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What Is Holdover Shooting In Rifles? — Complete Beginner’s Guide

Holdover Shooting

Whether you are a beginner or a professional in long-range shooting, it’s no secret that several factors affect your accuracy.

It’s safe to say that there is NOT one fixed solution that ensures top-tier accuracy of your aim EVERY. SINGLE. TIME.

Yes — reticles and optics help ONLY to some extent.

This is where the concept of HOLDOVER comes in.

If you’re wondering how it helps, if it’s effective, and how to do a handover properly — you’ve come to the right place!

What Is Holdover Shooting?

A true sign of marksmanship is familiarity — or rather, MASTERY of holdovers.

For beginners, you’ve probably come across this term once or twice during your practice sessions. 

You might be wondering, “what exactly is a HOLDOVER?

Holdover is all about POSITIONING.

You should aim the crosshairs of your reticle (or the lines you see when you use your optic) a little HIGHER than your point of aim.

How So?

This strategy accounts for gravity’s impact on your bullet.

You can even try and see this for yourself.

Try shooting from a long distance.

  • Even if your reticles are zeroed, you’ll notice a gap between your point of aim and point of impact.
  • You’ll see that the point of hit will be LOWER than your target or the bull’s eye.

NOTE: GRAVITY keeps the bullet downwards as it travels the distance from your rifle to the target.

You can calculate or easily estimate the amount of holdover you need mainly on two factors: DISTANCE and WIND SPEED.

This can be the reason why some refer to it as “Kentucky Windage.”

Technically, Kentucky Windage is a tactic that requires one to aim into the wind to compensate for wind deflection.

But basically, the idea is the SAME.

The FARTHER you are from the target and the stronger the wind, the HIGHER the holdover will be.

Most hunters make use of the vertical line in the reticle to estimate the elevation adjustments.

The crosshairs on your reticle would need to be above the target, preferably a few MOA or MIL dots above the supposed “center.”

Complicated MATH is not required, but PATIENCE is.

To master this, try shooting from different distances.

  • Take note of the gap from the center or target and measure the bullet drop rate.
  • Adjust your holdover in increments until you can zero in on your accuracy.

Is There Such a Thing as “No Holdover at 300 Yards”?

Most experienced or professional hunters would probably tell you that there is no holdover at 300 yards.

There is some truth to this saying.

If your weapon is zeroed in at 300 yards, the bullet’s trajectory will flatten out in this range.

Here’s a simple way to think about it: the distance of 300 yards is the point where the bullet’s trajectory FLATS OUT.

Is this always true?

In most cases — YES. But is it ALWAYS? NO.

As we’ve mentioned, there are some factors that a shooter should consider.

The range and wind speed are some factors that affect your need for a holdover. However, you must also consider the type of bullet.

What Is Holdunder Shooting?

HOLD ON — if there is a holdover, does that mean there is also HOLDUNDER?

YES, there is.

It is less popular than its counterpart, but it means you aim a little lower (below the horizontal line on your reticle) than your target.

It may run against the logic and concept of a bullet drop.

As we know, gravity pulls the bullet to the surface, so the point of impact will be lower than the point of target.

So — when do we need or use HOLDUNDER?

This is useful when it comes to challenging terrain. Many shooters opt to holdunder when the target is from a distance and is a little elevated.

You can try this technique the same way as a holdover. You can only master it through trial and error.

Are These Necessary?

The answer to this question is dependent on the shooter.

It pays to know the trajectory of the round of bullets you are firing.

It’s crucial to know if you need to adjust your aiming point when using your reticle to compensate for external factors.

With enough practice, you will be able to determine the maximum point-blank range and observe the projectile of your bullet — the highest peak, when it starts to fall, and when it crosses your line of sight (LOS).

You will also see if the projectile is relatively flat, which means you won’t have to worry about estimation.

Some purely rely on their optics and adjust on the fly.

However, it would be good to know how to holdover or holdunder.

REMEMBER — it’s better to know it and not need it than to need it and not know it.

How Do Holdover and Holdunder Apply in Self-Defense Situations?

Aside from hunting sessions, the same principles apply when it comes to self-defense.

There are a handful of real-life instances where these techniques can come in handy.

It can be when you spot an animal charging towards your direction or in dire situations such as intruders in the house, etc.

What Do You Need to Consider?

In these flight or fight situations that need urgent response or reaction — you might not have the time to “practice” or adjust your sights to a zero.

To successfully defend yourself, keep in mind three things:

Test Shot at Targets

Test Shot at Targets Icon

If you’re unsure if your sights are zeroed in, take note of your aiming point in the reticle and check if your bullet was able to hit the center or target.

You can use the holdover or holdunder technique if you misfired a shot or the hit is not critical.

Keep on firing and shoot a little higher or lower, depending on which is more applicable.

This means you have to do a holdover OR increase elevation by a few MIL or MOA dots.

Different Distances

Different Distances Icon

Should the deterrent be a relatively far distance from you, consider doing a holdover.

  • If you’re in an open space, this will prove to be effective as you need to compensate for the wind speed as well. Target higher than what you see in the reticle.
  • You might want to minimize aiming higher from the center with your shots in enclosed areas as you’ll only need to consider the effect of gravity and bullet drop rate.
  • Also — remember that your zero is different in various distances. Aim or shoot higher to test the zero in different ranges.

Weapon & Reticle

Weapon & Reticle Icon

Lastly, a holdover or holdunder would be useless if you are not familiar with the type of gun you are using.

It’s also good to know the reticles you have.

The more ADVANCED they are (e.g., BDC reticles), the LESSER the need for a holdover because you can dial the windage and elevation.

For example, BDC reticles consider the force of gravity and the bullet and barrel trajectory.

Familiarity with the gun would help you improve the accuracy of your aim point in any range and if you would need any angle adjustments.

Dialing Technique: Is It Better Than the Holdover Technique?

“Since we have more accurate and advanced scopes — can’t we just use them?”

Some of you might have reservations when it comes to deploying these techniques.

The main purpose of a rifle scope reticle is to ELIMINATE ESTIMATES or SHOOTING INACCURACIES.

Dialing means that you set the elevation turret of your reticle to temporary zero based on the CURRENT firing location.

For example:

  • Your bullet drop is at 1 MOA at 100 yards from the target.
  • Instead of aiming 1 MOA higher, you can correct the turret 1 MOA up to match your firing location.
  • Correct MIL dot reticle or MOA accordingly as you move farther away from the target.

Do Reticles, in Effect, Eliminate Holdovers as Well?

Holdovers are not a requirement.

It is a rifle scope shooting technique — thus, it’s not surprising that some would find it helpful while others would find it a waste of time and ineffective.

This begs the next question, “Is dialing scopes better in hitting your target?”

Our opinion — it depends on the situation.

There are instances when one is preferable over the other.

  • During a hunting game, if your shooting targets are still, many shooters might opt to adjust their scope to zero.
  • It is also advisable to dial your reticle if it only has one vertical and one horizontal line. The adjustment will take less than a couple of minutes, making it the more efficient choice.
  • Moreover, you won’t be needing visual holdovers if you have advanced reticles (e.g., laser rangefinders, BDC reticles).

Advantages of Adjusting the Scope

What’s great about adjusting your rifle scope:

  • Higher accuracy of shots when windage and elevation are zeroed in
  • Removes the need to “estimate” or do mental math when you dial
  • Dialing can be easier, especially for those with rifle scopes that have adjustable turrets with MIL dot or MOA adjustments
  • Availability of options ranging from standard scope to specialized scope that can aid in sight aiming

Disadvantages of Scope Adjustment

What’s not so great about calibrating scopes:

  • A zeroed in scope might be inaccurate in different distances or long ranges
  • Takes time to dial a reticle, especially in more advanced rifle scopes
  • There is still a need to account for the type of bullet and bullet trajectory
  • Zeroed in scopes may still have a margin of error when the wind changes in speed, direction, or force
  • Barrel (axis of bore) holdover is not eliminated
  • Inefficient when it comes to time-pressured or fast-paced target shooting

Thus, when is the holdover preferred over the scope dial technique?

If your shot is from a medium or long-range shooting, holdovers are preferred.

You might need a holdover during hunting or a big game, especially when the target is elusive.

You won’t have to make any adjustments — you only need to aim slightly higher. 

When the shot requires SPEED, holdover would be your best ally.

In addition, if your holding reference is not moving — holdovers would save you more time. You would be able to estimate the adjustment needed by firing a few shots.

It’s a non-stop debate which among the two methods is better when increasing the aiming accuracy when firing your weapon.

To sum up, here are the advantages and disadvantages of the hold over technique:

Pros of Holdover
  • Faster to accomplish continuous shots
  • Keeps your head focused on the aim
  • No need to break your focus to dial the reticle
  • No need to adjust reticles every time you change the distance
  • May improve marksmanship with only minimal help from reticles
  • More apt for during big game, long-range, or speed hunting
Cons of Holdover
  • It takes a while to master your bullet's trajectory
  • Not advisable in short-range distances
  • Not applicable to all weapons and ammunition
  • Aiming can be less accurate than dialing the elevation turret
  • Impossible to accomplish when your optics are not illuminated
  • Holdover or holdunder shots can differ depending on wind speed

Frequently Asked Questions

What Is the Best Holdover Reticle?

If you need a reticle that will help you aim correctly and account for holdover at the same time, there are two crowd favorite options:

#1 Christmas Tree Style Reticle

Most shooters love this reticle due to its unique and useful design.

The mil-dot reticle only has its dots around the horizontal reticle and minimal or zero dots on the vertical one. BDC reticles only contain hash marks at the 6 o’clock position.

This design in the sight picture forms an angle that makes it look like a Christmas tree.

Holdover is easier to pin as the shooter can use the crosshairs in the horizontal reticle as a guide, sliding the lower reticle accordingly for stronger wind and bullet drop.

#2 Zeiss RapidZ SFP Reticle

This is a more advanced reticle that has benefited from technology.

The scope’s magnification can factor in the trajectory of the bullet.

These reticles auto-compute for the bullet’s projectile motion and shows the shooter the point where the bullet “hits” or lands on the target.

Conclusion

That ends our guide on the holdover technique!

Both methods (dialing your scope and holdover technique) take skill and patience to learn, and it all boils down to preference. 

In other words, some are more efficient and confident when dialing their rifle scopes during long-range shooting, while others prefer to master the holdover and holdunder techniques.

Good luck, and happy hunting!

FINAL TIP: For more tips and tutorials about scopes, you can also take a look at our Guide on “Doping” Rifle Scopes if you’re interested.

About the author

Christopher Wade

Christopher Wade is a true outdoorsman. After spending most of his career as a firearms expert and instructor in Nebraska, he retreated to the great outdoors to enjoy retirement.

Christopher’s expertise in handling firearms and hunting gear are what propelled him to create the Shooting Mystery blog. He hopes for all readers to gain useful and practical knowledge for enjoying their time outdoors.