What is Spin Drift? Definition.

What is Spin Drift?

Spin drift, also known as gyroscopic drift, is the horizontal deviation of a bullet from its intended trajectory due to the gyroscopic forces generated by the bullet's spin as it travels through the air. In the context of long-range shooting, understanding and accounting for spin drift is essential for accurate shot placement, particularly at extended distances. Spin drift is influenced by factors such as bullet spin rate, bullet shape, and environmental conditions.

Understanding Spin Drift

The concept of spin drift plays a significant role in shooting performance and ballistics:

  • Gyroscopic Forces: When a bullet is fired from a rifled barrel, it spins around its longitudinal axis, creating gyroscopic forces that stabilize the bullet in flight. These forces also cause the bullet to drift horizontally, deviating from its intended trajectory.
  • Direction of Drift: The direction of spin drift depends on the twist direction of the rifling in the barrel. For a right-hand twist, which is most common, the bullet will drift to the right; for a left-hand twist, the bullet will drift to the left.
  • Magnitude of Drift: The magnitude of spin drift depends on factors such as bullet spin rate, bullet shape, and environmental conditions. Higher spin rates and more aerodynamically stable bullet designs can result in increased spin drift.

Compensating for Spin Drift

Shooters can employ various methods to compensate for spin drift and achieve accurate shot placement:

  • Windage Adjustments: Some shooters may choose to adjust their scope's windage turrets to account for spin drift at specific distances. However, this method can be challenging, as it requires precise calculations and may be influenced by other factors such as wind drift.
  • Hold-off Method: Shooters can use the hold-off method to account for spin drift by aiming slightly to the left or right of the target, depending on the direction of drift. This method requires practice and a good understanding of the bullet's drift characteristics at various distances.
  • Ballistic Calculators: Ballistic calculators, available as smartphone apps or standalone devices, can estimate spin drift for specific firearm and ammunition combinations. These calculators provide elevation and windage adjustments to compensate for spin drift, along with other factors such as bullet drop and wind drift.

Factors Affecting Spin Drift

Several factors can influence the amount of spin drift experienced during shooting:

  • Bullet Spin Rate: Faster-spinning bullets experience greater gyroscopic forces, which can result in increased spin drift.
  • Bullet Shape: The aerodynamic properties of a bullet, including its shape and ballistic coefficient, can affect the magnitude of spin drift.
  • Environmental Conditions: Changes in air density, temperature, and humidity can alter the behavior of a bullet in flight, potentially impacting spin drift.


  • Cleckner, R. (2016). Long Range Shooting Handbook: A Beginner's Guide to Precision Rifle Shooting. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.
  • Litz, B. (2011). Applied Ballistics for Long Range Shooting. Applied Ballistics LLC.
  • Barsness, J. (2006). The Big Book of Ballistics. Skyhorse Publishing.
  • Sweeney, P. (2010). Gunsmithing - Rifles. Gun Digest Books.
  • Van Zwoll, W. (2011). Mastering the Art of Long Range Shooting. Gun Digest Books.
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