The handloader’s cornucopia of choices generates some unique problems.
Thirty years ago, I used four powders for all my handloading—H4831, IMR4350, IMR4895 and Unique—and could have gotten by with three, since the only reason for the H4831 was finding a few dusty cans of the last mil-surp powder in a hardware store in Culbertson, Mont., for about half the going price of “new” H4831.
Back then I only handloaded for five cartridges, the .30-06, .270 Winchester, .257 Roberts, .38 Special and 12 gauge. Nowadays, my loading room contains several dozen powders (including some no longer made) and the list definitely needs thinning. According to Internet chat rooms and correspondence from readers, this seems to be a common problem, even though most handloaders don’t complicate things by writing about it professionally.
In the early 1950s, when the great handloading boom in America started taking off, there were far fewer smokeless powders available. How did we get to be such powder addicts, when a dozen powders will do nicely for a wide selection of rifle, shotgun and handguns rounds?
Well, for starters the powder companies keep introducing “new and improved” products. Unlike some advertising claims, this is actually true. In general, today’s powders produce higher velocities, burn cleaner, meter more precisely and resist temperature extremes better than the powders of 50 years ago.
The powder companies let us know about each and every one, and the Internet spreads the word, especially when some new powder supposedly turns the .30-06 into a .300 magnum. Despite ample historical evidence showing the “traditional” velocities of the .30-06 to be quite adequate for 99 percent of big-game hunting, almost every avid handloader is a closet speed demon, convinced another 100 fps will slay deer and elk more expeditiously. Cheap chronographs help scratch this itch, especially when they show, “All those zeros!” (as my friend Stu Carty calls the 3,000 fps level). As a result our loading rooms overflow with perfect powders for every tiny niche in handloading.
By John Barness
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