By virtue of the fact that nearly ever trip to the range I’ve taken in the last five years has been centered around a gear or gun review, I’ve been forced to keep a close eye on data collection.
Many years ago, I found that I was the weakest link in the chain, and started treating myself as if I had the mental capacity of a toddler. I operate under the assumption that if I didn’t write it down, it didn’t happen. Now when I hit the range, I always bring some sort of notebook with me, and part of my “after action” activities include downloading that data to my favorite notetaking app of choice, Evernote.
I started using Evernote in my professional life several years ago to track my conversations with customers. As it is out on the range, if I didn’t write some important detail down, it was immediately forgotten. That’s frustrating when you’re trying to remember what groups you shot the weekend prior – it’s a showstopper when you forget a crucial technical detail for a customer’s production environment.
Evernote was a lifesaver because it allowed me keep my notes locally on my work machine, but also have them accessible in a browser, or on my mobile device. I could be anywhere and still have access to my notes. That flexibility is similarly quite helpful for anything related to guns – especially reloading!
As Evernote allows for free form text, embedded photos, and attachments, it’s a one stop platform for all my digital documents related to load workups. Here’s how I have it structured.
I start by creating a Notebook for each rifle (or barrel) I’m working on. Above, you’ll see that I’m working out of my notebook for my 28″ Proof Research barrel chambered in 7mm Remington Magnum. The pictured load is a Black Hills factory load, but I’ve recorded all of the pertinent data about the load in case my Kestrel profile dies (happened last month), and I need to repopulate a ballistic model.
Within the notebook, I’ll create a note for a particular factory load or load workup. As there are very few restrictions on what you can upload, I try to add as much data as possible about a load. Above, you’ll see my entry for a load workup for my 20″ Armalite AR-15 using CFE 223 and Hornady’s 75 gr. BTHP.
At a minimum, you’ll want to record the case type with the inclusion of any other other data of note like whether it was FL resized or how many thousandths you set the shoulder back. In my case, I only FL resize brass, and my 7mm Rem Mag is the only rifle I measure shoulder setback on.
Naturally, you’ll want to record the projectile, primer type, and bullet type. Above, you’ll see that I noted the overall length (OAL), but I will also notate the Base to Ogive (B2G) if I’m using a Hornady comparator.
Since this was the start of a load workup, I also list out the charge weights I’m going to try out. An important note on that. Sometimes, I build up a load based on a multitude of data sources. If that’s the case, I always make an attempt to cite the original source data and I’ll always make a notation on which charge is “book max” and whose book that came from. As I frequently load up beyond max charge weight, I always want to make a careful notation on where that max load might be.
At the Range
Unless I’m loading for something like my 30-30 where I’m really only chasing accuracy and function, I’ll strap my MagnetoSpeed to the muzzle so that I can record muzzle velocity and standard deviation. I always make up load cards that travel with the actual loaded ammunition and I frequently use those as my field notes. Pen and paper still has perks.
I make sure to shoot at the same type of target for all loads, and I take my time to ensure that I’m doing my part to remove myself as the variable. Along the way, I record velocity and SD, inspect my spent brass, and generally keep an eye on everything. Big velocity jumps, ejector swipe, and cratered primers are a good indication that it’s time to shut it down for the day.
Once I’m home, I do two things after the guns are cleaned and put away. First, I load all my handwritten velocity data into an Excel spreadsheet. I record the charge weight, average velocity, standard deviation, and leave a column for group size.
My second order of business is to scan all my targets into an easy to digest format (.jpeg), and load them into OnTarget’s Precision Calculator. Inside of On Target, I calculate group size as well as horizontal and vertical dispersion. At a minimum, group size data goes into the spreadsheet. If you’re feeling sporty, vertical and horizontal dispersion can go in as well. More data is certainly better.
All of that data, including the “processed” targets, is then uploaded to Evernote. This is also a great time to add additional data about pressure signs, the weather, your mental condition, the optics you used, or any other number of variables. Assume that you’ll forget everything unless it’s written down. As the load development process progresses, additional photos, spreadsheets, and data can be added to the profile until you have a refined load. At that point, you can list out all of the pertinent details at the very top of the note for easy access on the range or during BS sessions with your shooting buddies.
While I’m still a firm believer in pen and paper, they’ve been relegated to temporary status for my load data. I’m happy to use them on the range, but I make it a practice to digitize my data as soon as it is practically possible. As always, make a backup on a regular basis and store it separately.
I’ve found over the last year that mildly committed notetaking has paid big dividends later on as my memory of events fades away into obscurity. Evernote is a flexible platform that allows me to record and categorize my data in an intelligent fashion so I can get at it later.