by B.B. Pelletier

This one is for the man who asked me last week how to hold for a target that is up in a tree or that was lower than the shooter. I did direct him to the post where that was discussed, but he needed to see a picture, so here it goes.

Up a tree: How to hold for shots that aren’t on the level
When shooting at targets that are above or below you, estimate the distance to the target as though it was on the level with you. If you were shooting at a rat from a third-story attic window, the rat might only be five feet from you, if it were on your level. The fact that it is actually 40 feet away makes no difference. Only the distance to the rat on the same level counts, because that is all the distance that gravity has to act.

Let’s turn that around. What if a squirrel is 50 feet directly above you in a tree? There is no linear distance. If you were on his level, one of you would be standing on the other. You will be shooting straight up, and the pellet will have no chance to be affected by gravity, except that it will act to slow the pellet in flight. For this shot, your pellet will strike the target as far below the aim point as the center of the scope is above the bore. It’s the same as shooting at a target that’s touching the muzzle of the gun.


To determine the proper holdover for an elevated or depressed target, determine the distance if the target were on your level. In this case, the distance to the base of the tree.

Not exact, but close enough
This method of determination is not exact, but it’s close enough for hunters. Because the slant range is longer for an elevated or depressed target, the flight time is also longer, so there is actually a miniscule amount of extra drop compared to a shot taken on the level at the same distance. When you are shooting at Army tanks on a hill three miles away, it matters. For squirrels at 50 yards, it doesn’t. Slant range is the longer length of the hypotenuse of a right triangle compared to the vertical leg.

You might wonder what happens when you shoot straight up or down. Well, gravity does act to either speed up or slow down the pellet, but not to move it off the straight line it travels. However, the difficulty of shooting EXACTLY straight up or down almost guarantees that the shot will be pulled off course a little.