You may have heard of a fish tailing wind, but what does that mean? It means you’ve got a challenging day of shooting ahead of you! Fish tailing winds refer to head or tailwinds, that will blow across the shooting position from directly in front of or directly behind the shooter. Now if you have read our series of articles on How To Read the Wind – The Ultimate Guide, these terms should be familiar. You should also be thinking, no big deal, we’re talking about zero value winds, right? This is where the term ‘fish tailing’ starts to take on it’s meaning. The problem with this particular type of wind is that it doesn’t act like a real headwind or tailwind. It varies a little, but the effect is significant!
Fish Tailing Wind
The reason these winds tend to be such a bitch has less to do with the amount they vary, and more to do with the angle. While a wind that varies +/- a few degrees at a full value, 90 degree angle, isn’t such a big deal, a fish tailing wind is very challenging. A few degrees of variation, especially near the maximum amount of wind value, isn’t a big deal. The net change is not huge or all that significant. However, if you take that same variance and apply it to a headwind or tailwind, it becomes an issue. Say you’ve doped the wind and you’re holding a quarter MIL off to the left of your target. You fire and make a hit. Awesome!
The problem is, if you’re dealing with a fish tailing wind. It can change the angle, and reverse the wind hold. You can literally fire a round holding a quarter MIL left and hit the target, only to have to fire a quarter MIL right on the next shot to make an additional hit. It tends to be very tricky to get a handle on because a few degrees change on a fish tailing wind feels almost the same on your face and to your ears. It only has to alter the angle a few degrees back across the no value point to completely reverse your hold. So how the hell do you deal with this?
Fish Tailing Wind Tips
Mirage is your salvation! If you watch the Mirage closely you can see which direction the wind is moving across your field of fire. If you’ve gained some experience reading mirage you can even ascertain the speed of the wind, in a full value number, by reading the angle of the mirage waves. If the direction is going to change, you will see what I call a shimmer. The mirage waves will start to shake back and forth like the wind is having some sort of seizure for a few seconds as the wind angle changes. If you watch closely, it may move back in the direction it was previously moving, but typically you see this as the wind is reversing direction.
You may have heard, “experienced shooters don’t shoot in a boil,” as a phrase tossed around in long distance shooting circles. I know what they’re trying to impress upon you, but the word choice is misleading. A boil generally refers to mirage that is rising straight up. Like water boiling vertically. This means you have either no wind, or it’s blowing at a no value angle. You can shoot in a boil. There’s nothing magical about it. It’s easy, it’s a zero value wind. However, you do NOT want to shoot through a shimmer. The shimmer indicates a change in wind angle is under way. You risk firing before the wind settles into it’s new direction and blowing the shot. They’re trying to warn you of shooting into a fish tailing wind while an angle change is in progress!
How To Learn To Deal With It?
The best way is with your spotting scope. There are a number of reasons I say that. The biggest reason is in the one thing that make mirage more noticeable: Magnification! You may have read that if you have a day with bad mirage, reducing the power of your magnification can help compensate for mirage. That’s true, and here’s why: the reason you see mirage better with high magnification is because you are blowing up the size of the image, and the mirage waves. You’re literally making the mirage bigger in your sight picture. So while backing off magnification on your scope can help clear up the image a bit so you can make a shot, increasing magnification will make mirage more prominent.
Obviously, spotting scopes have higher magnification power and range than rifle scopes. So logically, a spotting scope helps you see mirage much better than the rifle scope. I’m not saying you can’t see it with a rifle scope. In fact, you should be looking for it if shooting into low value or no value winds in case you are dealing with a fish tailing wind. However, when you’re just out to look at mirage and see how it appears and behaves when the angle changes, a spotting scope makes things easier. You might take a look at our article on how Spotting Scopes Make Better Shooters, if you haven’t already!
Another reason a spotting scope makes this easier is you can practice it on your front porch, and you won’t alarm the neighbors or have the Police called to your address! You might not have a fish tailing wind coming directly at your front porch. However, all you need to do, is turn the scope and your body so you’re facing into the wind! If the mirage is boiling straight up, you’re either at or close to the no value wind angle. Now just try watching the mirage for a few minutes. If the wind picks up speed it will change the angle of the mirage waves. If it changes the angle, that will also change the mirage wave angle, and you’ll see the shimmer before the wind direction reverses itself!
I can talk about fish tailing wind and describe it all day but until you can look at it with your own eyes it isn’t really going to make as much sense. As always we’re available for questions and comments. So if you have questions, ask them! That’s what this site is all about, spreading information and helping people advance their skillsets. If you don’t have a spotting scope, but don’t want to alarm the neighbors, you can always dial the magnification on your rifle scope all the way up and pull it off the rifle. You’ll have to rezero when you go to the range, but it should still be close, and you won’t get the Cops called on you!