“Ballistics Calculators for Hunting”
This Week’s Tips or Tricks…
TIP: Ballistics Calculators aren’t just for Target Shooting!!!
Ballistics Calculators are often misunderstood and poorly implemented into the fundamentals of a successful hunt. Any hunter worth his or her salt in the field can tell you that you should never take a shot that has not been carefully calculated and is lacking a high probability of success. As the range and field condition(s) for your hunt change…so will your shot! A Ballistics Calculator is not to be used as a crutch or a method to increase a shooters skill but rather as a tool designed to gauge the probability of a shooters skill and a rifles known capabilities at pre-determined ranges while being subjected to varying external conditions thus only for the purpose of “double-checking” and providing “slight adjustments” for your already established shooting data. Before leaving for your hunt and heading into the field you should already know what your shooting skill level is, what your rifle and ammunition performance capabilities are, and most important whether or not you are even confident enough to be taking any given shot while in the field in the varying conditions that you are facing…otherwise you should be staying home! Ballistics Calculators are much like lasers on handguns. As an NRA Certified Pistol Instructor, I just cringe at the thought of every time I hear someone say they need to put a laser on their handgun because they can’t hit anything without it…the laser is not a solution to correct the shooters poor fundamentals and ability, it should only be used as an aid for enhancing your probability in conditions were its use warrants it! The same principle applies to Ballistics Calculators when hunting and should only be used to aid in a more precisely corrected shot rather than being used as a method to take a gamble in unknown circumstances!
When deployed correctly, Ballistics Calculators can be an extremely effective tool in helping make these on-the-fly adjustments when looking to increase your probability and confidence of your precision hunting shots. As external conditions change, so do your external ballistics so that Dope Chart you printed out for those precision shots taken in the flat lands of Kansas may be dramatically different by as much as 1-5 MOA or even more depending on the range when you get to that Elk hunt in the mountains of Colorado. Ballistics Calculators are often deployed incorrectly here and are viewed as “this is supposed to be the exact shooting solution” when in fact they should be correctly used as a secondary method to double-check your know performance under given conditions! When corrections are required in the field due to varying conditions…this is where you pull out the Ballistics Calculator…not when you think you can take a shot at 500 yards and the farthest you have ever shot the rifle is only 200 yards! So let’s see how we can properly deploy Ballistics Calculators in the field the way they were meant and designed to be used!
How many times have you missed that trophy or failed to fill the freezer because your “guestimate” of the hold-over or hold-under from your zero ended in disaster with either a multi-hour or even multi-day track or even just a flat out miss? How many times have you taken a shot in conditions that were different from those when you zeroed your rifle which just resulted in the animal jumping in shock or surprise and then running off into the wild blue yonder never to be found again or eventually to be found dead or dying hours or even days later after that miserable track?
While you ponder these questions and start counting the number on your fingers, let’s talk about how Ballistics Calculators can help to prevent these dreaded hunting scenarios.
First, we all have that one rifle that we go to as the “golden ticket” to this year’s successful hunt….this we agree on. However, we will now start to part ways and begin to agree to disagree as to what range that “golden ticket” should be zeroed at! Which range is your zero…100, 200, 300, 400, 500, 600, 700…??? Me personally, I am a 100 yard zero guy for EVERY rifle I own period and you will understand why later in this article. Ok, let’s just say for arguments sake that you are that 200 yard zero guy, you’re up on the mountain, have that nice clean tag in your pocket with a fresh roll of electrical tape, and you have suddenly forgotten all about how cold you are and how frozen your feet are because a monster just walked into sight on the horizon! Now, you crouch down behind a tree hoping you weren’t spotted, check the wind to make sure you are downwind, and then you pull out your rangefinder to laser your range. During that split second that you are waiting for that magical number to populate into the rangefinder like the winning lottery numbers in next weekend’s jackpot drawing, you suddenly get those deathly cold string of chills down your spine because the rangefinder has now displayed that you are 600 yards away from the biggest bull you have ever seen! Next anxiety sets in…do I become part of the woods and hope I can call him in 400 yards closer…or do I try to stalk in 300-400 yards on him and pray that I don’t crack a stick or branch in the process and spook him off…do you just look at that folded up piece of paper in your pocket and say, “well 600 yards ‘should’ be a [xxx”] drop and I think I need to hold-over by [x] crosshairs on my reticle at this range”?!?!
Now, what would you do in the above situation??? Do you have the skills to call him in closer? Would you just become the woods and see if he comes closer, or are you stealthy enough to stalk in another 200-300 yards on him over the next 1-3 hours to try to get into position for that perfect shot in hope that nobody beats you to it or scares him off before you get there? While you are deciding this, I will tell you what I would do. I am going to pull out my Kestrel Elite Weather Meter with Applied Ballistics or even my phone with the Applied Ballistics App on it and I am going to do some analysis and prepare for the best precision rifle shot of my hunting career to date! Since my Kestrel is like the pocket knife that I never leave home without, I pull it out and use the internal compass to get that monster’s bearing from me. I then open the impeller cover and rotate the Kestrel around slowly in the wind until the impeller just stops turning to find out exactly what direction the wind is coming from. Once I have the wind direction pinpointed, I now hold the Kestrel into that exact pinpointed direction and use the capture function to get a 10-15 second wind reading to see what the wind speed and wind gust speeds are clocking at. Now I am going to gauge my inclination or declination to that monster…because remember, regardless of whether we are above or below him on the mountain we will always have to aim a little low due to a reduced gravitational pull on the bullet at these greater angles…but how much is what we need to find out! Once I have all of this data entered into my Kestrel with Applied Ballistics, now it is time to double check my range. I know the average height to the shoulder of a mature elk is roughly 4-5 feet, I look through my scope and find that the height of the elk in my scopes reticle is approximately 9.5 MOA, so I use the reverse ranging calculator in the Kestrel and enter 60” (5 feet since this is a big mature bull) and I enter 9.5 MOA (the elks feet to shoulder height in my reticle) and find that my reticle ranging estimation is 603 yards…so I have now confirmed that my laser rangefinders range is indeed correct. I now dial into the confirmed 600 yard range estimate, do a double-check that the atmospheric data values are all up to date, and look at the Range Table in the Kestrel to find out that this monster is just 0.6 seconds away from being my next trophy mount on the wall because that Berger Hunting VLD is rocketing out there at around 3,000 fps. Now, I proceed to check the “Energy” value in Applied Ballistics Range Card function and find that this Berger 168 grain VLD will be hitting that monster with over 1,300 ft-lbs. of energy at 600 yards…so with a well-placed shot he should drop like a ton of bricks at this range still! So, I have now accounted for the wind, temperature, humidity, inclination/declination, spin drift and even Coriolis Effect if I so wish…it is game on boys and girls!!! I then return to the home screen of the Kestrel in Applied Ballistics mode and gauge the wind again to find it gusting at 6-10 mph, so I am going to dial for an 8 mph wind and shoot when the wind is in mid gust giving me the widest window of opportunity to take a shot while minimizing the potential for a missed shot due to wind deflection. So I dial in my windage (13 clicks) or (3.25 MOA), I then adjust my elevation turret up (47 clicks) from my 100 yard zero (or 11.7 MOA), and now I bed down into my shooters nest/position. From here, I look at the butt stock of my rifle and compare my laminated Dope Chart (a chart showing me the history of known ranges and known adjustments to achieve a hit at those given ranges for this rifle) and compare the Dope Chart at 600 yards to the Kestrel Applied Ballistics shooting solution at 600 yards and make any slight adjustments accordingly. By now my heart is pounding in excitement and anticipation so I use breath control techniques to slow my heart rate to the point where I can feel every time my heart beats in the palm of my hand and where the butt stock nestles into the tendons and muscles on my collar bone. I now check the wind in the trees and grass close to me one more time, look through the scope downrange and verify the trees and grass are all swaying in the same direction as the grass and trees near me, and check the mirage in the scope for a third opinion…with my breath stabilized, heart rate slowed, and that monster directly in the center of my crosshairs I slowly squeeze that trigger and no more than a half of one second later that monster bull is down!!!
Ok…that was a nice story, but what did that have to do with the questions I asked earlier??? Well let’s break down the process of what I did here utilizing the Kestrel Weather Meter with Applied Ballistics solver and see what benefits it afforded me…
First, my rifle was zeroed at 100 yards. I do this for EVERY rifle because then I never have to recall…”well is this the rifle that I zeroed at 400, was it 500, 600, or 200???” or worry about “oh man, how far will I have to hold-under because I am zeroed at 600 and my target is only 200 yards away”! Instead of having a mild stroke over the fact that I can’t remember what range my rifle was zeroed at and I didn’t get a chance to verify the zero before rushing out of the office and up the mountain late Friday night, I just turn my elevation turret back to the zero stop set at 100 yards and turn to my Kestrel with Applied Ballistics Weather Meter and Dope Chart to confirm the necessary adjustments required to get me out to 600 yards!!!
Second, instead of patiently stalking for several hours to get into that perfect zeroed range…I just dialed my scope directly to it and I was able to take a precision shot at 600 yards within minutes without a fear of “oh boy, I hope I have the hold-over on these cross hairs just right because I will never forgive myself if I miss this monster!” I just utilized my Kestrel Weather Meter with Applied Ballistics solver to compare to my Dope Chart, dialed in my scope with confidence, and now we are headed to the taxidermist!
Third, I have my rifle pegged out to 1,000 yards with known shot data supporting 5-10 mph wind conditions from my years of shooting out in the Pawnee National Grasslands. Because I was able to check and adjust my Dope Chart while on-the-fly against the Kestrel, I was able to make a much more accurate shot seeing as the weather was dramatically different from the 75 degrees and sunny at 4,800 ft when I sighted it in compared to the -20 degrees where I am standing now in the freezing wind on the top of a mountain at 9,000 ft! I also didn’t have to pray that I didn’t screw up a call or scare that monster off by slipping on a wet rock on my descent while stalking in on him because I was able to acquire and engage my target from a comfortable yet effectively humane shooting distance. Now, just because I have my rifle pegged out to a thousand doesn’t mean I am going to shoot at a 1,000 folks!!! I personally will never take a shot beyond 600 yards if at all possible to harvest an animal to ensure a clean, swift, and humane passing for the animal. Can a long range precision shot be made beyond 600…sure, but leave those shots for the guys on the Outdoor Channel unless you know EXACTLY what you are doing!
Fourth, I was able to use the Kestrel Weather Meter with Applied Ballistics solver to ensure that my bullets effective kinetic energy level was adequate for a clean, swift, and humane kill because I was able to utilize the Applied Ballistics solver to approximate how many ft-lbs. of energy the bullet would be impacting the animal with at the given distance. There are numerous opinions and tales out there about the ‘minimum’ required energy needed to harvest an animal, but that is not for this discussion as anything over 1,000 ft-lbs. of energy is a comfortable level for me to ensure that I don’t end up engaging an animal at a range that would otherwise cause it to suffer a long and painful death due to a poor decision on my part as a hunter!
Fifth, while hunting, always double or even triple-check to ensure you have the proper profile, bullet, values, range estimation, muzzle velocity, and atmospheric values accounted for in your Ballistics Calculator to ensure a precision shot, otherwise you might just be going home empty handed!
Finally, for all of the skeptics and those leaning left of center, I am going to briefly discuss whether or not using a Ballistics Calculator for hunting is a violation of fair chase principles or gives a hunter an “unfair advantage”. I want to paint a picture here for you so that you can understand how this works. I want you to think about your pickup or SUV and whether or not it has 4x4, all-wheel drive, mud and snow tires, all season tires, and etc. Now, ask yourself how many times you have seen an all-wheel drive or 4x4 SUV or pickup in the ditch stuck during a snow or ice storm…there are usually one per every five miles here in Colorado, but why is this (besides the fact that they are probably from California)? It is because many people tend to become overconfident about their “ability” to drive in the conditions when in fact they can barely keep their vehicle on the road when the conditions are clear!!! I personally can drive a 2x4 pickup around in snow and on ice as proficient as many can 4x4 because with the proper techniques and practices of controlled braking and acceleration and knowing when to simply let off the throttle and when NOT to use the brakes…you can still keep it on the road and get from A-to-B. Just because you have an F-350 with a Skyjacker Lift Kit, 35” Mickey Thompson’s, an air locker differential, and a “I’m a Badass” sticker in your rear window doesn’t mean you have a better advantage in the adverse conditions because unless you know how to drive that vehicle properly, you are just going to end up being a “Badass in the ditch waiting for a tow truck”! I can’t tell you how many times I have seen one of these rigs belly up in the snow because the fool didn’t know how to drive it! The same concept applies to Ballistics Calculators…when used properly they can keep the wheels of your hunt right side down and on the trail, but you must know how to use them properly. When it comes to an ethical hunt, tell me which is more ethical…tracking an animal for hours that you gut shot or only wounded because you didn’t account for the wind and other factors…or a precision shot that accounted for these factors using a good ballistics calculator which resulted in a swift and nearly instant humane passing for the animal? Hunters are second only to Farmers and Ranchers in this world when it comes to conservation and caring for God’s creatures. Hunter’s harvest animals to put food on the table for our families and in the process of legally doing so, we in turn are working to manage our ecosystems to strengthen their populations of species within. If you don’t believe me that wildlife management (i.e. hunting and fishing) strengthens wildlife populations, I will leave you to ponder a thought...the only way you build muscle is to tear it first isn’t it!?
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Written By: Kyle R. CEO of Broken Box R LLC
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