Shooters & computers Essay

With the swift and widespread invasion of the microcomputer into
homes and small business offices during the last few years, many
revolutions have occurred . . . in personal bookkeeping, home
entertainment, and word processing, to mention just a few. It should
come as no surprise, therefore, that such hobbies as shooting and
reloading, being somewhat technical in nature anyway, should be swept
along 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 which
influenced the decision was the fact that I knew software for ballistics programs was available for the Apple, whereas I was not aware of such
programs commercially available for competitive brnads–at least, not
the user-friendly, amateur-oriented kind of programs I needed. I am
neither an engineer nor a computer programmer, and certainly no
mathematician, and I need all the help I can get, the very friendliest

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In the two years the Apple and I have been programming each other,
an astonishing quantity of ballistics software has been brought to my
attention, and more–and more varied–programs keep turning up, almost

The computer sounds like the answer to a reloader’s prayers,
as a means of organizing, referencing, and retrieving the mass of
loading data every serious reloader accumulates. This is one of the
major problems in the handloading game, a problem of such proportions
that many reloaders simply don’t do it as systematically and
thoroughly as they should. If a computer could make it quick, easy, and
interesting, it would be a boon to the sport and contribute to economy
and safety, as well.

Using a standard commercial “database” program called
PFS:FILE (Software Publishing Co., 1901 Landings Drive, Mountain View,
CA 94043), I computerized, as an experiment, all my loading records for
a single cartridge. This is an excellent, flexible, and versatile
program and one which I use for many purposes . . . but it has not
worked out as well for reloading reocrds as my own hand-written system.
The latter, originally called “ditto data” in an article many
years ago, is so fast and easy to make entries in, and permits such
rapid data retrieval and comparison, that, surprisingly, the computer
simply cannot match it, at least with this software.

I’m quite certain that a professional programmer who
understood the requirements could write an electronic version of my
ditto data system, but, so far, I’ve found no conventional database
software which is entirely satisfactory for reloading record-keeping
purposes. But I haven’t given up looking; the potential of a home
computer for this purpose is simply too great to ignore.

On the other hand, I found the PFS:FILE software to work pretty
well in storing and retrieving chronograph data. With this program, one
can custom-design his own forms, and after a few false starts I seem to
have arrived at one which permits fairly rapid sorting according to any
parameters desired. I can, for example, call up in succession on the
screen all the 7x57mm Mauser loads I’ve tried which used H4831
powder and the 140-grain Nosler bullet. It’s just as easy to ask
for all powders with that bullet, or all brands of 140-grain slugs, or
whatever. Of course, case and primer, with the gun, barrel length, and
pertinent remarks (such as “TOO HOT!”) are displayed along
with the velocity. Output can be printed, which is valuable.

Another standard software program which has its uses for the
amateur ballistician is the so-called “spreadsheet.” Mine is
the very popular “VisiCalc” (VisiCorp, 2895 Zanker Road, San
Jose, CA 96134). One of the features of this program is its capacity
for instantaneous recalculation of all values in a fairly is changed by
the operator. This permits the user to ask the question “What if .
. . ?”, and get answers in a hurry. Very early in my learning
efforts, I wrote a simple VisiCalc program to yield recoil energy
figures for all practical gun weights by half-pound increments, using a
formula I got out of a magazine article. When I input a new bullet
weight, all the recoil values change without furhter manipulation on my
part. Similarly, a new powder-charge input causes recalculation of all
recoil-energy figures. Formulas for most ballistic parameters are
published fairly regularly in the shooting press, and a listing of combo
shooting formulas is included on pages 298-299 of the Nosler Reloading
Manual No. 2, including those for time of flight, kinetic energy, wind
deflection, bullet path, uphill/downhill corrections, and many more.
With a common spreadsheet program, anybody with a small home computer
can do some pretty sophisticated ballistic calculations, without any
real knowledge of programming at all.

Obviously it would be even more convenient to have all of these
calculations built into a single program, and such software is rapidly
becoming available for most popular brands of minicomputers. Eac program
has some special features which make it unique, although all of those of
which I’m aware will provide all the basic
trajectory/energy/windage data. Think of it as an electronic ballistic
table such as those found in many handloading manuals today, but one
which does all the interpolations for you. However, these programs can
also give many more kinds of information than any ballistics tables.

For example, an outfit called Eberlein Engineering Co. (655 Dunn
Avenue, Oregon, WI 53575) has sent me sample software with a program
entitled “Exterior Ballistics of Small Arms.” One of the
striking features of this programs is the fact that it contains the
ballistic coefficients (BC) of more than 460 rifle and pistol bullets
manufactured by Speer, Sierra, Hornady, and Nosler and cast bullet
designs by Lyman! This is an enormous convenience, and saves a lot of
thumbing through pages.

The Eberlein program can also calculate unknown ballistic
coefficients (such as those for bullets used in factory ammunition,
which have never been published) if velocities at two different ranges
for the same shot are available. These are, of course, available for
all factory ammo, and the calculated BC will be as accurate as the
published velocity data.

If the factory load fails to deliver published velocity in your
rifle, you can calculate the BC and use this knowledge to find all other
ballistic information for that load in your own gun.

Another feature I find extremely useful in Everlein’s program
is its ability to calculate optimum point-blank ranges. Done by hand,
even with an electronic calculator, this process is so cumbersome and
time-consuming that it’s just not worth the trouble, but the Apple
II does it with the Eberlein program in 30 seconds or less. You tell it
the muzzle velocity and ballistic coeffiecient of the bullet and the
allowable 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 the
maximum distance the bullet will travel within your specified
rise-or-fall range. This is invaluable to hunters, especially, and most
shooters will be quite surprised at the results, finding that their
rifles have been zeroed at much too short a range to realize their
flattest-shooting potentials.

Of course, this software will also yield drop, time of flight,
energy, momentum, trajectory, wind drift, and sight changes for both
elevation and windage for any load. It is also one of the few programs
commercially available which permits results to be printed out (if a
printer is connected to the computer) or to be saved on diskettes for
filing and future retrieval. A minor disadvantage is that the program
can work with only five increments of range (of the operator’s
selection) for any one shot, and they must be the same five for both
vertical and horizontal coordinates on each table. This somewhat limits
the program’s flexibility, but is quite adequate for most practical
purposes of the handloader.

Last year, a program was published in The American Rifleman,
written by William C. Davis, Jr., which is the most flexible and
comprehensive ballistic program I’ve seen. It was written for the
Radio Shack TRS computer, but I was able to translate it into the Apple
version of BASIC computer language with little difficulty. It yields
most of the information available in other programs, in either yards or
meters, in addition to which it permits trajectory analysis by any
interval the operator chooses, even yard by yard if desired, and out to
any range at which velocity remains above 300 feet per second (fps).
The Davis program is set up to give an extremely detailed analysis at
any 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’ve
found yet, and the fastest to use, but I still find a need for the
special features of the Eberlem program from time to time, as well.

PABsoft, as this source company nicknames itself, also offers
software for analysis of accuracy data, for the TRS and IBM personal
computers, at least, on either diskette or tape, for $25. Also written
by Davis, this actually consists of three different programs. The first
analyzes group sizes to determine which of two ammunitions (or gun/ammo
combintions) is really more accurate, by what margin, and give a
“confidence factor” which tells us how certain we can be of
the results.

A second program allows statistically significant comparisons of
group sizes containing different numbers of shots, something which,
until now, was beyond the capability of anyone except professional
engineers or mathematicians. The third program makes an objective,
statistically-valid judgement as to whether that “flyer” in
the group really was a flyer and can be excluded, or whether it was a
valid element in the group which must be considered in the final
results. I have not worked with these programs, but they must be very
useful to the really serious shooter/handloader, and I intend to acquire
them when available.

One of the first ballistics programs with which I worked is called
simply “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 was
available only for the Apple II + and the Texas Instruments TI-59
hand-held programmable calculator.

This program offers 18 diferent options. It will determine
downrange velocities, flight times, actual drop, bullet paths, wind
deflections, uphill/downhill elevation corrections, bullet energy,
recoil energy, lead on moving targets, maximum midrange height, and
actual click values for sights. In addition, the program, written by
Peter Holden, can detremine ballistic coefficients, convert inches to
clicks, and make fraction/decimal and other conversions.

But wait . . . there’s more! It can compute a trajectory for
one load when fired in a gun zeroed for a different load, so that
holdover or under or sight adjustments can be made without actual
firing. Finally, it can compute and display in chart form the relative
trajectories of three different loads, so that results from differences
in velocity, for example, or bullets of different ballistic coefficient,
or whatever, can be compared.

Holden’s program runs considerably slower in trajectory
calculations than some of the others mentioned above, and results cannot
be printed out or saved electronically . . . but it will be noticed that
it does some things that none of the competitors program will.

However, Peter Holden’s masterpiece (so far, at least) is
something he called the “Shooting/Hunting Trainer”, which is
as 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), and
is a serious computer simulation of field riflery which requires the
player (opps! I mean “operator”) to make judgements as to
elevation, wind drift, and uphill/downhill correction on shots at
various game animals at random distances, and then evaluates his

The program asks for the ballistics of the load in question and the
zero range, and then displays the trajectory in chart form. It also
asks a few other questions, such as the magnification of the sights in
use and the user’s choice of targets (varmints, deer, elk, etc.).
It then displays a stylized outline of the critter selected with a set
of crosshairs superimposed. The target occupies about the same portion
of your visual field when seated at the computer as it would through a
scope of the specified magnification, and wind force and direction,
range, and hill angle are shown.

The user must correct his sight picture for trajectory, wind
deflection, and hill angle, and then fire. The impact point of the
bullet is displayed on an enlarged image, and the distance of that
impact from a theoretical perfect placement is shown. After ten
“shots”–each different in range and other conditions–the
average miss is calculated and displayed.

The real genius of this intriguing program, however, is that one of
the questions asked is the diameter of the circle in which you can keep
all of your shots at 100 yards with the gun being simulated. That
random circular dispersion is then built into the results reported for
each shot, which adds another touch of realism to the game.

Is it practical? You bet! Most shooters can learn more about the
effects of wind and hill angle in an hour on a computer with
Holden’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 of
hours 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 called
for, I scored consistently, given the inevitable errors in judging
distances and wind forces. The accuracy and realism of the program was
impressive. Best of all, it’s fun!

I’m certain that this brief review of software for shooters
and handloaders has overlooked some programs, and I have attempted to
describe only those which are available on diskette or tape, omitting
some which can be had in written form only. Possibly the number and
variety programs available will double before the articles sees print,
so dynamic is the home-computer field these days. If this software
sounds miraculous to the gunbuff who had struggled for hours with
pencil, paper, and a calculator, or worn out the ballistics tables in
his favorite reloading manual . . . just stick around!

What we’ll have tomorrow will make everything in this article
seem hopelessly primitive, and that’s a promise!


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