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Windy Day Clays by Mike McAlpine

The best attitude a shooter can assume when the wind gets to moving birds around is not to become afraid of shooting in the wind. The wind can at times be your ally, and when you realize there are things you can do to adjust your game, you can come out ahead of the pack.

was thinking about a subject for a new article for this publication a while back. I had cut my ideas down to two subjects I thought might interest our readers, but I was having a hard time deciding which one I wanted to write about. As happens to me many times in my writing, my decision was made for me by a simple post on one of the internet forums about shooting clays on windy days. This being one of the two topics I had selected, I had my subject.

I have been a clay target shooter for over 42 years and have shot my share of windy targets. Being a clay target instructor and a target setter for 28 years, and also being a very experienced shooter has given me wide insight on how to handle targets when the wind blows. For a target setter, wind is normally a big pain in the backside. I can’t count the times that what I thought was going to be a great course was destroyed by a major wind shift. With that said, a high wind that stays from the same direction can make setting targets even better. Being able to use the wind to create new and different presentations is really fun. Sometimes my shooters don’t agree simply because they are afraid of the wind. In the text below I hope to change the minds of these people. Even if there is a 180–degree wind shift, there are things a shooter can do to gain an advantage over those people who worry about a big blow.

In the early days of my shooting career I was a trapshooter. There was no sporting clays in those days, and since I liked to hunt upland game like quail and pheasants, I took up trap. This game let me practice on going–away and quartering shots like these birds present when flushed. Early on, I found that, while my scores were not as high as those on calm days, I won my class most of the time I shot in a strong wind. I was quick to realize the wind could be my ally on these days simply because I wasn’t afraid of it. I am from the edge of West Texas adjacent to both the Great Plains and the Chihuahuan Desert, where wind is the norm many months of the year.

wind gust

I learned a valuable lesson early on in my trapshooting days. Sometimes shooting the target faster before the wind has had time to affect it is the best way to ensure a better score than waiting on the target to settle down.

The first thing I would suggest when faced with a strong wind is just don’t be afraid of it. I know with presentations thrown with an outgoing wind, many of the targets get farther out than the setter had meant for them to be. How do we handle this type of target? There are several thoughts and solutions here. I remember at a Texas state trapshoot in the early 1980s where we had a very strong wind from our backs. The wind was pushing the targets a lot farther out, and it was also pushing the targets down. They were really fast, too.

There was a famous trapshooter by the name of Ray Stafford who attended that shoot. Ray was the best of the best, so I decided to watch him shoot the Singles event. Ray was gifted with great reflexes and speed. He opened his choke to Cylinder and proceeded to break a 200–straight while most of the other big guns struggled with their targets. He simply shot the targets so fast the wind didn’t have time to affect them. This was a lesson I never forgot and have used Ray’s method many times in both trap and sporting. Depending on the presentation, shooting a little faster might be the ticket for a higher score for you.

I decided to again watch Ray when he shot Doubles. Once again he approached the targets with the same aggressiveness as he did the Singles. The only difference was this time he changed the top barrel to a Modified and allowed for the drop in the second bird, and another winning score was the result. Trap Doubles, like Skeet Doubles, are always the same. Since the strong wind was pushing them out and down, he simply set up to break the second bird in a different spot than he would have if the wind had not been blowing. I don’t know about you, but I think this is a great approach for many sporting presentations affected by an outgoing wind. All you have to do is change your breakpoint and hold point to allow for the target drop.

Well, that is all good on outgoing targets with an outgoing wind, but what do we do when we have crossing targets with this same wind? In some cases shooting the target faster is the way to go again, but there are times when the target gets blown out too fast to make a good move to it. Here is where learning to shoot targets with distance comes in handy. Remember, the target, while crossing, is also moving out. When shooting a presentation like this, depending on the distance of the target at your chosen breakpoint and the speed the target is crossing, you should try an estimated lead. Don’t be afraid to put too much lead on this target, but if you have the line and are still missing, you might want to cut back on your lead a little. Many times the wind will put the brakes on a target’s speed.

Let’s now consider a target thrown into the wind. Depending on the strength of the wind, this target can do a lot of things. If the wind is not too fierce and the target continues in a good distance, the target will finally reach a point where it actually starts moving backwards. While this target will look like it is falling, it is also going backwards. Most people will shoot this presentation like a true dropper, thus applying too much lead under the target. This target is really sort of an optical illusion because it makes the shooter think it is only dropping. Try shooting this target right after it starts backwards and shoot only slightly under it. I would bet you put more Xs on your scorecard.

The other scenario you might have with a target thrown into the wind (a strong wind) is the target will continue going up for a long time — something like a teal. In fact, I have heard the term “incoming teal” used to describe a presentation like this. I would just shoot this target with your teal technique, but remember if the target is close enough, shooting after it starts backwards might be better. This target will have a definite line then. It has already reached the apex and now is going back and slightly down. If the target doesn’t come in much, you will need to shoot quicker while it is still going up. Remember, the wind is adding speed to the target, so you may have to give it a little more over the top depending on your breakpoint.

incoming wind

A target fighting an incoming wind can look as if it’s only coming in and dropping, but it can get to a point in its flight where it actually starts to move backwards away from the shooter.

Another presentation is a crossing true pair going the opposite direction with a crosswind in front of the stand. In this case, one target is diving very fast and the other is rising up. The rising target, or the one thrown into the wind, will slow down dramatically. You, of course, will have to shoot the diving target first. If the wind is not too strong, you will be able to have a better setup and move on both targets. I would suggest using the Intercept Method on the diving target. The rising target shouldn’t give you as much trouble if you pay good attention to the target line. This target will almost stop as the wind takes over from the impetus of the spring. I would suggest you shoot it before it starts backwards and falls. I doubt there would be much lead, if any, on this target. You have to be careful because the change in direction will occur very fast. Targets like this will fool a lot of shooters.

A gusty wind is the hardest wind to shoot in. Because of the variation of wind gusts, you may be faced with targets that continually have a change in the line. The line may change up or down or in and out. The best advice I can offer you in this situation is to again use the Intercept Method for achieving lead. This method will let you find the target line at your chosen breakpoint. The secret with this technique is to be faithful to your breakpoint and don’t hesitate pulling the trigger. In other words, shoot the target where you already planned to shoot it. You will know immediately if your breakpoint is wrong. The advantage with the Intercept Method is, if the wind does gust as you are about to shoot, you will be able to adapt to it and move up or down in adjusting to the line. When shooting Intercept, you always come from the bottom of the target. Watch other shooters as they shoot the presentation and pick out the lowest point the target will be when the wind is gusting. Right below this point will be the line where you will start your muzzle. How far back your hold point is will be decided by how fast you are going to shoot the target. Again, a gusty wind is by far the hardest wind to shoot in, but with a little common sense and the Intercept Method, you should break more targets than if using other methods for achieving lead.

An incoming wind is normally the easiest wind to shoot in. The targets will be dropping a little sooner with this type of wind, but they will also fly closer in. All you have to do in this type of wind is simply let the target develop. This is good advice I received many years ago from my All–American friend, Curtis Anderson. I believe this is one of the most important things I ever learned.

I hope now you will not be so afraid of a strong wind. Remember, the wind can be your ally if you learn to shoot in it. Practice on windy days and give yourself an advantage over those people who miss a lot of targets when the wind is blowing. You might realize shooting in the wind can be fun and more successful.

Mike McAlpine is the owner of Clay Target Academy and Claybird Specialties. His three–day Target Reading & Presentation Seminar (TRAPS) teaches shooters of all levels how to read targets and their lines, as well as how to break any presentation. Mike was NSCA Chief Instructor for seven years and is a member of the Texas Sporting Clays Hall of Fame. He is recognized nationally as a premier targetsetter and course designer and has set targets and taught in three countries and 40 states. Claybird Specialties builds equipment for clubs and ranges. You can reach Mike at (325) 656–6319 or visit www.claytarget.us.