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Old January 28, 2012, 09:13 PM   #1
thedaddycat
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How important is a chronograph?

How important is having a chronograph now that I have made some ammo. It is .38 Special. I thought I'd just go to the pistol range and see how it shot, but I was reading a thread on Trailboss powder and they were talking about standard deviation and extreme spread. There's no way to get that information without having a chronograph, but how important really is it? Isn't decent accuracy a sign of consistant velocity, of a good load?

There's probably a lot more to it than just the numbers.....
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Old January 28, 2012, 09:15 PM   #2
dacaur
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IMO, unless you are shooting at or near max loads, dont worry about it.

Many people use it to pick out an accurate load, but personaly, I would rather just pick an accurate load using... well, accuracy...

I plan to get one just so I can chrono my hunting loads to tailor a drop table for long range shooting....
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Old January 28, 2012, 09:18 PM   #3
mehavey
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Eventually you'll want a chronograph as you load up more cartridge types of higher performance. But even middle-of-the-road loads in that most forgiving of all cartridges -- the 38 Special -- don't require gnat's eyebrow knowledge of velocity variations.

Go shoot, have fun, get a chronograph downstream.
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Old January 28, 2012, 09:40 PM   #4
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It is a great tool.

For chucking lead at a plate at 7 yards, probably not necessary.

For developing rifle loads and some of my super mega hand cannon loads, I consider it critical.
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Old January 28, 2012, 09:51 PM   #5
Brian Pfleuger
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I like it because I like information. I hate not knowing. With the chrony, I don't have to guess. I don't have to wonder if I could be getting the same accuracy but more speed. I know the speed I'm getting. I like accuracy AND speed, in most cases.

Two instances where a chrony is great....

1)High speed varmint rounds. 1/2 MOA is great but if the cartridge is capable of 4,200 fps and I'm only getting 3,900, I want to know. I'll find that accuracy with some other powder and get the speed too.

2)"Emulating" slower rounds. Let's say I happen on a good deal for a 270WSM but what I really want is 7mm-08 performance. I can load 140gr bullets at 2,850 like the 7-08 rather than the 3,100 the 270 can do. Without a chrony, it's a guess.
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Old January 28, 2012, 10:24 PM   #6
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I am addicted to data, I want to know what my loads are doing.

Could I have developed loads without a chronograph, absolutely. But I feel much better knowing that my 1911 loads, the ones with the 230's, are just at 800 fps. Knowing the velocities for gas guns and semi autos, rifles and pistols, means I can tailor my loads to be safe and easy on the mechanism.

With surplus powders, I was able to find the charge weight that was appropriate for my 308's and 30-06's by looking at velocities.

I used to develop loads by looking at primer condition, case head expansion (only once, no correlation to anything), and case sticking and reloading manual data. I still look at those things, but my data base is large enough that I have created my own self imposed velocity limits for certain combinations in 308 and 30-06. I can tell by looking at velocities if I am pushing a 190 in a 308 at too high of pressures by looking at the velocity. I know, regardless of the powder, if a 190 is close to 2600 fps, that is too hot for my rifles. It should be closer to 2500 fps, and that is just at maximum.

I don't have extensive data bases for my 270's, and some other calibers, so I look at the manuals, but I still look at the velocity. I am disappointed that my reloads are not clocking 3000 fps with 130's in the 270.

Chronographs have helped me determine some gunwriter recommended loads were not appropriate. Gunwriters used to recommend Blue Dot for a bunch of pistol cartridges. They were just shilling for Hercules. When I saw extreme spreads in terms of hundreds of feet per second I decided that Blue Dot was not appropriate for non magnum applications.
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Old January 29, 2012, 09:49 AM   #7
FatWhiteMan
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This isn't the 1950's anymore when chronographs only existed in big test facilities. Since they start under $100, I see them as almost necessary part of reloading. Certainly, they are on the top of the list of "luxury" items for reloading. Yes you can get along without one but why bother? I would put a chronograph above other items you can get by without such as digital scales and tumblers.
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Old January 29, 2012, 09:56 AM   #8
rclark
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Quote:
I want to know what my loads are doing.
Exactly. I want loads to be 'consistent'. The chronograph helps me with that. As said above, some loads have ES of over 100fps.... Wouldn't 'know' that without a chrono (Answers the question of 'is it me?' or 'is it the load?' . The more consistant a load is, the more likely it will be accurate. The chrono also shows you when a load is 'converging'. You see the ES dropping for example from say 88, 64, 32, 32, then back up to 70 ... Gives you a good feel for the load. Of course knowing your velocity is great too! For my 'medium' .44Mag loads I want to be somwhere between 1000-1100fps. Chrono shows me that. Also more velocity, more pressure. So there is a comfort there too. Amazing what just one number can tell you!

Is is necessary? No. I have many years without one. But now that I have one, I wouldn't be without one! Like the difference between fumbling in the dark, and turning the light on....
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Old January 29, 2012, 10:15 AM   #9
arch308
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I like my chrony for my hunting loads. I don't want to guess how far the bullet will drop at a given range. It gives me peace of mind.
Very seldom will I get it out for handguns, sometimes just for fun.
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Old January 29, 2012, 10:53 AM   #10
jr05
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I use mine all the time developing new loads since I shoot a lot of IDPA/USPSA and need to make sure they meet power factor.

I also think it is really handly to ensure my loads are matching up with the book loads as far as velocity goes. If my starting load is drastically different than book I know something might of off.
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Old January 29, 2012, 03:35 PM   #11
hoffbill
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I find a lot of advantages with a chrony, among them knowing exactly what velocity my load is producing. That is important for several reasons, as others have said, it is necessary to work up a range card, it also helps to determine if the load I am producing is performing the same as the test data on the load chart, and it is a very good way to measure consistency of loads.

Others are : if I know the exact velocity at which my rifle groups a certain bullet and I want to change to, for instance, a different brand of brass, I can tweak the load in the new brass to the same velocity and use that as a starting point It helps know where I am at with pressure when working close to max loads, and as many others have said, I just want to know.
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Old January 29, 2012, 06:48 PM   #12
thedaddycat
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OK, I understand the utility of having the data. You get hard numbers on velocity and ES to tune the load and I'm guessing that you also tune the load to each gun. My Smith .357 will not shoot identical loads with identical results as the Taurus even if they have the same barrel length. The same goes for different barrels and cylinders: a .357 with a 6" barrel will not shoot the same as a 2" J frame, etc.

So here's the question: Which chronograph would you buy out of the ones on the market today? What is a reasonable budget? Let's say you had $500 to spend on reloading gear. The basics are already covered (my friends have presses, dies, tumbler, etc.) so where does the money go? Ultrasonic cleaner? Chronograph? Case prep station(motorized version)? Do you economize on the hardware and spend the rest to get more of a variety of powders and bullets? I did a basic search on the chronographs, it seems like you can get a decent one for under $200.

If you have any insight or recommendations, please feel free to speak up. As always any input is appreciated, and thanks in advance for your advice.
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Old January 29, 2012, 06:52 PM   #13
wncchester
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"I was reading a thread on Trailboss powder and they were talking about standard deviation and extreme spread.... but how important really is it? Isn't decent accuracy a sign of consistant velocity, of a good load?"

We reloading geeks love our toys and many of us think other people should be as 'into it' as we are; NOT! For the vast majority of reloaders the "on target accuracy" is ALL that matters and all that should matter, perhaps especially so for handgun ammo.

I doubt that even 5% of reloaders have a chronograph and probably half of those who do don't use it very much.
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Old January 29, 2012, 11:21 PM   #14
jdillon
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Why guess? I chrono all of my rifle loads and provides good feedback on your reloading process and helps develop consistent practices. The data provided is included in my log books for future reference. Also provides the information you need to input into ballistic computers. Most are relatively inexpensive and work pretty well.
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Old January 30, 2012, 01:27 AM   #15
rclark
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Quote:
What is a reasonable budget?
I use the F1 Chrony and it works well. Ran back to back with another brand and basically read the same with a few fps. Here is a link for example : F1 Chrony . They are getting fairly inexpensive.
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Old January 30, 2012, 02:16 AM   #16
1SOW
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Quote:
How important is having a chronograph now that I have made some ammo. It is .38 Special. I thought I'd just go to the pistol range and see how it shot, but I was reading a thread on Trailboss powder and they were talking about standard deviation and extreme spread. There's no way to get that information without having a chronograph, but how important really is it? Isn't decent accuracy a sign of consistant velocity, of a good load?
For moderate pistol/revolver loads it isn't a necessity. Moderate means below the top end of the load data range shown in the manual.

A chronograph shows a number of things.
1st is bullet speed. What the manufacturer got with a TEST barrel, may not be what you get in your gun.
Bullet speed can be compared with the load data to see if its safe to try a little heavier load. Or maybe to show that your load is too slow, or right at the bottom of the listed speeds. The chrono shows whether or not you are inside the "safe data range" shown in the loading manual.

A lot of people say they can "feel" whether a load is too weak or too strong. I'm here to tell you, this isn't always the case. The feel can be deceptive..

The ES and other detailed information the chrono gives, is like a report card on THAT load. It tells how consisent each shot/cartridge is. If it's NOT consistent, maybe another powder would perform better with that bullet in your gun. etc etc. Maybe a different bullet would run better with that same load. MAYBE your press isn't giving consistent powder drops. ETC ETC

None of this is essential if you stay near mid-range of the load data where the loads will operate reliably and safely. It is just another tool available to reloaders.
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Old January 30, 2012, 08:32 AM   #17
highvel
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Every time I take mine to the range there is a few people who ask if they can run some of their loads thru it.
Most are very surprised at what they see, verses what they thought the load was doing! I have had many thank me for helping them realize part of the reason why their load wasn't grouping very well.

It's not a necessity by any means, but it sure helps, and may save a few bucks on burnt powder
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Old January 30, 2012, 09:30 AM   #18
243winxb
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Velocity & Pressure.

Velocity is no indication of Pressure. Some new reloaders think you just keep adding more powder till you reach the factory listed velocity. IMO.

Last edited by 243winxb; January 30, 2012 at 09:40 AM.
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Old January 30, 2012, 09:48 AM   #19
rclark
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Quote:
Velocity is no indication of Pressure.
Oh, yes it is . With a given powder, the higher the velocity, there is more pressure. Period. Yes a 'different' powder may give you less pressure for same velocity. Need to compare apples to apples. You are right though, you should never just add powder to get listed velocity, because your gun is different from the test gun. Might put you over pressure if working at the 'high end'. I agree with that .

Another thing that is nice with a chrono, is you can test the same load with different primers. I found this very helpful for example when I did a bunch of Trail Boss testing awhile back with some surprising results. Anyway... I won't be without one now.
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Old January 30, 2012, 11:43 AM   #20
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There are two kinds of pressure to be concerned with. Peak pressure is what affects safety. Average pressure during a bullet's travel down the bore is what determines velocity. Therefore what the chronograph indicates is average pressure and not peak pressure.

As you increase a powder charge, the peak pressure increases faster than the average pressure does. In a rifle, peak pressure typically increases several times faster than muzzle pressure does, so the increase in average pressure is somewhere inbetween. In a snub nose revolver, at the other extreme, the rise in peak and average pressure track closely because the bullet gets out with less volume expansion subsequent to the peak.

You can see this for yourself by looking at load data, like Hodgdon's, where you see at least two different velocities and peak pressures listed for each powder and bullet combination. Compare the percent increase in velocity, which will be proportional to the increase in average pressure, to the percent increase in peak pressure. At the Hodgdon site, click on the "Print" button to see what barrel length, brass, and primer was used. If you get lucky and they used a barrel length close to your own and the same powder and bullet you are using, you'll be able to use their ratio for that data to estimate change in peak pressure from change in velocity. Just understand this won't be very precise.


Thedaddycat,

Note that there are basically two main reasons to know velocity and also variation in velocity, shot-to-shot. One is trajectory for precision of shot placement. Here you'll find velocity variation matters to accuracy at long range (long range is relative to your chambering), but is almost invisible to shot placement at short range. The other reason is to judge bullet performance on the target, for which bullet makers often have a recommended impact velocity range. The chronograph plus a ballistics trajectory program and the ballistic coefficient of the bullet will tell you if you are firing at a velocity that will keep your bullet within its recommended impact velocity range over the range of target distances you anticipate.

If you are shooting bullseye targets at under 50 yards, there isn't a chance that anything but accuracy of your load will matter to you. If you are shooting defensive pistol, trajectory concerns will be meaningless, but you'd probably like to know you are matching performance to what you load for self-defense. If you play with silhouette shooting or other longer range handgun endeavors, you will become concerned with trajectory consistency.

One other thing a SD does is give you some idea how consistently your powder is burning. If the SD is high, you may want to look at using a faster powder, assuming there is one that can be safely loaded to your velocity. It will save money because the charge will be smaller, and it will tend to produce less fouling and recoil, if all else is equal. Note that other causes of high SD exist, though (crimp, primer choice, primer seating force, etc.).

Nick
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Last edited by Unclenick; January 30, 2012 at 11:55 AM.
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Old January 30, 2012, 01:05 PM   #21
hounddawg
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I like mine for making sure my loads are consistent. I would not think one would be really necessary for pistol unless you are loading for a competition that requires a certain power factor.

I use a Pro Chrono digital which is roughly 100 USD and the computer interface which is another 50, makes record keeping simpler and I like the fact I can read and reset right from the bench
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