Today I’m going to talk a bit about windmeters and why they’re a necessary tool for the precision shooter. I see this question a bunch, especially among newer shooters; what do I need first? You can do a lot in this game without spending crazy money, especially in the beginning. However, you really need to have a windmeter as you get started and throughout your journey into precision shooting. The main reason why is because trying to guesstimate the wind speed based on what you see and feel is just that…a guess. In order to learn and to calibrate your senses to what that means in terms of wind speed you need a windmeter. The technical term is anemometer. What we mean is a device that measures wind speed.
The Popular Windmeter
The most common example of this is your Kestrel produced by Neilsen Kellerman. This device is not only an anemometer that measures wind, but it actually has multiple sensors and is a full blown weather station! Not only will a Kestrel give you wind speed but it has features like a compass built in that can give you crosswind, bearing, temperature, pressure readings and much more. All that environmental data is useful when calculating an accurate ballistic solution. However, this isn’t mean to be a Kestrel article.
There are some other options out there for cheaper alternatives. Due to the usefulness of Density Altitude when it comes to ballistics and drop charts if you’re going to get a Kestrel I recommend you check the functions and make sure Density Altitude is provided before you buy. Not every Kestrel has the same sensor package and they don’t all have the same environmental tools. One of the alternatives is the Weatherflow meter!
This is the basic version that just reads wind speed but there is a more advanced version that will also do Density Altitude when paired with your phone. For around $85 this might be a very attractive option to guys just getting into precision rifle shooting. This article is for discussing why you need the wind meter function. Now that we know we need one, and we have some examples of what the devices we’re discussing are, we’ll get into the why!
Why is a Windmeter Necessary?
The reason you need a windmeter, especially when you’re first starting out is because you’re fairly clueless about the wind. Most people who aren’t avid precision marksman won’t know how to answer if you ask how fast the wind is blowing. There are oodles of little rules of thumb you can use like the angle between a flag and the pole, whether or not dust or paper is raised from the ground, large/small trees swaying, etc. Just keep in mind those are all rules of thumb. They’ve subjective and are for getting a quick and dirty idea of what’s going on. It’s not very precise.
So the question becomes, how does one get better and more accurate about what the wind is doing? The answer is by observing, making your guess as to the wind and conditions, and then checking your guess against something scientific like a windmeter. Guessing will get you close but an eductated guess can get you on target. Using real information from a valid source like a windmeter will beget even better results. Some guys don’t even think they need a windmeter after a few years. Let me tell you, I don’t feel real dependant on a wind meter these days when the wind is under 15mph. The problem becomes when you get up into the 20s and 30s for wind speed.
I know what a 5mph wind feels like on my face. Can I tell the difference between a 20mph and a 30mph wind without a meter, not really. Maybe some guys can but I’m not one of them. It’s not real common. It also gets harder to tell subtle differences as the wind speed increases. Mirage is one trick you can use for gauging wind speed without a windmeter. Unfortunately, above about 12mph you can’t really see a difference. So having a windmeter is a must. If you encounter a super gusty day without a windmeter, you’re in a tough spot.
Other Important Reasons
Guesses are guesses, we’ve acknowledged that. We’ve also said that with experience our guesses can be educated. Here’s the sticking point. We’re only able to accurately say what the wind is doing at the shooting position. The reason for that is obvious. We can measure it with instruments that we’re holding. Everywhere else is an educated guess. The shooters position is the only place we know for sure what the wind is doing. The shooting position is extremely important because of angular deflection. If wind pushes the bullet off target by two degrees as it leaves the muzzle the effect continues. It will be off by two degrees all the way to the target. That error will be compounded by distance. So it becomes critical to get as much of the firing solution correct as possible from the word go.
My other bit of parting advice for this sport is never be afraid of a windy day. It might make things more difficult but relish that challenge! Even if you struggle it’s good experience. Now you’ve shot in a 20mph wind. That gives you an edge the next time you encounter similar conditions. Learn to calibrate your senses with the wind meter. Learn what a 5mph wind feels like on your face. Watch and learn what a 10mph wind does to trees and vegetation. Guess what’s happening and then verify it with the wind meter! Learn at every opportunity.
I wanted to show you guys some reasons a windmeter is really a necessity. Even experienced shooters need one. At some point the conditions will change to something you aren’t as sure about. When that happens you need help from a tool like a Kestrel. What the wind is doing at your shooting position is critical. It’s the only place you can measure it and know for sure. So get that part of your firing solution correct. If you’re going to make a mistake, make it on what’s happening elsewhere. Don’t goof something you can measure and know for sure. You want to get as much right with a wind call as possible. The wind is the great equalizer in this game!