This is a special guest report from reader Ian McKee (45Bravo) Today Ian will show us a chronograph almost everyone can afford.

After seeing this instrument BB bought one, too. I will be commenting on it later.

If you’d like to write a guest post for this blog, please email me at [email protected].

Take it away, Ian.

No more excuses

by Ian McKee

This report covers:

  • The need
  • Shot the chrono?
  • The good:
  • The bad:
  • The VIKKA Premium Precision Ballistic Chronograph
  • The pros:
  • The cons:
  • The test
  • BB chimes in

Okay, a show of hands; who out there is an avid airgunner, but still does not own a chronograph?That’s what I thought, way too many. 

The need

Many times in the past B.B. has expounded on the NEED (not the WANT, they are two different things) for an airgunner to have a chronograph if for no other reason than to periodically check the “health” of an airgun, no matter what the powerplant. I have been there, I wanted a chrono, but they were always too expensive, and I had kids to raise, bills to pay, rent, food, the list is never ending, especially now with the price of gas, and other necessities. 

I have tried the cheap way, using a free open source program called Audacity, I downloaded it onto my computer, the program could record audio, and display it as a graphic showing the sound levels over a period of time. It would display a spike where the shot was fired and a second spike a few tenths of a second later when the pellet hit the trap. If you knew the distance between the muzzle and the trap, using math you could extrapolate the approximate velocity of the pellet. (I was never that good at math) but it wasn’t precise enough for what I wanted. 

I found a free app for a smartphone called Chrono Connect, it did essentially the same thing as the cheap way just mentioned, but it was more streamlined and did the math for you. You just had to input the distance from the muzzle to the phone, and from the phone to the target, and the height of the phone in relation to the plane of the gun and trap. It worked, kind of, but it was susceptible to ambient noise that would cause false readings. 

Fast forward a few years, I was working on guns for other people and needed more precise and reliable equipment. During that time I had bought and sold a used Shooting Chrony, a used Competition Electronics chrono, and eventually bought a new Caldwell Chronograph.  

I still own the Caldwell, it is reliable, accurate, has its own travel case, and the Caldwell can connect to an app that records the shots, computes and displays the velocity high, low, extreme spread, and standard deviation, and the ft. lbs. of energy of the shot. It also connects to my tablet or smartphone through a cable from the chronograph using an ⅛ inch phono jack, that’s so 2010, this is 2022 everything is WIFI and Bluetooth, and many smartphones are no longer supporting the phono jack.

And, like the other chronographs, with the Caldwell you have to set up the tripod, attach the sky screens, get the lighting right, (don’t even think about using it under fluorescent lighting) and you have to make sure you don’t shoot the chrono.

Shot the chrono?

(OK, we won’t have a show of hands of who has shot their chrono, but you know who you are!) [At this point BB raises his hand three times — in shame!]

I eventually decided to bite the bullet (the buy once, cry once theory) and bought an FX chronograph that uses doppler radar to record the pellet velocity, without the chrono being downrange of the muzzle. B.B. tested one for us in February 2021, he had some issues with it, and returned it. I figured if other shooters can make it work I can as well. (I should have listened to the Godfather of Airguns.)

I coughed up for the FX, when it arrived I installed the app, put batteries in, and it synced right up, and I started using it indoors to tune a Marauder for a friend. My first impression? This thing is great, Tom must have done something wrong in the setup. 

During that first tuning and range session is when I discovered for myself that the honeymoon was over. Tom went over the software woes in his review so I will touch on some areas that he didn’t. 

The good:

It’s portable, wireless, does not need special lighting, and audibly says the velocity through the app on the phone if the shot was recorded, and the chrono is not downrange of the muzzle. If you use it just to call the velocities, it’s great, if it misses a shot you know it. But if you have the voice turned off to save the battery (more on that in a minute), you do not know if it is not recording the shot.

The bad:

It eats AAA batteries like a kid eats M&M’s! I had heard that, and was ready. I had brought rechargeable batteries, but three NIMH rechargeable cells only put out 3.6v, which is well below the 4.5v the chrono wants. So I bought Lithium rechargeable AAA batteries. They were $25 for four batteries, but their run time is similar to alkaline batteries. I used three Duracell alkaline batteries, three NIMH, and three Lithium rechargeables, and combined they did not make it through the entire tuning session.

The battery cover is held in place by a small screw that screws directly into the plastic case. Come on! A brass threaded insert is like 10 cents, or mold a retaining clip into the battery door. 

The chrono is attached to the barrel by rubber bands. Really? You couldn’t design a better mounting system? It’s not so much the rubber bands, as they are quick and easy to put on and remove, but if they have spent time in your range bag, they tend to dry out and break when you need them. A velcro strap would be much better. They do offer other mounting options for tripods and such, but that requires partial disassembly of the unit to install the optional mounting plate. 

And the biggest drawback for me is the one I bought has a hard upper velocity limit of 1100 f.p.s. maybe that’s a software limitation that can be changed through an update, but with modern high pressure air guns shooting both pellets and slugs faster and faster, an 1100 f.p.s. limit is not going to cut it in the very near future. 

I also shoot firearms, and unless you are shooting subsonic rimfire match ammo or pistols, the FX chronograph will not record the shots, it read CCI standard velocity reliably, but completely ignored the CCI Mini Mags and Stingers.

Too many bad points, not enough good points. The FX Chrono went back just like B.B.’s, except for different reasons.

It has taken me 1000 words to get to this place.  Now I report that I have found the chronograph for every airgunner, and it’s less than $40 USD!

Find a Hawke Scope

The VIKKA Premium Precision Ballistic Chronograph

VIKKA chronograph
The chronograph every airgunner can afford.

The pros:

It’s cheap, it does not require special lighting, the infrared lighting is built in and comes on when the unit is powered up. 

It reads in f.p.s. and meters per second, and the mode is selectable with only one push of the power button.

VIKKA fps
The VIKKA reads in either f.p.s. or meters per second.

Its Lithium Ion battery is rechargeable from a USB power source.

It requires little to no setup, it records from 1f.p.s. to over 6500 f.p.s. according to the top of the chrono. (I dropped a pellet through the sensors, and it recorded 3.2fps, and I have shot CCI Stingers through it at over 1600fps, but don’t know if I would feed it a steady diet of them).

It records up to 40 shots in memory which you can recall on the LED screen, and if you enter the projectile weight, it will calculate and display the muzzle energy.

The chrono clamps to the muzzle of the airgun. The clamps are metal, and come with mounting options for plain barrels, and shrouded or moderated barrels.

VIKKA mounted
The VIKKA is mounted to a rifle for testing.

I have 3D printed a new V block baseplate and added a velcro strap to replace the metal clamping setup.

VIKKA strap
The V-block baseplate and Velcro strap I made are a better way to secure the chronograph.

The English manual is well-written, and is easy to understand. [Here BB must disgree. Perhaps BB did not receive the well-written manual Ian talks about. The Chinglish paper instructions BB did get read like a Japanese Honda motorcycle manual of 1965 — “Please to connect earthing wire to senior post.”]

The cons:

It has no connectivity, it just displays the data, and stores 40 shots in memory.

It mounts to the barrel of the gun with a metal V block and screws.

The only interface is the single power button, mode selection is done through a series of short, medium or long presses of the button. 

Is it as well engineered as other more expensive chronographs?

No, and it will not stand up to recording centerfire firearms. But I say again, it’s less than $40

The test

I dug the Caldwell out of its case, set it on a table (I did not bother with the tripod or data cable), I installed the 9v battery, and since I was shooting indoors, I had to install the LED light kit, that requires either four AA batteries, or an ac outlet to power them. 

I set the Vikka Chrono on the table on a small box right in behind the Caldwell, I did not attach the chrono to the rifle, I just rested the barrel in the V block. 

VIKKA and Caldwell
For my tests I aligned the chronographs like this.

I pressed the power button, and when the PS prompt appeared on the LED screen I pressed the power button a second time and the chrono went into FPS mode. That’s it.

VIKKA setup
Pressing the one button different amounts of time works through the software options.

VIKKA velocity
Each shot registers on the LED display, plus up to 40 shots are memorized.

The Chronograph Caveat:  Not all chronographs read the same velocities, and even different chronos of the same model may display differently depending on ambient temperature, humidity, and other environmental or electronic factors.

The readings were all within two or three fps of each other, and where the Caldwell was up in velocity, so was the Vikka, when the Caldwell recorded a lower velocity so did the Vikka. 

Most airgunners will use this chrono occasionally, to check the health of their gun, or tuning their new pcp, or finding the sweet spot of their multi pump to get the best power for the effort. 

Doing that involves two presses of a button, once to power it on, and once to set fps mode, that’s it. 

We as airgunners all pretty much agree the Beeman P17 is about the best value for the money you can spend on an air pistol, and most of us have owned one or still own one or more of them. 

Currently, the P17 sells for a penny less than $46 (plus shipping) from Pyramyd Air. For less than the cost of a P17, what’s your excuse for not owning a chrono?

Shoot safe, and have fun.

Ian

BB chimes in

I bought one of these chronographs to test for you. The price alone makes it worth buying if it works at all. And Ian says it does. I will test it for you and come up with my own remarks in the future, which is why today is Part 1.