March 17, 2023
By Alfredo Rico
Todd Hodnett sat to my left peering through his spotting scope as I laid behind a Barrett MRAD rifle in .308 Winchester. Looking up at an anti-cant level, I squared the scope’s Tremor3 reticle before cracking a shot at a steel target some 1,050 yards across the valley. The target rang. I rose to my knees and remarked how much I liked the Accuracy 1st bubble level better than the spirit bubble levels I have on my rifles at home. He explained that each line on the level represents 21/2 degrees of cant, or .05 mil for every 100 meters. Being familiar with his Kestrel videos on YouTube, I jokingly replied, “It’s all about the math to you, isn’t it?” He confirmed, “It’s all about the math.”
In October 2021, I went to Canadian, Texas, and attended an abbreviated Accuracy 1st long-range shooting course sponsored by SureFire, who supplied our rifles with its SOCOM338-Ti suppressor ($2,399, surefire.com). Todd is the founder of Accuracy 1st (accuracy1st.com) whose company has trained military and law enforcement snipers (and a few civilian precision shooters) for more than 17 years.
Hodnett’s path to becoming a sought-after sniper instructor was not typical. He has no military background. In fact, before this journey he was a farmer, rancher, welder and pistol instructor. Hodnett has been honing his long-range shooting skills since he was 6 years old though. As an adult, his talent for shooting sports became obvious. He entered and won Cowboy Action and Sniper Challenge competitions as a relative newbie.
Hodnett became a shooting instructor for the military’s elite by being at the right place at the right time. His success in the Sniper Challenges opened the door to work with Horus Vision (horusvision.com), whose H36 reticle and ATRAG ballistic program was used by him to win competitions. Horus sent him to a “Military Days” event at Quantico to demonstrate some products. A military official was impressed with the demonstration and invited Hodnett to show the gear to his snipers. Once the demo was over, he was asked what he would change with their sniper training. Hodnett replied, “A lot.” So, he made a list on a white board.
Hodnett’s simplified take on long-range shooting bucked what had been traditionally taught at military sniper schools, but it proved intriguing enough to attract an audience. He was put to the test by training a group of military snipers which subsequently snowballed into teaching others. (As a U.S. Special Forces officer and sniper team leader, then-Capt. Tom Beckstrand, G&A’s Rifles & Optics editor, was one of those students.) By 2006, Hodnett’s schedule became full year-round.
One of the keys to Hodnett’s long-range success story is that he has been a pilot since he was 18. Flying an aircraft has given him unique insight into the environmental conditions that affect projectiles in flight. Hodnett’s Whiz Wheel Ballistic Solver ($25-$70, accuracy1st.com) is an analog ballistic calculator that he created with Bryan Litz of Applied Ballistics (AB). It was inspired by the E6B flight computer that Hodnett used as pilot. The Truing supersonic and subsonic algorithms, ballistic coefficient (BC) extrapolation, and muzzle velocity (MV) temperature tables that he put in the Whiz Wheel were later integrated into the core engine of Kestrel’s wind meters with AB software (kestrelballistics.com). Today, Accuracy 1st has its own menu in the Kestrel with the AB engine, along with many new features.
Hodnett’s contributions to long-range shooting have been significant. His work with Litz and Kestrel has become the backbone of long-range shooting, whether it’s military personnel, precision rifle shooters, or hunters. In addition to the Kestrel devices, the AB engine exists in rangefinders and binoculars across many brands.
With Horus Vision, Hodnett developed the H58, H59 and Tremor reticles used by U.S. SOCOM, USMC Scout/Snipers and U.S. Navy SEALS. He has patented wind dots and other reticle-specific features, too. For the last 16 years, Hodnett has been testing fast twist rates for the military to find the rotational speed with the lowest drag.
Colby’s path as Todd’s son is not as surprising. He is 28 years old and has been learning from his father since he was a kid. He attended Texas A&M to immerse himself in contractual law and the sciences related to ballistics. In doing so, he enriched the family business. His understanding of ballistics was further enhanced by having Litz as a go-to resource.
Colby’s approach is as meticulous as Todd’s, but he does not walk in his shadow. Colby is an instructor in his own right and leads many of the courses, bringing Todd in as needed. Colby’s clarity in explaining ballistics was impressive.
The 2-day course I attended focused on ballistics rather than rifle setup or shooting fundamentals. It touched on terms including aerodynamic jump, gyroscopic stability, drag, spin drift, density altitude, ranging and the Coriolis effect.
The discussion on these subjects was brief, but they provided the detail we needed to understand what matters and doesn’t matter for a given shooting scenario. They also showed us the simple mathematical tools they developed such as Speed Drop and Quick Wind, and how to use them when time and opportunity may not allow for the most precise solution. The Accuracy 1st method provides shooters with the knowledge needed to make fast and accurate shots without lugging around a traditional DOPE book, or having to remember complex formulas that sometimes require a calculator. It would be easy to write multiple articles on the course content, but I’ll highlight a few gems that I found beneficial as a student of long-range precision and hunting.
Getting accurate elevation holds for long-range shooting is important. Typically, elevation holds are verified by shooting groups at every 100 yards out to 1,000 yards or more. Besides eating up a lot of ammo, it takes time to gather impact data in this manner. Accuracy 1st has simplified this process by verifying the elevation once within the supersonic range, just before a bullet goes transonic to subsonic. With about 10 shots and two shooting distances, you can give a Kestrel actual impact data to generate an accurate bullet trajectory out to subsonic distances. To learn the specifics about truing, search “Todd Hodnett” and “DSF Table vs. Cal MV” on YouTube for a video.
The standard wind holdover formula taught in many places is yardage (in tenths) multiplied by wind speed, divided by the cartridge’s constant. For example, if the wind is 10 mph, the yardage is 600 and the cartridge’s constant is 16, the formula would look like this: (10x6)÷16=MOA. If you’re like me, your brain can be short circuited resolving such math.
Hodnett found an easier solution and developed Quick Wind by looking for patterns in wind holdover tables. He noticed that at a certain wind speed, the wind hold matched the distance of the target in tenths. For example, the Quick Wind on my rifle chambered in 6mm XC is 5 mph. This means that the hold for a 5-mph wind at 200 yards is .2 mil. At 300 yards, it’s .3 mil. At 800 yards, it’s .8 mil. Notice how the wind hold and first number of the yardage are the same? If the wind is 10 mph at 500 yards, then I double the yardage, which gives me a wind hold of 1.0 mil. There are limitations to this, but it’s easy to remember in the field, and it works well out to 800 yards and up to 20 mph winds for my 6mm XC. After that distance, I add simple rules to get a wind hold. This works with mil-based reticles only.
Seeking a more precise and simpler solution that works at greater distances than Quick Wind, Todd designed the Tremor3 reticle with Time-of-Flight Wind Dots. The wind dots are not a fixed wind-speed value. Their wind value can be calibrated to whatever rifle and ammo combo you are shooting. For example, on my .308 Win., each wind dot represents a 4-mph wind. If the wind is a full-value 8 mph, hold two wind dots. If it’s 6 mph, I hold in between the first and second wind dot. Again, we just need to know a number and it’s simple math to figure a wind hold.
Calculating the Wind Dot value for your specific rifle is done quickly through the Kestrel with an AB engine in the Accuracy 1st screen. To calculate it without the Kestrel with an AB engine, view the “Horus Vision Tremor3 Wind Dot” video on YouTube.
Wind Cosine Value
Colby mentioned that the biggest reason shooters miss is that they don’t take the time to estimate the wind cosine value correctly. The wind cosine value is the percentage of the effect the wind has the lateral movement of the bullet. A 12- or 6-o’clock wind has zero-percent affect, while a 3- or 9-o’clock wind has a 100-percent effect.
To get the wind cosine value, you must first determine what the strongest windspeed is at your location. Then, using the target as the 12 o’clock position, estimate the clock direction of the wind. Don’t use angular measurement because a 45-degree angle does not translate to “50 percent” as you can see in the Wind Clock illustration. The red line shows the percentage value that you should use, and 12 o’clock is always the target direction. In this way, it’s super easy to remember that with a 1-o’clock wind, the measured wind speed is reduced by 50 percent to calculate the actual hold. The Hodnetts also emphasized the importance of the “12:30” and “1:30” clock positions since 25 percent may make a significant wind-hold difference.
Classroom knowledge is great, but there’s nothing like shooting to put yourself to the test. For wind gathering, I used a Kestrel 5700X wind meter with the Applied Ballistics engine ($900). My rifle was a Surefire-suppressed Barrett MRAD with .308 Win. and .300 Norma barrels (barrett.net). The optic was a Nightforce ATACR 7-35x56mm F1 scope with a Tremor3 reticle ($3,850, nightforceoptics.com). The scope was complete with the Accuracy 1st scope level ($95, kestrelballistics.com). We shot the rifle on targets ranging 500 yards to a mile.
Truing the MRAD with the .300 Norma Proof Research barrel and Applied Ballistics ammunition was ridiculously easy. After the rifle was zeroed at 100 meters, I went directly to the 1,421-yard target. This is near the transonic distance of that cartridge. The Kestrel read “10.8 mils” of elevation, and judging by the flapping flag next to me, the left wind was 6 mph. I held 10.8 mils on the reticle and estimated where the first wind dot would fall in the grid. The hit was .3 mils low, but the wind call was good. I corrected my hold to 11.1 to confirm the elevation hold was correct; I hit dead center. I then entered 11.1 into the Cal MV screen in the Kestrel to true the gun and looked up the hold for the mile target. I had full confidence in the math and rifle; the tricky part is always the wind. After a few bad wind calls, I hit the mile target.
“You make this too easy,” I said to Todd. He just smiled.
Ballistics is a challenging subject to communicate to non-scientists. Todd and Colby Hodnett were able to teach it so a student understands the why, the when and where to apply the factors that affect a bullet’s trajectory. The easy-to-remember mathematical tools Todd developed help us to account for these factors. The tools often used single-digit numbers and simple addition or subtraction, which empowered me to become my own ballistic solver, something that’s eluded me until now.
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