.h. and higher winds, you will have even more target hop. When targets hop, that target presentation demands a second look to understand and recognize the movement, particularly as we age and our reactions slow or if you cannot shoot as much as you would like to remain sharp and maintain timing.

Success in windshooting relates to the eloquence of the timing of how the shooter looks at a target. In other words, learning how to take a second look is a fundamental of successful windy day shooting.

Terrain can affect target flight paths.

Often varied terrain below the target can affect its flight, especially during wind. Things such as the water feature in front of this bunker can change the target’s flight habits.

Practice

Windshooting can be more difficult if you do not shoot very often in the wind. Most people shoot under conditions that usually present winds of between 5–15 m.p.h. That wind speed will provide little or no change in the trajectory of the target. When wind velocities reach about 25 m.p.h., the target’s flight will begin to reflect changes in trajectories, both in direction and velocity. Targets thrown in winds above 45 m.p.h. present a situation that is not taken seriously by a lot of shooters because they very rarely find themselves shooting under such conditions. In my local experiences in Southern California, this condition can occur more regularly.

Palmdale’s Fin & Feather Club, for example, presents wind conditions that are often above 25 m.p.h. In late fall through early spring, Palmdale can present the added challenge of shooting in cold winds. Even arid areas can present cold weather during approximately half the year. California’s Mojave Desert has produced some fine trapshooters like perennial All–American, ATA Hall of Fame member and California State Hall of Fame member Jimmy Heller. Jimmy is a fine “wind shooter.” He grew up in the high desert near Palmdale and honed a good deal of his considerable shotgunning skills on the range. I attended a Winter Chain Shoot at Palmdale in the early spring of 2010 that was not a large shoot (likely due to the cold and windy conditions), and Jimmy won the Handicap trophy buckle from the 27–yard line with a score of “only” 89. The conditions were horrendous. I believe Jimmy’s score was approximately nine targets higher than second place.

A colleague of mine asked Jimmy about his technique when shooting in the wind. Jimmy very eloquently stated that when shooting in the wind, he takes a little longer to totally isolate the target in his mind’s eye. In other words, he looks at a larger area around the target before he takes total visual focus upon the target. I feel that is Jimmy’s way of describing how he takes a second look. Jimmy is consciously aware of the potential for a target to move from a consistent and predictable flight path in windy conditions. To guard against losing a visual “lock” (we are looking at unpredictable movement, after all), Jimmy visually takes in a larger part of the zone around the target. This technique is disciplined, conditioned, pre–visualized and practiced over many targets and certainly over more than one season of shooting! It is not mastered, or even adequately learned, in one weekend of shooting under windy conditions.

The technique of taking a second look is one that can be stated in more than one manner, but it should be investigated and practiced by any shooter who wants to do well under windy conditions, whether in or outside the competitive environment. Challenging conditions can make you a better shooter. If you have gone out and challenged yourself and determined which venues hold significant differences from calmer venues, you will be increasing your shooting prowess.

Santa Maria, California’s trap range has a fog condition due to its close proximity to the Pacific Ocean (approximately 5 miles to the west of that range), and the wind will often arrive and blow the fog back to the ocean and create its own particular havoc. I have seen winds at Santa Maria anywhere from 20 to 40 m.p.h., depending upon the time of year and larger weather patterns impacting California’s Central Coast. Almost every trap range you will visit will have a significant manner in which the wind will blow and how targets will be affected. My home club, Redlands Shooting Park, has many windy days where the winds come out of the San Bernardino Mountains to the north and produce left–to–right winds. This creates some unusually “odd” target movements not typically seen at that club. We also have had some cold and windy days during competition when it was 35–45 degrees with winds up to 35–40 m.p.h. These conditions are unusual for Redlands, but they can happen.

Think of winds impinging upon the range as a factor giving that range its own “signature” or uniqueness. Learn to pay attention to the situation(s) as they arise, and learn your venues regarding how the wind brings a particular signature. Soon that signature will become familiar to you with experience at that venue.

If a shooter is exposed to “odd” conditions as often as possible and makes a strong effort to observe and become familiar with the situations, that shooter will learn to break a good score under those circumstances. Windshooting is like everything we do in the shooting world; without a significant amount of dedicated exposure to any particular circumstance, one can’t advance. We must understand what a second look really means. We must also understand and internalize that we have time when shooting in the wind, time to shoot after taking a stronger look at the target. Look to some of the great shooters who have mastered the art of shooting in the cold and wind (of course, Dan Bonillas, Daro Handy and Ray Stafford come to mind); they have all paid their dues by shooting in odd/windy situations and learned to prevail under such terrible conditions.

There are many wonderful stories about those who have shot truly amazing scores while shooting under windy, miserable conditions. I have watched strong windshooters many times, and it has been a joy to observe their prowess. I can summarize it this way: Shooting in the wind involves consideration of and familiarity with these nine major areas.

  1. Appropriate dress and eye protection
  2. Understanding how to “read” the wind using indicators of direction and strength
  3. Sensitivity to and awareness of target behavior(s) due to the wind’s influence
  4. Understanding how range topography can influence the target’s behavior
  5. Understanding how humidity and air density may vary the wind’s effects upon targets
  6. Acknowledging you must not let windy conditions change your rhythm and timing
  7. Knowing the need to take that important second look when shooting in the wind
  8. The ability to appropriately adjust gun hold in relation to the traphouse due to wind–driven changes in target altitude
  9. Understanding that reading an article such as this is not enough; you must make a strong effort to seek experience shooting in the wind to fully learn how to do it well.

The aforementioned are empirical, not esoteric. If you follow that advice, I am sure your windshooting prowess can’t help but improve.

Phil Ross has won trap events over the last seven decades. He continues to teach trapshooting and promote the sport with joy and passion. You can find out more about Phil’s trapshooting clinics, as well as his books, CDs and speaking engagements, by calling (909) 307–0385.