As a long-range rifle instructor, I get asked all the time about the equipment we use to accomplish our long-range shots. Equipment and techniques change over time with advancements in technology, but some have serious staying power. I started shooting long range long before there was even a laser range finder available to get accurate distances. The one item that has been a constant in my long-range kit from very early on has been a Kestrel weather station of one model or another. The first Kestrel I had was before they even had other models. That unit was simply a "Kestrel Weather Meter".
It didn’t take long in my early long-range career to understand that you needed to know a few things in an absolute way. Accurate pressure, temperature and wind speed being key to those things you must know to take full advantage of whatever shooting system you are using. Temperature and pressure are plug and play items so to speak. I'd simply get the reading from the Kestrel unit and enter it into my ballistic program. If you have a newer Kestrel unit with Applied Ballistics, you don’t even have to do that- the unit itself can be set to automatically populate those readings directly in to the solver. The last-- and in my opinion-- most important item left is wind speed and wind direction.
Now it may surprise a lot of people to know that what the Kestrel reads is seldom what I put into the ballistic solver for the long-range shot. When I got my first Kestrel, I recognized that what the wind does at the shooter position is not always the same as what the wind is doing over the full length of the shot to target. With this in mind, the Kestrel unit became an invaluable tool to learn about wind. I started teaching myself what different grasses, trees and other vegetation does at certain wind speed. I would look at a given type of tree and check the sway or movement, make an estimation of the wind speed, then fire up the Kestrel to see how close I was. It didn’t take long for the Kestrel to teach me to make really accurate estimations. Now I had the ability to look at a wind indictor where I couldn’t have a Kestrel and make a pretty accurate wind prediction downrange (I went through this same process with laser rangefinders).
If I am in a shooting position that just doesn’t have good wind indicators, I will get the Kestrel going to establish a baseline to work from. Let’s look at an example of how my Kestrel trained me in reading the wind better. Early on in long range shooting I set up a practice shot straight across a large canyon just over 1000 yards. I got pressure and temperature from the Kestrel and entered them into the ballistic solver I had at the time (pretty weak in comparison to programs like AB that are readily available today). The solver called for an elevation correction of 26.50 moa, so I dialed that into the scope. I looked at the wind across the canyon and estimated it to be 5-6 mph on the opposite canyon wall at the target. I get a reading at my position from my Kestrel that confirmed that the speed was 5.5-6.2 mph at my location. So far so good, I dialed in a windage correction of 2.50 moa left and add another .50 moa for spin drift (again this is now part of current ballistic solver solutions having spin drift added or subtracted from your windage). I settle in and fire the shot. The shot lands almost exactly 2.00 moa to the right, I am short on my windage call by dialing almost half of what I needed, at the time that just didn’t make sense. The correction for the follow up shot was of course easy and right on the money. Now at no point was I able to see this additional wind value visually or on my Kestrel. I did hike up to the head of the canyon and get out on a finger in the center of the canyon where I could read the effective air speed in the center. Much to my surprise the air speed in the center of the canyon was almost double of the air speed along the edges. When you see this and think about it, it makes sense. So after the Kestrel taught me that, our standard canyon wind shooting procedure has been to:
- Get a Kestrel reading at the shooting position
- Visually confirm what the Kestrel says by looking at indicators near us and on the other side of the canyon.
- Then we take the estimated wind speed that we got from looking at both sides of the canyon and double it.
This has not been a flawless technique but has been really good to us for a long time and our results are much better than before we started using this technique. The development of our wind reading technique and our education about what certain wind speed looks like in a certain area all came from using the Kestrel to educate us with actual and accurate rmeasurements early on.
Kestrel Guest Blogger: Shawn Carlock
About Shawn Carlock
Shawn is a former SWAT/Narcotics officer and now runs Defensive Edge sharing his knowledge and passion for shooting through a variety of long-range shooting courses.