March 08, 2021
Introduced in 2020, Hornady’s Auto Charge Pro is the most ergonomic electronic powder dispenser I’ve used. It’s not a revamp of the old Auto Charge—it’s an entirely new system that’s much better than the old one.
Recently I reviewed RCBS’s new $1,000 MatchMaster powder dispenser, which is capable of 0.01-grain accuracy and is extraordinarily fast, and I suggested it’s the single most capable unit of its type on the market. I still believe that’s true, but it’s expensive and complex. Although Hornady’s new Auto Charge Pro offers “just” 0.1-grain accuracy, at $330 you could get three of them for the price of one RCBS. And the Hornady is a very good machine.
In large part, the Auto Charge Pro is all about ergonomics. Yes, the mechanics, sensors, and electronics are top-shelf, but user-friendliness is what will impress most reloaders. For starters, it has a small, tall footprint and fits comfortably on compact reloading benches. But it has an impressively large powder reservoir, so reloaders don’t have to pause every 30 rounds to top off propellant.
A small round spirit level is incorporated into the scale’s platform next to the platen tray, providing critical visual feedback. For top performance, the machine must be well leveled. All four feet feature large, knurled dials and rubber bottoms, allowing the reloader to finesse the unit’s position until it’s perfectly level.
When setting up, plug the device in and allow it to warm up for a good 20 minutes, as recommended in the manual. My sample sat on its side in its box in my office for some time before I set it up, and when I first turned it on and attempted to calibrate the scale, the numbers on the backlit, touch-screen display didn’t want to return to zero.
I left it plugged in and went to lunch. When I returned, I shut the machine off by holding the power button in for three seconds, then turned it back on. Properly warmed up and healthy from the restart, the Auto Charge Pro calibrated perfectly and has done so ever since.
The Auto Charge Pro is easier to calibrate than most competing models. I’ll not detail the process here because it’s well outlined in the unit’s manual. Suffice to say, it’s the simplest that I’ve used—and I’ve used most of them.
One task that electronic powder dispensers traditionally struggle with is accurate dispensing with long-grain stick powder. To overcome that, Hornady’s design gurus made the Auto Charge Pro’s dispense tube speed extremely easy to adjust.
Additionally, the end-user can program exactly when the dispenser slows down and transitions to trickling meticulously, enabling the reloader to run the device at high speed right up to within a few 0.1 grains of the desired charge when dispensing ball powders that measure easily. Or you can slow down the dispenser a couple grains away from the final charge when dispensing long-grain propellants, to prevent it from over-running the desired charge weight.
Once you have the device tuned to perfection when dispensing a particular propellant, that setting can be saved. The Auto Charge Pro’s memory will retain up to four of these custom settings.
To give the Auto Charge Pro a workout, I filled the hopper with Hodgdon’s H4831 SC powder. To set the charge weight, touch the Target icon on the screen, then the number desired—in this case 62 grains, my test charge—and touch Enter.
Two dispense control functions are available. From the factory, the Auto Charge Pro comes set on Auto. Every time you return the empty powder pan to the platen, the machine automatically goes back to work and dispenses another charge. Tap the Auto/Manual icon on the touchscreen to switch to Manual mode. Then you’ll need to touch the Dispense icon each time you return the pan to the platen. You can also touch and hold pressure on the Dispense icon to slowly trickle propellant manually.
For those who prefer to work in metric, you can also switch between grains and grams by touching the Units icon on the touchscreen.
While H4831 SC is not a particularly finicky powder to dispense through electronic chargers, it’s not exactly a forgiving ball-type powder, either. I was pleased to find even with the machine using the standard Normal dispenser speed settings, it never overran the desired charge weight.
Intrigued, I switched the powder in the hopper to Reloder 23, another large-grain powder that meters okay but not great. Again, the Auto Charge Pro provided excellent consistency on the Normal setting, and finessing the slow-down Time setting resulted in perfect, predictable consistency.
Unlike the competing units I’ve used, once the desired charge is dispensed and confirmed by its electronic brain, the machine simply displays the number of charges it’s thrown rather than the final weight of that charge. I prefer that to the flashing finicky numbers usually displayed on other dispensers.
The device comes with a draft cover, which is easy to put on and take off. Use it. As with any electronic scale, allowing anything from a breeze through the garage window to your heavy breathing to circulate air around the platen will introduce inconsistencies and make it difficult for the scale to perform precisely.
As I became well acquainted with the Auto Charge Pro, one dislike emerged. There is no Cancel function on the touchscreen. When done running charges, I had to return the pan to the platen, wait for the machine to begin dispensing a charge, and then touch Dispense to deactivate it. Tapping Dispense before replacing the pan didn’t work. But that’s a small complaint and one that certainly won’t prevent me from appreciating the device.
One of my pet peeves with electronic powder scale/dispensers is how fiddly and difficult it usually is to empty the powder reservoir and clean out the dispensing system. I do a lot of experimentation with a wide spectrum of propellants and am forever changing the type in the hopper.
The Auto Charge Pro has a simple spout on the right side of the machine, which you simply turn downward to empty the powder reservoir. Scoot the device to the right edge of your loading bench, hold the powder cannister beneath the spout, and open that baby up.
Once drained, as with all electronic dispensers, you’ll have to open the top of the hopper and use the included paintbrush to flick any remnant propellant granules free so they can drop through the drain. Meanwhile, hit the dispense tab on the touchscreen and allow the dispenser tube to run itself dry into the powder tray. Thankfully, the Auto Charge Pro does not have a function-inhibiting sensor that prevents it from working when the hopper drain is open—unlike many competing models.
Close the drain, dump the pan into the original powder cannister, and you’re done. Easy.
There are a few additional refined features to the Auto Charge Pro, but I’m out of room here. You’ll have to get one and discover them for yourself. I’ll wager you’ll love it.