Shot-to-shot muzzle velocity consistency is almost always a high-ranking goal for the handloader. But what about when it’s just awful? READ MORE
Last edition the topic was a wide-scope look at propellants, and the underlying point was how to get started, how to choose one. There’s not a perfect answer to that, or not one I can warrant as absolutely decisive.
Propellant choice often comes down to experience (good and bad), and that’s one reason that many of us, and me most definitely, tend to stick with a few, and those also are the first we’ll try when starting up with a new project. It’s also one reason we might be hesitant to try a propellant again if it didn’t work well the last time. I have those hesitations.
There are also criteria that we’d all like to have met, and, as also said last time, sometimes those have to be ranked or weighted. We may not find the maximum velocity with the smallest group size with one propellant, and, for me, group size gets the most weight. That’s why I said that the best choice is often the one with the fewest compromises, and that’s assuming there’s likely to be some compromise, somewhere. And that’s a fair and wise assumption.
One criteria that I and others have pretty high on our lists is velocity consistency. One measure of a “good load” is low variations in measured muzzle velocities. This, without a doubt, is of more importance the more distant the target.
The propellant that tested showing the lowest shot-to-shot velocity deviation does not necessarily mean that load combination is going to be the most accurate. One reason it’s important might not only to do with on-target accuracy as it does with providing clues about either the handloading protocols we’re following or the suitability of the component combination we’re using.
This article will focus more on that last — suitability of the component combination — and more to follow later will be dedicated to the performance component of consistent velocities.
I got a letter just before doing this article asking about reasons for seeing high velocity deviations. This fellow, a loyal reader of my books, was using the same component combinations and tooling advice I take myself and also publish, and not getting good results. As a matter of fact, his results were horrid. He was seeing deviations, shot-to-shot, in the vicinity of 100 feet per second (fps), plus. That’s huge.
After much time spent testing all this to collect enough notebook entries to think I have some handle on it, a half grain (0.50 gr.) of propellant in most small- to medium-capacity cases (say from .223 Rem. to .308 Win.) is worth about 40 fps. Given that, 100 fps difference is not likely to come from a propellant charge level variance.
Another reader posted a comment-question last article here regarding how to know if aged components were still good, still performing as they should, and this is a place to start looking if we’re seeing radical inconsistencies.
Two questions at the same time, as I’ve said before, usually point me toward a topic.
Moisture is the enemy in propellant and primer storage. The “cool dry place” is hard to come by, around these parts anyhow. I’ve had propellant go bad after having been stored in resealed containers. So far, I haven’t had any lose its potency after many years of storage in the factory-sealed containers.
“Go bad” can mean at a couple of things, by the way. One is that the propellant ages to the point that it changes. If propellant “spoils” it smells bad! It will have an acrid aroma. Don’t use it. Another way it goes bad is pretty easy to tell: it clumps. That is too much moisture. Don’t use it. Put it out in the garden, it’s a great fertilizer — honest.
Primers? It’s hard to tell… Bad primers still appear good.
My letter-writer’s huge velocity deviations were solved by a change of primer, and, mostly, a box of fresh primers. I kind of knew that was the component-culprit because he was having the same results or effects from different propellants.
Primers should be stored in air-tight containers, which will be something other than the factory packaging. Primers are “sealed” but that’s a lightweight assurance. Touching them, for instance, won’t hurt them, contrary to rumors, but more prolonged exposure to excessive moisture can and will take a toll, and its effects are very likely to be as inconsistent as the performance of the compromised primers.
Another strong caution: Always remove, or never leave, however you prefer, propellant in a meter. After you’re done with the loading for the day, return it to its storage container and cap it back tightly. Same with primers. Any left over in the priming tube or tray should go back to safe storage. Clearly, this all has a lot to do with the environmental conditions of your loading-storage area.
Out of curiosity, I filled a case with some small-grained extruded propellant and left it sit out in my shop. It was clumped when I checked it next day (24 hours). I had to get a pipe cleaner (nearest handy tool) to get it all out of the case. I don’t store propellant or primers in my shop, and that’s the reason… Yes, we have some humidity in my part of the world.
Excluding those obvious issues, what makes some combinations produce higher or lower velocity consistencies takes some experimentation to improve (or give up on).
Sometimes (many times) this all seems more like art than science. It is science, of course, but it’s not tidy; it can’t always, or even often, be forecast.
I’ve seen the biggest effect from a primer brand change. I also, though, don’t swap primer brands around each time I do a load work up and the reason is that there are other attributes I need from a primer. Since I’m loading nearly always for a semi-auto, an AR15 specifically, I have to use a “tough” primer, and that also means one that will accept near-max pressure without incident.
Point is that if you’re running a rifle/ammo combination that isn’t limited by either propellant choice or primer choice, you might very well see some influential improvements by trying a different primer (after getting the propellant decided on). Do, always, reduce the charge at least a half grain before using a different primer brand — primer choices also decidedly influence velocity and pressure levels. Again, in my experience, more than you might imagine.
Next time, more about the performance component of consistent velocities, and a whopping lot more about how to improve that.
The author says the Colt’s is still the AR-style rifle by which all others are judged. READ WHY
There are several variations on the Colt’s AR 15 rifle. While I have my favorites any of the Colt’s will give long service in the harshest environments. It is like the old question of do you know the difference between an elephant and an ant? An ant can ride an elephant — many companies have done the AR 15 and some have done it well but the Colt’s is still the one that all others are judged by. On that subject the same may be said in spades concerning the Colt 1911. The pistol has been first with the most since 1911. While there are high grade handguns that are good examples of the maker’s art, those that cost less than the Colt are, well, cheaper guns.
I elected to go a field test of these guns. You have to get down and dirty sometimes. I appreciate my firearms but they are workers. I also love my shiny near new Jeep, but I took it across the Jeep Beach at the Outer Banks. That is what it is made for.
The Colt’s LE6940 was good enough to cause me to retire my long serving Colt’s HBAR. The LE6940 carbine is about as accurate in practical terms as the longer rifle and carries much easier. I like it better. With a flat top, a CNC machined 7075-T6 Aluminum forging, and Colt’s quality, this is a winning combination. A chrome lined bore, four position collapsible stock and the classic flash hider are all hallmarks of the carbine. It uses .0154 inch hammer and trigger pins so be certain to specify Colt when ordering an aftermarket trigger or parts. The chamber is a 5.56mm NATO, and the barrel twist is 1-7. The barrel is .750 inch diameter at the meeting of the gas block, slightly less the rest of its length. The trigger and safety are crisp in operation. One example is fitted with the XS sights rear aperture that allows using the conventional sight picture at longer range while using the sight notch at 7 yards. The Paul Howe designed CSAT makes for great utility for home defense use. The other sports a Redfield Battlezone optic.
I fired 80 rounds in each rifle, firing from 25 to 100 yards, firing at quickly as I could regain the sight picture. The iron sighted rifle was by no means hopeless at the longer range but very fast at close combat range. The scoped rifle is a joy to fire and use at longer range. Both rifles, using PMag magazines, were completely reliable. The rifles have been fired extensively but this was the first outing with SIG Elite ammunition. The combination proved a happy one. I used the SIG 55 grain FMJ loading with good results. There were no function problems of any type.
The next step was firing for accuracy. I used the Sig Sauer Elite Match .223 Remington Open Tip Match (OTM) 77 grain E223M1-20 loading. This load has proven accurate in a number of rifles and I thought now was a good time to qualify its performance in the Colt rifle. I fired twenty cartridges in the open sighted Colt first. While I am not quite as sharp as I was once with iron sights I did well enough at a long 100 yards, placing three shots into groups of 1.7 to 3.0 inches. I suppose that is good enough for government work. The other Colt, with its optical sight, made things much easier. This time I realize the full accuracy potential of the loading. At 100 yards the Colt/SIG Ammo combination posted an average group of .88 inch, measuring the group from the center of each of the most widely spaced holes in the target. That is good enough to ride with.
Neither rifle was cleaned during this test.
If you have to leave a crisis area in a hurry, you need to be prepared to take your guns along with you. If not, you just might lose them… READ MORE
As you may remember, about a week after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans…
Local police went door-to-door evacuating residents.
During evacuations, police confiscated guns so they wouldn’t face armed resistance during the forced evacuation.
As P. Edwin Compass III, superintendent of the New Orleans police stated…
“No civilians in New Orleans will be allowed to carry pistols, shotguns, or other firearms of any kind. Only law enforcement are allowed to have weapons.”
Fast forward to Florida in 2017 and we witnessed Hurricane Irma hitting the Florida Keys as a Category 4 hurricane and causing massive devastation through the southern U.S.
At least 92 people died throughout the U.S. in relation to Hurricane Irma and more than 9.2 million suffered power outages.
One of the many differences in the response to these two storms was that Floridians were allowed to carry concealed weapons, even if they didn’t have a permit to do so.
In 2015, then Governor Rick Scott signed a law that allows citizens without a concealed carry permit to carry concealed for 48-hours during a mandatory evacuation as they transport their families and belongings from the path of the storm.
Under the law, “People who may legally possess a firearm may carry concealed or carry on or about the person while ‘in the act of evacuating’ under a mandatory evacuation order during a declared state of emergency.”
This law is a no brainer.
When you are given an order to evacuate, you are going to take your family, survival gear, a few valuables, and your guns.
The last thing you want to do is leave a bunch of guns to get flooded or for looters to steal.
One of the best ways to evacuate with your guns during an emergency is to use a quality range bag.
These can obviously serve multiple purposes such as daily use at the range, but they are also important to have packed up and ready to go at a moments notice.
Considering how critical a range bag could be I want to share with you a few different options when it comes to bags.
5.11 Tactical Range Bag. 5.11 is a major player in the tactical gear market. This bag is capable of packing a lot of gear and you can tell it’s been designed by shooters.
Excluding the main pouch, you get five pouches on the outside of the bag including a large pouch with eight pistol magazine pouches that can hold eight double stack mags or 16 single stack mags.
In addition, there is a divider that is perfect for storing your handguns.
The remaining four pouches are a little smaller but capable of storing ammo boxes or even a set of full earmuffs. The 5.11 Tactical Range Bag sells for $100.
G.P.S. Tactical Range Bag. The G.P.S. range bag is a backpack style bag instead of the common duffle bag style.
The biggest advantage to this design is going to be for evacuating or bugging out since you can easily throw this pack on your back.
The bag is made of Cordura Nylon with DuPont Teflon and features a military style triple stitched MOLLE system.
The main compartment is large and comes with a divider so you can separate your gear.
It also has two pockets for smaller items like a flashlight, phone, etc. The G.P.S. bag sells for around $130.
Case Club Tactical 4-Pistol. This bag is another backpack style that can carry at least four handguns. Plus, it has twin side pockets to store six extra magazines each, along with other gear.
It includes a pullout rain cover that protects gear in case of a sudden downpour and built-in Molle straps allow you to attach extra gear.
For security, it has lockable heavy-duty zippers for the gun compartment and thick moisture-wicking padding on the backpack straps. The Case Club sells for $100 on Amazon.
If you’re like me and have several handguns, you need to plan ahead for a way to safely transport them to the range or out of town during an emergency.
One of these bags would be a great choice and they are small enough you could have them loaded and ready to go 24/7 while storing them in a large safe.
During a fire or last-minute evacuation, you will want to be able to grab this bag and get to safety as quickly as possible.
Yes, you can bring firearms on your flight. How much of a hassle it is depends on your pre-flight preparedness. I hate flying, for a number of reasons (I hate crowds, I hate lines, I hate having to take off my pistol and trust my safety to people less skilled, etc.), but that still doesn’t stop me from getting on planes at least half a dozen times a year. Most of the time I do fly with firearms in my checked baggage, and over the years I have learned a few tricks that may ease your travels.
Check the Rules
While the TSA does not limit the number of firearms you can have in your checked baggage, I know of at least one airline that does. Every airline has a website with their specific rules on transportation of firearms and ammunition – check it. Basically, the firearm must be unloaded and in a locked case and declared during the ticket counter check-in process. I recommend acting professional, polite (as if you’ve checked guns dozens of times before), and like it’s no big deal, because it shouldn’t be. A smile will get you checked in quicker and with less problems than an attitude.
Simply having a padlock on your case isn’t good enough for the TSA. They want to make sure that the lock prevents access to the gun inside, and I have had agents undo the latches on my gun case and attempt to pry it open wide enough to pull the gun out. This is surprisingly easy with some rifle cases (I recommend a padlock at each end), and even some handgun cases. Don’t be gentle when you test your cases, because the TSA agents won’t be. I know one gun writer whose rifle cases were destroyed by TSA agents using pipes as crowbars, and then told he couldn’t fly with them because his rifle cases would no longer securely lock. What this has to do with combating terrorism I’m a little fuzzy on.
Although regulations don’t require it, I always put my locked pistol case inside a locked piece of luggage, and I’ve had TSA cut the padlock off the luggage just to get a look at the pistol case. Why? I have no idea.
Currently, when I am just travelling with a pistol or two, I put them in a Pelican 1495 case. In addition to the combo lock built into the case itself I secure it with a combination padlock. To get to the guns inside, someone would need boltcutters AND a bandsaw. I check it as a separate piece of luggage.
Passengers are limited to 11 pounds of ammunition in their checked luggage, and none at all in their carry-ons. That won’t be a problem if you’re heading somewhere to hunt, but if you’re flying to some sort of training event or shooting competition, 11 pounds isn’t much at all. Some venues will let you mail your ammo to yourself.
The ammunition also has to be either in factory boxes or boxes specifically designed to hold ammunition. This means no loose, bulk-packed ammo. Also, many gate agents interpret this as “must be in factory boxes,” so if you have unmarked boxes for your handloads, you might have to educate the counter agent (see #5).
I often am checking my carry gun, and my carry ammunition is Winchester Ranger +P+ 9mm, which unfortunately is not offered for sale to civilians, so the boxes are marked “For Law Enforcement Use Only.” That is Winchester’s preference and the dictum has no legal bearing, but instead of trying to explain this to the counter agent I usually just put the ammo in another box.
Once the counter agent has had you fill out the orange “Unloaded Firearm” form and put it in the case next to the gun, the TSA may want to examine the case or run it through a scanner right then. Sometimes the counter agent just has me lock the case up and they put it on the conveyor belt, with the warning to stick around for a few minutes in case the TSA “needs to get in the case.” If they do, a TSA agent may approach you and ask for the keys to the padlock so they can open the case, which may be at a nearby station or somewhere not even in view. This is why I don’t use key locks but only combination locks so that I have to open the case myself, which means I will be present anytime the case is open. Don’t ever let anyone open your gun case when you’re not present–which means NEVER use “TSA-approved” luggage locks for your gun cases, because they have master keys for those. I won’t use them on any of my luggage, because I want to know when people are going through my stuff.
You could use key locks and simply refuse to let anyone else open the case unless you’re present. This happened to a friend of mine. The TSA agent wouldn’t bring the case to him as it was in a “secure area” he wasn’t cleared for, and my friend refused to turn over the keys because he didn’t want them opening his gun case when he wasn’t present. The increasingly angry TSA agent threatened to break into the case. My friend threatened to call the ATF and report his guns stolen, which would have shut down the whole airport (he wasn’t bluffing). Who won the argument? Let’s just say the TSA (whose employees are not sworn law enforcement agents) is more afraid of the ATF than the other way around.
If the TSA sees you’re using combination padlocks, they know getting your case open won’t be as simple as asking for your keys.
Bring the Rules
If you fly enough, you will run into an airline or TSA employee who either is a jerk, idiot, or just hates guns (or some combination of the three). It’s happened to me and just about everybody I know who flies with guns frequently. Why you’re checking a gun is none of their business (Why do you own a gun? Are you a cop? Are you going to be doing some shooting? Why do you need two guns? Why do you have all that ammunition? – I’ve heard all of these questions at one time or another. You don’t have to answer them.)
Go to the TSA website and print out their rules, and also print out the rules from the website of whichever airline you’re using. If the counter agent who’s checking you in starts claiming you’re only allowed one box of ammo or that the gun has wear a trigger lock, or something else you know to be incorrect, you’ll have their own rules printed out and ready. Doing this has solved all sorts of problems for several people I know.
This highly restrictive initiative once again would make law-abiding citizens criminals unless we’re willing to jump through meaningless hoops. READ MORE
On July 18th, Initiative Petition 40 was filed in Oregon to restrict the Second Amendment rights of law abiding adults by imposing a broad, one-size-fits-all method of storing firearms. This egregious attack on our freedoms uses virtually the same language as the failed Initiative Petition 44 from 2018 as well as the same provisions from Senate Bill 978 that did not pass during the 2019 legislative session. Anti-gun proponents will stop at nothing to restrict self-defense rights in Oregon, and will be using this initiative petition in an attempt to coerce legislators to pass gun control during the 2020 short session.
Please spread the word to your family, friends, and fellow gun owners to oppose these efforts to restrict self-defense rights in Oregon! Help protect Oregonians’ Second Amendment rights and decline to sign Initiative Petition 40.
Initiative Petition 40 would require all firearms to be locked with a trigger-locking device or kept in a locked container, unless carried by the possessor of a firearm, with each firearm constituting a separate violation. Anyone who has their firearms lost or stolen would be strictly liable for any injury to persons or property committed using the firearm within four years if the firearms were not stored in compliance with the law. Firearm owners would also be held liable for any injury occurring within four years that results from a firearm transferred to another individual if the firearm was not transferred in a locked container or with a locking device.
Gun safety and storage is a matter of personal responsibility and every person’s situation is different. It is unreasonable for the law to impose a one-size-fits-all solution. This poorly thought out initiative is without any consideration for personal circumstances. This intrusive initiative invades people’s homes and forces them to render their firearms useless in a self-defense situation by locking them up.
This initiative will also require firearm owners to report lost or stolen firearms within 24 hours or face charges, with each firearm constituting a separate offense. In addition, firearm owners who do not report their firearms lost or stolen will be held liable for any injury that occurs within 5 years involving those firearms. A firearm owner should not be held liable for the crimes committed by a person who has illegally obtained their firearm. Individuals should not be further victimized after experiencing a burglary or other loss.
Proponents must first gather 1,000 signatures in order to have a ballot title drafted before they can begin gathering the 112,020 signatures required to place it on the 2020 ballot. Your NRA-ILA will continue to keep you updated on the status of this initiative, so please stay tuned to your email inbox and http://www.nraila.org for further updates on this issue.
Elections are coming soon! Here’s a pro Second Amendment candidate from the Magnolia State. READ MORE
The National Rifle Association Political Victory Fund (NRA-PVF) is pleased to announce its endorsement of Michael Watson for Mississippi secretary of state in the 2019 primary election.
“During his time as a state senator, Michael Watson voted consistently on behalf of law-abiding gun owners and has remained a steadfast supporter of the Second Amendment,” said Jason Ouimet, chairman, NRA-PVF. “If Watson is elected, Mississippians can rest assured their freedoms will be protected.”
Watson is an “A” rated candidate. He has supported a number of bills that protect the right of personal self-defense, a bill that protects shooting ranges and a measure to put the right to hunt and fish amendment on the ballot.
“Michael Watson is a strong advocate of the Second Amendment, and the NRA encourages all freedom-loving Mississippians to vote for Michael Watson on Aug. 6.”
The interim executive director of the National Rifle Association Institute for Legislative Action, Jason Ouimet, released the following statement regarding the special session in Virginia. READ IT ALL
“The National Rifle Association has a long history of working to reduce violent crime rates within the Commonwealth of Virginia. We commend the House and Senate Republican leadership for renewing the focus on putting violent criminals behind bars and a much needed refocus on mental health initiatives. Without a final report on the Virginia Beach investigation, this special session by Gov. Northam was a complete taxpayer-funded distraction. The discussion before the Virginia Crime Commission should focus on solutions that provide strong due process and put a stop to the continued politicization of law-abiding individual’s constitutional rights.”
Established in 1871, the National Rifle Association is America’s oldest civil rights and sportsmen’s group. More than five million members strong, NRA continues to uphold the Second Amendment and advocates enforcement of existing laws against violent offenders to reduce crime. The Association remains the nation’s leader in firearm education and training for law-abiding gun owners, law enforcement and the armed services. Be sure to follow the NRA on Facebook at NRA on Facebook and Twitter @NRA.
It’s hard to check facts when the fact-checkers don’t know them… KEEP READING
Facebook has teamed up with what it calls “third-party fact-checkers” to punish users of its platform that post information embarrassing or inconvenient to the political outlook of its principals. Yet like most sources of what passes as “news” or “journalism” these days, these “independent” organizations have knowledge deficits and outright biases that color the information they provide to the public. Take, for example, Politifact’s assertion that a gun ban is not a gun ban if there are still guns left to be banned.
Last month, the NRA’s Facebook page posted a photo of Joe Biden with the message: “Joe Biden calls for gun ban.” This was in reference to Biden’s well-known and very explicit stance that he wants to ban AR-15s and like semiautomatic rifles
There is no dispute about this. As vice-president, Biden responded to a petition by gun control activists demanding a ban on “AR-15-type weapons” by stating: “I want to say this as plainly and clearly as possible: The President and I agree with you. Assault weapons and high-capacity magazines should be banned from civilian ownership.”
More recently as a candidate for the Democrat presidential nomination, Biden published what he called a “Plan for Educator’s, Students, and our Future.” Among its agenda items was to “[d]efeat the National Rifle Association” by “championing legislation to ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines – bans [Biden] authored in 1994.”
So yes, he wants a gun ban. And not just on some exotic or unusual types of firearms known only to criminals or the military but on what are in fact the most popular types of centerfire rifles in America today.
After the NRA post, Facebook appended a link to a Politifact story that rated the NRA’s claim as “Mostly False.”
Politifact did not deny that Biden wants to ban AR-15s and similar guns, nor did it deny those types of firearms are very common and popular in the U.S.
Nevertheless, it insisted that “saying Biden calls for a gun ban could lead readers to believe he’s seeking to outlaw all firearms.”
This is classic use of a strawman by Politifact.
In other words, Politifact fabricated a theoretical misperception about what the NRA actually said to make a true statement “Mostly False.”
But the NRA made very clear exactly what sort of “ban” we were referring to by linking to a Fox News article about Biden’s “education” plan.
The Politifact article also used details of the 1994 “assault weapon” ban that Biden helped author and shepherd into law to make claims about what he means now when he says he wants to ban “assault weapons.”
But anti-gun Democrats have in intervening years introduced far more extensive bans under the phony “assault weapons” rubric, making it clear that prominent members of the party think the old ban did not go far enough.
Just how far Biden is proposing to go in banning guns is therefore unclear. He has not actually released legislative language for his proposed ban, nor a comprehensive list of the guns or design features he would seek to prohibit. There is no reason to believe, however, that he would (as Politifact takes for granted) feel bound by limitations in an old law that leaders of his party now view as inadequate.
In any case, a leading firearm industry source estimated there were more than 16 million AR-15-style rifles owned by civilians as of 2018. Merely banning future sales of those types of guns would unquestionably be a sweeping and dramatic incursion on access to the very types of firearms that Americans, left to their own devices, choose for lawful purposes.
It’s also notable that the old law Biden referenced was often referred to in news sources, that Politifact undoubtedly would consider reputable, as a “gun ban” or “Clinton’s gun ban,” including PBS, the Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times. Were they also being misleading or hyperbolic in the use of that term?
Politifact additionally mentions in passing that Biden insisted during a nationally televised debate on June 27, “We should have smart guns,” and, “No gun should be able to be sold unless your biometric measure could pull that trigger.” He went on to characterize “gun manufacturers” as “our enemy.”
What Politifact conveniently omitted from its story is that no firearm currently available in the U.S. meets Biden’s fanciful “biometric” activation test.
It would therefore not be much of a stretch, given Biden’s own words, to suggest he doesn’t think any of the guns currently available for sale in the U.S. are acceptable.
Finally, Politifact ignored the fact that during the same debate, Biden also said: “I would buy back those weapons. We already started talking about that. We tried to get it done. I think it can be done. It should be demanded that we do it and that’s a good expenditure of money.”
Again, what “weapons” Biden was referring to or the details of his proposal were not clear, but the sort of “buybacks” the Obama administration promoted while Biden was vice president were modeled on policies adopted in Australia during the 1990s. These “buybacks” would more accurately be characterized as orders of mandatory firearm surrender. While owners of the affected guns were offered some bureaucratically set compensation for their property, it was an offer they couldn’t refuse. Failure to sell the banned guns could have resulted in the owners being criminally prosecuted and even jailed.
Given the foregoing, we rate Politifact’s article “politics, not fact.”
In this case the “fact-checker” was clearly trying to discredit a true statement from the NRA and minimize the increasingly radical nature of the anti-gun agenda being pursued by leading Democrats, namely Joe Biden.
There are a whopping lot of propellants on the market. How do you choose one? Well, usually it’s more than one… READ WHY
All we ever really want is a propellant that provides high consistent velocity, small groups at distance, safe pressures over a wide range of temperatures, and burns cleanly, and, of course, it should meter perfectly. Dang. I know, right?
Ultimately, propellant choice often ends up as a compromise and it may well be that the smallest compromises identify the better propellants. Getting the most good from your choice, in other words, with the fewest liabilities.
There are two tiers of basics defining centerfire rifle propellant formulas. The granule form can be either spherical (round granules) or extruded (cylindrical granules). Next, the composition can be either single- or double-base. All propellants have nitrocellulose as the base; double-base stirs in some nitroglycerol to increase energy.
There’s been a good deal of effort expended and applied over the past several years to reduce the temperature sensitivity of propellant. Coatings come first to mind, and I use nothing but these “treated” propellants.
This attribute is very (very) important! It’s more important the more rounds you fire throughout a year. A competitive shooter’s score hinges on consistent ammunition performance. Test in Mississippi and then go to Ohio and expect there to be some change in zero, but a change in accuracy or a sudden excess of pressure and that’s a long trip back home. It’s common enough for temperatures to (relatively speaking) plummet on at least one day at the National Matches, so my 95-degree load has to function when it’s 50.
Some are decidedly better than others in this. There are several propellants I’ve tried and will not use because I didn’t get reliable results when conditions changed. Some gave outstanding groups on target, on that day, at that hour, but went goofy the next month when it was +20 degrees. Heat and cold can influence pressure in a sensitive propellant.
Single-base extruded (“stick”) propellants are my first choice. A good example of one of those is Hodgdon 4895. These tend to be flexible in maintaining performance over a wider range of velocities, related to a wider range of charge weights. For instance, I’ll vary the charge weight of the same propellant for ammo for different yard lines. I’m reducing recoil or increasing velocity, depending on what matters more. Zero and velocity are different, but accuracy doesn’t change.
Spherical or “ball” propellants (these are double-base) are a good choice for high-volume production, and also tend to be a great choice for highest velocities at safe pressures. These meter with liquid precision. They, however, tend to be less flexible. That means they tend to work best at a set and fairly finite charge and don’t do as well at much less or more than that, and especially at much less than that. More in a minute.
Double-base extruded propellants (sometimes called “high-energy”) do, yes, produce higher velocities at equal pressures compared to single-base but also tend to be less flexible and exhibit performance changes along with temperature changes. Vihta-Vuori and Alliant are the best known for their formulations in these. Double-base usually burns at a hotter temperature (not faster or slower, just hotter) and can increase throat erosion rate. Some double-base spherical propellants claim to burn cooler. I’m not certain that this is a huge selling point, either way, for a serious shooter, but, there it is.
All propellants are ranked by burning rate. That’s easy. That’s just how quickly the powder will consume itself. All reloading data manuals I’ve seen list propellant data in order from faster to slower. For instance, if you’re looking at .223 Remington data and start off with tables for 40-grain bullets, you’ll see faster propellants to start the list than you will moving over to the suggestions for 75-grain bullets.
It’s tough to find a perfect propellant for a wide range of same-caliber bullet weights. Faster-burning propellants tend to do better with lighter bullets and slower-burning tends to get more from heavier bullets. That’s all about pressure and volume compatibility. Again, I have found that a single-base extruded propellant will work overall better over, say, a 20-plus-grain bullet weight range than a single choice in a spherical propellant.
The idea, or at least as I’ll present my take on it, is that we want a fairly full case but not completely full. I don’t like running compressed loads (crunching a bullet down cannot be a good thing), and excessive air space is linked to inconsistent combustion. We ran tests upmteen years ago with M1As and found that out. Many details omitted, but here was the end: Settling the propellant back in the case prior to each shot absolutely reduced shot-to-shot velocity differences (the load was with a 4895, necessary for port pressure limits, and didn’t fully fill the case).
Generally, and that’s a word I’ll use a lot in this (and that’s because I know enough exceptions), spherical propellants have always performed best for me and those I share notes with when they’re running close to a max-level charge. More specifically, not much luck with reduced-level charges.
Too little spherical propellant, and I’m talking about a “light” load, can create quirky pressure issues. Workable loads are fenced into in a narrower range. This all has to do with the fill volume of propellant in the capped cartridge case, and, as suggested, that’s usually better more than less. That further means, also as suggested, there is less likely to be one spherical propellant choice that’s going to cover a wide range of bullet weights. That’s also a good reason there are so many available.
With some spherical propellants, going from a good performing load at, say 25 grains, and dropping to 23 can be too much reduction. One sign that the fill volume is insufficient is seeing a “fireball” at the muzzle. Unsettling to say the least.
Spherical propellants also seem to do their best with a “hot” primer. Imagine how many more individual coated pieces of propellant there are in a 25-grain load of spherical compared to a 25-grain charge of extruded, and it makes sense.
However! I sho don’t let that stop me from using them! I load a whopping lot of spherical for our daily range days. We’re not running a light load and we’re not running heavy bullet. We are, for what it’s worth, running H335.
So, still, how do you choose a propellant? Where do you start? I really wish I had a better answer than to only tell you what I use, or what I won’t use. There are a lot of good industry sources and one I’ve had experience with, including a recent phone session helping me sort out Benchmark, is Hodgdon. You can call and talk with someone, not just input data. Recommended.
When it’s time, though, to “get serious” and pack up for a tournament, I’m going to be packing a box full of rounds made with a single-base extruded propellant that meters well. As mentioned before in these pages, I have no choice in that, really. I’ll only run the same bullet jackets and same propellant through the same barrel on the same day. I need a propellant that works for anything between 70- and 90-grain bullets.
With time comes experience, and I know I sure tend to fall back on recollections of good experiences. I admittedly am not an eager tester of new (to me) propellants. I have some I fall back on, and those tend to be the first I try with a new combination. There are always going to be new propellants. That’s not a static industry. I may seem very much stuck in the past, but I no longer try every new propellant out there. I like to have some background with a propellant, meaning I’ve seen its results in different rifles and component combinations. Mostly, I ask one of those folks who tries every new propellant…
There is a lot of information on the internet. You’re on the internet now. However! There’s also not much if anything in the way of warranty. If you see the same propellant mentioned for the same application a lot of times, take that as a sign it might work well for you. Do not, however, short cut the very important step of working up toward a final charge. Take any loads you see and drop them a good half-grain, and make sure the other components you’re using are a close match for those in the published data.
One last: Speaking of temperature sensitivity: Watch out out there folks. It is easily possible for a round to detonate in a rifle chamber if it’s left long enough. Yes, it has to be really hot, but don’t take a risk. A rash of rapid-fire can create enough heat. Make sure you unload your rifle! Here’s an article you might find interesting.