Perfect Powders

It’s A Horn O’Plenty For Reloaders

Most handloaders want all the velocity possible from their rifle loads. Oh, there are still some “woods hunters” who prefer moderation, either because slower bullets chew up less venison, or the ancient falsehood that lumbering roundnoses plow through branches without deflecting. A few Luddites say things like, “The .30-06 has been taking big game just fine for over century, so what’s the point of more velocity?” By and large, however, most of us think more zip is better, even if we won’t admit it in public.

Luckily, powder manufacturers keep inventing new formulas, most intended to produce more feet per second. Many of these powders are developed specifically for one cartridge (not a new trend, by the way) but also turn out to breathe new fire into other rounds.

This serendipity occurs over and over again. Perhaps the most famous example is Hodgdon’s H4831 and the .270 Winchester. Originally, H4831 was developed for 20mm cannons, and just happened to work about perfectly in the .270. A more recent military powder that turned civilian is Ramshot TAC, developed by a Belgian company for use in automatic rifles. TAC also happens to works perfectly in commercial rounds from the .17 Remington Fireball to the .350 Remington Magnum. (Oh, and it’s also great in the .223 Remington and .308 Winchester, not too surprising since it was developed for the military versions of both rounds.)

Not all accidentally-perfect-powders are military, however. Hodgdon Lil’Gun was developed for the .410 and 28-gauge shotguns, but also transformed the .22 Hornet, one of the reasons the Hornet has seen a resurgence over the past decade or so. Combining Lil’Gun and any plastic-tip, 40-grain bullet, and the old Hornet basically matches the trajectory of original 50-grain load in the .222 Remington—with half the powder.

So yes, there may be a perfect powder out there, even for older rounds. If you want more speed (c’mon, admit it) one recent invention can really help when researching the latest powders. Once upon a time all handloading data was printed on paper, then only updated every few years when a company finally got around to publishing a new loading manual, when it still lacked data for any powders introduced since the manual was sent to the printer. These days most loading data is instantly accessible on something called the Internet—though a few companies hold back some or all of their info, in order to continue to make money selling printed manuals.

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2 thoughts on “Perfect Powders

  1. mike sharpe

    As I grey,I rather have moderation.In the 70s,I loaded my .243 fairly hot for that long shot-that never came.It flatten plenty of deer under 100 yds.I reduced the speed over time down to 2,700 fps with 105,or 100 gn bullets and found they work very well.My favorite big gun is a .308 win. with 165 grn. at 2,650-2,680 fps. Speeding bullets took the guess work out,before range finders became readily available;I don’t mind indirect fire as long as I hit the intended target. Speed is good for bad shots on varmits,otherwise give me moderation.I would be interested in the sales number of reduced factory loads.

  2. Sean M. Smith

    I agree that it’s a golden age for guys who like to max out the velocity of their chosen chambering, and that being able to do so is desirable more often than not. That said, consistency and predictability is probably even more desirable in a pet load than raw velocity. Finally, certain bullets have fairly specific velocity windows in which they truly shine. Drive them too fast and they blow up; too slow and they fail to expand adequately. These are fairly obvious truths, but bear repeating in any case.


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