Wind Flags Part 1: Why and How to Set Wind Flags for a Higher Level of Precision and Accuracy.
Updated: Jul 5
Whether you are a competition shooter, hunter, or precision nut, understanding how Mother Nature influences a bullet is key to wringing the most out of your rifle and ammunition. This Blog/video is Part One of a two part series which will focus on why and how to set wind indicators. Part Two will dive into reading the indicators.
Before we get too in-depth, let me be clear; condition reading is not a blanket cureall.
A person can not just read the conditions and forget about the other pieces of the precision puzzle. Rather, condition reading is a blanket necessity. It is a fundamental that should be paired along with good equipment, proper shooting technique and correct tuning if you want to get the most out of your rifle and ammunition.
The Importance of Wind Flags
In competition, easily half the rifles on the line are capable of winning. Yet not everyone takes home fake wood. In the field, wind often plays a bigger role in bullet placement than distance. This knowledge can be the difference between a “Grip and Grin” photo or a sleepless night after losing the blood trail. The deciding factor in both situations is the driver who can put all the pieces of the puzzle together that day. Wind indicators allow the shooter to read a big piece of that puzzle; the conditions.
I can already hear the skeptics; “I’ve never had a coyote stand still long enough for me to put a wind flag out…” Good point, until the side benefit of practicing using wind flags is noticed. Wind flags allow the shooter to “see” the wind. However, they are not the only indicators. Mirage rippling across the field, dust from bullet impacts, swaying trees and grasses, the feel and sound of the wind are all used by top shooters. An added benefit occurs when using wind flags. The mind becomes trained to notice those other indicators and correlate them to the wind flags and tails. So…no, wind flags will not be used while hunting, but other wind indicators will soon be easily noticed and used in the field.
Arguably the most convincing reason rifle shooters should use wind flags is during tuning. Almost every rifle owner has tried different components or different ammo to see if precision improved. These improvements may be measured in tenths of an inch. Routinely, environmental conditions have a bigger influence on group size/shape than the components being tested. If the conditions are not noticed and accounted for, how does one know what caused the size/shape of the group?
Numerical Data on Wind Movement:
Many shooters do not comprehend how much wind actually influences the bullet. Here is data for two of the bullets that I shoot for hunting. Notice the drop versus wind deflection.
To theoretically see what happens to your own bullet, I encourage you to input your data into this website https://bisonballistics.com/calculators/ballistics For a more detailed explanation see the Blog: Reading the Wind.
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Wind Flags 101:
The typical wind flag consists of two main parts: vane and tail. The vane allows for reading the angle (direction) of the wind. Vanes can come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. However, the most common colors are an orange side for a right to left wind and green side for left to right
The tail is used to gauge the velocity of the wind. Tails can be made of any type of flexible material. However, ribbon or surveyor tape is most common. These materials are great in light to moderate wind. Some competitors may switch to sail tails or rope in more severe conditions. Daisy wheels placed on the front of the flag can be another source of information to read the speed.
There are a plethora of devices used to gain an advantage in this all important area of reading the wind. Creations range from super cool to bizarre. However, do not be too quick to judge these contraptions. Wind reading is so important to extreme accuracy and precision that if an invention works better, it will soon be used by many competitors.
A quick internet search can lead to many popular wind flag manufacturers. Prices can range from $15 to $75. This is a small price to pay for the improvements seen in group size.
A cheaper route, which will still give valuable data, is a three foot strand of surveyors tape tied to a piece of rebar/electric fence post. This inexpensive set up was my first set of wind indicators.
Setting Flags for Hunters/Non-Competitors
For a newcomer to wind indicators, using one indicator is a great starting point. The indicator should be placed thirty yards out slightly off-center and below the line of the bullet. One indicator will provide enough information to improve groups, yet not break the bank or overload the brain.
Once the data from one flag is easily read, feel free to add another roughly sixty yards down-range. Two flags will provide sufficient coverage for the tuner to distinguish between changes in components versus wind influences when looking at the groups.
For hunters, all the justification of using wind indicators will come when you experience tighter groups and a mindfulness of conditions. Both of which will lead to more consistent bullet placement on game. The rest of this Blog will pertain to setting flags for short range Benchrest.
Setting flags for Short Range Benchrest
The precision and accuracy required in competition are more demanding than what hunters experience. Therefore; the number and procedure for setting flags are also more demanding. There are many correct ways to set flags. I want to share a proven method that I have been using for the last ten years. If you are a newcomer to Benchrest, you can use this is a baseline. Once experience is gained adjustments can be made that better fit your style. If you are an experienced Benchrester, maybe you can pick one or two things out of this writing to add to your current procedure to make it better.
There are three main goals when setting flags for competition. First; we want to place the flags in locations that provide the best representation of the conditions of the range. Second; perform the job quickly. Other competitors should not have to wait on us to finish setting flags. Plus, the quicker flags can be set, the more time there is to study the conditions before shooting commences. The third goal is to make sure the process is repeatable. Benchrest is a repetitive sport. Everything we do revolves around consistency and uniformity. Setting the flags should be no different.
Rules for NBRSA and IBS
NBRSA 4.10. Page 8
Flags are to be placed no higher than level of bench top to bottom of the target card. Furthermore, the competitor is to restrict the position of flags to within his competitive shooting lane. A shooting lane is defined as the centerlines between benches to the center-lines between target cards unique to each competitor. Lanes that have no competitor may have flags placed in that lane by shooters competing in adjacent lanes.
IBS Rules Section R Page 11
Official wind flags shall be a minimum size, 1/5"x24", but wind flags of any size may be placed by competitors no higher than the line between the highest point of bench top to bottom of target card. 2) Except as provided for in 3) below, personal wind flags will be restricted to within the competitive shooting lane of the competitor placing the flags. A shooting lane is defined as the centerlines between benches to the centerline between the target cards unique to each competitor. 3) Competitors may place personal wind flags off to the side of the range; that is, left of the leftmost bench on the range, and/or right of the right-most and right-most bench being used on a given day at the affected tournament. 4) After the first shot of the aggregate, including the warm-up match(should be conducted), flags may only be moved by Referees under the direction of the Range Officer and in no circumstance shall any flag be moved for the shooter's convenience or benefit for the remainder of that aggregate. If a flag is causing an obstruction for any shooter, range personnel will lay down the flag and pole in question. At any tournaments where multiple aggregates are being contested on the same day, flags may be moved and/or adjusted by competitors between aggregates.
# of Flags
The number of flags employed by shooters can vary. I, and many other competitors, use four flags at 100, six at 200 and seven at 300. A valid question is; why not use more flags? The theoretical flow chain makes sense; more flags equals more information. More information equals better decisions. This question has two major reality hurdles. First is brain overload. Using more flags provides an overflow of information, impeding the ability to calculate split second decisions. Second, if the cerebrum could handle all the information, it would be paralysis through analysis. The shooter would spend the seven minute time limit waiting for all the flags to line up. This rarely happens with four, let alone more. These numbers of flags have proven a sufficient compromise between the amount of information needed versus the brain’s ability to comprehend the information in a limited amount of time.
My Flag Setting Method.
Setting the flags is easiest when done with a partner. One will provide directions from the bench and the other will walk the range setting the flags. Walkie talkies, cell phones, directional arrows or hand signals are used for communication. Each has its own advantages and disadvantages. However, it should be understood that when any type of electronic communication fails, hand signals will be used.
At the bench, a “retired” 6X scope mounted on a platform is used when setting flags at big tournaments (ex: rotating benches at the Nationals) or when the flags can be set the night before. This moveable scope shortens the overall setting time because the bench equipment does not have to be set up. On the day of the tournament, when not rotating benches, I will use the rifle and rests because the equipment needs to be set up anyway.
Due to the low percentage
of the flag coverage area, it is impossible to know every condition that is happening on a range Therefore, the location of the flags are important. The diagrams show the initial spacing and alignment for the poles.
Important to note: These are starting locations. Specific terrain features should override these distances. I keep a binder with tabs for all the ranges I've been to. Inside are notes on where to place the flags specific to each range.
To greatly speed up the setting and (more importantly) to lessen the frustration of the person setting the flags, the person at the bench should not use incremental numbers when communicating. What looks like an inch from the bench might be three or four inches at the pole. Instead use directional clues until the end point is reached. For example: away-away-away-stop or down-down-stop.
1. When traveling to a new range, pay attention to where the locals place their flags. There is a reason for their location.
2. When you are finished setting flags, check the range. Are there flags placed in distances different from yours? If so, watch them. Do they show different data from yours?
3. This is a big one. When the shooting starts, the focus will be on your flags. However, you must also (generally) watch the whole range. Look for patterns and upcoming reversals. More on this in Part 2.
100 yd Flag Setting for Hunter Class
Flag setting should start with the pole closest to the target. The pole is placed directly below the centerline of the target card. To ensure the pole is set plum, a bubble level can be placed over the stem while securing to the ground. The flag top replaces the bubble level and the rough estimate of height is adjusted until the top of the flag is slightly below the target card.
Do not use the scope to set the final height on the last flag. According to the rules; the flag must be below the line between the top of the bench and the bottom of the target card. The height difference between the scope and top of the bench will position the last flag higher than what the rules allow. Instead, the person at the bench must sight off the top of the bench to the bottom of the target card. Remaining tops can then be set using the scope.
Working back towards the bench, all remaining poles (except the first one) are then placed in line with one another (The person at the bench should only see one pole). The reason for this is the large field of view of the six power scopes used in Hunter Class allow the shooter to see the majority of their flags in the scope. The flag tops are stacked vertically with a slight gap between each flag. This gap allows the shooter to differentiate which flag is changing much faster than when the flags are overlapped.
I offset the first flag 22 inches to the left (I am a right handed shooter) of center. This placement allows the flag to be at the proper distance and in the correct lane, yet allows an unobstructed view of the flag with the off-eye. When the flags are all set, double check to make sure the heights of the flags do not go above the line from the bench top to the target.
Some Hunter Class competitors like to see all the flags in the scope. In order to do this legally, the first flag needs to be placed further away from the bench. I feel this gives too much distance to the important first flag.
This is also the same placement when setting for VFS and Group, ensuring consistency between disciplines. Using this method, setting flags for the Hunter gun is quick and repeatable.
I like to mark the location of the flag poles when shooting a multiple day event. This greatly speeds up the flag setting process the next day.
100 yd Flag Setting for VFS and Group (Insert Diagram)
In VFS and Group competitions, I use a scope with a much higher magnification. This allows me to see more detail on the target but at the cost of not being able to see my flags in the scope. Therefore; it helps for the flags to be at an angle from the bench to the target. As noted in the diagram, the first and last flag placement does not change regardless of what class is competing. In order to ensure a repeatable angle for the second and third pole, I use the flag setting scope attached to a tripod. The tripod is then positioned so the first pole is inline with the last pole. The third and second poles/flags are then set using the same method as the Hunter Class. (spotter sees one pole with flags staggered vertically) When the shooter sets up on the bench, the angle and height of the flags will be consistent and uniform.
200 and longer Flag Setting
For Hunter Class, the same process is used as described in the above procedure.
In VFS and Group a consistent angle is still desirable. However, due to the increasing distance, more of the downrange flags will be visible through the scope. This allows us to line the first flag up with the fifth flag then repeat the setting procedure. The end result is flags 1-4 are visible with the off eye while flags 5 & 6 a visible in the scope.
For competitors, does your current flag setting method give a good representation of what is happening on the range? Is your setting method quick? Lastly, is it repeatable? If not, maybe there is something in this writing that can help. Until next time, enjoy the experience.