Should you hold or dial for windage adjustments? Almost always my answer would be hold. Though there are exceptions to that rule. Let’s first talk about what holding for windage adjustments even means. Then we can discuss whether or not it is a good idea. Lastly we can cover situations where it may be better to dial all or part of your windage adjustment.
What does Hold or Dial for Windage mean?
What we are describing here is the choice between physically dialing a windage adjustment in by physically moving the windage turret and using a hold off for wind. Hold offs are another term for Kentucky Windage. The process is fairly simple and most people do it instinctively if they are able to observe a shot and how far they miss the target. Rather than aim dead center of a bulls eye with your sights lets say you noticed that you missed by six inches off to your left. You can then hold off six inches to the right, so the center of the bulls eye is no longer the point of aim, but when you fire the additional round you score a hit.
Essentially you are firing at a point to the side of the target, into the wind, as a way of counter acting the winds effect on your bullet in flight. This is a widely universal concept. If your sights are off on your dad’s old pistol, you are using Kentucky windage to score hits in the same way. We’ve all done this at some point in our lives when shooting. You can use this process to account for misaligned sights, or in our case, the effects of wind. There is also something called a Holdover or Holdunder. That is the same process only it’s being used to counteract the effects of gravity rather than dialing in a correction. We’ll discuss that in a future posting.
Why should your Hold or Dial for Windage?
Here’s the real meat of the topic. If you can just dial in windage corrections, why should you hold off at all? When discussing whether to Hold or Dial for Windage you have to keep in mind the nature of wind. It is frequently changing its speed and direction. If you are at the range shooting and the wind is constantly changing its speed and direction that means you have different amounts of windage adjustment needed for your firing solution all the time. Do you want to be reaching up to your scope every few seconds to change the amount of windage you’ve added to your firing solution?
The faster method, and proper way to do it, is to hold off. This comes with some caveats. In order to do this properly it helps to have a reticle designed for the purpose. I caution you all against buying the sort of duplex and hunting type reticles, or any calibrated reticle for that matter. The problem with a reticle that has points already included for hold offs is that it is designed to be used with a certain cartridge and a certain set of ballistics. For example if you have a scope with hold off points built in chances are this is a calibrated reticle. It’s designed to be used with a certain barrel length and ammunition, typically the most commonly available. A great example are scopes for AR15s. They frequently have calibrated reticles designed for a 16″ AR15 barrel firing 55gr ammunition at a certain velocity.
The problem is that a calibrated reticle can be close, but it’s never going to be perfect unless your gun and ammunition matches what they used to calibrate it. For the handloading/reloading crowd it will be even farther off as the muzzle velocities, powder, and projectiles used are changed around. You could handload something that matches the reticle. However handloaded ammunition is typically loaded for performance and not to match up with other gear. Try to purchase a scope that is designed with a graduated reticle that is based in MOA or MIL adjustments. You can then run a ballistic computation and find out exactly how ANY ammunition matches up with those reticles.
Wind’s Effect on Whether to Hold or Dial for Windage
The best scenario I can give you for why holding for windage is more beneficial involves a head or tail wind. Since the angle of the wind is coming from the front or rear of the shooting position it need only vary a few degrees for a huge change in your windage. Say the wind is blowing from in front of the shooter and from left to the right. You would have to hold slightly left to get hits on target. If the wind shifts only slightly, a few degrees, it can be blowing from right to left. I’ve actually fired at a target and hit using a hold to one side of the target, seen the mirage shift as I prepare to fire again, and had to shoot holding by the same amount in the opposite direction for a follow up hit.
That may be the most drastic reason to hold for windage. Severe angle changes. Speed is also important. If you have figured out that you need a half MIL hold left into the wind at a certain distance, what do you do if the wind starts gusting? The same hold isn’t going to work. You need to add additional windage for a hit. Again this is why holding for windage is important. If you dial the adjustments in you constantly have to reach up and change that knob. If you are in a habit of using the graduations in your reticle to add and adjust your windage you can easily slide left or right with the reticle to adjust the amount of windage you have built into your firing solution.
Exceptions to the Rule on Whether to Hold or Dial for Windage
There are some exceptions to the rule when discussing Whether to Hold or Dial for Windage. When discussing the Fundamentals of Marksmanship we talked about the importance of Natural Point of Aim. If your hold off grows to the point where you are more than 1/3rd to 1/2 of your field of view off target through the scope you will start compromising your natural point of aim. So if you find yourself firing either on a particularly blustery day where your hold offs are large it may make sense to dial part or all of the windage onto the scope and then make find adjustments with the reticle.
Another situation that might force you to choose differently when thinking about whether to Hold or Dial for Windage is ELR shooting. Extreme Long Range shooting frequently has shooters firing at targets from 1000 yards out beyond a mile. While the wind may be fairly calm the extended flight time of the bullet allows the wind more time to work on it. As a result it will require larger holds for any wind present. This is another scenario where dialing all or part of the windage adjustment needed for the target can be beneficial.
My suggestion is that you dial 2/3rds to 3/4ths of the windage you think you need for those situations. Lets say you were shooting at 1000 yards and the wind was steady and your ballistic solution said you needed 3 MILs of windage to hit the target at that range with your current wind conditions. 3 MILs is a lot of windage and we don’t want to sacrifice our Natural Point of Aim. I would recommend you dial 2 MILs onto the scope, and hold the last MIL in the reticle. You probably don’t want to dial the entire windage solution onto the scope in case the wind drops in speed below the average. Then you would have to dial again. By dialing most, but not all, of what you need you allow yourself to keep the target closer to the center of your field of view while still having the ability to use holds for fine adjustments.
For most situations the flexibility of being able to use hold offs for windage adjustments will be the way you want to go. Get in a habit of noting obvious speed or angle changes that the wind makes. When you note a change use the reticle to favor a little more to either side to account for the additional speed or the angle change that the wind made. If you start needing really large amounts of windage due to crazy winds or crazy distances, try dialing on 2/3rds to 3/4ths of the windage you think you need and hold the rest off in the reticle. Try it out and see what you think!