In this article, we are going to survey some online ballistics programs. This list is not exhaustive, but represents a good list of tools one can use for:
- Getting started with more accurate shooting
- Sighting in rifles for specific point blank zero ranges
- Begin to enhance your knowledge
Point Blank Zero – A technique of sighting in a rifle so that from 0 – some range, the rifle will hit inside a fixed kill zone of a certain size. Typically, this zone is 6-8 inches. If for instance you zero a rifle of a certain caliber at 250 yards and it stays within the 8″ range of the zero out to 300 yards, then you have a point blank zero of 0 – 300 yards. Essentially, you aim center of target and shoot – no hold over or bullet drop needs to be calculated in that range.
Maximum Point Blank Zero – The longest distance a Point Blank Zero’ed distance will maintain for a specific target area size.
Trajectory – The path a bullet travels from its launch to its terminal point. Remember, due to gravitational effects, bullets follow a parabolic path.
Velocity – The instantaneous speed an object is traveling. For bullets fired from a gun, there is muzzle velocity which is the baseline max, and due to wind resistance, that velocity decreases based on many factors due in large part to the aerodynamics of the bullet (ballistic coefficient).
Ballistic Coefficient – A measure of the aerodynamics of the bullet relative to fixed models (G1 or G7). The ballistic coefficient is a decimal measure less than 1 (typically). For instance, a ballistic coefficient of .36 would be more representative of a fairly low aerodynamic, blunt nosed style of bullet. A ballistic coefficient of .62 would be a more sleek, aerodynamic bullet. Note, not only is the shape an attribute that creates a good ballistic coefficient, but weight and cross-sectional density do, as well.
Wind Drift – The distance a bullet’s path will change due to winds prevailing on it. The propensity and amount are related to the cross-sectional density and ballistic coefficient.
Drop – The amount of arc in the parabolic path of a bullet’s trajectory. The distance a bullet falls below the point of aim.
Kudos to ShootersCalculator.com! This site has put together a brand agnostic set of ballistic tools that are easy to use, and cover the range of what most shooters require. If you are serious about ballistics, this is definitely a site to check out.
Ballistic Trajectory Calculator – This is one of the most comprehensive trajectory and ballistic calculators available. It also is easy of use. Too many calculators like this hide critical options or advanced options. Not here – you can see and find what you want in a user-friendly format.
Maximum Point Blank Zero Calculator – This is a handy tool. By plugging in the basic ballistic information, you can quickly identify the ideal Point Blank Zero configuration for your caliber/ballistics. In addition, if you shoot at various atmospheric profiles, you can see what differences these will make.
Bullet Kinetic Energy Calculator -A comprehensive, yet simple to use energy calculator. Unlike other energy calculators, this one does not attempt to apply antiquated “kill” standards in its presentation or calculations. It simply provides you the kinetic energy.
Recoil Energy Calculator – This is a tool you do not find many other places. In fact, although we are sure they exist, we do not know of any others. Recoil, often times, plays a critical role in accuracy. If a gun is tough to handle or shoot, the propensity to flinch or the ability to get second shots on target quickly may affect the accuracy of the shooter.
The second favorite on my list of online ballistic tools are the Berger/Bryan Litz tools. These tools are provided by one of the industry icons in match-grade ballistics, so you know they are racked and stacked! Generally, I find few differences in using the ballistics calculators in the ShooterCalculator.com. However, the Berger site provides two ballistics calculators: The Berger Ballistic Calculator that is oriented more for general purpose, and the Applied Ballistics Calculator, based on Bryan Litz’s books, that is oriented for the more serious shooter.
One gem on this site is the Twist Rate Calculator. I, personally, find I am constantly trying to look up the optimal twist rate for certain shooting scenarios, and this calculator comes in handy.
Berger’s Tools Page – The general page where all of Berger’s tools can be found.
Berger’s Ballistic Calculator – This is the more general purpose ballistic calculator on the site that is simple and easy to use like the ShootersCalculator.com. I would start here, unless you are a serious ballistics geek!
Berger’s Applied Ballistics Calculator (Range Card) – The Applied Ballistics calculator – a must have for any ballistics geek! This is probably the most comprehensive, free calculator out there.
Berger’s Twist Rate Calculator – This is a unique tool not found anywhere else. When using this tool, you are able to plug in basic ballistics and determine the stability of a bullet based on a given twist rate. Use this tool when trying to move beyond generic, mid-range twist rates for a caliber.
Hornady was my go-to place for ballistic tools for quite a while. That said, the functionality and currency of their tools has lagged in the last few years, but they are still a good set of tools to have in your hip pocket. I must point out that after doing a great deal of terminal ballistics research, I find I take greater exception to the results of the Hornady’s HITS calculator. The generic guidance of the “kill-ability” a specific ballistic scenario will produce is not always accurate, in my opinion. It fails to take into account the significant improvement in bullets, such as the Nosler Accubond series, so take its results with a grain of salt. I only utilize this tool for “absolute” most conservative scenario-ing.
Hornady’s Standard Ballistic Calculator – The Hornaday standard ballistic calculator – this is not as easy nor as user-friendly as provided by Berger’s or ShootersCalculator.com. It, also, does not support some environmental factors that the other calculators provide.
Hornady’s 4DOF Ballistic Calculator – The 4DOF calculator is Hornady’s attempt at providing a more modern, full featured calculator similar to the range of options ShootersCalculator.com and Berger’s provide. While functional and decent, the way the calculator is laid out as a tool is not as easy to use, nor as straightforward as the other two.
Hornady’s HITS Calculator – The Hornady HITS calculator is designed to give you a categorized terminal ballistics – Small Game, Medium Game, Large Game, and Big Five Very Large Game. In my opinion, this calculator is highly inaccurate. Consider that if you plug a 110 grain, .308 caliber bullet with a terminal velocity of 2200 fps (can anyone say 300 blackout?), this HITS calculator provides you a classification of “Small Game”. Funny, I killed a nice whitetail deer with this scenario just this past season, not to mention the 1000’s of 200+lb hogs killed annually with the same ballistic scenario.
Many scope and optics manufacturers provide ballistic related tools, as well, though most of these tools are oriented around their scope reticles (listed below). These tools allow a shooter to plug in a ballistic scenario and understand how that relates to any reticle markings (right/left, up/down holds as well as BDC hashes). These are a wonderful aid once the core ballistics have been worked out, and we wish ALL scope manufacturers would provide this ballistic tool (hint, hint..Leupold and others!).
There are many other sites with ballistic or ballistic related tools. Nearly every optic or bullet maker has some set of tools. Many of these tools are very specialized for their specific products, or are not-as-good versions of the ones presented above. In general, we find the ShootersCalculator.com and Berger’s tools sites provide a current, comprehensive and diverse set of tools that provide any beginning or experienced shooter what they need.