This review of the Applied Ballistics Kestrel 4500 has been in the works for a while. Part of the reason being I wanted to really get a bunch of hands on time with the Applied Ballistics Kestrel before giving readers my take on it. I’ve used it in several matches now, both monthly field style matches with smaller groups, and I used it at the 2014 and 2015 Sniper’s Hide Cup as well. I will go into more detail here in a minute, but I’ll say this, the Applied Ballistics Kestrel rocks! While this product has been around for a while now, people still want to know one thing: Is it worth the money? Read on to find the answer!
Kestrels o’ Plenty
I’ve owned three Kestrels now. A 4500NV, a 4500NV with Bluetooth, and now the Applied Ballistics Kestrel 4500 with Bluetooth. I’m going to say this now while I’m on the subject of Bluetooth, get the version with Bluetooth. The price difference between the Bluetooth and Non-Bluetooth versions are about the same cost as purchasing the computer interface for a Non-Bluetooth version. It’s simpler to do what you need to do with this unit with Bluetooth so just save up the extra $75 bucks or so and get the Bluetooth version from the start. Even if you plan to buy a non “ballistics” version of the Kestrel, most apps and computer programs can pull the data from the Kestrel through a bluetooth link, and that saves you time, so it’s still worth it!
The reason I’m harping on this feature has to do with really getting the most out of the Applied Ballistics Kestrel. It features a ballistic solver engine developed by Bryan Litz of Berger Bullets and gives the user the ability to use Bryan Litz’ complete library of custom drag profiles for different projectiles. Those drag profiles are what make
time travel possible the Applied Ballistics Kestrel worth every penny. Most ballistics solvers people use today measure the performance of a bullet against a model. Those model’s are referred to in decimal points in G1 or G7 flavors. G1 has been around for a long time and G7 is newer and was designed to more closely imitate the flight of a high power rifle projectile. Neither G1 nor G7 will be as accurate as the custom curves, because each curve is created from live fire data with that bullet. There’s no model, it’s a custom profile for THAT projectile.
Applied Ballistics Kestrel
As with other Kestrels the housing is made of a polymer that holds up pretty well to abuse while keeping the weight of the unit down. The impeller on the Applied Ballistics Kestrel is removable and replaceable like the other Kestrel units. I like the ability to swap the impeller out in case it gets banged around or one of the blades is broken while running around a stage at a rifle match. I’ve yet to need to replace one but I appreciate the forethought. The screen is easily visible in sunlight and with the backlight NV feature you can see it clearly while shooting at night. The main sensor is still open at the top which allows some smaller dirt, dust, and debris in but I’ve yet to have it produce any negative effect.
This unit was designed to do a lot more than the typical Kestrel 4500. Bullet manufacturers measure the performance of a bullet and assign it a value based on how closely it matches the G1 or G7 drag profile. So for example, the 123gr Lapua Scenars I load in my 6.5 Creedmoor, feature a G1 Ballistic Coefficient Value of 0.549. That’s a pretty high value for that caliber and bullet weight. You can use the Applied Ballistics Kestrel to give you ballistic solutions based on G1 or G7 values…but why? You can get your hands on ballistic applications for phones or use a free calculator online, such as JBM Ballistics, to give you ballistic solutions for a lot less than the Applied Ballistics Kestrel.
The Applied Ballistics Kestrel really shines because of those custom drag profiles we mentioned earlier. Rather than basing the performance of the projectile on how closely it fits a G1 or G7 drag profile…the Applied Ballistics Kestrel comes with a library of custom drag profiles. Huge difference. When I set up my Applied Ballistics Kestrel I selected the custom drag profile for the bullet I’m using, which was developed specifically for that projectile, and then I plugged in the muzzle velocity and barrel twist, etc.
Does it work?
My experience over the months and throughout several matches has been that when using the custom drag profiles, the Applied Ballistics Kestrel has been dead nuts accurate out as far as I’ve shot it. To date that distance is around 1250 yards in competition settings. The Applied Ballistics Kestrel has provided spot on drop numbers for my rifle and bullet every time I’ve asked. If I’ve missed, it was due to a bad wind call, not a problem with my DOPE (Data On Previous Engagements).
The Applied Ballistics Kestrel also has features for providing you with wind calls. There is a compass in the Applied Ballistics Kestrel that you can use to set a direction of fire by pointing the Kestrel in the direction of the target and hitting a button. You can then turn the Applied Ballistics Kestrel into the wind and click the button again and it will measure the speed of the wind and do the calculations for you, based on the angle of the wind and its relation to your direction of fire, and present you with a wind call. That’s pretty slick, and I think it’s a very useful training tool for new and seasoned shooters to use to check their wind calls against the Kestrel.
Maybe it works TOO good?!
I find the wind call feature to be a bit on the slow side to implement. It’s best used on a square range or training class where the shooter has time and a lack of stress to utilize it. I find it takes too long to tell the Kestrel which direction you are shooting and where the wind is coming from in a dynamic environment. Additionally, the wind will change angles and speeds rather frequently, which would necessitate another trip through the buttons to adjust for the change. This also makes the shooter dependent on the device for a wind call, which is a bad habit to get into. I find the better approach is to set the wind speed on the Applied Ballistics Kestrel to a 10mph speed from 9 or 3 O’Clock. Then modify that call based on the angle and speed in your head, which is what you should be doing anyway. If you want to read more about how to do that, check out our How To Read the Wind – The Ultimate Guide series of articles!
Another cool feature on the Applied Ballistics Kestrel is the ability to store multiple bullet profiles for the same, or different, weapons. So you can switch between your competition rifle, your dad’s hunting rifle, or anything else you’ve loaded so you get accurate ballistic shooting solutions for whatever rifle you happen to be using. The profiles you load are immediately and always available for use. Maybe you have a “plinking” load you use for training and a slightly different load for competition, you can load a profile for each type of ammunition!
All these features are on what is referred to as the “AB Side” of the Applied Ballistics Kestrel 4500. You can also switch over to the “Kestrel Side” of the device and access all the weather and climate readings the typical Kestrel 4500 displays. That’s nice for your own amusement, but it isn’t really necessary as the ballistics engine pulls that data for the calculations automatically. In the AB Mode you can also hit the photo icon button to get continuous live updates to your firing solution if you so desire. I find that to be a pretty cool feature if you’re spotting for people, shooting for fun, etc. and you have the time to utilize it.
Price & Options
So there are some options in play, and even a couple new Kestrel models, the Sportsman and the 5700 Elite, that have complicated the purchasing choices since the release of the Kestrel 4500 Applied Ballistics. I mentioned already the significance of bluetooth with the Applied Ballistics model. If you are going to purchase the Applied Ballistics model, the advantage is access to the custom Litz library of curves. If you’re going to use those curves, you need to be able to link the Kestrel and your PC to add and alter the different bullet profiles. You can do it with the USB connection kit, but why bother? Bluetooth is simpler. If you’re going to go full blown Applied Ballistics model, spend the extra cash and get the bluetooth model. It runs approximately $650-$700 and is well worth the cost.
There is also now the Sportsman’s Model of the Kestrel 4500. The Sportsman model can be had for around $429 base, or $589 with the “Spotter Pack” which gives you a bluetooth model and some accessories. The real question here, though, is whether or not the Sportsman model has enough horsepower for what you want to do. So let’s discuss the differences. The biggest is the Litz library of curves, the Sportman model does not come with them. So the next question becomes whether or not the Applied Ballistics solver using G1/G7 curves will get the job done for you. The short answer is yes, it will!
The Sportsman model is marketed as “for shots inside 800 yards,” which can be misleading. What they’re really saying is that if you plan to shoot within the supersonic range of your cartridge, whatever it is, the Sportsman model will work very well. G1/G7 curves have allowed people to get accurate hits at distance for a long time. I do think the Litz custom curves are better. However, how much better is the question you have to ask yourself. The reason the Litz curves are so highly regarded is they include transonic data. If you’re going to shoot ELR with a 338LM beyond the point where the bullet is no longer supersonic, you want the Litz curves and the full blown Applied Ballistics Kestrel. For the rest of us, who are recreational shooters, even those that compete at supersonic distances…the Sportsman is probably enough.
The Sportsman model will give you accurate solutions as long as you’re shooting within the supersonic flight distance of the cartridge you’re shooting. I think the whole, “Inside 800 yards,” thing comes from the fairly well known range of the 308 Winchester. The 308, with 168 grain projectiles, at sea level, is typically transitioning out of supersonic flight around 800 yards. When the bullet enters that transonic stage, the firing solutions are a little less predictable. If you plan to shoot farther, you need a higher horsepower ballistics engine. If you’re a hunter, or all your shots will be within supersonic flight, the Sportsman model and G1/G7 profiles will work just fine!
Kestrel 5700 Elite
This was a review I’d intended to publish much sooner than it really rolled out. As such, I’ve included some information on additional options that weren’t available at the time, but are now, like the Sportsman model. There’s also the new Elite line of Kestrels. Essentially it’s a revamped 4500 series that they’re calling the 5000 series. The screen is a bit bigger, and the battery compartment is now in the back, instead of on the bottom. The real advantage is the new “LINK” bluetooth protocol the meter uses. It was designed with the Bushnell Elite 1 MILE CONX rangefinder in mind. By pairing the rangefinder to the Kestrel, you can range a target, and get the ballistic firing solution computed via the Kestrel 5700, and then displayed in the readout on the rangefinder.
I’ll tell you right now, that’s pretty slick! If I hadn’t already made some gear choices to allow me to get the most out of my ELR rifle, I’d probably be looking at something like the Bushnell CONX and the Kestrel 5700 LINK units. The more stuff you can get done with the press of a button and no entering data manually, the better! For the guys who already own a Kestrel 4500, and are considering the upgrade, I don’t know if it’s necessary or worthwhile, yet. The Kestrel 4500 Applied Ballistics unit does a lot. More than it really needs to. I don’t know if I’d upgrade unless there’s something about the newer unit that you like or feel you need. If you plan to get the Bushnell rangefinder and pair them, go for it, I totally get it. If you’re already running a 4500 unit with success, it may not be worth the cost for you to upgrade.
Trade In Program
If you plan to upgrade, you can take advantage of the trade in program that’s offered by Nielsen-Kellerman. You can check the trade in chart on the Kestrel site to see what your Kestrel is worth on trade. I know…I know…the trade in price sucks, right? Keep in mind, the real benefit of this trade in program is the used units are provided to US Military Snipers that are out there in the world doing the Lord’s work. Yeah, you don’t get much on the trade in compared to selling it used, however you do put an important tool in the hands of a professional who’s working to secure your way of life the world. You don’t have to do it, but at least consider it!
If you want the absolute best firing solution at any distance because you are a competitive shooter, or somebody who deals with life and death on the business end of your rifle, you want the Kestrel 4500 Applied Ballistics with Bluetooth, or the newer Kestrel 5700 Elite. If you’re a casual shooter just looking for a handy ballistics computer that will store multiple rifle and bullet profiles, the Kestrel Sportsman at $429 is a good $250 cheaper. You can create bullet profiles on the device, if you want the ability to do it on a computer, consider the Spotter Pack so you can get the Bluetooth benefits. If I was trying to save cash and didn’t need the more expensive unit, I’d probably just grab a Sportsman and call it good!
Keep in mind, with the newer 5700 Elite unit on the market, there are people selling the slightly older, but fully functional 4500 Applied Ballistics units for bargain prices. If you plan to upgrade, make sure the newer bluetooth unit is going to function with whatever devices you want to pair it up with. I’ve seen, already, people disappointed to find they could not pair it with a Trimble Nomad running Field Firing Solutions. So if you’re looking at purchasing one of these units for ELR shooting, keep that in mind. Though in all honesty, if you’re going to run FFS for ELR shooting, you really just need a Kestrel 4000 with Bluetooth. FFS will do the ballistics lifting instead of the Applied Ballistics solver. In my opinion, the Applied Ballistics models are best suited to MIL/LE and Competition Shooters that need solutions calculated quickly and who aren’t shooting to ELR distances! Questions or Comments? Drop ’em in the comments section below!