Reading Mirage in a Spotting Scope

Reading Mirage in a Spotting Scope

Mirage can cause shooters to miss shots when shooting long-distance. Understand the basics of reading a mirage in a spotting scope to make corrections.

Even if you have one of the best spotting scopes in the world, you will find that mirage can still render it nearly useless if you don’t know how to read it properly and account for the mirage. Having a high-quality spotting scope is important but reading mirage in a spotting scope is what will help shooters be able to hit their target.

For those who are relatively new to shooting, mirage might not have become a problem yet. However, as you start to take shots at longer distances and in different conditions, you will start to notice a distorting blur effect through your spotting scope, and even your rifle scope. It can cause your shots to be far off the mark.

In this article, we will be looking deeper into what mirage is and how to properly compensate for it. We will also provide some information on a high-quality rifle scope from Vortex Optics that can help to make the observation of mirage and wind easier.

What is Mirage?

Mirage is an effect caused by a range of factors including cold and warm air coming together, which can cause light to refract and distort images. Targets and their surroundings appear as if they are moving and swimming when you look through the sight picture.

When you are looking through a spotting scope, whether you are a long-distance target shooter or you are out on a hunt, this makes getting accurate shots difficult. However, when you take the time to learn how to use the mirage as a means to measure the speed and direction of the wind, it can help you to adjust your scope for better accuracy.

Mirage will appear whether there is any wind at all and regardless of the speed of the wind. Hunters and shooters want to watch for how the mirage moves, as this can let them know quite a bit of information about the wind. Knowing wind information allows them to improve their accuracy.

They will know if the wind will be a problem with their shot, along with how they need to compensate for the wind. Perhaps they want to wait for a break in the wind or for the wind to shift. Other times, the wind might be bad enough that they decide to hold off on shooting at all that day.

Even a small amount of wind will affect the trajectory of your bullet. While this might not be as much of an issue when you are shooting at closer ranges, long-range shooting can be greatly affected by the wind. By learning how to read the mirage, you can improve your chance of an accurate shot.

Using a Spotting Scope to Read Wind Speed

Although you will be using the rifle scope to take your shot, you will want to make use of a spotting scope to help you read the wind speed. Spotting scopes typically have more power than a rifle scope, which allows the users to see finer details at further distances. A spotting scope is a quality tool for observing what is happening with the mirage and the target.

When using a spotting scope, it is important to remember that you do not want to focus beyond the target when mirage is present. Instead, you will want to reduce the magnification between half and ¾ of the way to your target.

A good spotting scope will provide you with the means to read the actual wind direction more easily. Most common scopes will not have this ability because they won’t have the power needed. To read a mirage, a spotting scope will need to have at least 25x magnification.

How Dense is the Mirage?

When determining the density of a mirage, you will find that they are broken down into three different classifications.

  • Light
  • Intermediate
  • Heavy


Light mirages will have a relatively low distortion of the image and the target. You will often find light mirages occurring when the day is cool. The ground will still be relatively cool, as will the air, which will create only a faint mirage.


Intermediate mirages will often be seen with the naked eye, although they will be much easier to see when you are using a spotting scope. There will be lines that indicate the mirage and its movements. These types of mirages will often be seen during nice days where the temperature reaches the low 70s and there is average humidity in the air.


Heavy mirages will create a substantial amount of distortion in the target and the image beyond. These mirages are easy to see with the naked eye, and when you look through a spotting scope, you will see constantly moving and waving lines.

These heavy mirages are often seen on days that are hot and where the humidity is high. It is difficult to properly read wind velocity in heavy mirages, but it is possible with a lot of practice. In addition to the density of the mirages, you will also want to learn more about the different types of mirages.

Reading the Wind in a Mirage

When you look at a mirage through a scope, how it is moving can tell you a great deal. It will provide you with information on the speed of the wind, as well as the direction, factors which are important for taking those long-distance shots.

In some cases, you might have indicators that you can see with the naked eye that can indicate the direction of the wind, such as the way the canopy of trees is blowing in the distance. However, there are not always these indicators when you are on the range or out hunting.

Therefore, you will want to learn about the different types or classifications of mirages to determine the wind direction and velocity with more accuracy.

Mirage Types

There are five different mirage classifications with which you will want to become familiar. Knowing more about the mirage classifications and what you should do when you encounter them will help you to improve the quality of your long-distance shots.

Boiling Mirage

A boiling mirage is one that features a mirage that is vertical and there is no detectable wind. The mirage will appear as though it is floating upwards. Depending on the density of the mirage, you will want to lower your sights slightly to get on the target.

Boiling Lateral Mirage

This is considered an extreme type of mirage. It will feature heat waves that appear to be boiling off the image and target, as well as lateral heat waves. This often means that two different wind elements are at different angles. The lateral heat waves will generally not be as pronounced as the primary heat waves. In these cases, you will need to make adjustments to both your windage and your elevation to get on target. 

Slow Mirage

In a slow heat mirage, you will notice that the heat waves move from points 7 o’clock to 1 o’clock or from 5 o’clock to 11 o’clock. It will appear as though there is a 30-degree incline in the mirage, which will let you know that the wind speed is between 1 mph and 3 mph. When you encounter this type of heat mirage, you will want to adjust your elevation and windage lower, while making sure that you account for the bullet drift.

Medium Mirage

You can determine if you are looking at a medium mirage by looking at the heat wave movement, as well. If the heat waves are moving from 8 o’clock to 2 o’clock or from 4 o’clock to 10 o’clock, it will indicate a medium heat wave. You will need to account for bullet drive and adjust for a lower aim point using your elevation and windage adjustments. The speed of the wind of a medium mirage is from 4 mph to 7 mph.

Fast Mirage

The heat waves in a fast mirage will move from points of 9 o’clock to 3 o’clock or from 3 o’clock to 9 o’clock.  The speed of the wind in a fast mirage is from 8 mph to 12 mph, and the waves will create horizontal motion across the target at a 90-degree angle. There will not be an incline in the mirage at this wind speed. Since there is no incline, you will only have to correct for the windage, not the elevation.

Why Don’t Anemometers Work for Correction?

An anemometer is used to measure wind velocity, and you might be wondering why these aren’t used in place of spotting scopes. The answer is simple. These devices are only able to measure the wind velocity in the location where you are currently located. The wind 500 yards or 1,000 yards away across the valley or on the side of the mountain could be different.

Correcting for the wind in your location is not going to do your shot any good if the wind speed varies at your target.

Learning to Read Mirages Takes Time

Reading mirages and making corrections is not something that will come intuitively for most shooters. This is something that will take a substantial amount of practice and time in the field dealing with different types of mirages.

However, understanding the basics we’ve covered above will help you to get a faster grasp of the types of corrections that you need to make. If you have trouble keeping on target when you are first starting and trying to read mirages, don’t worry. Continue practicing and making adjustments.

The more you practice in different conditions the better you will get at making these changes to your elevation and windage when it comes time to make those important shots.

Vortex Optics Golden Eagle HD

The Golden Eagle HD from Vortex Optics is a high-end rifle scope that has been designed with competitive shooters in mind who are competing by shooting at targets that are a known distance away. The scope features a finely subtended, second focal plane reticle along with 1/8 MOA clicks that can allow for the finetuning you need.

The lens elements are apochromatic and have a high density, which provides you with high-definition images when you are looking through the scope. The XR anti-reflective coatings provide excellent brightness even when you are at the highest magnification setting.

The Golden Eagle HD also features a nice turret system with easy to control elevation and windage. It also features a side focus adjustment to help with parallax issues when you are shooting at long-range.

The aperture stop ring can provide a broader depth of field, which will make it easier for you to see mirage and wind indicators, all while keeping your target in your sights.

The scope weighs 29.5 ounces and is made from aircraft-grade aluminum. It is argon-purged and O-ring sealed to provide waterproofing and fog-proofing. The lenses also have Armortek coatings, which help to protect from dirt and oil, as well as scratches.

While spotting scopes are often used to help with mirage, you will find that this scope has the power needed to read those mirages, so you can get on target. The quality of the build, along with the 15x -60x variable magnification and 52 mm objective lens, helps to ensure you are getting a great scope.

Conclusion: Practice for Better Shots

As mentioned, the only way to improve at dealing with mirage and shooting in the wind is through practice. By choosing a high-quality spotting scope, and a great rifle scope, such as the Golden Eagle HD, you will have an advantage. The scopes will make it easier to see the mirage and easier for you to make on the fly adjustments that will help your shots.

When you are practicing, it’s a good idea to keep a field journal with you. This will allow you to record your attempts and to see what is and is not working. Ultimately, this will make you a better shooter no matter the range and no matter the mirage.