Accurate Reloading by Chronograph Pt.1

In Blog by Rich

There are a number of ways with which a person can accomplish load development, for a given rifle and cartridge, that will result in accurate reloading. Many popular methods have given reloaders good results for a long time, anything from the OCW method to ladder tests. However, we have noticed one element of many reloading techniques that may impact how much accurate reloading can be accomplished. That element is the shooter. Most popular reloading methods were pioneered by competitive shooters from respective disciplines like Benchrest, F-Class, IPSC, and IPDA. Many a successful professional shooter has come up with a method for developing an accurate hand loaded and reloaded cartridge for their firearm. Some are nice enough to write and publish their methods to the benefit of the shooting communities around the country and the world. However, there may be a slight flaw in the application.

Accurate Reloading Flaws

Not every shooter that sets out to do load development for a firearm is as good, or as experienced, or consistent, as the professional that developed the method. Several reloading methods place heavy emphasis on the performance of a given powder charge, bullet, primer, and seating depth with regard to where the rounds impact on the target during load development. That isn’t a bad idea, per say, except that it sets up less experienced shooters for potential issues. For example, we have all heard people that are into reloading talking about group size.

How large or how small is the group that a firearm and shooter produce? How much bearing should that have on load development? One of the biggest influences, on how large that group size winds up being, is the shooter themselves. I would argue its a larger factor than the powder charge and seating depth of the cartridge. Think about it, if you take a rifle that can shoot a half minute of angle group on paper at 100 yards, and put it in the hands of a novice, what are the odds of that person duplicating your group size and performance? Rather low I would say.

wpid-imag0516.jpg

Seating depth test conducted after initial load development…the worst of the groups is in the .6s

This is why I have put this article together. It borrows parts of common reloading techniques but steers all the load development, and accurate reloading the development produces, away from the shooter. The idea is to use a more quantifiable unit of measure to base reloading decisions upon: the chronograph. Chronographs are common tools in the professional shooting world and certainly a helpful device when one’s goal is accurate reloading. The chronograph can measure the velocity of a bullet and average strings of bullets, fired through or over the chronograph. This will give the reloader an idea of how consistently his ammunition is firing. It will also tell you whether or not he is partaking in accurate reloading practices or not. I can already hear some of the traditionalist reloaders yelling about the accuracy of a chronograph as I write this.

Chronographs Have Come a Long Way

For starters we need to acknowledge that chronographs have come a long way in recent times. The old style sun screen chronographs that had issues with fluorescent lighting and cloudy days have been upgraded with infrared screens that provide consistent light sources. Now we have chronographs in affordable price ranges that don’t even use sun screens and light driven results. Now we have chronographs like the Magnetospeed that are strapped to the barrel and use magnetic sensors to detect the flight of a bullet. The advent and release of the LabRadar chronograph as a personal doppler radar unit all but negate any possible alignment issues older style chronographs are hindered by.

You can see the sensor tension knob and the connector for the battery on the screen arm here

You can see the sensor tension knob and the connector for the battery on the screen arm here

We have acoustic chronographs that can be mounted anywhere from a few feet to several hundred yards down range that detect the sound of the shock wave from a supersonic bullet in flight as it passes over the chronograph. I’m not getting into which one is better or worse than another here, the point is that we have more advanced chronographs to work with now than we did when a lot of the common reloading practices were pioneered.

However, there are many people who like to know how a given Chronograph performs. Bryan Litz and the folks at Applied Ballistics recently released an article after testing a whole range of chronographs and which ones were the most accurate. You can download that here. I’ll summarize quickly in saying that the Magnetospeed is a solid performer!

ballistics-cartridge-performance3

Magnetospeed Barrel Mounted chronograph, this is the V2 version, why haven’t I upgraded to the V3? Haven’t seen the need…this thing has yet to let me down!

Why the emphasis on a chronograph? The reason is because when accurate reloading is your goal, you want the most unbiased and objective source of data to base your reloading upon. You want to remove as many subjective variables from the process as possible. The biggest subjective variable is the shooter. I’m certain that you could take three shooters of different ability levels, give them all the same rifle with five rounds loaded identically, and you would get three different group sizes. Everybody shoots a little bit differently.

So why would you base your reloading upon a variable like group size, or the position of a shot on paper, when the shooter can influence that the shot on the target so heavily? Maybe back in the days of years past that made sense with the unreliable chronographs on the market. Today I’m not so sure that idea is still valid. I’m going to take you through, step by step, my process for accurate reloading as I do it for a new load. Then you can take a look at the process, and the results it yielded, and decide for yourself if its a method you want to try for accurate reloading.

Wrapping Up

In the next part of this article series we’re going to take a look at the accurate reloading process that we’ve developed here: step by step. It’s a mix of different techniques already familiar to the reloading community. However, the difference is where the emphasis is placed. The development is done largely with chronograph numbers being the driving force behind decisions. Only towards the end of the process do we look at differences in group size. The final installment in this article series will be some video and photos of groups and rounds on target with the new load. We’re have just rebarreled the AR10 in the stable and this is the perfect opportunity to put this series of articles out there for the readers! As always, if you have any comments or suggestions to add, or a question, please do so below in the comments!

Owner and Proprietor of AccuracyTech, LLC. Rich is a Firearms Enthusiast, Precision Rifle Competitor, and Writer. He is committed to bringing readers quality reviews and articles related to the Precision Shooting Sports. If you have any questions for him, please use the contact form on the site.