Shooters & computers Essay

With the swift and widespread invasion of the microcomputer intohomes and small business offices during the last few years, manyrevolutions have occurred . . . in personal bookkeeping, homeentertainment, and word processing, to mention just a few. It shouldcome as no surprise, therefore, that such hobbies as shooting andreloading, being somewhat technical in nature anyway, should be sweptalong with the increasing home-computer revolution.

When I decided to purchase an Apple II + a couple of years ago,primarily as a word processor for my writing, one of the factors whichinfluenced the decision was the fact that I knew software for ballistics programs was available for the Apple, whereas I was not aware of suchprograms commercially available for competitive brnads–at least, notthe user-friendly, amateur-oriented kind of programs I needed. I amneither an engineer nor a computer programmer, and certainly nomathematician, and I need all the help I can get, the very friendliestavailable! In the two years the Apple and I have been programming each other,an astonishing quantity of ballistics software has been brought to myattention, and more–and more varied–programs keep turning up, almostmonthly. The computer sounds like the answer to a reloader’s prayers,as a means of organizing, referencing, and retrieving the mass ofloading data every serious reloader accumulates. This is one of themajor problems in the handloading game, a problem of such proportionsthat many reloaders simply don’t do it as systematically andthoroughly as they should. If a computer could make it quick, easy, andinteresting, it would be a boon to the sport and contribute to economyand safety, as well. Using a standard commercial “database” program calledPFS:FILE (Software Publishing Co.

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, 1901 Landings Drive, Mountain View,CA 94043), I computerized, as an experiment, all my loading records fora single cartridge. This is an excellent, flexible, and versatileprogram and one which I use for many purposes . . . but it has notworked out as well for reloading reocrds as my own hand-written system.The latter, originally called “ditto data” in an article manyyears ago, is so fast and easy to make entries in, and permits suchrapid data retrieval and comparison, that, surprisingly, the computersimply cannot match it, at least with this software.

I’m quite certain that a professional programmer whounderstood the requirements could write an electronic version of myditto data system, but, so far, I’ve found no conventional databasesoftware which is entirely satisfactory for reloading record-keepingpurposes. But I haven’t given up looking; the potential of a homecomputer for this purpose is simply too great to ignore. On the other hand, I found the PFS:FILE software to work prettywell in storing and retrieving chronograph data.

With this program, onecan custom-design his own forms, and after a few false starts I seem tohave arrived at one which permits fairly rapid sorting according to anyparameters desired. I can, for example, call up in succession on thescreen all the 7x57mm Mauser loads I’ve tried which used H4831powder and the 140-grain Nosler bullet. It’s just as easy to askfor all powders with that bullet, or all brands of 140-grain slugs, orwhatever. Of course, case and primer, with the gun, barrel length, andpertinent remarks (such as “TOO HOT!”) are displayed alongwith the velocity. Output can be printed, which is valuable. Another standard software program which has its uses for theamateur ballistician is the so-called “spreadsheet.

” Mine isthe very popular “VisiCalc” (VisiCorp, 2895 Zanker Road, SanJose, CA 96134). One of the features of this program is its capacityfor instantaneous recalculation of all values in a fairly is changed bythe operator. This permits the user to ask the question “What if .. . ?”, and get answers in a hurry. Very early in my learningefforts, I wrote a simple VisiCalc program to yield recoil energyfigures for all practical gun weights by half-pound increments, using aformula I got out of a magazine article.

When I input a new bulletweight, all the recoil values change without furhter manipulation on mypart. Similarly, a new powder-charge input causes recalculation of allrecoil-energy figures. Formulas for most ballistic parameters arepublished fairly regularly in the shooting press, and a listing of comboshooting formulas is included on pages 298-299 of the Nosler ReloadingManual No.

2, including those for time of flight, kinetic energy, winddeflection, bullet path, uphill/downhill corrections, and many more.With a common spreadsheet program, anybody with a small home computercan do some pretty sophisticated ballistic calculations, without anyreal knowledge of programming at all. Obviously it would be even more convenient to have all of thesecalculations built into a single program, and such software is rapidlybecoming available for most popular brands of minicomputers.

Eac programhas some special features which make it unique, although all of those ofwhich I’m aware will provide all the basictrajectory/energy/windage data. Think of it as an electronic ballistictable such as those found in many handloading manuals today, but onewhich does all the interpolations for you. However, these programs canalso give many more kinds of information than any ballistics tables. For example, an outfit called Eberlein Engineering Co. (655 DunnAvenue, Oregon, WI 53575) has sent me sample software with a programentitled “Exterior Ballistics of Small Arms.” One of thestriking features of this programs is the fact that it contains theballistic coefficients (BC) of more than 460 rifle and pistol bulletsmanufactured by Speer, Sierra, Hornady, and Nosler and cast bulletdesigns by Lyman! This is an enormous convenience, and saves a lot ofthumbing through pages. The Eberlein program can also calculate unknown ballisticcoefficients (such as those for bullets used in factory ammunition,which have never been published) if velocities at two different rangesfor the same shot are available. These are, of course, available forall factory ammo, and the calculated BC will be as accurate as thepublished velocity data.

If the factory load fails to deliver published velocity in yourrifle, you can calculate the BC and use this knowledge to find all otherballistic information for that load in your own gun. Another feature I find extremely useful in Everlein’s programis its ability to calculate optimum point-blank ranges. Done by hand,even with an electronic calculator, this process is so cumbersome andtime-consuming that it’s just not worth the trouble, but the AppleII does it with the Eberlein program in 30 seconds or less. You tell itthe muzzle velocity and ballistic coeffiecient of the bullet and theallowable distance above or below the line of sight you’ll accept,and the program will tell you at what distance to zero the rifle and themaximum distance the bullet will travel within your specifiedrise-or-fall range. This is invaluable to hunters, especially, and mostshooters will be quite surprised at the results, finding that theirrifles have been zeroed at much too short a range to realize theirflattest-shooting potentials. Of course, this software will also yield drop, time of flight,energy, momentum, trajectory, wind drift, and sight changes for bothelevation and windage for any load. It is also one of the few programscommercially available which permits results to be printed out (if aprinter is connected to the computer) or to be saved on diskettes forfiling and future retrieval.

A minor disadvantage is that the programcan work with only five increments of range (of the operator’sselection) for any one shot, and they must be the same five for bothvertical and horizontal coordinates on each table. This somewhat limitsthe program’s flexibility, but is quite adequate for most practicalpurposes of the handloader. Last year, a program was published in The American Rifleman,written by William C. Davis, Jr.

, which is the most flexible andcomprehensive ballistic program I’ve seen. It was written for theRadio Shack TRS computer, but I was able to translate it into the Appleversion of BASIC computer language with little difficulty. It yieldsmost of the information available in other programs, in either yards ormeters, in addition to which it permits trajectory analysis by anyinterval the operator chooses, even yard by yard if desired, and out toany range at which velocity remains above 300 feet per second (fps).The Davis program is set up to give an extremely detailed analysis atany singler range as well, which is unique. Like the Eberlein program,Davis’ will print “hard” copy. This program cassette from PAB Software, skette or tape cassette from PAB Software, Inc., P.O.

Box 15397, Ft. Wayne, IN 46885(telephone 219-485-6980), for TRS-80 Models I, III, and IV, Apple II,and IBM PC. It is the single most useful ballistics software I’vefound yet, and the fastest to use, but I still find a need for thespecial features of the Eberlem program from time to time, as well.

PABsoft, as this source company nicknames itself, also offerssoftware for analysis of accuracy data, for the TRS and IBM personalcomputers, at least, on either diskette or tape, for $25. Also writtenby Davis, this actually consists of three different programs. The firstanalyzes group sizes to determine which of two ammunitions (or gun/ammocombintions) is really more accurate, by what margin, and give a”confidence factor” which tells us how certain we can be ofthe results. A second program allows statistically significant comparisons ofgroup sizes containing different numbers of shots, something which,until now, was beyond the capability of anyone except professionalengineers or mathematicians. The third program makes an objective,statistically-valid judgement as to whether that “flyer” inthe group really was a flyer and can be excluded, or whether it was avalid element in the group which must be considered in the finalresults.

I have not worked with these programs, but they must be veryuseful to the really serious shooter/handloader, and I intend to acquirethem when available. One of the first ballistics programs with which I worked is calledsimply “Computer Ballistics,” from Datatech Software Systems,Inc., 19312 East Eldorado Drive, Aurora, CO 80013 (telephone unlisted).At last report, the price for this software was $55, and it wasavailable only for the Apple II + and the Texas Instruments TI-59hand-held programmable calculator.

This program offers 18 diferent options. It will determinedownrange velocities, flight times, actual drop, bullet paths, winddeflections, uphill/downhill elevation corrections, bullet energy,recoil energy, lead on moving targets, maximum midrange height, andactual click values for sights. In addition, the program, written byPeter Holden, can detremine ballistic coefficients, convert inches toclicks, and make fraction/decimal and other conversions. But wait . . . there’s more! It can compute a trajectory forone load when fired in a gun zeroed for a different load, so thatholdover or under or sight adjustments can be made without actualfiring.

Finally, it can compute and display in chart form the relativetrajectories of three different loads, so that results from differencesin velocity, for example, or bullets of different ballistic coefficient,or whatever, can be compared. Holden’s program runs considerably slower in trajectorycalculations than some of the others mentioned above, and results cannotbe printed out or saved electronically . . .

but it will be noticed thatit does some things that none of the competitors program will. However, Peter Holden’s masterpiece (so far, at least) issomething he called the “Shooting/Hunting Trainer”, which isas much fun as a game, but isn’t a game at all. It costs $34.

50,is currently available for the Apple (with other versions to come), andis a serious computer simulation of field riflery which requires theplayer (opps! I mean “operator”) to make judgements as toelevation, wind drift, and uphill/downhill correction on shots atvarious game animals at random distances, and then evaluates hisefforts. The program asks for the ballistics of the load in question and thezero range, and then displays the trajectory in chart form. It alsoasks a few other questions, such as the magnification of the sights inuse and the user’s choice of targets (varmints, deer, elk, etc.).

It then displays a stylized outline of the critter selected with a setof crosshairs superimposed. The target occupies about the same portionof your visual field when seated at the computer as it would through ascope of the specified magnification, and wind force and direction,range, and hill angle are shown. The user must correct his sight picture for trajectory, winddeflection, and hill angle, and then fire.

The impact point of thebullet is displayed on an enlarged image, and the distance of thatimpact from a theoretical perfect placement is shown. After ten”shots”–each different in range and other conditions–theaverage miss is calculated and displayed. The real genius of this intriguing program, however, is that one ofthe questions asked is the diameter of the circle in which you can keepall of your shots at 100 yards with the gun being simulated. Thatrandom circular dispersion is then built into the results reported foreach shot, which adds another touch of realism to the game. Is it practical? You bet! Most shooters can learn more about theeffects of wind and hill angle in an hour on a computer withHolden’s software than he can from a year of actual field shooting.

Before a prairie dog hunt in Kansas last summer, I spent a couple ofhours with this program and a lot of dogs bit the dust because of it.Furthermore, I found that when I applied the same corrections for wind,distance, etc., to actual shooting conditions that the computer calledfor, I scored consistently, given the inevitable errors in judgingdistances and wind forces. The accuracy and realism of the program wasimpressive. Best of all, it’s fun! I’m certain that this brief review of software for shootersand handloaders has overlooked some programs, and I have attempted todescribe only those which are available on diskette or tape, omittingsome which can be had in written form only.

Possibly the number andvariety programs available will double before the articles sees print,so dynamic is the home-computer field these days. If this softwaresounds miraculous to the gunbuff who had struggled for hours withpencil, paper, and a calculator, or worn out the ballistics tables inhis favorite reloading manual . . .

just stick around! What we’ll have tomorrow will make everything in this articleseem hopelessly primitive, and that’s a promise!

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