Part 4 of our How to Read the Wind – The Ultimate Guide series is going to center on the right equipment to read and estimate the wind’s effects. We’re also going to touch on terrain effects and how weather moves in general across North America. By getting a better understanding for how weather systems move you gain a better understanding for how wind speeds and directions can change. You also start to realize how maybe something you are seeing that you think is happening, really isn’t happening at all. Always be a student of observation and constantly calibrate your senses so that your guesses about the conditions match what’s really happening as closely as possible!
Wind Reading – Equipment
Few pieces of gear are more relevant and important to the Precision Shooter than the Kestrel Weather Station. This is the device that not only can read wind speed and a host of other environmental conditions, it’s the teaching tool you shouldn’t be without. Frank Galli of Sniper’s Hide gets credit for the teaching method, at least he’s the first person I read that recommended this. You can never rely on electronics, so always base your first guess on the wind conditions on what you can see and feel with your body. Then compare that to what the Kestrel is reporting. By comparing those you calibrate your senses to accurately predict the conditions. The more often you do it, the more refined your estimates will become. The idea is not to rely on the Kestrel, but to use it to enhance the reliability of our own predictions!
There are other wind meters on the market, and if all you want to measure is wind speed than you can get away with spending less on one of the other options. I already mentioned earlier in the article the advantages of using Density Altitude with respect to printing your dope charts. I strongly suggest using a Kestrel because it’s a one stop shop. It will do everything you need it to do. If you can swing the extra money, I highly recommend the Applied Ballistics version of the Kestrel 4500NV. It has all of the weather functions of the regular flagship Kestrel 4500NV model, but it also has a very accurate ballistics solver built into it.
The ballistics engine is that of Applied Ballistics LLC run by Berger Bullets’ head ballistician, Bryan Litz. The Applied Ballistics Kestrel gives you access to the full Applied Ballistics library of custom drag curves developed by Bryan Litz. What’s a drag curve? The drag curves we hear about the most, and use most often, are the G1 and G7 drag curves. To make this simple, a computer model of a bullet in flight is developed. Bullets then have their performance measured and scored against that computer model with a value. G1 and G7 are different models. They also have different values. The advantage of the custom curve library is that each bullet has its own drag curve. Rather than being scored against a model, there is no model, it’s a reproduction of that bullet’s flight performance from data gathered while observing its flight performance.
Another thing that makes life easier when observing and studying the wind and it’s effects is a spotting scope! We did an article on Why Spotting Scopes Make Better Shooters that goes into a lot of detail on the advantages of a spotting scope. To keep it simple, though, the spotting scope offers a wider field of view coupled with more magnification and better focus controls. Since the objective lens tends to be much larger than a rifle scope, they work better in low light conditions and have generally better image clarity. It’s less fatiguing to the eye to use a spotting scope than to lay behind a rifle scope, so consider purchasing one in your journey to wind reading excellence!
You have to consider the effects of terrain when reading the wind. I’ve specifically waiting until the terrain section to talk about the whole “where is wind observation more important, at the shooter, mid range, or at the target?” argument for a reason. The answer to that argument is that they all matter. None of the information is worthless or without merit. There are some things you need to consider, however. For starters, its simple math as far as where wind has it’s greatest effect. The greatest effect is at the shooter. Moving the bullet off line of the target even a few degrees at the shooter has an enormous cumulative effect over the entire flight of the bullet.
The shooter’s position is also the only place you can measure, with an instrument, the effects of the wind. You can hold a Kestrel up at the shooter’s position and know as a fact what the wind speed and direction are at that position. That is important information. For the most part, that’s what you should be using to evaluate and dope the wind for your shot. I can already hear some people screaming about mid range wind behind the keyboard. Yes, you need to consider the mid range wind effects as well. I don’t personally buy into the whole “the bullet is moving slower and more susceptible to being moved by wind” argument that says mid range wind deserves more consideration.
Before the screaming starts again, I agree that mid range wind is important to consider. The reason has less to do with flight times and projectile speeds than terrain, in my opinion. You have to consider that while you can absolutely measure, scientifically, the wind’s effects at the shooter that those effects may be skewed or biased due to the terrain. If you are standing at the bottom of a hill and the wind is coming up over the top of the hill, and is largely blocked by it, you may be correct when you check your Kestrel and note a 2mph wind at a 45 degree angle. However, if the bullet need only fly a hundred yards to be beyond the protection of that hill, and its path takes it across an open valley for the majority of it’s flight path, then what?
If the wind in that valley is 10mph and a 90 degree angle your wind call is going to be incorrect, even though it was based on good information you gathered at the shooter’s position. You have to take all available sources of information into account. If you rely on only one instrument, one source, or one location for the information on the wind conditions in your area then you are likely to make the wrong call. Try to consider it all before making your decision.
Jetstream and Multiple Wind Directions
Wind and weather in North America tends to move West to East. This typically does not happen in a straight line and the path it takes can vary. That’s how you get different wind directions and wind will hit the same place at different angles even on the same day. The Jetstream is fluid and its path changes all the time. Here’s a couple images of the Jetstream from Accuweather spaced about a day apart for a little emphasis.
As you can see, the weather systems are always moving West to East, but the path they take is kinda like a drunk dude stumbling home from the bar, it’s not a direct route and it’s always changing. I’ll bet you’re wondering why we’re even talking about the Jetstream? The idea is to help paint a broad picture of how weather moves across North America. Wind does not blow against itself. I frequently see questions about “multiple wind directions” and it’s a Unicorn Concept. We’ve all heard about it but nobody’s actually seen it. If you have seen a single flag blowing the opposite direction of several others, that likely is the result of a terrain effect. The wind is hitting an obstruction and tumbling backward, forward, whatever, and that’s why you’re seeing the one flag going the wrong way. There isn’t some phantom rogue wind that has swooped in in direct opposition to how the rest of the weather in your area is moving!
Remember, having the right equipment will make learning a lot easier. The more features the equipment comes with, the larger the price tag. You don’t need to spend a fortune to get started, though! A Kestrel 4000 and an affordable spotting scope or even a set of binoculars will go a long way to allowing you to observe the wind’s effects. Compare that with different rules of thumb and your own estimates as to what you’re observing. You will be reading the wind with the best of them in no time if you make the effort!
In the next, and final installment of the How to Read the Wind – The Ultimate Guide series we’re going to put all the information together along with a few demonstrations! Since we plan on having video to accompany the last installment, it won’t be ready as quickly, but stay tuned…its at the top of the list! The idea has been to lay the foundation with the first four installments. With that accomplished, we’re going to show you how to put it all together while at the range in the final installment. I know this is a complex subject, so if you have questions, drop them in the comments below!