Handloading: Tips on Picking Powders
Since the more intelligent among you have asked for more handloading posts, here’s one. One of the questions all beginners...
Since the more intelligent among you have asked for more handloading posts, here’s one. One of the questions all beginners have is, how on earth do I select a powder, there being so many on the market? Here are a few tips on that and powders generally:
It makes sense to stick with families of powders, at least until you get to know the territory. For example, if you get RelodeR 15, 19, 22, and 25, you’ll find there are very few rifle cartridges you can’t stuff successfully. Or IMR 4320, 4350, 4831, and 7828.
Do not limit yourself to one type of primer, as they all burn differently, and they have a major impact on accuracy. For example, for large rifle cartridges I keep CCI 200, CCI 250, WLR, Federal 210, Federal 210M, and Federal 215 primers on my shelves. Federal 215 magnum primers, for example, burn longer than CCI 250s, which are also magnum primers, and in almost every case, one will work better than the other.
Given my druthers, I go for slower powders and higher loading densities. A lot of people, for example, use IMR 4350 in the .338, but I’ve always gotten better results with IMR 4831, which is considerably slower. I like a powder that will enable me to get the case 90 percent full or more, and do not be afraid of compressed loads, provided you’re not getting excessive pressures. Probably 70 percent of all my handloads are compressed to some extent.
Pressures are only important if you don’t want your rifle to blow up. Signs of excess pressure come not singly, but in battalions. The most obvious one is a primer that is bashed flat. (Cratered primers are not a reliable indicator.) Second is sticky extraction. Third is case-head expansion and excessive case stretching. Usually, you’ll get two or three of these together if your loads are too hot.
One of the most useful tools for any handloader is a chronograph. You don’t need a fancy model, just one that tells you what velocity you’re actually getting as opposed to the velocity that the company who printed your loading manual got in the tunnel with their test rifle. You can deduce from this if your pressures are excessive. For example, if you’re loading 150-grain bullets in a standard .270 and you’re getting muzzle velocities of 3,100 fps, you’re in trouble. About the most you can safely reach with that bullet weight in that cartridge is 2,950, and if your chronograph says it’s higher, then it’s time to…back off.
Do not discount the half-grain increase or decrease in a powder charges. It’s a tiny amount to look at it, but it can make all the difference, even in heavy charges. I once owned a .338 that would not shoot worth a barrel of old hog s**t with 70 grains of IMR 4831, but feed it 70.5 grains and it was a daisy. You wouldn’t think that half a grain would matter much in a total weight of 70 grains, but it does, it does.