Skip to main content

Part 1 of 4: How Wind Affects Arrow Flight

Part 1 of 4: How Wind Affects Arrow Flight

I was asked a question the other day by an experienced bowhunter from back East. He asked, "If you have a wind from left to right, will the wind push the entire arrow right? Or will it just push the back to the right and cause the arrow to go left?"

If you want to bowhunt in the north country or in the West, you need to learn how the wind affects your shooting. The author spends a great deal of time hunting above timberline where wind is a given. This is his 2010 high-country mule deer.

I was asked a question the other day by an experienced bowhunter from back East. He asked, "If you have a wind from left to right, will the wind push the entire arrow right? Or will it just push the back to the right and cause the arrow to go left?"

Just last fall, I wrote a column that lightly touched on this very complicated subject. Well, the readers of Petersen's BOWHUNTING tend to be hardcore bowhunters who crave in-depth information. So, at the risk of being redundant, I'm going to devote this column -- and the following three -- to hunting in the wind.


In this first column, we'll cover the basics of how the wind affects an arrow's flight. In the next two columns, we'll talk about the finer points of building a hunting arrow designed to buck the wind. In the fourth column, we'll discuss how to hold steady, aim and shoot in the wind.


First of all, to answer the original question: In a lateral (sideways) wind, the nock end of an arrow will tail off to the downwind side in flight, because as soon as the arrow is released, it will line up with the airstream it is moving through.

If the air is perfectly calm as the arrow is released, the airstream the arrow encounters is aligned in the direction the arrow was aimed. However, if there is a prevailing wind from the left side, the airstream the arrow experiences will be lined up slightly to the left side of the target. So, the arrow will be pointed slightly to the left of the target as it flies. The slower the arrow's velocity and the stronger the prevailing wind, the more sideways the arrow's flight will appear.




However, the fact that the arrow is pointed upwind does not mean the arrow will travel upwind. The arrow will always drift downwind on its way to the target. To better understand this, watch an airplane or helicopter fly in a straight line on a windy day. The aircraft will actually be pointing upwind of its true direction of travel.


If an arrow is shot into a 10 mph crosswind and the arrow is allowed to travel indefinitely before it hits the ground, eventually the arrow will be traveling both forward and sideways at the full crosswind speed of 10 mph (or 14.5 fps).

If that arrow is moving at 300 fps, it will travel 300 feet in one second. Assuming it is moving laterally at 14.5 fps, the arrow would drift 14.5 feet sideways while covering that 300 feet forward.

As we all know, an arrow shot from a bow will not miss its intended target by 14 feet when shot into a 10 mph crosswind at 100 yards. The reason this does not happen is because it takes a significant amount of time for the arrow to accelerate to maximum lateral (sideways) velocity.

Once free of the bow, an arrow shot into a crosswind is accelerated sideways by that wind. The rate of sideways acceleration on any given arrow is determined primarily by two factors; the arrow's drag characteristics and the weight of the arrow. (Think of a lead bullet vs. a feather. The weight-to-surface area ratio is the determining factor.)

I used to think sideways acceleration was determined by the arrow's profile (the amount of surface area the sideways wind "sees"). I was enlightened by engineer Thomas Liston, author of The Physical Laws of Archery. He explained the only forces an arrow sees (besides gravity) are aligned on the point of the arrow. So, once the arrow has aligned with the airflow it is experiencing, it no longer has any sideways forces. However, the air mass it is in moves laterally in relation to the target.

So, it is not the sideways profile of the arrow, but rather the drag of the arrow that determines how fast that air mass is going to push the arrow sideways. If you allow two arrows to fall until they reached their maximum speed (terminal velocity), the one going the fastest is the one having the best drag characteristics. It is also the arrow that will be least deflected by a sideways wind.

The other factor that determines how far an arrow is going to drift at a given distance and lateral wind speed is how long that arrow is in the air. And that is determined by initial arrow velocity and the rate of deceleration (wind drag). To minimize wind drift, we want an arrow that not only comes out of the bow at a high velocity, but one that maintains its velocity downrange. The best way to keep an arrow flying fast is to reduce surface area and any turbulence-producing surfaces

So, the take home message is this: In order to minimize wind drift we want a low-profile, small-diameter arrow with low-profile, short fletchings and a low-profile, short broadhead. We also want a short arrow.

The arrow needs to be relatively heavy as well, though this is a balancing act between speed and weight.

I realize this column has been a little dry, but put all four wind columns in a drawer somewhere, and if you ever come out West to hunt, pull them out and read them again before your trip. You'll thank me later.

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

New for 2021: Hoyt RX-5, RX-5 Ultra, Ventum 30 and Ventum 33

New for 2021: Hoyt RX-5, RX-5 Ultra, Ventum 30 and Ventum 33

ATA 2021 NeDuring this video from the Archery Trade Association's New Product Premiere showcase, Bowhunter's TV Mike Carney visited with Evan Williams, pro staff manager for Hoyt Archery, to learn about the new RX-5, RX-5 Ultra, Ventum and Ventum 33 bows.w Product - Hoyt

The Science & History of Scent Thief

The Science & History of Scent Thief

Russel Epperson, inventor and partner of Scent Thief, explains how the company got its start, and why their products are so effective in blocking unwanted scent.

New for 2021: Mathews V3 27 & 31 Bows

New for 2021: Mathews V3 27 & 31 Bows

Bowhunter Editor Curt Wells had an exciting visit with Mark Hayes, design engineer for Mathews, as the pair looked at the new V3 27 and V3 31 bows.

New for 2021: Elite Archery Bows, Slick Trick Broadheads and CBE Sight

New for 2021: Elite Archery Bows, Slick Trick Broadheads and CBE Sight

Learn more about two new Elite Archery bows, the Enkore and Remedy, two new broadhead from Slick Trick and a new site from Custom Bow Equipment (CBE).

See More Popular Videos

Trending Articles

From portability and comfort to stealth and shooting opportunities, today's tree saddles are hard to beat.Why You Should Try Tree Saddle Hunting Treestands & Blinds

Why You Should Try Tree Saddle Hunting

Andy May

From portability and comfort to stealth and shooting opportunities, today's tree saddles are...

These are the archery shots you should and shouldn't take on whitetails. Where to Shoot a Deer: Bowhunting Shot Placement How-To

Where to Shoot a Deer: Bowhunting Shot Placement

Christian Berg

These are the archery shots you should and shouldn't take on whitetails.

With a new year comes a fresh batch of top-notch crossbows. Here are some of the best.New Crossbows for 2021 ATA Show

New Crossbows for 2021

Mark Demko - January 08, 2021

With a new year comes a fresh batch of top-notch crossbows. Here are some of the best.

Ravin hits a new milestone with its 2021 R500 series of crossbows.First to 500: New Ravin Lineup Sets Crossbow Speed Mark ATA Show

First to 500: New Ravin Lineup Sets Crossbow Speed Mark

Mark Demko - January 13, 2021

Ravin hits a new milestone with its 2021 R500 series of crossbows.

See More Trending Articles

More How-To

Learning to feel your shots before you take them leads to success.Bowhunting Shot Execution Under Pressure How-To

Bowhunting Shot Execution Under Pressure

Randy Ulmer

Learning to feel your shots before you take them leads to success.

Here's how to prepare for the mental pressure of successful bowhunting.How to Mentally Prepare for Bowhunting Pressure How-To

How to Mentally Prepare for Bowhunting Pressure

Bill Winke

Here's how to prepare for the mental pressure of successful bowhunting.

Don't just hunt food plot — get out and plant some with this strategy!Winning with Fall Food Plots How-To

Winning with Fall Food Plots

Jason Snavely

Don't just hunt food plot — get out and plant some with this strategy!

Follow this step-by-step process to quickly field dress your deer for the best possible venison.How to Field Dress & Quarter a Deer How-To

How to Field Dress & Quarter a Deer

Mike Stroff

Follow this step-by-step process to quickly field dress your deer for the best possible...

See More How-To

Magazine Cover

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE Arrow

Buy Digital Single Issues

Don't miss an issue.
Buy single digital issue for your phone or tablet.

Buy Single Digital Issue on the Petersen's Bowhunting App

Other Magazines

Special Interest Magazines

See All Special Interest Magazines

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Phone Icon

Get Digital Access.

All Petersen's Bowhunting subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit mymagnow.com and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now