By Mark V. Lonsdale
What does a Kestrel not do? It does not read the range to the target. So what does it do? It measures wind, environmental factors, and provides ballistic firing solutions tailored to the shooter’s rifle and ammunition.
Up until the late 1980s long range shooters and military snipers would spend countless hours learning to estimate range and to utilize the various “aids to finding range” including the mil-dot reticle. So when compact and reliable rangefinders became affordable in the late 1980s and early 90s, these were considered a major advancement for the long range shooter or hunter. But back then, 800-1,000 yards was considered long range and few had much interest or motivation to shoot further. That was soon to change.
From left: Kestrel 5700 Elite with Applied Ballistics analytics and older Kestrel 2000. Author working with the Kestrel 2000 during mountain warfare training in the 1990s
Unfortunately the other big challenge for long range shooters – reading wind – was not alleviated by the rangefinder. Fortunately, about the same time, Kestrel came out with their compact, reliable and affordable wind meters such as the Kestrel 2000. Now shooters had a method to measure the wind and validate their own skills at reading wind. I remember carrying my Kestrel with me in the mountains and deserts, even when not carrying a rifle, just to practice wind reading over various types of terrain.
So with range and wind more easily quantified, in the early 1990s we began studying all the other factors that, while having little affect at 300 yards, had significant affect out passed 1,000 yards. This was of less interest to long range competition shooters, since they had the benefit of sighter shots to get on target, but long range hunters were becoming intrigued with making 500 and 600 yard one shot kills.
For the military, with the adoption of the 300 Win Mags, 338 Lapua Magnums, and 50 calibers, we were now looking for high probability hits at 1,500 to 2,000 yards. So now density altitude, wind direction, temperature, relative humidity, spin drift, compass direction, and Coriolis Effect needed to be quantified and predicted in firing solutions.
Accuracy International L115A3 .338 Lapua Magnum
The mating of the Kestrel technology with Applied Ballistics analytics provided the shooter with firing solutions constantly being updated by changes in environmental factors.
So without getting into a long discussion of all the environmental variables, it is sufficient for the rookie long range shooter to know that after inputting some basic data into the Kestrel 5700, he or she will be able to view the necessary elevation and windage inputs. But like any computer, if you put bad data in you will get bad data out. Fortunately the data input is surprisingly easy with the Kestrel 5700 Elite.
At the risk of over simplifying the process, once a shooter has gone through the easy to follow steps to set-up a new Kestrel, such as programing the compass and selecting units (metric or US) then it is just a matter of programing your rifle and ammunition. Before doing this, there are a few data points that the shooter will need to know. These are no different to the data points needed to use a basic ballistics program in a computer. The data points are caliber, bullet weight, ballistic coefficient (BC), muzzle velocity (MV), barrel twist, height of the center line of the scope above the bore, and if your scope is MOA or Mils. To get the muzzle velocity will have needed to chronograph your rifle/ammo combination. This is unique to every rifle, barrel length, and ammunition load.
Scrolling around in the Kestrel is as easy as any smart phone or GPS. To input a rifle, the user will scroll to Manage Guns, New Gun, and then input the following in this order:
Name: for example Rem700 185Berg or Atlas 175SMK.
MV: 2,650 fps
GM: G1 or G7
BW: 185 (bullet weight)
BD: .308 (bullet diameter)
BH: 2.5” (bore height)
RT: 10” (twist)
RTd: Right (twist direction)
Eunit: Mil (elevation unit MOA or Mil)
Wunit: Mil (windage unit MOA or Mil)
Save it and that’s it. You have programmed in that rifle/bullet combination. With the Kestrel 5700 Elite you can program and store 16 rifle/bullet profiles.
Kestrel 5700 mounted on the lightweight Kestrel wind vane and tripod. With the Bluetooth connection it can send the firing solutions to the shooter via smart phone or iPad
Once the shooter gets in the field, he or she will select the rifle/bullet combination from the list of stored profiles, input some basic target information such as the range to the target. The Kestrel will factor in the wind and environmental factors and provide a firing solution in the form of E: 4.5 and W: 0.5L for elevation and windage. The shooter will dial that data into the turrets, hold on target and fire. If you have the Bluetooth option in your Kestrel, you can set the Kestrel on a tripod with a weather vane and have the Kestrel send the firing solutions to a smart phone or iPad.
Kestrel 5700 Elite on right showing Elevation E, and Windage W
Hope this helps to get the new shooter started, and encourage the old curmudgeons to invest in new technology. The practical value of all this environmental and ballistic technology is that it has dramatically improved first round hit probability at longer ranges and particularly at extreme ranges. That said, good solid rifle shooting fundamentals are even more important in long range shooting. Everything else is just a tool, but a reliable rangefinder and a Kestrel have become two essential tools.