Your First Kestrel

In Blog by Rich15 Comments

With our recent article series on How To Read The Wind – The Ultimate Guide, there was some talk about which model Kestrel a novice or newcomer to the precision rifle sport should buy. We’re going to answer that question in the first paragraph, the Kestrel 4000. As we covered in the Wind articles the main components you need in a wind meter are the ability to measure wind speed, and to have the ability to ascertain your density altitude. We’re going to explore the Kestrel 4000 in a bit more detail in this article. The hope is to illustrate how a newer shooter can use it, but more importantly, to keep a new shooter from overspending in the wrong area. There’s a tendency to want to “just buy the best” from the word go. The problem is, if you do that in this sport, you’re going to be shelling out tens of thousands of dollars. So let’s be smarter about our purchasing! Read on and we’ll discuss some savings!

Why The Kestrel 4000?

When you are just getting into this sport, you obviously need a way to measure wind speed. There are numerous gadgets and widgets that will do that and many can be had for less money than a Kestrel 4000. So why are we recommending the Kestrel 4000? Density Altitude is your answer. As you move from one location to another there are a multitude of environmental factors that change. Those changes cause weather and air density changes and that will affect the way your bullet flies through the air. To put it simply, as air density increases the bullet requires more vertical adjustment, a higher lob of the bullet, to get it out to the same range than in a location where the air isn’t as dense. What affects air density? Everything…

  • Temperature
  • Altitude
  • Humidity
  • Barometric Pressure

You can plug all these variables into your firing solution every time if you want, but it’s simpler to use one value that is an aggregate of the other values that comprise it, right? Density Altitude is a number that takes all these factors into account and comes up with a number that is representative of changes in all those variables. For example, a lot of people waste a lot of time with humidity when coming up with firing solutions in the beginning. The truth is, while it has an effect, it’s pretty small, so don’t waste your time worrying about it. By using density altitude, any changes in humidity are already accounted for. This is why I suggest you go with the Kestrel 4000. Not only does it individually measure all the different factors that comprise density altitude, it takes those measurements before it gives you the value for density altitude!

Kestrel 4000 Features

The cost of these units can be a big point of contention when you think about features. For example, the Kestrel 4000 has what you need to get started and runs right around $250 USD when I searched around a bit on the web. The main difference between the 4000 and the 4500 is the compass component. Is it worth it? My answer would be no. The Kestrel 4500 runs around $310, so a $60 dollar increase over the average on the Kestrel 4000. The compass is used to determine headings and crosswind. Basically, you point the Kestrel in the direction you are looking, and if you then face into the wind, the Kestrel will compute the angle and give you the effective crosswind value.

I know that sounds cool, but here’s the thing…the wind changes direction constantly! You’re going to look doofy constantly checking crosswind with the Kestrel. When you step up to the Applied Ballistics model down the road, or even the Horus model, the compass is used to set your direction of fire. Then it compares that heading to where the wind is coming from to give you a more complete ballistic firing solution. Again, sounds really cool! Right? Yes and No. Yes it’s neat that it can do this and give you the wind hold you need to hit targets at distance. In terms of the Applied Ballistics or Horus Kestrels being good teaching tools, then I would say this is a worthy addition to the feature set. However, you’re more than twice, and almost three times the price of the Kestrel 4000 to acquire those features. So the real question is, do you really need them in the first place?


This is all you need to get started, you can upgrade later when your experience level and wallet deem it necessary!

I’ve played with the wind features on the Applied Ballistics Kestrel, and I stopped using them almost as soon as I learned how to use them. Its too slow! Especially in any sort of dynamic environment you just don’t have the time to constantly be stopping, setting a new direction of fire for a new target, and then asking for the new wind hold by facing the Kestrel into the wind. You have to be able to judge the wind and come up with a hold in a split second. You’re better off using the 10mph Full Value baseline wind and breaking that up into fractions or percentages on the fly. It’s quicker and more efficient! What does the Kestrel 4000 include? Here’s the list:

Is the Kestrel 4000 Worthy?

The point of repeatedly stressing how some of the jee-whizz features aren’t very expedient is to show the newer shooter they really don’t need to spend $650+ on a full blown Kestrel Applied Ballistics from the get go. I think down the line in terms of streamlining firing solutions, working with different rifles and calibers, and getting highly accurate live solutions it gets to be worth the investment. Frankly though, a new and even intermediate level shooter likely isn’t at the level where that will make a difference in their shooting or how they place at a match. The Fundamentals of Marksmanship need a lot more time and ammunition to master and have a larger overall affect on your shooting than whether your firing solution was calculated live or off a density altitude card.

Save yourself the $400+ dollars as you get started and consider putting that money into a better stock for your rifle that allows you to adjust it for fit. $400 bucks will buy you a worthy Bushnell Elite 1 Mile rangefinder. You could put the money towards a better scope! The uses for the money are numerous and for a beginner it’s just better spent in other areas besides the Kestrel. That’s not to downplay the importance of having one, but get one that gives you what you need, and nothing more. In that category, the Kestrel 4000 is king! If you disagree or want to discuss it further, drop us a message in the comments below!

Owner and Proprietor of AccuracyTech, LLC. Rich is a Firearms Enthusiast, Precision Rifle Competitor, and Writer. He is committed to bringing readers quality reviews and articles related to the Precision Shooting Sports. If you have any questions for him, please use the contact form on the site.


  1. I’m not sure knowing the “pressure trend” is going to help me much. However, I am very much interested in knowing the wind speed and, to a much lesser extent, the humidity, temperature, and pressure. A similar hand held meter selling for eighteen bucks on Ebay will give me accurate wind speed and local temperature. I can get pretty good humidity and pressure information on my Android, which I already own. Bottom line: I find it hard to justify spending two hundred and fifty bucks on a device such as this, at least not until I’m packing to go to the Olympics; and that just ain’t happening soon.

    Wind speed is important, but it is obtainable at a MUCH lower price. The rest of the information the Kestrel series of instruments provides is of MUCH lower priority and/or is pretty much fluff. Sorry, I suppose somebody needs and can take advantage of what the Kestral provides, but everyone I know can get along equally well at the sub-twenty-bucks level.

    1. Author

      Bob, I would agree, and did mention there are cheaper devices that will get you wind speed. However, you have two issues when it comes to using data off a phone. First, the phone needs a signal or it’s useless. Second is your proximity to the weather station decides how accurate the information is. Plenty of folks shoot in spots without much in the way of cell coverage.

      Which meter do you recommend at the $20 level?

  2. Let me play devil’s advocate for a minute. If we’re going to preach getting shooters into the sport on a budget, the Kestrel 2500 will do everything the 4000 will do, for about half the price. “But it does not have Density Altitude!” – Correct, but calculating D/A is a simple question of doing a look up based on the Station Pressure and Temperature. There are very good apps that can do that conversion easily, such as my personal favorite, AutoDens. You could also print out a simple look-up chart on Microsoft Excel in 15 minutes. “But you need humidity to calculate Density Altitude”. Yes, but have you ever investigated how much humidity actually affects D/A. It’s a trivial factor. Leave the humidity at 50% and forget it, and you’ll never be far enough off to matter. For half the price, a new shooter can save themselves $100-$150 buying a Kestrel 2500, and get everything they need.

    1. Author

      I’m not preaching getting guys in on a budget with this article, Scott. Though I think that would make an excellent idea for an article in the future. A sort of bare bones getting started list.

      I just know plenty of guys that look at the folks in the PRS series or bigger matches running $700+ Kestrels and it can be intimidating. The 4000 will give you everything you need, immediately accessible at a glance.

      The lookup chart reminds me of the FDAC. Which is a great product too and it’s very analog. The issue is the bullets and calibers it’s set up for. You can use a chart, as you suggested, like say this?

      There would just be more to look at when checking your current conditions. I think you and Bob have the makings of a good article. Maybe a “Cost Cutters Guide to Long Range Shooting” kind of approach!

  3. Rich- That would make a good article Rich! The 2500, for under $150, is something I would definitely put on that list.

    The chart you attached is PRESSURE ALTITUDE. The one danger to doing the conversion on your own is that you need to be VERY careful with terms. Knowing the difference between Pressure Altitude and Density Altitude, Station Pressure and Barometric Pressure, and similar terms like that can be confusing.

    I looked and looked for a pre-made chart like the one you linked to that converts temperature and station pressure (the two things we can DIRECTLY measure) to Density Altitude. Unfortunately, pilots use the information very differently than we do, even if the essential math is still the same. So that table is not something that it common. The only chart I’ve seen made for shooters by shooters is this one, and not in the unit most of us use for pressure…

    When I made my chart, I assumed 50% RH, and made up a grid of station pressures from about 26.00 to 31.00 (by .2 steps), and temps from 0*F to 100*F (by 5* steps). Then I’d spent some serious time with AutoDens, filled in the chart, and never think about it again. Even as a graduate of MIT (yes, seriously), the conversions can get confusing – I’d rather rely on the math already being worked out for me. When it’s appropriate and sufficient, simple is still better. But just for the challenge, I did resolve the entire equation, and made up a chart calculated that way to compare to.

    I keep that chart in my DOPE book, which stays in my pack, and refer to it only when my phone, with AutoDens on it, is out of reach for whatever reason.

    1. Author

      I will look into setting up that article in the future, maybe with some input from Bob and yourself! That was the first DA chart I could find though as you pointed out, it seems to be using Temperature and Pressure Altitude to determine DA. Even with the little station pressure / pressure altitude conversion on the chart, as you said, it can become confusing. This is part of why, even at the cost of another $100 dollars of everyone’s hard earned money, I recommend the Kestrel 4000. Simple and there’s no charting or converting to do.

      The realist side of me likes the idea of being able to set up printed charts to manually calculate DA, though, is the email you used on the comments a good one to reach you at, Scott?

  4. “Which meter do you recommend at the $20 level?”

    Here’s one for $15.67 with free shipping.

    I’m not saying that the fancy meters aren’t useful or even critical for some competitive shooters, but they aren’t necessary for everyone. Yes, some folks shoot out of range of cell phone service, but I would argue that very few of them are shooting big time BR competitions. They’re hunting, or perhaps long range steel ringing, in which case a range finder might be a better investment when it comes to hitting the target than a device which shows you “pressure trend”. Anyhow, those folks shooting in the boondocks usually don’t or can’t take advantages of knowing the pressure or humidity or altitude to plus or minus one percent. If you can’t get those minor factors in real time on your cell phone, then get them on the Internet weather forecast for the day before you leave home. The data won’t be perfect, but close enough for most uses and (once you have Internet service) it’s free.

    If you know the range, then wind is, by far, the the most important factor and getting that data need not be expensive. The other stuff is easy enough to get and/or estimate.

    A fancy hand held weather station may be just the thing for a few people, but not me.

    1. Author

      Are you a BR guy, Bob? “Not that there’s anything wrong with that…” if you saw that Seinfeld episode =) This sport takes all types and folks from different disciplines can all contribute and learn something from one another. Believe it or not, I’ve yet to be to a large Tactical match that actually had cell service.

      I’ve always had a Kestrel to give me the DA so I can use a drop chart that’s plotted on different DA increments. I don’t think Pressure Trend is very useful either, but I think Density Altitude is worth it’s weight in gold for the Tactical Shooter. This is part of the reason I asked about your preferred discipline. One large difference between say Benchrest and Tactical guys is the emphasis they place on range and the gear needed to ascertain that to their satisfaction. Benchrest guys don’t have to worry about it since it’s usually done on a square range where the yardages or meter distances are known, measured, and often set in concrete. It’s a given.

      At an Unknown Distance match it’s all on the shooter. You have to lase it for an idea of the distance, and your dope has to be as tight as humanly possible to help absorb any error in ranging. Again, this article wasn’t meant to be a Cost Cutter type article. The idea is which Kestrel model makes sense for the variety of guys looking to get into tactical rifle. Personally, I think it’s worth the extra $100 bucks to get Density Altitude, but I don’t think unless you’ve really evolved and invested heavily into the sport that the extra $400 for an AB/Horus model makes sense.

      That’s what is so great about the sport though, interesting conversations like this and fruitful ideas as a result. I think a Cost Cutter article geared heavily toward new shooters looking to get in for the least amount of money spent is a great idea. An idea that came out of a discussion about the cost of the Kestrel, so thank you!

    1. Author

      Excellent question, Jim! I want to start by saying I haven’t played with the Sportsmans Model, so I don’t have personal “hands on” knowledge of that model.

      However, reviewing the spec sheet and product description, it appears to be a Kestrel 4500 with the Applied Ballistics solver built in…just without the Litz library of custom curves.

      So the question then becomes, is the extra $100 dollars for the solver worth it over the ~$300 Kestrel 4500? If not, are you better off spending the $650 on the full blown Applied Ballistics model?

      Honestly, I think having the solver built into the device capturing all the environmental data is huge. Its a big time saver, you don’t need to bluetooth pair it to a phone or other device to do the ballistics math for you.

      People have been getting great ballistic firing solutions using G1/G7 drag models for years. Are the Litz custom curves better? I say yes, they are. Are they so much better that it’s worth an additional $250 over the Sportsman’s Model? That’s kinda up to you as the buyer.

      One advantage is obvious, and mentioned in the Sportsman’s description. If you shoot the majority of the time within the supersonic boundary of your cartridge…the Sportsman’s Model is probably plenty of horsepower. If you are a competitive shooter, or you shoot beyond the transonic flight of your bullet (Think 338LM at 2000 yards) then the custom curves may be worth your added investment.

      Hope that helps!

  5. Have you seen the Caldwell Professional meter? I have been trying decide if I should buy a Kestrel yet, or keep investing in reloading components for now. I noticed the Caldwell meter at a Sportsmans. It claims to calculate Density Altitude and I see them on Amazon for $75 and sometimes on sale for as low as $50.

    1. Author

      I haven’t seen one, Luke! I may have to visit sportsman’s and check one out if it calculates density altitude! That was the drawback of the Caldwells for a while, you could get wind speed but not DA. $75 for a meter that reads DA would be great!

      1. I think if I see it go on sale again I may try it out. It would be nice to compare it to a Kestrel and get an idea of how accurate it actually is.

        1. Author

          I’m going to look into it both online and locally, also. Let me know if it works as advertised if you grab one!

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