Smacking a steel target at short distances with a rifle that's set up for long range shooting can be done with pretty close to no effort, but when you start drawing distances out past 100 yards, the challenges pile up quickly. The anticipation of hearing that gratifying ringing sound can turn to frustration in an adrenaline-filled heartbeat when Mother Nature decides to walk on for the opposing team and commandeer your shot placement at her whim.
I took up the amazing and rapidly growing sport of Long Range Precision Rifle this year, and once I had my gear sorted and the basics figured out, I turned my attention to learning how to read the wind. Being a beginner to long range shooting, I did not realize that learning how to read wind is a pentathlon followed by a triathlon, not a sprint. After a match filled with a great deal of flailing and unsuccessful Hail Mary windage adjustments, one of the many accomplished precision rifle shooters at my club offered me the following words of consolation and wisdom:
Elevation is Science. Wind is Voodoo.
There is a lot of truth packed into that short statement. Long range shooters have developed several techniques to accurately gauge the direction and speed of wind, from understanding mirage, reading flags, to the art of estimating wind speed based on the "feel and "look" of it. While all of these methods are proven (and should be learned eventually), the learning curve is steep and requires a lot of bullets sent downrange that do not hit their target.
The good news is that modern technology and some really smart people have recently given long range shooters some pretty fantastic tools that allow us to bypass many of the challenges associated with making accurate shots at distance. Today, it requires just a few extra pieces of equipment (one that you're likely already carrying with you) and a lot less time to make sure that your rounds are hitting your target, regardless of wind conditions.
I recently had the opportunity to try out some of these modern marvels: The Kestrel Shooter's Weather Meter with Applied Ballistics and Bluetooth and the Kestrel Companion for Android. The Kestrel Weather Meter is a small but powerful device that collects staggering amounts of environmental data and combines that with long-range shooting ballistics information. Simply put, It's rocket science that fits in the palm of your hand. The Kestrel Companion is just what it says; it's an app for Android devices that gives the Kestrel Weather Meter more functionality in the field by collecting the data from the Kestrel meter ad remotely displaying your shooting solution on your smartphone or tablet.
The Kestrel Weather Meter excels at collecting more environmental data than you ever knew existed, and once set up, it is intuitive and easy to use. It does take some quality time to gather data and enter it into the weather meter to ensure accurate readings, but I appreciated that I was able to get the basic setup completed in the comfort of my own home. The Applied Ballistics feature in this Kestrel meter is part of the magic that allows it to work seamlessly with the Kestrel Companion app, so setting up a gun profile in the Kestrel is not an optional step. This part of the setup was by far the most time consuming for me, as I had to gather the data I already had and collect some additional information on my bullets and rifle. With a little help from the Internet, I was able to configure the gun profile in about an hour.
Once I had the Kestrel Weather Meter set up and installed the Kestrel Companion app, I grabbed my rifle, gear and tablet and head out to the range. Setting everything up took less than 10 minutes and involved placing the meter in a tripod mounted rotating vane, walking it out to an open area on the range, turning on the Kestrel Weather Meter and placing it in wind capture mode,then walking back to my bench and opening the app on my tablet. Pairing the app was easy, the app found the Kestrel right away through the Bluetooth connection. A few seconds later, the Kestrel Companion app started collecting data from the meter and like magic, it presented me with my shooting solution.
The Kestrel Companion app was extremely easy to use, and its minimal design is refreshing. It prominently displayed my Elevation and windage holds, and displayed my gun parameters in smaller text at the bottom of the screen.I set the target range first with a simple slider, and then used the left and right arrows to dial in the exact distance to my target.
Now it was time for the moment of truth. I set up my rifle, loaded my magazine, then took a quick look at the companion app and made the suggested elevation and windage adjustments on my scope. My first shot went about a half-mil high, right of the red dot in the center of my target, and my next three shots went through the same hole. Not only did the Kestrel Weather Meter and Companion App help me get on target consistently, it revealed that I needed to tighten up my zero, which is something I would not have seen if I had been trying to read the wind without help. The app continued to work as advertised during my range trip;it stayed paired with the Kestrel Weather Meter and made adjustments as needed without any additional input or assistance. Each time I made a windage or elevation adjustment based on the app's suggestion, I was rewarded with another shot on target.
The only limitation I found with the Kestrel Companion was not with the app itself, but Bluetooth's distance limitation. The Kestrel Companion app stayed paired with the Kestrel Wind Meter all the way up to Bluetooth's maximum stated range of a little over 30 feet, and while I was able to get accurate readings near my shooting position, I was not able to get readings at the target location.I didn't find this to be an issue, as the data provided by the Kestrel meter and Companion app put every one of my shots on the target at distances out to 300 yards.Having baseline environmental information is still very valuable to long range shooters and certainly more helpful than having no accurate information at all.
There are other apps on the market that help shooters calculate elevation and windage that are less costly and slightly more convenient, but they lack the advanced and helpful features of the Kestrel Weather Meter and Companion App. One big advantage over other apps is not having to rely on cell service or Wi-Fi to obtain a shooting solution. I regularly shoot in the middle of the Phoenix, AZ area, and I often have trouble picking up a reliable cell phone signal on the range. If you're shooting in the middle of nowhere, which is often the case with long range rifle, The Kestrel Weather Meter and Companion app will still function as expected.
After testing out the Kestrel Weather Meter and Kestrel Companion app, I will be making them part of my essential equipment for long range shooting excursions and matches. I will also continue to learn how to properly read boiling mirage and wind flags that have no rhyme or reason, and someday, I might finally get it. Until then, I'll happily use the tools that allow me to make quick and accurate shots without having to get a PhD in meteorology.
The Kestrel Companion app requires use with the Kestrel Weather Meter Applied Ballistics and Firmware version 4.83 or higher.You can find the Kestrel Companion app in the Google Play store for $4.99.