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Powder and primer tips.

I've learned a lot of lessons about handloading over the 40+ years I've been doing it. Here are some important points to ponder about powders and primers.

WHEN IT COMES TO PROPELLANT HANDLING, I want to emphasize two lessons I learned early on. First, keep only one propellant container on your loading bench well away from where you store your powder. Second, empty the powder measure as soon as you've finished loading a batch of ammo. If you follow these tips, you're not likely to ever mix two propellants or lose track of which one you used last.

With at least 150 different brands and types of propellants available to today's handloaders, there are obviously going to be some that are directly interchangeable or are so closely comparable that charges of one type can be substituted safely for another, but only if you're not loading max charge weights.

For example, Hodgdon lists the same load data for H414 and W760. Winchester 231 and Hodgdon HP38 are the same stuff sold under different labels. Ramshot X-Terminator and Accurate 2230 also have the same status. Winchester 296 and Hodgdon H110 are two popular magnum handgun propellants that come from the same bulk container. There are other pairs of exactly the same propellant with different labels. However, Internet sources (other than the actual propellant supplier) proclaiming one powder is the same as another should not be considered reliable.

On the other hand, there are different propellants that share very similar names. Western Powder's product line includes an excellent pistol powder labeled Accurate No. 7. Alliant offers an excellent rifle powder called Reloder 7. I once heard a tale about a handloader accidentally using No. 7 instead of Reloder 7 in a .444 Marlin. The gun was destroyed, and the shooter was injured.

Accurate and IMR each offer propellant labeled 4350; however, they are only almost alike to one another in appearance and performance. IMR 4831 and H4831 share similar monikers, but the IMR version typically exhibits a much faster burn rate than the Hodgdon variety. Load data for any of these excellent propellant choices should not be substituted under any circumstance!

Other examples include H4198/IMR 4198 and H4895/IMR4895. The 4198 twins are actually very similar in performance, but take a careful look at the Hodgdon reloading manual and you'll discover max loads for the two 4895s can differ by 10 percent or more. Substituting the faster burn rate IMR propellant for the slower H4895 variety can definitely be hazardous. Accurate and IMR both offer a 4064 propellant that deliver, again, not the same but only similar performance.

Speaking of propellant burn rates, many reloading manuals include a burn rate chart comparing the relative positions of propellants. Composed of columns depicting the various propellants offered by several suppliers, they are listed according to burn rates from the faster ones at the top of the chart to the slower ones as you go down the lists.

The only practical use for these is to give the handloader choices for potentially alternate propellants to try in the application he desires to load. In no way does a burn rate chart suggest or intend to imply that this or that propellant is a safe substitute for one that shares even the exact same level on the chart.

A quick way to overcome an unfounded rationale to use a burn rate chart in this manner is to compare the charts shown in several different manuals. None are exactly alike, and they all differ differently! That's because propellants do not burn at the same rate in different applications. In other words, you can't determine an exact burn rate position for any propellant relative to another.

The bottom line is only use a reliable source for propellant load data. Many of the major component suppliers have websites that provide laboratory-tested recommendations. Factory ammo is never loaded to maximum pressure limits, so take the hint and be safe. The extra 50 or 100 fps you are trying for may also cause unintended consequences.


As most handloaders have experienced, primers are occasionally in short supply. Sometimes you may not have the one specified when you want to load a batch of ammo. The question becomes, "Should you substitute another brand or type primer you have on hand for what you're missing?"

Generally speaking (but only if you're not loading a max charge), you can safely interchange the same type primers.

For example, your favorite 5.56 NATO recipe calls for Winchester Small Rifle primers, and you have only Remington 6!4 and 7Vi, CCI450, and Federal 205M primers on the shelf. You could use any of them except maybe the CCI Small Rifle Magnums with minimal risk. And, if you check several reliable load data sources, you might find a closely similar recipe for the same propellant and bullet that also recommends the CCI 450 primer.

But do not conclude that it's generally okay to simply substitute a Magnum primer for a standard type. You should do so only if you can find corroborating load data from a reliable source. If you check Alliant or Speer Magnum pistol reloading data, you'll discover they typically recommend using standard CCI or Federal primers. They're plenty hot enough to reliably ignite most handgun loads.

I recently developed several handloads for two Remington Model 25 pump guns chambered in .25-20. This rifle cartridge load data (compared to a typical .357 Magnum recipe) calls for small charges of Alliant 2400 pistol propellant. Now, if a CCI 500 or Federal 100 Small Pistol primer can reliably ignite .357 Mag. handloads, then it will surely work in the .25-20 with about half of the typical .357 powder charge. And a standard Small Pistol primer may enhance the ignition stability and produce more consistent velocities from shot to shot.

Small Rifle and Pistol primers are the same size and therefore will readily interchange physically. That's not so for Large Rifle and Large Pistol primers. They're the same diameter, but a Large Rifle primer is a few thousandths of an inch thicker and will not seat properly in a Large Pistol primer pocket.

If you seat a Large Rifle primer in a pistol case so the cup is three to five thousandths of an inch below flush, you'll likely set it off or surely damage the ignition pellet. You may have a misfire or a hangfire later, but even if the round does fire, velocities will be all over the map due to inconsistent primer ignition.

On the other hand, seating a Large Pistol primer in, for example, a .30-06 case would leave the cup well below flush so the firing pin strike could possibly not set it off or probably cause a hangfire. If you're really unlucky and somehow it does ignite the cartridge, the much thinner primer cup could rupture and send hot gas and particles flowing back through the action into your face.

The bottom line is don't get into a situation where you feel forced into using the wrong primer.
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Author:Pearce, Lane
Publication:Shooting Times
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 1, 2016
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