The Value of a Chronograph

  • Last Post 31 March 2023
Wm Cook posted this 25 March 2023

Where would you rank the importance of a Chronograph in load development?  And if you have one, what do you use and what would you recommend.  Thanks, Bill C.

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Maven posted this 25 March 2023

The chronograph is of vital importance when developing loads with standard propellants, but it comes into its own when using "inappropriate" ones in cartridges said propellant(s) aren't designed for.  E.g., IMR 7383 in the 7.62 x 39mm cartridge with ~162gr. CB's at a given velocity?  Who'd a thunk it?  Btw, I use mine to keep the velocity/pressure low enough to ensure 100% functioning (ejection) of the action of my Type 56 SKS to cite just one example.

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Aaron posted this 25 March 2023

I find a chronograph indispensable for load work-up. I started with an F1 Chrony but now use the Caldwell chronograph since it has an app for the iPhone which calculates everything as you shoot. I had to transcribe all my data into excel with the F1 Chrony. While the Caldwell is not "professional" grade device, the price-point for the value is exceptional for the average handloader.

Here are a few screen shots of the Caldwell data.

With rifle in hand, I confidently go forth into the darkness.

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RicinYakima posted this 25 March 2023

While I don't use my Chrony as much as I once did, it is only because I am not doing as much load development. Most of my cast bullet loads are fixed for each firearm, and not much changes. The last project I used it on was for smokeless loads for a 40/50 Sharps Straight rifle. Before that it was for full power loads for a bolt action 250/3000 and 275 Rigby in a 1903 Springfield. 

If I am writing an article for The Fouling Shot, there will be loads that have some sort of tested data. I will shoot those over the Chrony to make sure it is in the normal range of cast bullet performance. 

My Chrony is 25 years old, so have no idea of the new ones. It just reads one shot, I write it down in my log and I do my calculations when I get home. 

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John Carlson posted this 25 March 2023

i find the chronograph useful.  If the load that shoots the smallest group in a session also has the best chrono data (small spread/low SD) there's a good chance it will repeat.  It's not unusual to repeat the same series of loads and see different results on the paper.  It can also reveal the reason your accuracy suffered when you bought a new lot of your favorite powder,

I've also gone to the Caldwell.  Cost effective and does everything I need done.

John Carlson. CBA Director of Military Competition.

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dbarron posted this 26 March 2023

25 year old Oehler here. Indispensable is the word.  Example. 6.5 Grendel. Loaded some Accurate #9 with CCI 400 primers. It was”trying to shoot “ but 1 or2 flyers ruined each group. Chronograph showed very large ES. Switched to 450 primers. No more flyers. Still not happy with the groups, but much better and serviceable. Flyers happen, and I might not have figured that one out without Dr. Oehler’s marvelous machine. Again, indispensable.  I really want one of those radar units, but just too cheap while the Oehler still works.

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Wm Cook posted this 26 March 2023

it comes into its own when using "inappropriate" ones in cartridges said propellant(s) aren't designed for

You're right about that.  I'll be working with a 7.62x39 and 2200 powder in the next few days and the only way to even start load development is getting the min / max charge figured out. 

And I can't begin to work with sub sonic loads without a chronograph. 

I started with the original shooting chrony back in the 90's.  Had it go back and forth to NY (Niagara Falls?) a couple times (center punched it only once) and they had great support. On another trip I had it converted to a master chrony.  I had a hard time avoiding errors when shooting in the sun but that might have been just me.  In doors with a light it was 100% right on. 

If you're using a Chrony, Caldwell or similar like design the laser bore sighters are a big help in positioning the sensor to be  directly in line with the bore. First shot is directly down the middle.

I've also got the Magneto Speed bayonet thing.  You're not able to develop loads with it because its hanging off the end of your barrel but its good enough to give you velocity to powder charge which is all I need for cast.  Super simple and intuitive even for me. 

The LabRadar is top of the line at $600 but in my opinion spending a hundred dollars or so for one of the lower end models is money well spent. 

I'm so dependent on mine that I have a bullet and sound trap in my shop where I can get the baseline minimum, maximum load charges.  From there I can go to the range with two or three powders, the necessary handloading equipment with a couple hundred pieces of prepped and primed brass and go to straight to work developing a load for any new rifle and/or a bullet combination that I've never shot before.  At the very least I'll come away with the powder that looks to be the best option.  Nothing is certain but it makes me feel like I get a fair comparison between powders by shooting in common conditions.

The 7.62x39 I mentioned earlier is starting with a 155g NOE mold and both are new to me.  But so far I've chronographed the lot of H4227 that I'll be trying.  With the lot I'll be using I know that I can get 1690fps with 17g, 1860fps with 18g and 1944fps with 19g.  I'll use the same methods to blueprint 2200, 5744, 4198 and 2400 so when I get to the range I'll have some idea where to start when I get to the range.

Funny thing is that in all the years I shot jacketed benchrest I chronograph'd zero loads.  Nobody that I know of used them.  We just lived between 29.6 and 30.4g of 133.  The loads were only too hot when we couldn't lift the bolt. 

If you're bouncing from cartridge to cartridge and powder to powder I can't think of anything more valuable than a chronograph.

But like John said, if you have 8lbs of powder and have the velocities for your 308 documented you don't have to keep checking things.  But if that 8lb jug runs out and you start another you have to verify the powder charge to velocity once again. 

That's another thing that's taken for granted with jacketed BR shooters.  Multiple jugs are bought from the same lot so the powder you buy will be the same lot of powder, the same cartridge (and often the same lot of bullets) that will be used for the next 8 to 12 barrels you screw on your action.  There is so much difference between jacketed and cast benchrest.  Sorry for being long, Bill.

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lotech posted this 26 March 2023

I can't say enough good about the use of a chrongraph. I've had six over the last forty+ years. I worked with lots of "unknowns" for a long time some years ago - wildcats with little or no data, conventional cartridges with non-standard bullet weights (9mm with 150 grain and heavier bullets, same for the 7.62x39 with cast bullets of over 200 grains when few had an interest in this), the need for current load data for cartridges like the 7x61 Sharpe & Hart Magnum when there's not any, and to simply compare my figures with published load data. 

I've never understood the fixation many have on ES and SD numbers, but I'll not criticize something others may find usedful. Perhaps I've missed something, but I've found consistently small groups to be far more telling of a good load. 

All chronograps I've used have had a quirk or two, but those are easy things to adjust to. My favorites have been a PACT, a thirty + year old Oehler 35P and  a LabRadar that's only been in service for six or seven years. Other than easier setup, the LabRadar offers no advantages (for my purposes) over the  Oehler. Both are "heavy duty" units you won't outgrow and can easily be used daily for as many rounds as anyone can chronograph. I tried a Chrony some years ago. I found it fine for limited use, but the window was much too small for long sessions where I might chronograph a couple of hundred rounds. I eventually shot the unit, threw away what was left, and never missed it. 

I'm not high technology- or gadget-oriented and still use a paper notebook to record not only velocity, but temperature, app. wind speed, component and load specs, alloy BHN, sized bullet diameter, etc. 

I don't use a chronograph nearly as much today as I once did, but I still like to have one handy. 

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TRKakaCatWhisperer posted this 26 March 2023

One of the times I met Bill Alexander was at the range.  He was working up loads for the Beowulf.  He monitored velocity, pressure, and accuracy.  Meticulous.  Cast bullets at the time.  He was working with the powder manufacturers for his own blend of powder.

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Larry Gibson posted this 26 March 2023

I've been using chronographs since '74 and have chronographed thousands of loads.  I too started with an Oehler 33 with Skyscreens then got an Oehler m35P in '90 and subsequently the Oehler m43 PBL in '07. Still have, and use, all three.


Concealment is not cover.........

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David Reiss posted this 26 March 2023

Like Larry, I started using a chronograph in the 70's, only a year or two after starting handloading. I was lucky enough to have two mentors who taught me their value.

While one could get by without one loading plinking loads or even ammo for Bullseye, PPC or action shooting, any other shooting needs one. 

My initial use was for developing hunting loads, but as my powder inventory grew I used it during development of cast bullet loads for my various calibers. 

David Reiss - NRA Life Member & PSC Range Member Retired Police Firearms Instructor/Armorer
-Services: Wars Fought, Uprisings Quelled, Bars Emptied, Revolutions Started, Tigers Tamed, Assassinations Plotted, Women Seduced, Governments Run, Gun Appraisals, Lost Treasure Found.
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delmarskid posted this 27 March 2023

They are an eye opener.

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Wm Cook posted this 27 March 2023

And SD doesn't have the same hypnotic effect on me as it once did.  Once the velocity/powder charge is figured out you can pretty quickly figure out if the powder/bullet/rifle combination will work for you at 100 & 200 yards by shooting multiple 10 and 20 shot groups. 

On the equipment side there's items that are critical for match grade cast accuracy.  Some are so important that its hard to put one before the other.  Wind flags would fall behind a chronograph only because you can't work up a load without a chronograph.  And you can't load match grade cartridges without match grade loading dies.  Same case can be made bench equipment when you choose front and rear rest.

Although casting match grade bullets is learnable for most all of us, it sure isn't fall off the wagon easy either.  It takes motivation, equipment and a forum full of knowledgeable friendly folks like here on the CBA site to help you learn the "how to" behind casting match grade bullets.  Often my questions were too convoluted and I reached out via PM.  I don't think anyone will come away disappointed if they just ask for help. 

The motivation side comes from the end user.  I had to understand that it takes a lot of time with a mold between you and a pot of alloy to get up to speed.  I've been casting for over 25 years but its only been within the last three that I got a grip on things.  Sure is fun though.  Thanks for all the help.  Bill.


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Eutectic posted this 28 March 2023

Have owned several starting with a Herter's (It was perfect just ask George Herter)
The Oehler 35P replaced it and is a laboratory quality unit. 

The differences in factory ammo velocity can be surprising. If an additional 500 fs is important to your hunting, you need a chronograph.

If you load standard loads - maybe not so much. It really comes into its own with non-standard loads or powders where there is no data for your cartridge. Latest work is comparing lots of 22 LR.

The LabRadar unit is interesting. I frequently run chronograph work at a public range with shooters on either side of me. The standard chronograph work fine. I would like to know if the LabRadar can work in that situation.

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JeffinNZ posted this 28 March 2023

Handy device for sure.  When I built up my .32-20 Martini with a suppressor the goal was to create very accurate subsonic loads around 1030fps.  Invaluable for that task.  Mostly doesn't see the light of day much anymore now however.

Oddly enough the recipients of my hunting bullets have never commented on velocity.

Cheers from New Zealand

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lotech posted this 28 March 2023

I don't know if the LabRadar is affected by nearby shooters or not. That's never been a worry where I shoot. There are probably others here who can answer that question. My guess would be that readings would be unaffected unless maybe you are elbow-to elbow. 

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Lucky1 posted this 28 March 2023

Started with a Chrony a few decades ago but it went wackadoodle a few years ago. Received a Caldwell for this Christmas so it was looking up. Then I went to download the app to my Android and got the 'your Android is too new to use this app' message. Argh!!!! So I just a number for each shot and have to do the math like Ric does. Caldwell service people are non responsive so far. So beware.

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Wm Cook posted this 29 March 2023

Someone I used to shoot benchrest with used the LabRadar during match competitions so with shooters on either side it worked fine for him.

For me the biggest advantage of a chronograph is to bracket a min/max charge/velocity combination.  I always have a predetermined velocity spread in mind.  In part because of the powder burn rate I'm shooting and in part because of the history of the cartridge.  

But if I was starting up something like the 32-20 Jeff has I would be starting at the ground level looking north of 1200 and south of 1800.  Or that would be my guess.

Here's an example of the min/max charge/velocity combination that I was trying to describe. 

I have a .222 Rem on a Savage 10 action that I've only gotten as far as finding COAL that's a couple thousands off sticking jam depth and the powder charges that'll put me in the 3100 - 3250 range that I was looking for.  Jacketed bullet of course. Take care, Bill.




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Sevenfan posted this 31 March 2023

I use mine, a CED M2, all throughout load development and even later for testing/practice. I consider it a necessary tool no different than any other on my reloading bench.

I've come to believe knowing actual velocity is very valuable and helped me turn my 6.5CM into a reliable sub-MOA shooter with cast boolits. Without a chronograph I'd have never stumbled onto the solution that produced competitive accuracy.

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