Do you ever feel like your practice is not as productive as it could be? Do you ever forget what sight settings you used for a specific range, or specific position, or specific weather conditions? Do you notice that your zero changes throughout the year, and wonder if there might be a pattern there? Do you ever wish that you had an easy to use and portable reference to record your progress? If you answered “Yes!!!” to any of these questions, you should use a data book.
The data book is a NECESSARY tool for you to get the most out of your training time. If you just go out to the range without a plan and send lead downrange doing whatever you feel like doing (probably what you do every time), you’re WASTING AMMO (that’s got to be some kind of sin or something). The data book, if used correctly can not only make your ammo expenditure worthwhile, it can make every shot meaningful.
What’s in a data book? Well, I’ve bought a couple, so I can tell you. I started out with one from Storm Tactical that I bought from Triad Tactical with a kit that included a multicam data book cover, a couple of Rite in the Rain pens, a Mildot Master (get one!), and a special sniper drawing template that I probably could have done without. If I remember correctly, the whole thing cost about $100. This was a couple years ago, and the dollar ain’t what it used to be, so I’m guessing it all costs more now.
Included with the Storm data book is a CD with a bunch of really cool printable targets. These are about all I use now.
I got my data book in a 6-hole mini binderformat with Rite in the Rain paper. Within the pages, there is a table for you to fill in your ballistic data, a round count log, reference pages to explain things like MOA, milliradians, several common mil-reticles, how to estimate range with a mil reticle, a page to plot your holdover and wind hold info, sample wind drift data for a few common rounds, wind estimation techniques and drift data, metric conversions, a few pages on engaging movers, and uphill and downhill shooting. Then there are the pages you’ll actually use: the data sheets.
The data sheets are what you fill in when you shoot. On the Storm, you fill in the location, date, time, temp/, density altitude, humidity, barometric pressure, distance to target, position, rate of fire, sling/support, ammunition, light/wind conditions, plot your call for each shot, then fill in the target with your hits. The plot sheets are made to match the targets on the disk they give you, and are made to be refilled by purchasing more of them. There are also sheets for moving targets and a range card and field sketch page.
Typical Storm Tactical page.
When it came time to buy a data book for a different rifle, I thought I’d try the other major player in the data book arena, the Impact Data Book. It wasn’t that I didn’t like the Storm, I was just curious. The Impact is appreciably larger, which I don’t like as much. They do make one that is smaller than the Storm, but I kind of think that the Storm is the “right” size. The Impact that I bought also wasn’t the Rite in the Rain type, but just cardstock. I made an error when it was purchased, so my fault, but already I was biased against it.
Size comparison: top- Storm sized multicam data book cover (yes I know multicam is soo last year), middle- Storm Tactical sized (standard 6 hole loose leaf) binder, right- Impact standard size book (the crayon markings are super secret tactical style).
The Impact has something I think is really useful, a personal data sheet. This is where you record certain data, like your pace count in different types of terrain, the size of various body parts, like your arm’s length, index finger, boot length, and other handy field expedient measuring devices.
The Impact Personal Data Sheet. Yes the data is covered. Did you really expect me to give up my biometric data that easily?
The Impact also has a handy object size reference chart. This is useful if you’re using a reticle to range with (you have to know the size of the object you’re looking at to range it). Other than that, the Impact has a bunch of standard type reference cards, very similar to the Storm Tactical.
The data sheets that came with my Impact book depicted a square target, a circular target, a humanoid shaped target, and a blank page to fill in your own target. In this respect, I thought that the Storm book was better thought out. The Impact did come with a TON of pages though. Overall, I think that the page layouts on the Impact are more attractive to the eye, and the layout of information for you to fill in is better thought out.
After having both I realized that both had some attributes that I liked, and both had a lot of information that didn’t apply to me or was unnecessary. I think that the 6 hole binder format using Rite in the Rain paper is the way to go. I like having a reference chart with some information about the shooter and the rifle system is also helpful. I thought that it was unnecessary to have dimensions 4 different reticles that I didn’t have.
After considering the matter thoroughly, I decided to make my own data book. I ordered the 6-hole Rite in the Rain paper and a binder from them. It appears to be identical to what Storm uses. The paper is the tan loose leaf paper for laser printers. The binder actually has some measurement conversions on it, although the data book cover gets in the way of these.
What’s nice about making your own book is that you get everything you want, nothing you don’t, and refill pages are easy and inexpensive. Also, instead of filling in a sheet of handwritten trajectory data, you make a card and print it out. It’s easier to read and looks nicer. I also was able to find pictures of my various reticles, and make custom pages with the reticle dimensions and ranging equations.
Homemade data book load info.
Custom reticle reference page: Leupold USMC style mildot. Some of the reference info here, like the wind equations, need to be “streamlined” and updated a bit.
Custom reticle reference page: Vortex EBR-2.
I included another type of trajectory page that I use to ensure the round has proper clearance from intervening objects to make it to the target. This page is done using only mils. You are probably aware that at closer ranges your rounds strike well below your point of aim. What this chart tells you is that you need over 4.9 mils of clearance to make it over that rock that is 7 yards in front of you if your zero is set at 200 yards. This is for my rifle and my load.
I also made a page that has my holds for elevation, wind, and a 3 mph target using a picture of my reticle. I did a bunch of math to make a mover lead chart. I made data pages for the targets that I actually use the most. I also made a cold bore shot log and rifle maintenance log. Rounding it out are a round count page, and a field sketch and range card page. On the cover is a picture of my actual rifle.
My standard homemade data sheet for my favorite type of target.
Data sheet for the “Dog” style target.
Moving target data sheet.
Cold bore shot log. Yes, I know it’s scary bad. Things have gotten better since then.
Custom Personal Data Sheet. Too bad I had to blank it out, because it’s typed in and looks so clean and nice.
Custom cover page. Recognize my rifle?
Making my own book was a lot of work. I spent a lot of time with Word getting the pages just right, and making them fit on the pages properly. I spent a lot of time making the target pictures look right, and making them usable for plotting calls and hits. I spent a lot of time configuring the pages so that I got exactly the data that I wanted in the order that I wanted it. I also put a lot of work into making the pages look good. I think that the end product is very good.
What’s satisfying about a data book is that you probably remember a specific shooting outing, and want to remember the details of the zero you used, the temperature, your shooting position or support, your ammo, or your group size. This happened to me recently when I was looking for my best kneeling group target. I couldn’t find the target at the time, but I found it in my data book!
A data book will give you the best return on every shot fired. Every shot will give you a useful piece of data, if you use it correctly. Don’t keep wasting ammo every time, running yourself through the same drills, and not getting anywhere. A data book is one of the best investments you can make in your shooting. Go get one!