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Shooters & computers.

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 available!

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 monthly.

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 efforts.

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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Title Annotation:ballistics programs for personal computers
Author:Wootters, John
Publication:Guns & Ammo
Date:Dec 1, 1984
Previous Article:1911 .45 ACP double-action conversion.
Next Article:Ruger Hawkeye.

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