By John Taffin
A handloader is an experimenter, constantly looking for better loads by changing components, powder, primer, bullets, even brass to come up with the best possible load. This column is called “Handloading” not “Reloading” (where you basically reload the same load up over and over again) exactly for that reason.
To be a reloader it’s possible to get by with a minimum amount of tools. However, serious handloading requires much more, and one item of great importance is a chronograph. It’s impossible to be a serious handloader without having some way of checking muzzle velocities. Not only are our loads verified by measuring muzzle velocities we can also see how consistent they are. Consistent loads are accurate loads and the odd flyer might be discovered to be caused by velocity fluctuations — not shooter or gun issues.
When I first started using a chronograph, with the model being used, it was necessary to fire a shot and then run through a series of dials resulting in a number which was then looked up on a chart. Time-consuming, but at least it revealed whether velocities were consistent or not. That was about 40 years ago and since then, chronographs have evolved. In recent years they’re not only more compact but also a lot less expensive.
All chronographs basically work the same. We shoot over “sky screens” with the first one being the start and the last being end, with the time the bullet takes passing between measured to give the muzzle velocity. Although chronographs have become simpler, they still require a set-up using a tripod placed at a measured distance from the firing point, and a minimum amount of light in order to work.
The LabRadar provides Average velocity, High, Low, Extreme Spread, Standard
Deviation and number of shots. John found it to be very reliable and not subject
to ambient lighting issue since it relies on radar to gather velocity info.
I have gone through close to a dozen chronographs over the past 40 years and I’m currently trying something totally different. The latest contraption for measuring muzzle velocities is the LabRadar, which, as the name suggests, does not work by shooting over sky screens but rather by using radar. This unit is simply set on the shooting bench beside my pistol rest, with care being used to make sure the muzzle is out in front of the LabRadar. The unit itself can be mounted on a dedicated base and set on the shooting bench or it can be mounted on a camera tripod. One of the cautions is not to use semi-automatic weapons which throw the brass at the unit. For my set up this requires a tripod to the left of my pistol rest.
In addition to picking up the muzzle velocity by radar, the LabRadar also picks up velocities at various distances out to 100 yards. The LabRadar is set on the right side of my pistol rest, aimed at the target, turned on, and it’s ready to go. Well, almost — first it’s necessary to read the instructions and figure out how to use it. For me, and my friend Denis, the instructions left a lot to be desired and could be much simpler. Now it seems very simple, however it was painful to start with. Denis studied the instructions for two days and then we ventured forth.
The LabRadar mounted on bench top base next to the
handgun rest. The muzzle of a gun is placed ahead and to
one side of the unit. Doppler radar reads bullet velocity.
That first day we never did get it to work. The second day looked like more of the same until I suggested we try something very simple on the setting. It worked and the unit has been working perfectly ever since. Hint: when setting up the LabRadar ignore the instructions of the use of the word “TRIGGER” and make sure the setting is on “DOPPLER” — it’s that simple.
The easy-to-read screen of the LabRadar gives the following information after shooting: Average, Extreme Spread, High, Low, Standard Deviation and Number of Shots. Power is supplied by six AA batteries or a rechargeable battery pack. The LabRadar will store 1,000 groups of 100 shots each which can be downloaded to a computer. Its main positive feature is not depending upon light, however to have such convenience, the unit is also more expensive than chronographs. The MSRP is $560, with the bench mount base at $40 and the rechargeable battery pack is $25.
It’s fast to set up, easy to use (once figured out!), is not reliant on light and reliable. For my use I think it is well worth it.
For more info: www.americanhandgunner.com/index
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