Long distance shooting is a bit like meteorology. You can go by feel, or you can make predictions to help you plan ahead.
No plan survives the first contact, but it gives you a fighting chance at least!
If you want to “call your shot” before you make them, a ballistics calculator is in order. Ballistic calculators are an all or nothing sort of thing, you need to know exactly what you’re doing, or it’ll send your rounds way off.
If you’re willing to learn how to use them they can be the key that opens doors that were previously closed!
Purpose of a Ballistic Calculator
The purpose a ballistic calculator is important and is sometimes essential. Basically speaking, a ballistics calculator makes several calculations of given a data set.
That set includes the humidity, elevation, specifications of the round, and the expected velocity of the bullet given the rifle it’s fired out of.
The calculations are so specific every shot you ever fire will be completely different.
You won’t have to waste ammunition trying to find out if your calculations are accurate because as soon as you calculate the shot, the variables have most likely changed, mother nature is a fickle woman.
The purpose of a ballistics calculator is to just get you close enough you can manually dial in your shot. Many people think a high-tech calculator will make the shots for you, and it won’t.
A calculator will save you money and time by getting you close but it won’t have you hitting the bullseye at 1,000 yards on the first shot.
Don’t Forget to….
Take Good Notes
Every single shot you make will be influenced by the internal and external ballistics of the round, this is one of many reasons why quality control of your ammunition is so important – consistency is everything!
But it’s not just the ammo that you’re trying to account for – you also have things that while you can measure and attempt to account for, you won’t be able to get it perfect every time.
Temperature, wind, humidity, atmospheric pressure, elevation difference between you and the target, the list goes on and gets exponentially more complex the longer the shot is.
If you enter in all of this information into a ballistics calculator can give you a good idea of how the shot will ring out, but it is just an educated guess.
You should be taking good notes on pen and paper to log each shot and shooting session to get a collection of good data to help you set up your calculator.
This is especially important for users who opt for low features applications on a smartphone. Many application won’t keep data over a long period of time, the best will, but you should always have a backup and keep the data somewhere safe, otherwise, you’ll waste a lot of ammunition and money when it comes time to shoot!
Phone Vs. Handheld Calculator
With the widespread use of smartphones coming into the scene just as more and more people are hitting targets at range, naturally, people looked to the ever-loved smartphone for help nailing targets.
While an application on your phone can provide basic data to help dial in dope for the shot you’re facing, almost every application on the market is not going to give as in-depth information as a dedicated ballistics computer.
They’ll be much easier to use but are slower to use and can eat up your phone battery quickly but can be excellent for shooting at targets within 1200-ish yards.
The benefits of a ballistics calculator are important for a competitive shooter, you don’t have to use your phone and it’s often faster with deeper features than any app on the market.
They have a very steep learning curve and they go very in depth with high degrees of precision if you know how to use it.
The other major downside to a dedicated handheld calculator is the price…they aren’t cheap!
Kestrel Sportsman Weather Meter with Applied Ballistics
Bottom line: If you have the extra cash and want the hobby of learning to use a ballistics calculator, go for it!
If you’re a recreational shooter who wants a down and dirty solution to save ammunition when you hit the range, get a phone based solution and take good notes!
Best Ballistics Calculator Apps
KAC Bullet Flight
Knights armament is an American institution for the firearms industry. They make some of the finest precision, military grade, rifles and weapons that can be had.
In fact, they were one of the first companies to perfect the AR-10 with their KAC M110 – a rifle that is still in service with the military today.
They made this ballistic calculator app to help you dial in dope and get first round hits. It’s got a stripped-down version but is available in a detailed version, the Bullet Flight M, that is simply an excellent tool.
They factor in a ton of different data points and make it very easy to use the information when the time comes.
This application has the distinction of being one of the most counter-intuitive I’ve used.
The hardest thing to nail down about this application is working through the menus. however, once you get used to it, you can use it quickly – but it isn’t as fast as the other apps and definitely has a learning curve.
The trick to using this calculator is knowing what you need to get out of it and make sure you know what you’re doing when using that data. Trying to use the more advanced ballistic calculators like this one is a recipe for wasting ammo if you’re not used to working with the data.
Nosler pretty much owns the long-distance hunting industry. They were the first company to produce purpose-driven bullets and continue to innovate designs that eventually get copied later on by other companies.
This is their basic ballistic calculator application that does a good idea of getting you on target and helping you sight in your rifle.
It’s available for all smartphones and was intended to work well for their reloading manual as a way to predict trajectory when reloading, it works well for any bullets though.
The nice thing about this calculator is that it gets you on target with the least amount of fuss and confusion. It does an excellent job of just using the data you’re likely to have, and producing data you’re likely to use. It’s excellent for your first time figuring out a rifle, scope, and bullet combination.
This calculator is best for people who want a basic set of features and have access to accurate data about the load they’re shooting.
You can account for any factors other than velocity and ballistic coefficient, but for the majority of shooters and hunter shooting below 700 yards, this is plenty accurate and do a great deal of the work of zeroing for you.
The Applied Ballistics mobile app is certainly my favorite ballistics calculator application for Android and iOS available.
Yes, it’s expensive, costing $30 but in my experience, no other ballistics calculator comes close to the functionality you get with this application.
By far the greatest feature of this calculator is the HUD display, meaning head-up display.
This is just a snapshot of all the information that the calculator displays in an Easy-to-Read format that cuts out everything you don’t need to read when it comes time to make the shot.
This makes it much faster to call Corrections with a spotter because you’re not bogged down with plucking out information from a table. It’s all multicolored and displayed for you in an easy-to-read format.
This feature alone makes it the best in the field, but this calculator is also by far the best designed to be used with a touchscreen. Most of the other calculator suffer from having too many buttons or forcing you to use a scrolling menu to input data into the calculator.
This calculator is much faster simply because it was designed around using a touch screen and not designed around traditional calculators where you press buttons.
It does however suffer and that you can’t use it well with gloves on, even with “touch compatible” gloves. If you need to shoot with gloves on getting convertible gloves that you can still use your trigger finger to work the calculator.
This is one of the original ballistic calculators that was put onto the market for turning your smartphone or iPod touch into a ballistic computer. You can count on this as being one of the most refined, and detailed applications for ballistic calculators out there.
iSnipe generates data for bullet trajectories, based on data calculated for pitch, yaw, the wind, Coriolis effect, spin drift and atmospheric condition.
This is a very advanced calculator and the one I’d recommend for serious shooters and competitors that need a complete data set they can get their hands on.
It has a learning curve and you need to have a requisite level of understanding behind the math before you can quickly use this calculator but you can certainly learn it in an afternoon or two of shooting and read the instructions.
If you’re a nerd, you’ll love this calculator. If all you want is put holes in targets, get one of the simpler options that aren’t as in depth.
Make sure if you plan on using your phone as your calculator you factor in battery life. Especially if you plan on using a cell phone in your car as a GPS, music, or emergency contact device, make sure using your calculator at the range won’t result in you getting lost. Have a charger or extra battery back up at the ready so you don’t get left up a creek.
Consider Going Larger
My favorite way to display ballistics readout is to put the apps onto a tablet and prop it up so I can see and make notes while in the prone position. This is by far the easiest and most comfortable way to log and calculate data on your shots.
Having full color can help you more easily read the screen. Especially is the resolution is low. On almost every application for iPhone and Android, you have full-color options, but most ballistic computers aren’t color.
Waterproof & Ruggedness
Make sure you know your equipment’s limitations. If it’s your phone, get a good case. If you bought a purpose made calculator, it’s probably decently rugged, but you’ll want to baby it a little bit and carry it in a case. As always, ziplock bags are your friends!
Where You Place your Calculator
A pro tip from someone who’s been there, if you have a muzzle brake on your rifle, don’t put your notebook and phone, and calculator up near the barrel of the rifle. You’re putting it in the blast zone!
When you head to the range with hard data about your file set up, good ammunition in your gun, and shiny new targets to lob rounds at, it’s a good day! Having a good dope is a perfect start and a ballistics calculator gives you a head start and ultimately saves time and money- as long as you know how to use them!
There’s a lot of good options on the market but here are the best on the market you can’t go wrong with if you trust them with your next competition.
Do you use a ballistic app? Record your dope on paper or on a tablet? Let us know in the comments!