Best Shooting Chronographs
Understanding how your weapon works is more than just feeling it kick in your hands. Sometimes you need raw data to analyze, especially if you’re making your own ammunition through a reloading kit. If you need to analyze the speed of your rounds, you need a shooting chronograph.
Let’s go over what exactly this device is and how to find the best chronograph for your needs.
Shooting Chronographs: Head-to-Head
The Caldwell Ballistic Precision Chronograph is both high-tech and incredibly affordable compared to most other chronographs on the market. It allows for exceptional accuracy, as each unit is calibrated at the factory to perfection within plus or -0.25%. In other words, you can expect 99.75% accuracy with each round fired through its rods.
It’s also one of the easier chronographs to use. It has options to measure in both meters per second or feet per second depending on your preferences. It’s ideal for all kinds of firearms or related weapons, like bows and arrows or even air guns, because it can deliver accurate readings at speeds between five and 9999 FPS.
We also really like the readability inherent in its design. It features a large LCD display, so you won’t have trouble discerning the measurements provided even in bright sunlight.
It operates with 9 V batteries that aren’t included, unfortunately. But it does have a 15-foot audio jack cable, allowing it to provide valuable ballistic data to your smartphone or any other mobile device with the appropriate ports.
All in all, the Caldwell Ballistic Precision Chronograph has all the major features you’d want in a high-quality chronograph, along with several ease-of-use innovations that make it a favorite for beginners and budget-minded marksmen alike.
The MagnetoSpeed Barrel-Mounted Chronograph is a unique take on the chronograph device by allowing you to mount the measuring tool directly beneath your barrel. Imagine it like a bayonet. The sensor extends out from your barrel, allowing it to get accurate readings the moment of projectile emerges from your firearm.
Even better, it can accommodate muzzle brakes and flash hiders that are up to 2.7 inches in length. It’s ideal for barrels between 0.5 and 1 inch in diameter. This does limit its usability to firearms with those barrels, but if it works for your chosen weapon it’ll be great. It’s ultimately ideal for revolvers or contoured rifle barrels
It’s also incredibly easy to use. It logs data and can be controlled with a single button display. Three sensitivity settings are available, and it even comes with an ultra-compact storage container.
The MagnetoSpeed Barrel-Mounted Chronograph is incredibly innovative and isn’t even that expensive compared to most chronographs on the market. If you want something lightweight and easy to use in the field, give this a try.
The Competition Electronics ProChrono is another high-quality piece of tech that allows you to hold up to 99 shots across nine strings in its memory before you need to transfer the data away. It’s ideal for rifles, pistols, shotguns, and even slower projectile weapons like pellet guns and paintball guns. No matter what kind of weapon you use, you’ll be able to review the velocity and shop string data, which can include average velocity, extreme spread, and standard deviation.
This makes it great for marksmen or gun enthusiasts that want to chart graphs about their performance and average bullet velocities. Transferring the data is pretty easy, as you can connect a standard computer or another device to this chronograph.
It’s not all that bulky and is pretty easy to set up. It also includes a fantastic user manual to help you understand the various data points it can provide and how to transfer them to graphing software.
Ultimately, the Competition Electronics ProChrono is the ideal choice for marksmen that want to get deep into their data and analyze it as a set. It’s also quite good as a general chronograph, too.
The MagnetoSpeed LLC Barrel-Mounted Chronograph is an improved version of the earlier barrel mounted chronograph we mentioned before. It features and improved to display and a three-button menu system that replaces the old toggle switch. It also comes with two different battery options, along with an easy-access battery compartment.
Even better, it can now work with multiple shooting modes and even accommodate air guns. Downloadable firmware updates will allow you to use this chronograph for a long time to come, and granted the ability to log data in a much more advanced way and troubleshoot any digital errors.
We also really like the more compact and rugged display housing for the chronograph’s core appliance. The strapping system is even more durable the last time, with a metal buckle and a triad thumb nut. A carrying case for the main chronographs and other accessories completes the package.
This is another excellent barrel mounted option, with a much higher asking price but an improved design and several fantastic features to warrant the cost.
The Competition Electronics ProChrono DLX is a variation of the earlier Competition Electronics option we checked out earlier. This one includes Bluetooth compatibility, allowing you to transfer your data wirelessly to your device. It only operates off of a single 9 V battery, which unfortunately again needs to be purchased separately.
Still, it has lots of other features that make it worth your while. These include a two-year warranty against workmanship errors or defects in the material and a velocity range between 20 and 9999 ft./s. It even accommodates rapid-fire weapons relatively easily, as it only needs 500 ms between each shot to accurately record muzzle velocity. It’s accurate within + or -.5% of all measured velocities or better.
The Competition Electronics ProChrono DLX is a better chronograph than most, and an ideal choice for those interested in deep-diving into their data or who need something that reliably works with rapid-fire weapons.
What is a Shooting Chronograph?
In a nutshell, a shooting chronograph is a tool that can measure how fast your bullets leave the barrel of your firearm. It measures muzzle velocity, which helps you determine what bullet cartridges perform the best at particular distances relative to their weight and speed. This also allows you to fine-tune your reloading process or customize ammunition loads for particular firearms.
In general, have your bullets travel at slower speeds and start to fall to the ground much more quickly than lighter bullets which are projected at faster speeds. The only way to measure this difference is with a shooting chronograph.
Even better, shooting chronographs are typically equipped to provide you with even more hopeful information. In addition to muzzle velocity, they can also help you increase your reloading process speed thanks to these additional measured metrics.
How Does a Chronograph Work?
We’ll keep this simple, especially since most hobbyist chronographs are simpler than the ones used by manufacturers or big military spec installations.
Chronographs measure the time between when a projectile crosses a “clock starting” or first optical sensor and speeds over the last or “clock stopping” optical sensor. Basically, it measures how long it takes for a bullet to get from one pair of measuring routes to the other.
There are sensors lined beneath the shooting areas, which are marked by diffuser strips or rods that spread across the opening. They measure how fast your bullet goes by measuring out the shadow of the bullet as it passes over them. Most chronographs use two sensors while more advanced models may use up to three.
This time is converted to feet or meters per second and is displayed on the screen. As a result, some chronographs are designed for indoor use when sunlight may not be as reliable.
What to Look for in a Shooting Chronograph
Before you purchase a shooting chronograph, you should consider these main aspects. Focusing on these factors will allow you to find a shooting chronograph that works best for your needs.
First and foremost, you need a shooting chronograph that is actually accurate when it provides you with information. Chronographs that don’t provide you with enough accuracy don’t fulfill their primary mission and aren’t worth your time and money.
When a shooting chronograph provides you with your muzzle velocity, it’ll often include an estimate and a standard deviation. Another way to imagine the standard deviation is the margin for error. For instance, if a shooting chronograph gives you a bullet velocity within a 2% standard deviation, that means it’s likely accurate within 2% above or below the measured velocity.
In addition, accurate shooting chronographs are much easier to calibrate, even though most chronographs are calibrated before you open the box.
How accurate is accurate enough? You’ll want to find a shooting chronograph that is 99% accurate at minimum, although you can find top-tier shooting chronographs that are 99.5% accurate or more. A few tenths of a percent may not seem like much, but it can make a world of difference when you are calculating the ideal loads and cartridges for your firearms.
Why does design matter for a shooting chronograph? Some chronographs are smaller and lighter while others are bigger and sturdier. You should consider which will work best for your needs before finalizing a purchase. Lighter chronographs are easier to take with you to the shooting range while tougher ones will be more durable over the long haul and might be better if you want to take them with you on a longer excursion.
Easy to Use/Set-Up
Next, you’ll want to find a shooting chronograph that’s fairly easy to set up, especially if you haven’t used these tools before. Shooting chronographs often incorporate multiple pieces that need to be assembled, although some tools are easier to set than others.
Try to find shooting chronographs that don’t require more than a basic assembly of various rods or other components. Simpler chronographs are also usually a lot easier to maintain over time. This, in turn, can mean excellent value for money.
Shooting chronographs come in a variety of sizes for their primary windows. The windows will be comprised of several rows of rods that will extend to the left or right of the main bullet trajectory. Wider windows may provide slightly less precise measurements but will be harder for you to graze with your weapon.
In general, we would recommend that beginners both to shooting and using chronographs should find a chronograph with a wider than average window width. This minimizes the chance that you’ll accidentally shoot the measurement rods with your firearm.
Lastly, consider whether a chronograph is built to be used indoors or outdoors. Indoor chronographs will often include artificial lights to compensate for the lack of sun and allow the diffuser strip to still measure the shadow of a bullet that passes between the rods.
Overall, the best shooting chronograph for your needs will balance budget and features and work well with your chosen firearm. Make sure to consider all the factors carefully before finalizing a purchase and you’ll be happier overall. Good hunting!