Nov 26, 2012
It’s been said that “it’s not that the wind is blowing….it’s what the wind is blowing” and in long range shooting nothing could be more true than this statement. A proficient long range shooter has to be good at many things, among them is having the ability to understand environmental conditions surrounding them and how it will affect the trajectory of the round. In years past this skill was honed from hours in the field and on the range learning and logging how different weather conditions affected the bullet. While this is still an important skill, technology has made it easier on the shooter in some ways with the advent of portable weather stations and wind meters. These tools have become very popular with long range shooters since they can provide very accurate data in a short amount of time. This all moves toward helping the shooter get more first round hits on target with a maximum amount of efficiency. Wind meters and weather trackers come in many forms and in many price options so the good news is that there is typically something for everyone. The hard part is navigating all of the different models and picking which one is going to suit your shooting style and specific budget. I think it’s important to note that these tools should be seen as an aid to long range shooting, not as a replacement for acquired skills.
Wind can be the bane of most shooters’ existence and is more often than not the preferred excuse for a missed shot. While there are ways to gauge the wind speed and direction using your natural surroundings they are typically not the most accurate means since they can be a little deceiving at times. Having a wind meter available can take a lot of the guess work out of it and gives the shooter a slight advantage when using a ballistic program or thumbing through their data book. Keep in mind though that usually the wind at the shooter isn’t exactly what the wind is doing at the target or even half way to the target but it will provide a baseline. Basic wind meters are inexpensive and effective but they aren’t without their disadvantages though and the most obvious one is that it can only read wind speed. This means that the shooter is only getting a small piece of the pie when it comes to understanding the environment around them and how it might affect the bullet. That being said most reliable wind meters are reasonably priced and give the budget conscious shooter a good place to start.
One model to check out is the Kestrel 1000 wind meter, which provides basic functionality for the shooter in a compact and easy to use package. All Kestrel meters have nice, big impellers that can accurately read the wind down to less than 1 mph. Some of the cheaper wind meters that I’ve tried in the past never really wanted to go under 3 mph or so, something I attributed to smaller, cheaper impellers. Kestrels also have a hard plastic cover that protects the impellers from damage and if something should occur their impellers are user replaceable. The WeatherHawk Skymate wind meters are similar to the Kestrel meters in most regards in that they have easy to read displays and hard plastic covers to protect the unit. Both the Kestrel and Skymate wind meters go for less than a $100, which should fit nicely into most people’s budgets.
The Kestrel 1000 and Weatherhawk Skymate SM-18.
Moving on from there portable weather stations get a little more expensive but provide the shooter with more data than can be used to help increase accuracy at long range. In addition to wind measurements your typical mid-level weather station is going to provide temperature, altitude, barometric pressure/station pressure, and humidity readings to the shooter. One particular example of this “mid-level” weather meter is the Kestrel Model 2500 that retails for about $200. Even though the standard Model 2500 comes in “can’t lose me” orange, there is a night vision model that comes in OD Green for the more tactically conscious. The Kestrel 2500 is also a great option for an entry level shooter that’s starting to get serious about long range shooting and is looking for a reliable weather meter. The reason I say this is that it provides the basic information needed that can be plugged into a ballistic program so that the shooter can have accurate, real time dope for the present conditions. This means that the shooter won’t be going by a weather report from earlier in the day or trying to extrapolate the conditions later on. Having real time environmental data also makes it easier on the shooter when logging it into a data book since there is simply no guess work about what to enter.
However for some shooters trying to keep track of multiple data points can become confusing, especially when logging conditions into a data book. The reason being is that after a while you’ll get a certain amount of cross over between the dope needed for a shot and different sets of conditions or locations. For example the dope needed for a long range shot during the winter in a mountainous area can be the same as the dope near sea level in the summer. Even though the temperature, pressure, humidity, and altitude values would all be different the air density would be the same for both sets of conditions. This is where density altitude can assist a shooter in managing and referencing their data over a wide range of conditions. Density altitude is essentially the other environmental values (temp, humidity, pressure, etc…) condensed into a single figure that is easily manageable for a data book or ballistic program. Pilots have used density altitude to help predict aircraft performance and shooters utilize it in a similar fashion by predicting what altitude the bullet will “think” that it’s at. In higher density altitude conditions the air is less dense so there is less drag on the bullet and that means the shooter won’t have to dial in as much elevation to hit a target. Now say the shooter is shooting the same target at the same distance but the DA is now much lower. Since the air is denser with a lower density altitude figure more elevation will have to be dialed in to hit the target, otherwise the bullets will impact too low. I’ve found density altitude to be an effective and field expedient means of consolidating data for use in data books, ballistic programs, and with products like the Field Density Altitude Compensator.
For those shooters that want a portable weather meter that will provide density altitude data then there are a few options. The gold standard in portable weather stations that provide a full range of environmental data, including density altitude, are the Kestrel 4000-series of weather meters. The most popular of these higher end models for tactical precision rifle shooting are probably the Model 4000 and 4500NV meters. The 4500NV sets itself apart from the 4000 in that it will provide additional measurements and data such as an electronic compass, night vision preserving backlight, cross wind, and head wind readings. Some versions of the 4500 meters are also Bluetooth enabled and are equipped with Horus ballistic software so that a shooter has everything they need to make a long range shot. In my experience the Kestrels are very user friendly with a good sized screen, easy navigation, and the ability to deactivate specific features that aren’t needed. Kestrels are also extremely accurate and quick to respond to changing conditions, which is probably why it’s used in industries ranging from agriculture to scientific research. Kestrels like the Model 4000 and 4500NV generally start out at about $250-$300 depending on where you look but they are well worth the cost. Other models in the 4500 series though increase once you add on options like the Horus Vision ballistic program and Bluetooth, which can easily bump the costs up into the $600 range.
There are a couple of other weather meters that provide many of the same measurements and features as the Kestrels but with a lower cost to the consumer. The Brunton ADC Pro is one such example and with a street price of less than $150 it can be an attractive option when looking at all that it offers. Amongst the features and measurements are density altitude, temperature, humidity, pressure, altitude, wet bulb, dew point, wind speed, date and time, as well as the ability to record conditions. I owned one for a few years before upgrading to a Kestrel 4000 and was drawn to the price, compactness, and features. However the generously sized screen was packed with measurements, which sometimes made it difficult to find exactly what I was looking for if I was in a hurry. I also didn’t like that if I skipped past a screen that I wanted I couldn’t just back up to it. I had to scroll through all of the other screens again, which was frustrating even at the best of times. I did notice that the unit could also be a little slow to react to changing conditions when compared to the Kestrel, however at half the price not totally surprising. The ADC Pro was quite accurate though when it did catch up, so I certainly can’t fault it for that. When placed side by side with a Kestrel 4000 the readings for temperature and density altitude were nearly identical.
Comparison shot of the Brunton ADC Pro and Kestrel Model 4000.
Another feature packed weather meter that might bear some consideration is the WeatherHawk WM-350 with a retail price of about $250. Like the Kestrel and Brunton models the WM-350 will measure many of the same environmental factors, including density altitude, which would make it good for long range work. I don’t have any personal experience with the WM-350 but there are a few things that jump out at me about it that make it interesting. I really like the large impeller that’s similar to the Kestrel’s for accurate wind measurements and the integrated cover keeps everything protected when not in use. By all outward appearances the layout seems very similar to a Kestrel and after checking out the user manual for the WM-350 set up and use seems very simple. I’m trying to get my hands on one because I think that the WM-350 could be a good alternative to the Kestrel 4000 and 4500 with a slightly lower price tag for those looking to save some dough. If WeatherHawk is so kind as to send me one for review expect to see a comparison test up shortly.
Wind and weather meters can be great tools for the long range shooter to utilize in order to better their chances for a first round hit, however I don’t think they should be relied upon too heavily. Like laser rangefinders, weather meters can have batteries that can die or leak and render the device useless so the shooter should train to also get by without it. In this sense the weather meter becomes not only a shooting aid but a training tool as well. There isn’t a single answer as to which weather meter is best for a shooter since that is primarily driven by their needs and budget. However if someone was serious about shooting long range or competing in matches I would recommend getting a Kestrel 2500 or a weather meter with similar features at the bare minimum. From there it will depend on if the shooter wants or is willing to pay for more features such as an electronic compass, density altitude, ballistic programs, or a host of other options.
Below is a comparison chart of wind and weather meters that are suitable for long range use to help the shooter select the right meter for their needs and budget.