Like many people, I instantly wanted a Labradar the very moment that I saw the first mention of its possible existence. Even though my CED chronograph had fallen into disuse, I really wanted this new thing. I put my order in and waited. The day before Thanksgiving, mine finally arrived.
After a couple of weeks of playing with it, I have a pretty good handle on the controls and proper set up. At first, it was a little discouraging. I was having a hard time getting it to trigger. Triggering is when it senses a shot has been fired and begins recording tracking data for the bullet flying down range.
The Labradar has an oval(ish) cone in which it can sense and track a bullet. The cone is taller than it is wide. At 50 meters, it is 6 meters tall and 4 meters wide.
It requires just as much care to properly aim it at the target, as normal chronograph would. The problem is, it only has a 1” V-notch in the top of the unit to aim with. After the second time at the range with it, I stopped at Home Depot on the way home and bought a speed square. I hold the speed square against the face of the unit and sight down the length of the square. Using that little trick, I began to get more positive results. Just make sure the unit is powered off if you are putting your hands on the front of the unit. Apparently, you should avoid having any part of your body within 8” of the front of the unit when it is armed.
With a .308, the unit will reliably trigger and track shots with the muzzle within about 15” of the trigger sensor and as much as 5” forward of the unit. The closer you set it up to the rifle, the sooner the bullet will enter the radar tracking cone.
The first time I took it out, I had it set up 12-15” from the barrel and it did not start tracking my bullets until about 20 yards down range and stopped reading at about 70 yards. Now I try to set the unit up within about 4” of the barrel and somewhat behind the muzzle. With that setup, the unit will start tracking my shots about 6-7 yards down range. The folks at Labradar tell me that it is possible to begin tracking even closer. I have positioned the rifle within an inch of the unit and six yards seems to be the closest reading I can muster.
For a base, I am using an old EKL scope stand with a PanaVise head that allows me to rotate and tilt the unit so that it can be aimed properly. The weakness in my setup, is that the unit sits a little high in relation to the barrel. Ideally you want the barrel even with the trigger sensors, which are located at the mid-point on either side of the unit. Labradar sells a base that sets the unit lower.
With a .308, using Berger boat tail bullets, the unit would track about 70 to 85 yards down range. Most of the testing was done at the Midland County Sportsman’s Club’s 300 yard line. That yard line sits about 3’ off the surrounding ground and virtually all of the tracking info generated there shows that it is tracking .30 boat tail bullets out to about 70 yards. The 600 yard line sits about 10 feet over the surrounding ground. From that firing point, the unit was tracking out 80 to 85 yards. There may well be other factors involved, but the height of the firing point over the surrounding area seemed to be the only difference to me.
There are a lot of settings on the unit. The user manual is well written, but it still took a while to figure everything out. The main problem I had was navigation from the settings menu to the series menu and back to the ready screen. I missed it at first, but the ‘Arm’ button is also a ‘mode’ button when it is pressed for a couple seconds. Learning that made navigating the system much easier.
For units sold in the USA, there are two radar power settings. I used the unit in both the Standard and Low power setting. It operated fine on both settings and it seemed to read out to the same distance in either setting. The only difference I could see in the two power settings is that Standard setting had a little better Signal to Noise Ratio. You can find that info in the tracking files, which I will discuss below. The low power setting will extend battery life, which is helpful, because it does drain batteries fairly quick.
I spent some time trying to get it to trigger at lower sensitivities and was unsuccessful. Even with a .300 RUM, it would only trigger at Level 1. Level 1 is most sensitive, Level 5 is least. I sent an email to Labradar asking about this and received a response the next day offering a variety of advice. I continued to correspond over the next few days and am very happy with the company’s willingness to help.
Before I sat down to write this article I had a conversation with them about the sensitivity issue. I was concerned that it might be a physical problem with my unit. But it turns out that sensitivity is controlled by the firmware and they are tweaking things and sending out updates as needed. The issue of sensitivity is a challenging problem for their engineers. They are trying to balance many possible situations. They need the unit to work with a .22LR and with a .300 Win Mag and everything in between.
I decided to put my unit to the test with two rifles set up in near proximity to see if it would pick up shots from the neighboring rifle. My .308 was set up normally, close to the unit and a few rounds were fired to make sure it was triggering and tracking. A friend of mine brought his .300 Remington Ultra Magnum and set up 4’ away from the unit. His rifle has a muzzle brake making it a worst case scenario to test for a neighbor triggering the unit. At 4’, it triggered every time, but it did not track. I slightly realigned the unit so that is was directed at a target on the opposite side of his position. The goal being to move the radar cone across his bullet trajectory to get it to track his shots. We were unable to get it to track.
When I spoke to the Labradar technician about this, he explained that the reason it would not track shots fired that far away from the unit is because the bullets are entering the radar cone at too great of an angle. One of the settings is Projectile Offset. The choices are 6”, 12” and 18”. The offset setting allows the unit calculate the angle at which the bullet is entering the radar cone. It needs to know this to accurately calculate both muzzle velocity and downrange velocity. With the rifle firing from 4’ away, it was well outside of the offset range.
We tried a few more shots with the .300 RUM set 8’ away from the unit. At that distance, it did not trigger. I have seen a fair amount of concern online about the issue of other shooters on the range interfering with your readings. From this test, I think it will not be a big problem. Most ranges have firing points spaced at more than 4’ feet apart with 8’ being typical around here.
My friend also brought out a couple Gemtech suppressors. Obviously, they had to be tested. This proved to be a little challenging. To start, we shot supersonic .308 loads. The unit would not trigger at first. As noted above, my setup sits a little high. By tilting the unit to the side so the trigger sensor was pointed directly at the suppressor, it did reliably trigger and track.
We moved to a shorter range and broke out the handguns. The settings were adjusted into ‘pistol’ mode. .357 Sig proved to reliably trigger the unit. Unsuppressed .22LR pistols also had no problem triggering the unit, with both subsonic and supersonic ammo. On the other hand, .22 rifles would not trigger the unit unless we fired them 4”-6” behind the unit. This included both subsonic ammo and CCI Stingers. The rifle just did not have enough muzzle blast to trigger the unit if the muzzle was not placed behind it.
The unit had no problem tracking all of the .22 bullets, once we figured out how to get it to trigger.
The Stingers were also fired though a suppressor and again, if the suppressor was a few inches behind the unit, it would trigger and track the bullets.
Subsonic ammo, fired through the suppressor, would not trigger the unit regardless of where it was fired from.
The Doppler trigger was also tested. Doppler triggering is intended for archery. However it seemed to work fine with subsonic, suppressed .22’s. For firearms, the unit is designed for use with the internal acoustic trigger. The internal trigger lets the unit know a shot happened. This is important because the bullet will not enter the radar cone for some distance down range. The Doppler trigger, on the other hand, cannot calculate a muzzle velocity for you. The unit does not know when you fired or where you fired from. It only knows that it is getting signal reflected back from the projectile as it enters the radar cone. When the unit is in Doppler mode, the V0 value is the velocity at the point that the bullet first enters the radar cone. All of the downrange data recorded is measured back to where bullet first entered the radar cone. This is a key difference. The data generated when using the normal internal trigger is all measured back to the muzzle. In Doppler mode, all of the yardline data is measured from where the bullet first enters the cone. The manual also notes that the chronograph data will not be as precise in Doppler mode as it is in normal acoustic trigger mode. It was interesting to test the Doppler mode, none the less.
Somewhere along the way, I set up my CED along with my new Labradar. The readings were very consistent. Out of ten shots, the Labradar was 22 fps faster for six of the shots, 21 fps faster for three shots and 23 fps faster for one shot. Some, but not all, of that difference is due to the CED screens being 10’ down range. In the past, I tested my CED against a Magnetospeed and in that case, the Magnetospeed was approximately 30 fps faster, but again the readings were a consistent 30 fps, +/- 2fps difference.
The unit allows you to scroll through velocity data for each shot using the display and navigation buttons. When you get home from the range, you can transfer the SD memory card from the unit to your computer and look at all the data that it has collected for you. You will not need a high capacity SD card. I found an old 256MB card in my junk drawer and have saved 20 series’, constituting a couple hundred shots and have only used up 5MB of space.
For each load or group you wish to test, you create a new ‘series’ with the unit. The data the unit collects data from every shot you fire, will be entered into that series. When you are ready for the next load, start a new series.
The main report lists velocities at the muzzle and five additional distances you set. It also calculates Kinetic Energy at those same six distances and a power factor that you might need if you shoot IPSC or IDPA.
Even though it is creating a report with velocities for the distances set, it is actually recording a velocity every millisecond while it can register a bullet in its radar cone. It saves all of that info in separate ‘tracking’ files. The tracking files also record the Signal to Noise Ratio for each reading. (The reading taken every millisecond).
You will be in nerd heaven when you get home and start picking through all the data. These files are .CSV format and can be opened up in any spreadsheet.
Now that I have learned how to properly position and aim it to capture all of my shots, it takes me about 3 minutes to set up at the range. Because there are no downrange screens, I do not have to hold up other shooters on the range like I would when setting up a traditional chronograph. The convenience alone will mean that I will use it more often than my old chronograph. Every time I take it out, I enjoy it a little bit more.
(Note that I paid full price for the Labradar and have no sponsorship or financial relationship with the manufacturer).