Having pored over the pages of this magazine for years, it was inevitable that my best friend/shooting partner Charles Lankford and I started to dabble in handloading as soon as the clerk at the gunshop would sell us powder. During our junior year of high school, my buddy's dad sprung for an RCBS Rock Chucker--a Christmas gift that is still turning out handloads more than a decade later--and we were in business.
There were several reasons for our interest in reloading. We would get to do the things our idol Bob Milek, ST's former reloading editor, did--shoot more, shoot more accurately, and most importantly, shoot faster. During the occasional roadside meeting, deputies informed us that speed killed. We couldn't have agreed more, pushing our .270s and .25-06s to whitetail-crushing, throat-eroding, redline velocities. The only catch was we did not actually know how fast our bullets were going. We needed a chronograph, obviously, but we were too broke to spring for one.
After quite a few years of college, different jobs, and plenty of moves, I finally settled into a house where I could dedicate a space for reloading. Before a press, dies, and components, my first acquisition was a chronograph. It might seem as though the cart was put before the horse, but in my mind, it makes a lot of sense. Outside of reloading, a chronograph has a lot of uses, especially in the age of ballistic programs that can compute flight paths so long as there is an accurate measure of muzzle velocity.
Over the past year, the Beta Master Chrony from Shooting Chrony has proved to be a simple, durable chronograph. My only regret is not having invested in one when we started reloading back in the day.
At first glance, a Beta Master looks like a steel box. Unfolding the unit reveals the two photo sensors that detect the bullet. A two-piece wire guide locks into each side of the two sensors to provide a reference for shooters to make sure the bullet passes through the sensor's field of view. The guides also hold diffusers that are used on blue-bird days to provide a white background for the sensors. The diffusers break down into three pieces for easy storage.
The biggest advantage of the Master models over other lower-echelon Shooting Chrony products is the addition of a remote control with an LCD display that allows the shooter to control the unit and gather data from the bench. With just four buttons, including an "On/Off" switch, it is very simple to use.
After setup, turn on the unit and make sure your bullets are passing over the photo sensors--not through the photo sensors, or you'll be quickly out of business--and under the diffusers. After each shot, the LCD display flashes the shot number and then the velocity. The Beta Master counts to 10, and if you keep shooting after that tenth shot, it replaces the first shot velocity stored with that of the last shot. Storing the string is accomplished by pressing the "ST" button on the remote control.
The Beta models can store up to 60 shots or six different strings that can be as few as two shots but not more than 10. A "Forget" button allows the deletion of entire strings or individual shots from a data set.
Since the Beta stores data, you can turn it off at the range and retrieve your data at home when you have your notebook in front of you. In fact, the data is stored in the remote control, and a small 9-volt battery pigtail (included) allows the use of the remote without the rest of the chronograph. Pressing the "ST" button will first tell you what shot string information is being relayed and how many shots were in that string. Toggling between strings is accomplished by holding down the "ST" button and pushing the "FU" button at the same time.
Pressing the "FU" button produces the data. A two-letter code flashed before each number lets you know what precious bit of data the unit is relaying: "Sn" denotes the string number, "Lo" is the lowest velocity of a shot string, and "Hi" is the highest. The Beta also measures average velocity, extreme spread, and standard deviation. To borrow a line from the instruction manual, the good thing about the system is that if you screw up or get confused about what shot string you are retrieving data from, just take your hand off the buttons for a few seconds, and the unit returns to a working mode.
Even though the system is exceptionally easy to use, I have to recommend spending another $100 on the available printer. The printer attaches to the remote control via a cable with stereo jacks on each end. The printer simplifies the process by recording the data as you shoot or from memory and printing it out on adding machine tape that can be clipped to the target. This greatly reduces the chances of mismatching a data set to the wrong target.
I have used the Beta Master for nearly a year without any problems, with calibers ranging from .17 HMR all the way up to .50-caliber and even arrows. The only things that seem to give the unit fits are blackpowder guns, which I shoot quite often, especially with sabot-clad bullets. Unburned particles of propellant and the sabot often confuse the sensors and produce unreliable readings. My solution is to closely monitor the readings shot by shot and delete the bad shots during each string.
The Beta Master is a simple and reliable unit that is easy to set up and use, and it folds down into a compact package for storage. At $135, the unit is extremely affordable. If you are a handloader or dedicated shooter, a chronograph is an essential tool for maximizing your efforts. The Shooting Chrony Beta Master is a good chronograph that will not break the bank.