As I sit here contemplating this question it seems ridiculous, obvious, and silly. Yet at the same time, a really excellent question. That fine line between genius and insanity? Here goes:
How useful is a wind meter? For context, let's assume we are shooting 300 yards and further.
Obviously, they must be of some value as I am adding data or removing a variable from the equation. Yet, at the same time common sense tells me that the data is of limited use because it is only telling me the data at my shooting position. Now, if this is the only place the wind is blowing or it is consistent all the way to the target the value is quite high. However, the chances of this are not very good.
If there is value, is a basic $100 Kestrel or Windmate with speed and temperature enough? If I am willing to spend $300-400 for a top of the line (which I am not) is it worth the upgrade or would I get more benefit from practical experience of sending $400 worth handloads down range and paying attention to the environment around me?
In the front of my mind during all this is also the old dead battery, smashed meter thing. I still don't have a GPS and rely on map and compass and my ability to use them correctly!
Please support your reply with examples or empirical data to support your claim.
If you live and hunt in an area without alot of elevation change, tempature, humidity or air density changes, then you would probably be okay. If your not shooting past somewhere around 700 yards its probably not a big deal.
I find after between 600-800 yards, you need all the atmoshpheric conditions that come with most good wind meters, just to make it a little easier on yourself. The wind part of the meter is a bonus. If you have a way already to measure all those conditions, then buy the cheap caldwell one, it will read the wind just as good as a krestel.
north central pa. probably has about as big a concentration of long range hunters as any place on earth. having been there as long as i have i know
quite a few of them. none, repeat none of them that i know use a wind meter.
i suppose most of the devices available today have at least some value.
but none will ever replace an experienced shooter with an experienced spotter.
I think the key is an experienced shooter might not need 1. However, inexperienced shooters probably benefit the most. I bought a Kestrel NV 2500 for $150. At first I used all the gizmo's on it but now pretty much only the wind and sometimes temp. The reason I use only the wind now is due to the fact my Leica gives me absolute baro. Temp is a strange one. I don't really see significant POI changes beyond 1000 yards until I see 20 degree temp changes. However, I don't have to be exact with the temp. So in the morning if there is frost, 30F, in the afternoon it is comfortable 45F. I can cover 55 degress of temp changes with those two guesstimates and be pretty dang accurate.
I also used the Kestrel to get much better at wind reading. The difference between 6 and 8 mph at 1000 yards is a hit or miss, or worse, a wounded animal. I don't mind wounding rocks, I do mind wounding animals. Bad decisions are made all the time and if a Caldwell cost $35 to make a good decision then I highly recommend it.
As Angus pointed out distance plays a huge role here. I too agree you will "get away" with far more at distances below 600 or 800 yards.
There are many ways to accomplish an experienced long range shot. One using experience from lots of hunting and practice and a correction for a second shot (if needed) that could include a spotters call for you. The another would be what I prefer and that is to use all data from atmospheric field conditions, spin drifts, coriolis drifts (past 1200) and any wind call I could input for a first round cold bore hit. I strive to be good at this and would be in deep do do without a good reliable hand held weather station.
As for reliability of my kestrel.... Well if you saw the deep scratches, gouges and wear from dragging it in the mountains for 6 years you would understand they are one tuff unit. I carry a spare battery, but to be honest, I haven't changed it in at least 3 years. I have never seen it dead even in sub zero temps. I change the battery out of guilt.
I live and hunt is an area where elevation changes of 2000 feet are common in a one day hunt, much more on some days. When you change this much in elevation you also encounter ambient temperature changes of 20 degrees or more as well. These factors are all a part of every shooting solution for all long range shots I take, and also very valuable to a successful first shot.
As for just the wind meter part of it. Well I purchased a less expensive Caldwell for $19 years ago. It had temp and wind speed. Problem is when I finally bought a quality unit, ( Kestral 3500) for $180, I then seen with my own eyes, how far off the less expensive unit was. A couple three MPH on a shot past 700 yards will ruin your day. Period!
Now as for multiple winds, well this is where many hours of shooting in winds in the terrain you hunt pays off in spades. There are indicators for down range winds we can learn to read. Degree of vegetation or tree movement , mirage, dust off animal feet, exhaled game breath on cold days etc. But, None of these are as important as the wind at the gun. It is the first wind that starts the bullet off path. This will magnify the distance error from point of aim with every yard as the path and heading continue to widen. The first drift the bullet encounters does the most. With time and experience you can learn to add or subtract from the wind at the gun from what you see or know about down range winds. But where are you going to be if you start off with a guess or an inaccurate reading at the gun? Buy a good Kestrel for $150 to $180 bucks if you want to stack the odds in your favor for a first round hit. Or, be ready quickly for a follow up shot if you get one.
Well put. Exactly why I have kestrel. Same unit we used in the military and our gunners were shooting arty a lot further then we shoot bullets. I debated over cost but went with a name that was proven. To Jeff's point I missed a rock at 980 a week ago on a cold bore first round shot due to 2 mph incorrect read. My fault, not kestrels. If that had been an animal it would have a hit, but not a good hit IMO. It would have required a follow up. If en elk was facing left, shoulder, facing right, back side of lungs toward front of guts. 9" left of center of aim point.