Every time you fire your rifle, there will be outside factors affecting round placement. Even if you have your trigger squeeze, breath control, and position mastered, there will be things you can’t control—the wind, for example. However, for everything you can’t control, there’s a way to counteract its effect. But, before you get there, let’s talk about MOA. Something you can definitely control—if you know what it is.
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We’ve used the term Minute of Angle, or MOA a lot on our site. You’ve seen it, under our Hitman Target and Steiner Precision Target pages. But what is it? If you’ve spent any time in a long-range or sniper-firing course, you may already be familiar with MOA. If you don’t know what that is, then you might not be getting the most out of your Hitman or Steiner Precision targets. That’s okay, we’re here to help.
An MOA, broken down, looks like this. The minute refers to inches, and your angle refers to yards. If you are 100 yards away from your target, 1”=1MOA. If you’re 200 yards away from your target, then 2”=1 MOA. If you’re 300 yards away, then 3”=1 MOA. This, of course, would go on, 4’”—400 yards—1 MOA, etc.
That, unfortunately, probably hasn’t cleared anything up for you, except now you know what minute and angle translate to. Remember, minute equals inches and angel equals yards, and the further away you are, the more coverage, or the bigger your angle is.
Let’s try to make this more visual for you. If you’re looking at a target—maybe you should literally do that—your goal is to hit the bullseye—at least that’s what we hope. If you’re looking at a standard target, with rings, your M for a minute would be 1” from the bullseye. If you hit two inches away from your bullseye and you’re 100 yards away, that’s 2 MOA. If you’re 200 yards away and hit 4” below the target, you are still at 2 MOA, since 1MOA=2″ at 200 yards. But you say, I don’t want to be at 2 MOA, I want to hit the bullseye, which means you need to adjust your sights.
To adjust your sights for MOA, how you do it will depend on what you’re working with. For this example, we’ll talk about clicks. Back to our example of hitting the target 2” too low—or 2” away from the bullseye. To hit your target, you’ll want to make clicks. If your rifle sights have1/4 clicks, that will equal 1/4”. This means, to move 2”, you’ll need to click 8 times. If you wanted to move 4”, that’s 16 times. Just remember, it’s 4 clicks per inch. Of course, if you have a rifle with 1/2 or 1/8 clicks, that will change the number of clicks you need to make to reach 1” or 1 MOA.
If you’re working with a red dot optic by chance, you may see something like a 4 MOA, this means the red dot, from 100 yards covers 4”. If you’re 200 yards away, your dot covers 8”. Again, the further away you are, the bigger your angle.
Now, was that so bad? Okay, maybe. If you’re bad at math or anything like me you’ll have to read the same paragraph 17 times to figure out how to adjust for MOA before you get it down, it may take a couple more reads. Or, if you’re a mathematician, unlike me, we can work some really complicated math problems—we’re kidding, it’s actually elementary.
The formula is as follows:
That’s it! Okay, maybe you don’t have to be a math genius to solve that math equation. So, let’s put it into practice. You’re 600 yards away from your target, divide 600 yards by 100. Did you come up with 6? If not, you should probably refer yourself back to elementary school. If you, however, got 6, that means 1 MOA is 6” at 600 yards.
Need another example? Find the MOA for 500 yards.
1 MOA at 500 yards = 5”
Now, you may still be confused as to what the inch is about when you’re looking down the barrel or scope of your rifle. We’ll use our 600-yard example to help you further understand the point of all the MOA talk.
From the extensive math we did earlier, we found out that 1 MOA at 600 yards=6”. Now we can determine how to make adjustments if we aren’t quite on target, based on those 6”.
Say you need to move your bullet up 18”. To find out how many MOAs you need to make this adjustment, you will divide 18” by the inches according to what yard you’re at—okay, that just got a little confusing. Here’s the math:
18”/1 MOA or 18”/6” *since 6”=1 MOA at 600 yards*
You’ll need to adjust your MOA by 3. If you are working with a rifle in increments of 1/4 clicks, you will need to make 4 clicks per inch, which in this case means 12 clicks.
Still confused, let’s do another example.
You’re sitting at 300 yards
At 300 yards, 1 MOA=3”
You don’t hit the bullseye and need to adjust by 12”
12”/1 MOA or 12”/3”=4
This means you’ll need to adjust your MOA by 4. If you’re working with a rifle in increments of 1/4 clicks, you’ll need to make 4 clicks per inch, which in this case means 16 clicks.
See, it isn’t so bad.
How to relax muscles
Now that we got that out of the way let’s look at some other things you can do to help get your bullet on target, specifically things you can control.
How you breathe, how you position your body, the way you pull the trigger. They all can alter where your bullet lands, and drastically. We’ll start with something very basic, relaxation.
When you’re shooting, the key is to be relaxed. What happens if you’re not relaxed? Well, you’re just the opposite, you’re tense. This tension affects your body, and you end up causing yourself to tremble. Think of it this way. Pick up any object. Now squeeze it really hard—as hard as you can. What’s happening? Your muscles are becoming tense, and you’re trembling. This same thing will happen to your body when shooting if you aren’t relaxed. If you’re too tense, you’ll start to tremble, and you may completely miss the target. So, do us a favor, relax your muscles, stop straining so much and then shoot. However, don’t be a dead fish—that’s too relaxed—because if you don’t have enough control over your muscles, that can cause just as many problems.
Breath control is important. Next, to physically holding the weapon, breath control may be the next most crucial thing. Simply put, when and how you breath will affect where your bullet lands. For this example, we will address breathing in the prone position.
If you’re shooting prone, when you breathe, your chest rises, it falls, and it will move the rifle you’re holding—if you don’t believe us, feel free to drop everything you’re doing, lay in the middle of the floor and test it out, you’ll look dumb but do it anyway, then send us a photo/video, so we can all have a good laugh at your disbelief—for the rest of you, know, this can cause you to miss the target because your rifle is moving verticle and the round will go where you’re pointing the barrel.
So, how do we counteract our breathing issues? It’s not like you can stop breathing—well, you could, but we don’t advise that. Your first step, keep breathing. Yes, you read that right. Keep breathing while you’re working on getting your sight alignment. However, when you’re about to fire, hold your breath. This shouldn’t be a big deal, you won’t be holding your breath very long. In fact, you’ll be holding it during your natural pause, so it’s not much of a hold, I suppose.
Let’s look at that in a step by step process—for those of you not used to breathing
- Inhale (normally)
- Exhale (normally)
- Stop for a moment at your natural respiratory pause
If during this, you don’t have the correct sight picture, you’re wrong—well, your body is wrong and you need to change your position.
While we’re on breath control, let’s talk about your respiratory cycle. Your respiratory cycle is your natural cycle of breath. You breathe in, you breathe out, and then you do it all over again. It’s not complicated, and you do it every day without thinking. Yet, for some reason, when you’re behind your rifle, breathing is a huge part of your focus. And since it’s such a big deal, we’re going to talk about what that natural cycle looks like and how it can affect your shot placement.
Your respiratory cycle tends to last between 4 and 5 seconds. In this time, you will inhale and exhale, which takes approximately two seconds. But, what happened to those other 2 to 3 seconds. Well, those 2 to 3 seconds are where you have your natural respiratory pause—where you’ll actually pull the trigger—this pause could be drawn out for 12 to 15 seconds. Keep in mind; this shouldn’t require a lot of effort or discomfort. For shooting, the safest amount of time to pause is between 8 and 10 seconds.
If, for some reason, you can’t get the shot out in those 8 to 10 seconds, you need to start your respiratory cycle over again. Remember, shoot between breaths, not during.
Another controllable factor of getting your round downrange and on target is your trigger squeeze. Most people know slow and steady wins the race. Well, slow and steady also get the bullet on target. It’s not enough to simply have control of your breath, you also need control of your finger. You don’t want to find yourself slapping or jerking the trigger. If you do this, your bullet will go too far left or right—depending on what side you’re shooting from. Instead, apply steady and smooth pressure until the round fires. When you hear what people often call the audible click, you slowly release the trigger. Follow-through on your shot and your round is more likely to hit the target, assuming you’re doing everything else right.
You can practice any of these techniques on a number of our targets found here.
Wind Speed and Direction
Okay, we aren’t God—though some of us may think otherwise—and that means we can’t control the wind. In fact, you can’t control any element of the weather—unless you’re the sole contributor to global warming, that’s most definitely your fault. Of course, despite not being able to control the wind, we can set ourselves up for success by at least understanding it. And the first thing you need to be able to do is to determine the winds’ direction and then its speed.
You can estimate the direction of the wind pretty easily, and unless you’re blind, this shouldn’t be an issue, just look around you. Your environment should give you several clues as to where the wind is coming from and where it’s headed. You don’t even necessarily need the ability to see to find out where the winds coming from. Lick your finger and stick it in the air—it works for the weatherman, about 5% of the time.
Feeling the wind blow is a great natural way to determine wind direction. Of course, if you’re bundled up and can’t feel anything, you’ll be forced to look at your environment. In this case, a wind flag is a great tool, if shooting on a range. Just look up, if it’s flying east, then the wind is moving east, if it’s moving west, so is the wind, etc. Hopefully, that’s not too complicated for you.
Unlike a wind flag, chances are wherever you’re shooting at there will be some type of grass, sand, dirt, or leaves available for you to pick up. Just pick a handful and toss it in the air, wherever it flies off to is the direction of the wind. So, again, if you see it flying toward the east, the wind is moving east, etc.
There are several ways to determine the direction of the wind through observation of your natural environment. The upside of using these observational techniques is, it won’t cost you any money.
The downside to some of the techniques, however, such as a wind flag, is it won’t tell you wind speed. There are, however, techniques you can use to determine both because understanding the winds’ direction and its speed will dictate what steps you need to take to get your round on target.
Grass/Small Trees/Tree Branches
Unlike the grass technique previously stated, you’re not going to pick it. If you see grass swaying, the wind is moving about 5 mph—this is only the case if the trees and branches around you aren’t swaying as well. If small trees are swaying along with the grass, the wind is moving at about 10 mph. But, if you see a larger tree’s swaying, the wind is moving at approximately 20 mph. Of course, this is not an exact wind speed, but it can give you a rough estimate without having to go out and buy a fancy anemometer; actually, they’re not really that fancy. You can get them for under $20.
If you don’t know what a mirage is, it’s that wavy looking air coming off the parking lot on a hot day. Some mirages can be seen with the naked eye, others only through a spotting scope. Now without getting super technical, general rules of mirages are:
If the mirage moves left to right or vice versa, then the wind is moving 8-12 mph if the mirage is moving straight up and down, then there’s no wind, if the mirage is moving at 30º, then the wind is moving 1-3 mph and 4-7 mph at 60º. An important note to make here is mirages can’t determine wind speed beyond 12 mph.
If you’ve learned anything here, remember, you don’t need to invest in high dollar scopes to determine wind speed and direction, use your natural observational techniques. You too, can start “controlling” the weather or at least compensating for the wind.
In line with determining wind direction is the clock system. The clock system assigns value to the wind depending on what direction the wind is blowing. For instance, if the wind is blowing into your face or back, it won’t deflect your bullet any. Therefore the wind has no value. If the wind is blowing right to left or left to right, then the wind has full value, and your bullet will defect lower or higher. The wind coming at an angle, from 1, 5, 7, or 11 o’clock gives your wind half value, and your bullet will be deflected half as much as full value wind. Knowing this can help you determine the best location to shoot from and give you your best shot at getting your round on target.
Effects of Temperature
I believe we’ve covered wind pretty thoroughly, so now let’s move to other natural effects on round placement. Believe it or not, even the temperature you’re shooting in can affect your round and where it will land—if at all—on the target.
To keep things simple, the colder it is, the more your bullet will drop. If we’re talking about hunting, for the most part, the distance combined with the temperature will not affect your bullet placement enough to cause concern. But if you’re talking about shooting from 900 yards away in the middle of the winter, in a low elevation, it might be something you want to consider. Why? Because the further a round has to travel, the longer it has for the elements to affect it.
If it’s really cold, then the air becomes denser, and the denser it is, the harder it is on your bullet. This means it’s going to slow your bullet down, and the further you are away, the more your bullet will drop before it actually makes its way to the target. This is because dense air causes your bullet to drag.
Altitude also has an effect on your round. If you’re at a higher altitude, chances are it’s going to be colder. And while cold air is denser, the higher you are, the less dense the air is. If the air isn’t very dense, it won’t cause the bullet to drag near as much. In turn, the bullet should move faster than it would in lower altitudes, where the air is denser because of the combination of humidity and low temperatures.
What is barometric pressure? If you ask the dictionary, it’s atmospheric pressure or the pressure of the atmosphere. And it’s the real culprit as to why your bullet slows down based on low temperatures and low altitude. Why? Because the barometric or atmospheric pressure is much lower. However, if you’re not at a high altitude, the temperature is lower, meaning the air is denser, it’s because the barometric pressure is much greater. It’s this pressure that causes your bullet to drag, and in turn, drop significantly as it flies across greater distances.
Effects of Humidity
Between all the different factors affecting bullet trajectory, humidity has the least effect. But, there’s still some effect, so we’ll address it just the same.
When it’s humid outside, it feels like you’re quite literally going to drown in your own sweat, and if you’ve spent any time in the middle east, 100% humidity is no joke. The air feels dense, and you just want to jump into a big pool and cool down. However, contrary to this feeling, when it’s humid outside, the air is less dense. What’s this mean for your bullet? Well, it means the more humid it is, the less dense the air is, and the higher your impact will be—meaning your bullet won’t drop as much, and your chances of hitting the bullseye are much greater than a low humidity environment.
To recap, there’s a lot of things that can cause your round to go off target. Some of those factors are directly influenced by you. These are the things you can control. For instance, you can control MOA, you can control your breathing and your trigger squeeze. There is, of course, a lot more involved in proper shooting technique, which we talk about in detail here. But starting with a good zero, learning how to control your breath and trigger control are too often steps many shooters fail to utilize. Then, when you add all the environmental factors, such as wind speed and direction, temperature, altitude, barometric pressure, and humidity, you’re faced with a whole new set of problems you’ll have to address if you want to be a precision shooter. Of course, if you know all this, why not practice on one of our Hitman or Steiner Precision Targets.
Remember, no matter what your level as a shooter, you should always work on the basics, and we’ll always be here to set you up with the perfect target.