Benchrest Wind Flags & Wind Reading

About Rick Graham

I’ve been designing, making and selling wind flags for Benchrest shooting for the last 15 years or so. In that time I’ve formed some pretty strong opinions on what makes a good flag, but I’d like to say that I do not consider myself the ultimate authority on anything. In Benchrest there are many ways to do things and these are just my opinions and what has worked for me.

One thing new Benchrest shooters quickly learn is that the bullet is moved by the wind a lot more than they thought it would be. The essence of Benchrest is trying to manage what the wind is doing to the bullet by reading the info the flags are providing and compensating with your aiming point, so that when the bullets are pushed, they all go into the same hole.

Table of Contents:


What to Look for In a Wind Flag

Readability of the design is the most important thing.

There can be big differences in wind flag designs that can affect your success as a BR shooter. Years ago when I first started thinking about wind flags my friend Del Bishop and I used to bounce ideas off each other. Del was a great bullet maker, but he also liked to tinker with other things having to do with Benchrest, like wind flags. One day I had the good luck to be shooting next to Del for a match. (I always learned a lot shooting next to Del!) Anyway, he had brought out his latest design and put it out maybe 15 yds in front of the benches. It was a double vane flag with a small very light weight prop on the front and a long sail tail. One thing we noticed right away was it was very twitchy and couldn’t seem to make up its mind which way it wanted to go. It was basically unreadable. Between yardages we went out to look at it. We took the tail off of it and it just started spinning in circles! The design was so close to the edge of stability that the only thing keeping it going semi straight was the drag on the tail. The reason for it was weight the distribution in the flag , and where that caused the pivot point to be. In this case the pivot point of Del’s flag was almost directly in the middle of its overall length which created a situation where the wind was working on the front of the flag as much as the rear. And because of that it just didn’t know what it wanted to do. (by the way, some people confuse this bad behavior with sensitivity).

That was when I started to fully understand what makes for a readable wind flag. In short, look for a flag that gives the wind a lot of leverage at the back end of the flag. Any flag design that has the pivot point somewhere close to the middle of its overall length is a flag that is probably going to be hard to read. I like a flag that has the pivot point in the front third of the overall length of the flag. That gives the wind enormous leverage at the back end of the flag where it should be, and makes for a flag that will “snap to” exactly what the wind is doing without over travel, twitchiness or any other bad manners seen in some designs. The most successful wind flag designs of the last 20 years all have this trait in common.

So once again, readability of the design is the most important thing to look for in a flag, That being said, here some things that also contribute to readability…

Every color on the flag has a meaning…

  • Seeing black on the ball or daisy = outgoing wind.
  • Seeing white on the ball or yellow on the daisy = incoming wind.
  • Seeing orange on the vane = right to left wind.
  • Seeing green on vane = left to right wind.

I like to use pink or yellow tails which is another separate color from those on the flags.


Visibility

We have available super bright vinyl colors these days and they can be very helpful to competition shooters.


Vane Shape

My preference is for rectangular shaped vanes. Although the rectangle shape is, I think, the least sexy looking vane shape, it’s also the most functional. I’ve used several different shapes of vanes over the years but the rectangular shape to me gives the clearest visual of the angle the flag is presenting. Vanes with angles or curves cut into the vane are generally a little more confusing visually when it comes to angle reading. If that rectangle is full size you are looking at a crosswind (like 3:00 to 9:00) If it is half size you are looking at a quartering wind. (like 2:00 to 7:00) In this way a quick look at the size and shape of the vane, and colors presented can give you a very quick read on the angle and whether the wind is incoming or out going.


Which is Better, Ball or Daisy Wind Flags?

There are differences but it largely comes down to a matter of preference. On daisy flags it can be easier (on some flag designs) to see if the wind is blowing in or out because you’ll see the tail in front of, or behind the daisy. But, if you go with the 50/50 black and white ball design, it tells you the in or out wind so that advantage of the daisy flag is negated. Some people use the daisy for wind speed, and there can be some useful info there especially on the incoming and outgoing winds when the tail is harder to see because it’s in line with the flag. On my daisy design the daisy works as a secondary indicator, starting to turn a little after the tail has started lifting. So if the daisy is turning, that means there is more wind on it than if just the tail is lifting. There is only one speed indicator on the ball flags, the tail. The daisy flag catches a lot more wind and tends to get pushed over if the stand is not staked down. The wind just goes right around the ball flags, and it takes quite a bit to push it over.

I use the ball flags. This may sound funny, but I like the calm feeling I get looking over the ball flags. You can have a set of ball flags out, and a set of daisy flags right next to them and the daisy flags will always feel like there is more wind on them. The ball flags are calmly turning with the wind and the tails are rising and falling, but right next door in the same wind the daises are frantically cranking their little hearts out! That calm feeling is worth something to me, especially when the range officer has called out “one minute remaining”, and you only have 1 shot on record!

Like I said, it’s personal preference. Take a look at both styles when you’re out on the range. Both will do the job so just pick the ones that you like best.


Tail Material

Most guys these days are using surveyors tape for the tail material and that is probably what I would recommend. The reason is if you’re traveling and shooting over someone else’s flags, chances are they will be using surveyors tape, and you’ll be used to it which can be to your advantage.

Surveyors tape is more sensitive, and will show you every little thing in the wind. Sail tails are less sensitive, but move in a more controlled manner, and are bigger and brighter, so offer more visibility.


Where to Set Up Your Flags

In general I space them out pretty evenly between about 15 yds out from the bench and 15 yds in front of the target, but every range is different with unique challenges to consider. If there are obstructions, or openings that channel wind you definitely want a flag in those areas. Berms commonly found on ranges are another area where flags should be used to tell you what the wind is doing around them. Another situation that comes up occasionally is the outgoing wind when the line is enclosed behind the benches. In this case the outgoing wind will sometimes go over the top and dump down right in front of the benches, so it’s nice to have a flag close in to the benches to show this. As I said, every range is different so you have to just pay attention to what the range is presenting you to deal with and go from there. On a new range it never hurts to pay attention to what the locals are doing with their flags.

There are many different ways shooters line up their flags. Most common is to have them come directly back to you in a straight line from underneath the target. I like to run them in a line from the target to the right side of my bench. This stagers them horizontally slightly. I also like to have a little space in between each flag vertically so there is visual separation, but lots of shooters do just the opposite, and overlap them, trying to get as many viewable in the scope as possible. Try it different ways and you’ll soon find what works for you, but an important BR rule to keep in mind is that your flags can be no taller than a line between the top of the bench and the bottom of the target. Any taller than this and the range officer can go out and lay your flags down, and you’ll have no flags for that yardage.

Number of Flags?

The most common number of flags used for 100 yds is 4, with 2 more added in when moving out to 200 yds. Some use more, some less but this is most common.

Which Flag is Most Important?

The short answer is all of them. I’ve often read on the internet that the most important flags are the ones closest to the bench. (and we all know that the internet shooters are never wrong) Their theory goes that if the bullet is pushed at this point it will continue to veer off and make the group much bigger. Maybe. It could also be said that the further down range a bullet goes the less velocity it has and so it may be pushed by the wind more, so maybe that would make the down range flags the more important ones. Who really knows? It’s been my experience that focusing too much on one flag will get you burned by another one. That being said it does occasionally happen that you pick up on one flag that is making a big difference to how well things are working overall, or one flag that is not doing what you want it to but doesn’t seem to make any difference at all…until it does.


How to Shoot a Good Group in the Wind in 7 Minutes

It’s hard to say do this or do that with flag reading. Every situation is different and you have to be flexible and figure it out as you go. Here are some things that can sometimes work, depending on the situation.

In general try to get your shots off in the same condition. (again, easier said than done) Study the flags before the match starts and see if you can pick out a condition that holds long enough to get some shots off. Often there is a cyclic nature to the winds and it will keep coming back so take advantage of this. If you’re lucky maybe you’ll get 3 shots in the group before it changes then you wait and the same condition comes back maybe a minute or two later and you can get your remaining shots in there. If your condition doesn’t come back in time go to the sighter bull, shoot some shots down there and see where you are going to have to hold to steer those last shots into the group in the new condition.

Sometimes if the wind is holding mostly one direction but varying speed you can, as you are taking your shots, hold a little more when the tails show more wind and hold a little less when they show less. This can be very effective at times.

It’s tough when the flags are all pointing different directions. (swirling winds) That is a condition TRRC shooters encounter often. When conditions are like this sighter shots become almost meaningless because conditions are changing too fast and are different by the time you get back up to the record bull. All you can do in this situation is try to get an overall feel of the push, take your best guess and let ‘er rip. Good luck!

Always keep an eye on your neighbors flags to the left and right of you. They’ll let you know when something is coming before it gets to you. There are many times when it seems like just as you pulled the trigger a flag turned and the shot went out of the group. This kind of thing can often be avoided by just paying a little more attention to what is happening on either side of you.

Be calm, be patient, look for patterns in the wind, and take what the range will give you.


In Conclusion

To me, wind reading is more art than science and you can only learn the art by doing it over time. It’s a slow process and at times frustrating, but if you keep at it your wind reading skills will steadily improve until one day you will notice things are working well. The main thing is you just have to put in the time shooting over the flags, preferably in competition but also every time you go out to practice you need to set them up. (I know it’s a pain, but do it if you want to get better) Shooting in competition has a way of sharpening your focus and you tend to get better faster, but practicing with flags helps you put in the time required to build up the information store and become proficient faster. There are no short cuts.

Be patient with yourself. Seldom does a new shooter jump right in and consistently win. I would say don’t even worry about winning or losing, just dive in, have some fun, and let those things take care of themselves. Remember, any successful BR shooter has seen plenty of losses in their time in the sport, but they persisted.

Rick Graham | Author & Graham Wind Flags Designer