Do You Really Need A Ballistics Calculator?

This Friday’s shoot-the-shit topic is geared towards the tactical precision rifle folks in cyberspace. These are the folks that are called upon to take the shot but could really careless about producing ragged holes on the job.

So, here’s our question/challenge. Do you really need a ballistic calculator?

With the increased use of smart devices in the field, it seems like every one on the planet is coming up with ballistic apps. More recently, Peak Studios has introduced Ballistic for the iPhone. Android devices also have a plethora of apps to choose from. All of which are great, with varying degrees of sophistication, but they all suffer from a common problem, which is fitting them into real world scenarios. Ballistic calculators are wonderful when you are shooting at steel or paper out to extended ranges but they fall short in application because targets under“work” conditions have a nasty habit of not presenting themselves as frequently or predictably as you’d like. So here’s what I would like to suggest.

  1. Learn your more meaningful variables – mine are range, muzzle velocity (with and without suppressors) and density altitude.
  2. Learn to range accurately using your magnified optics. I say this because in future theaters you may encounter a combatant that can detect the LRF’s laser.
  3. Get a Kestrel meter (maybe two in case one craps out or is lost) and set it to read density altitude.
  4. Pick up Adaptive’s Field Density Altitude Compensator (FDAC)

Adaptive FDAC ranging card

Let us know what you think – agree or disagree. Insults and profanity will not be censored or if you’d like to change topics feel free to do so. It’s that weekly non-billable event that we call a shoot-the-shit.


Why did I leave wind out as one of the more important variables?

All precision shooters know that wind is a consideration in deriving an accurate firing solution; yet, it remains the most illusive parameter to master. Shooters will use vegetation, mirage, smoke stacks, flags or just about anything that provides a clue as to its strength and direction. All well and good but the problem is much more involved and taking a reading from a wind meter at the shooter’s position does not get you there.

The effect of wind is a continuum lasting from the time the bullet exits the muzzle to the point of impact. For example, shooting across a saddle you may read a 9 o’clock, 7 mph wind at the shooter’s position, but as the bullet travels, the dip may have a 3 o’clcok 20 mph wind and still a different direction and value on the opposite peak. Urban areas are notorious for multiple wind vectors. The wind problem becomes even less manageable as range to the target increases so wind calls are almost always wrong.

DARPA and the U.S. Army has invested millions in developing a fire control system for snipers that detects all of the wind vectors along the bullet’s flight path in addition to the normal external ballistic parameters. Refer to “One Shot XG” where the objective is that illusive one-shot one-kill. You may also want to read on DARPA’s EXACTO project that attempts to develop a guided projectile and system to increase sniper standoff and effectiveness.

Reading wind, or the better expression estimating wind, is time consuming, laborious and almost always wrong so your best approach is to check the trace and correct fire on that basis. The most effective strategy is to close range as much as operational constraints allow.

Have a great weekend everyone!


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