“Powders and Primers”

 

This Week’s Tips or Tricks…

 

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Q:  With so many choices out there for Powders and Primers…where do I even start???

 

A:  With literally hundreds of powders and dozens of primers available on the market today, we won’t lie…this is going to be a bit of a Research and Development (R&D) project for you, so get ready for a bit of mad scientist work!  Unfortunately, there is no “golden rule” or “one size fits all” that applies to reloading when it comes to the selection of powder and primers for your particular caliber…so blood, sweat, tears, and patience will be a few requirements when it comes to reloads development!

 

First, you need to understand that a firearm is like a fingerprint...there are no two that are exactly identical!  Sure, some may be very comparable such as custom rifles, but even with a very expensive custom rifle each bore is as unique as the print on the tip of your fingers.  Ok, so what’s the big deal here then…a Remington 700 is supposed to be a Remington 700 right?  Sure the make, model, stock, rate of twist, length of barrel, and a dozen other components and characteristics of two Remington 700’s might be the same for the sake of arguing “specifications”, but ask your buddy to shoot your ‘secret recipe’ and you shoot his and then compare the results!

 

Not always, but more often than not, every rifle will typically react just a bit different to one “secret recipe” vs. another.  Throughout the machining process of the barrel and bore, there are microscopic impurities, imperfections, burs, or whatever have you that may cause your rifle to shoot each of those recipes slightly different…which is why you should never think that reloading for a ¼ MOA is going to be an easy task just because you have your buddies recipe in hand!  His “secret recipe” may be an excellent starting point for your particular handgun or rifle, but you should go into this process expecting that you are going to need to alter a few ingredients along the way.  Sometimes you might get really lucky, but unless you have enough luck that you can guess every week’s winning lottery numbers, I wouldn’t count on it!

 

 

 

Selection of Smokeless Powders…

 

Now, I am likely going to start a few arguments in my discussion hereafter, but please bear with me and whether we agree or disagree…please hear me out on this one!

 

When it comes to beginning your process of elimination for powders, there are a few things you need to contemplate before just running out and blowing your paycheck on a pound of everything your local gun shop has in stock:

 

1.)    What powders are suggested in your reloading manual(s) for the particular caliber and bullet(s) you have selected?

 

2.)    Are you shooting a light, medium, or heavy weight bullet?  The weight of your bullet with often dictate whether you will be better off with a faster burning powder for those lighter bullets or a slower burning powder for those heavier bullets.

 

3.)    What is your ultimate goal…accuracy or velocity???  Just because you are pushing maximum velocity for a particular reload recipe doesn’t mean that it will be the most accurate!

 

4.)    If accuracy is the name of the game here…are you willing to weigh every powder charge independently on a scale down to the very last grain or are you a rounds per minute or “RPM” reloader?  Depending on the structure, type, and grain size of the powder(s) you select…this may foil your plans right out of the gate because some powders just meter better and far more consistent than others!  Typically, ball and/or spherical type powders meter best over extreme extruded powders; however, some short kernel or short cut (SC) extreme extruded powders meter very well also such as H4350, Varget, and H4831SC.

 

5.)    Are you looking for an “all-around work horse” powder that you will be able to efficiently reload across multiple calibers with decent accuracy or is your goal to find “the one” for just that perfect recipe for that upcoming Benchrest competition or next Precision Rifle Series Match???  Work horses of powders tend to be able to work efficiently across many calibers but may not be the ‘best’ performers in many of those...so you are going to have to decide whether or not you want that new truck (or powder in this case) to be a grocery getter, your new toy hauler, or the 45-miles-to-the-gallon fuel economy model!

 

6.)    Do you want a clean burning powder with great accuracy, or are you just looking for something that is cheap, reliable, gets the job done, but you might need to reserve an hour or two dedicated to cleaning and getting rid of all of the left over residue, debris, coppering, or lead left behind after a good day’s worth of shooting…some powders may allow you to do both in certain calibers but you may have to go on a search and destroy mission in order to determine which one(s) those will be for your particular needs!  Some brands of Smokeless Powder such as the Hodgdon CFE 223, CFE Pistol (CFE = Copper Fouling Eraser), and IMR Enduron 4166, 4451, 4955, and 7977 Smokeless Powders actually have patented formulas that will in fact help reduce copper fouling deposits in your firearms…so do your homework, do some comparisons, formulate a plan, and decide which “primary” and “backup” options you would like to explore before you just go buying powder!  Additionally, don’t go straight into doomsday prepper mode when buying powder for new recipes either!!!  Always start with just 1 Lb. of powder to give it a “try” and see how it works first BEFORE you run out and buy an 8 Lb. keg(s) of a powder that you find out in the first 50 rounds your gun/bullets don’t like and now you have numerous pounds of powder just laying around and having no idea what to do with it!

 

7.)    If you are reloading for a rifle…are you looking for a 50-300 yards max load or are we talking farther than the eye can see that piece of steel at?  If you are just looking for a powder that will perform well at those close ranges…you will be able to choose from a much wider range of powders because you will be able to choose from both the extreme extruded, spherical, and ball powder type lines.  However, if you are going to be reaching out there to touch steel at more than a grand…you might want to seriously consider limiting your options to an extreme extruded powder who’s burn rate and consistency will be much better due to its reduced sensitivity to temperature variance such as Hodgdon H4350, Varget, Alliant Reloader 23 and 26, and IMR 4166, 4451, 4955, 7977, and 8208XBR powders just to list a few.  Now before you turn into King Kong and start beating on your keyboards or smart devices, hang on just one minute…yes you certainly can use those other spherical and ball powders that are more temperature sensitive like the Alliant Reloader 15, Vihtavuori N140, IMR 4064, Accurate 2520 ,and etc. but you had better be prepared with a Kestrel Applied Ballistics Weather Meter in your pocket to adjust your ballistics on-the-fly when the temperature changes because your Muzzle Velocity is going to deviate much more and thus taking your Point of Impact (POI) with it!!!

 

8.)    Availability is also a major factor in the market right now as well.  What you want and what you can get might be two different things…so always be prepared with a backup plan B, C, D, and E just in case!

 

 

 

Understanding Temperature Sensitivity of Smokeless Powders and the Effects on External Ballistics…

 

Now, just how much Point-of-Impact (POI) effect can a temperature insensitive powder have vs. a more temperature sensitive powder…well let’s take a look!  Let’s say we just use the published values that can be found in the 2016 Hodgdon Reloading Guide shall we…

           

-Hodgdon Varget à Temperature Sensitivity of only ~8 FPS of variance from 0o-125o

            -Alliant Reloader 15 à Temperature Sensitivity of ~50 FPS of variance from 0o-125o

            -Vihtavuori N140 à Temperature Sensitivity of ~50 FPS of variance from 0o-125o

            -IMR 4064 à Temperature Sensitivity of ~46 FPS of variance from 0o-125o

            -Accurate 2520 à Temperature Sensitivity of ~63 FPS of variance from 0o-125o

 

Since we have the tested and published FPS variations from Hodgdon for these above powders for a 168 gr. Speer bullet, let’s now crunch some numbers and see just how much our particular selected Smokeless Powder can cost or gain us if we were to use a Berger 168 gr. VLD with the exact same FPS deviations because I just happen to have my Kestrel Applied Ballistics Meter with those values handy!  In the following tables we are going to be comparing the projected effects of powder vs. powder with a standard average Muzzle Velocity of 2,911 FPS.  Now, in order to keep the math simple here, we are going to just say that our average Muzzle Velocity was measured at a temperature of 62.5 degrees Fahrenheit and we will be comparing what the projected +/- ½ deviation of the FPS variance for the Minimum and Maximum Muzzle Velocities would be for each powder if we were to go out and shoot at different times of the year at 0o and at 125o conditions with all other atmospheric values theoretically staying exactly the same.

 

Powder

Temperature Sensitivity (fps)
@ Temp. Range 0o to 125o

-1/2 Dev. from 2,911
(fps)

+1/2 Dev. from 2,911
(fps)

-1/2 Dev. @ 250 Yards
(MOA)

+1/2 Dev. @ 250 Yards
(MOA)

-1/2 Dev. @ 500 Yards
(MOA)

+1/2 Dev. @ 500 Yards
(MOA)

-1/2 Dev. @ 750 Yards
(MOA)

+1/2 Dev. @ 750 Yards
(MOA)

Hodgdon Varget

8

2907

2915

2.33

2.31

8.91

8.85

17.51

17.39

Alliant Reloader 15

50

2886

2936

2.39

2.26

9.08

8.69

17.81

17.09

Vihtavuori N140

50

2886

2936

2.39

2.26

9.08

8.69

17.81

17.09

IMR 4064

46

2888

2934

2.38

2.27

9.06

8.71

17.78

17.12

Accurate 2520

63

2880

2943

2.40

2.24

9.12

8.64

17.90

16.99

 

 

When we closely compare all the +/- ½ deviations, which will give us our full range FPS deviation spread for all of the above listed powders, you can now see in the charts below how the ‘fine’ details ironed out in regards to just exactly how much of an impact your Smokeless Powders temperature sensitivity can have on your projected POI…and the results are pretty eye opening!

 

Powder

Max. Deviation @ 250 Yards
(MOA)

Max. Deviation @ 500 Yards
(MOA)

Max. Deviation @ 750 Yards
(MOA)

 

Hodgdon Varget

0.02

0.06

0.12

Alliant Reloader 15

0.13

0.39

0.72

Vihtavuori N140

0.13

0.39

0.72

IMR 4064

0.11

0.35

0.66

Accurate 2520

0.16

0.48

0.91

Powder

Max. Deviation @ 250 Yards
(inches)

Max. Deviation @ 500 Yards
(inches)

Max. Deviation @ 750 Yards
(inches)

Hodgdon Varget

0.05

0.30

0.90

Alliant Reloader 15

0.33

1.95

5.40

Vihtavuori N140

0.33

1.95

5.40

IMR 4064

0.28

1.75

4.95

Accurate 2520

0.40

2.40

6.83

 

If we look at the Hodgdon Varget projected data, we had only an 8 FPS deviation from 0-125 degrees so that only resulted in an Extreme Spread (ES) of 0.05” at 250 Yards, ES of 0.30” at 500 Yards, and ES of 0.90” at 750 Yards…so from 0-125 degrees we are projected to have a very tight shot grouping and minimal POI shift regardless of the temperature.

 

However, if we look at Accurate 2520 which had the greatest FPS deviation of 63 FPS, we see that Accurate 2520 from 0-125 degrees resulted in projections of an Extreme Spread (ES) of 0.40” at 250 Yards, ES of 2.40” at 500 Yards, and ES of 6.83” at 750 Yards…so from 0-125 degrees with Accurate 2520 we would have nearly 1 MOA of ES just due to temperature sensitivity variations ONLY…pretty crazy huh!!! 

 

For those who may be utilizing any of the Applied Ballistics Mobile Apps, AB Analytics Software, or a Kestrel Applied Ballistics Weather Meters…now you know why the MV-Temp Calibration function exists don’t you!…to account for these POI shifts due to your Smokeless Powders temperature sensitivity effects on your POI down range!!!  Which brings me to my next point for any of the ‘fair weather’ shooters out there…you NEED to know what your firearm, bullet, powder, and primers do in ALL seasons and weather conditions…so, next time it is raining, snowing, or a bit windier than normal outside…stop your complaining about the weather and take advantage of these unique conditions to record data that will allow you to better understand just how your firearm, bullet, powder, and primers will perform in those varying conditions!  The motto that I preach to all of our customers and which we live by around here is ‘practice in adversity and you shall thrive in adversity’!!!

 

 

 

Selection of Primers…

 

In the same respect as smokeless powders, there are also a few things you need to research and evaluate before just running out and buying the first box of primers that you see on the shelf:

 

1.)    Again availability is the biggest factor here…if you are a seasoned reloader you may have a box or even 10 boxes of the Federal 205M, 210M, or 215M primers tucked away in safe storage, but if you’re new to reloading and just getting started gathering up components…you might want to get on the waiting list ASAP!

 

2.)    Next we must understand the “burn” characteristics of primers.  Remington are typically the coolest burning primers available on the market.  Federal and CCI are typically mid-range burning primers and Winchester are typically the hottest burning primers.  Now why is this important???  Have you ever been on a hunting trip where it was cold enough your urine nearly froze before it hit the ground and every round in your rifle refused to fire…using a cooler burning primer could have been the cause!  If you know you will be operating in extremely cold conditions, a hotter burning primer may be warranted to ensure a proper and much more reliable burn every time you pull that trigger.  Have you ever worked up a load for your favorite rifle that worked perfectly in the late fall or winter time using Winchester primers only to find that those very same rounds in the summer time you start to pop primers out of the primer pockets…using a hotter primer like Winchesters can lead to different loads being required for colder and hotter operating conditions!  This brings me to why we ONLY stock Federal and CCI primers.  Since the Federal and CCI primers are “middle of the road” in regards to their burn temperature you get a much more year-around performance and both Federal and CCI are also known worldwide for their excellent and reliable performance…largely due to many of the factors that I have mentioned here.  

 

3.)    If you are just looking to reload ammunition for the sole purpose of plinking and burning through ammo as fast as you can for self-defense training or just having a fun day at the range with a quick round of Trap, Skeet, or Sporting Clays, or running a few rounds through those old military relics like that M1A…then the cheapest primers available might just fit the bill perfectly for what you want.

 

4.)    If you are looking to reload some ammunition for that favorite hunting rifle that is your “Golden Ticket” to the freezer being full this winter, you are likely going to want something a little more reliable or a little more hotter burning so you might want to splurge for those Federal #209’s or some CCI’s or Federal’s instead of those cheaper economy primers.

 

5.)    Are you one of those guys who just wants to go to the range and burn through 30 round magazines like money is no object to you just so you can impress your buddies or show off at the range???  Have you ever had one of those scary incidents where your semi-automatic rifle just magically seemed to fire all on its own by way of either “cooking a round off” from the gun getting so hot it prematurely detonated the cartridge or you had the bolt slam forward into battery and the rifle had a “slam fire”???  If this is you, you may want to consider investing in some CCI #41 or CCI #34 primers.  These primers have a thicker cup and take a greater impact in order to detonate.  

 

6.)    However, if your quest for accuracy has drawn you down that long, dusty, and expensive rabbit hole called long range shooting…then you are definitely going to want to consider forking over the dough for those high dollar Match Grade Premium primers because you need those Extreme Spreads (ES) and Standard Deviations (SD) to be as low as absolutely possible in order to achieve the most consistent hand loads possible…because in the PRS it just takes one miss to take you out of the winners circle and drop you to 15th in the match or in the world of F-Class and F/TR 0.0001” could be the difference between winning and losing the match.  If you want to win and not just compete, you would be flat out of your mind to simply choose a stock F-150 to go up against some of the best racers in the world driving professional series Off-Road Racing Baja trucks to compete in a Baja 1000 race…so why even think you can do it with those cheaper primers in a competitive shooting match???  Some will argue that a standard primer is exactly the same materials, compounds, and makeup of a more expensive Match Grade Primer…they are right, but the difference between a standard primer and a Benchrest or Match Grade primer is that the individuals assembling them have been doing it for YEARS versus the standard primers which may be assembled by someone just 6 months into training!  So the moral of the story here with standard versus Benchrest and Match Grade primers is the craftsmanship, consistency, and quality of the assembly by an expert assembly professional versus the new guy still learning the art of the assembly.

 

 

 

Identifying the problems and not just the symptoms in relation to the performance of selected powders and primers…

 

Just recently, one of our long range enthusiast customers gave me a call after a day at the range and he was trying to decipher a data comparison that was unexplainable to him, after about 30 mins of probing into all the details of the reloads, components, methods, powders, primers, rifle used and all of the other specifics for the day…we finally came to some conclusions and executed a plan of action for him to explore deeper into his reloading techniques for his quest of ultimate accuracy. 

 

First, what was the problem?  The customer had tested two particular (3) shot series of reloads with the same identical powder, primers, and charge weights and could not figure out why the reloads with the best standard deviation (SD) and lowest (ES) had the worst shot grouping in comparison with the other series of reloads which had a higher SD and ES, but had the tightest shot grouping {scratching your head here yet?}.  Now typically, the first thought to cross one’s mind here would be that the problem may be with the ‘Indian’ and not the ‘arrow’…but I can assure you that this guy can shoot, so let’s just throw that off the table for now.  Second, the next logical train of thought would be that something must have been wrong then…yes, you would be right, but this is a hypothetical yes in this case.  Now WTH do I mean it is hypothetical?  After we did some exploring into what the ‘issue’ was and got to the bottom of all the details and analyzed what all the results were…here is what we found…there were (2) different types of brass that he used in these reload series and he didn’t realize it at first.  The series with the lower SD and ES but worse shot grouping was conducted with Lake City .260 REM casings whereas the series with the worse SD and ES but better shot groupings was conducted with Nosler .260 REM casings.  Now, here is the hypothetical yes, but no explanation…he had (2) different casings, which may offer two entirely different performance results due to varying neck tension on the bullet, but was that really the smoking gun we are looking for here???  No, it is not and this is why…we could not be sure of what exactly is the smoking gun here truly because of inconclusive proof!

 

Inconclusive proof…what on earth do you mean here…he had different casings, different results should be expected…end of story, right???  Well, not so fast Sherlock Holmes!  I have conducted extensive alpha and beta level testing regiments on very complex products ranging from highly technical to basic mechanical issues for over 10+ years Professionally as a “Product Performance Specialist” and I can tell you that while the process of elimination may often lead us to identifiable culprits [aka symptoms]…the devil is more often hidden deeper down in the details [aka the root problem(s)] and the process of elimination may only point to other flaws in the system that need to be thoroughly vetted and proved for elimination first BEFORE arriving at any final conclusion(s).  Let’s break this down to show you what I mean here.  While the customer did have two different brands of casings between the tested series, why is there still a separation in SD/ES and the shot grouping results???  In theory, we should see the better SD/ES should have resulted in the best shot grouping of the two series, but that was not the case…leading me to believe that in essence two wrongs somehow made a right here…the question is what were the two wrongs!?  For starters, his SD/ES were only compiled from a series of (3) shots…now while just (3) points are needed to triangulate your position on any map, only having (3) data points is not a very conclusive statistical method for proving sound sampling of performance results!  Then there is the issue with lack of identification and separation of reload casing by the manufacturers head stamps…which additionally adds the question of whether or not this is a neck tension issue as well?

 

So where do you go from here and what was the plan of action that we executed for this customer?  The first thing I recommended to the customer is that he first and foremost needs to open his chronograph sampling of SD/ES up to a minimum of at least 5-10 shots per each of his reloads series (10 preferably…the more the better here) because (3) shots just won’t provide enough information to see the overall statistical results here and will not provide a clear picture of the long-term goals.  Second, he needs to have (4) different reloads series for his next trip to the range as follows:

1.      Series #1: 5-10 rds of Lake City Brass loaded to the exact same powder, primer, grains, OAL, and etc.

2.      Series #2: 5-10 rds of Lake City Brass loaded to the exact same powder, primer, grains, OAL, and etc. (In every science project, you need a control…this second set of data will either provide a control or proof of consistency or inconsistency in comparison with the first Series #1 data set…this is required to either substantiate the results or rule them inconclusive).

3.      Series #3: 5-10 rds of Nosler Brass loaded to the exact same powder, primer, grains, OAL, and etc.

4.      Series #4: 5-10 rds of Nosler Brass loaded to the exact same powder, primer, grains, OAL, and etc. (Again, in every science project, you need a control…this second set of data will either provide a control or proof of consistency or inconsistency in comparison with the first Series #3 data set…this is required to either substantiate the results or rule them inconclusive).

 

Third, once the customer had conducted all of the above steps, he should give me a call back and we would analyze the results and progress forward from there with executing the next plan of action.

 

Now, why have I just spent the last 5+ minutes rambling on about some other guy’s problem(s) who are not yours???  One of the biggest and worst statistical detriments that I see committed by an inexperienced and even some seasoned reloaders is their poor sampling of performance data which they use to diagnose ballistics potential or rather lack thereof.  The thing you need to always remember, is a cartridge consists of numerous components so we also have numerous variables to thoroughly analyze, eliminate, and/or determine to be the symptom(s) or the problem(s) when errors/issues arise during the reloading process.  If you use poor sampling to analyze performance data, you may get lucky, but you will be far more statistically likely to end up just chasing your tail in circles and compounding your frustrations from a lack of gain in your reloading performance and processes.  You should always start with a larger number of sampling points and fewer variations between your reloading series recipes and you will begin to understanding better what did/didn’t work!  When we fix a symptom by changing multiple variables…we still have a problem because we have only cured the symptom and not identified the problem!!!

 

Last, why did I strategically choose to include this topic of discussion in an article about “Powders and Primers” and not some other article about troubleshooting reloading issues?  Often times we have customers that come to us and begin to complain about the ‘terrible’, ‘inconsistent’, or ‘lack of performance’ results that they may have seen from a particular powder and/or primer…especially when they start comparing for example an extreme extruded vs. spherical powder or a standard vs. Match Grade primer and they just don’t see the difference.  The results of any science experiment will only ever be as good as the efforts, analysis, and control of the scientists tests conducted…that’s funny, this sounds vaguely familiar to what you have heard me say about ballistics calculators in my other articles too isn’t it…”garbage in, garbage out”!  If you conduct sound “reloading practices” you will more than likely end at sound reloading performance conclusions and vice versa.  So next time, before you start just pointing fingers…do the math, study the variables, analyze the conclusions, solve the problem(s) and not just the symptom(s), and make overall sound decisions about your reloads and decisions of “when to throw in the towel”...because you don’t want to be that guy/gal that amazing opportunity and/or accuracy passed you by just because you were too lazy, impatient, or due to poor practices, missed out on that BIG breakthrough!     

 

 

Understanding and Identifying your Limits when it comes to performance of selected powders and primers…

 

At the end of the day where the rubber meets the road, you need to pick and choose the powders and primers that are going to be the right fit for your needs and to ensure that they will fulfill your objectives.  The other thing you also need to own up to is that just because you ran out and dropped $10,000 on a brand new custom rifle and you bought the least temperature sensitive powder and the best Match Grade primers you could find and you did everything exactly perfect…NONE of this will help you to become a better MARKSMAN!!!  Superior quality equipment is not a substitute for poor mechanics, lack of basic fundamentals, and poor follow through…it just means that you spent a ton of money to be less of a bad shot!!!  The one thing that every champion, professional, and expert will tell you is that you can NEVER practice enough because Marksmanship is based greatly on muscle memory and is a highly perishable skill if not practiced constantly and consistently.  There is always something to be improved upon, something that you might do just slightly different to increase your accuracy, or even a better way someone showed you on how to improve your marksmanship skills…and when that day arrives when you think you have finally perfected everything, you will then head to the range and find that the throat of your barrel has become so eroded or the rifling has been so worn down from so much shooting that you now have to re-barrel and start this process ALL OVER AGAIN!!!

 

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Do you have a Tip or Trick regarding reloading that you would like to see posted?  Please send us your Tip(s) or Trick(s) and we will see about getting them posted!

 

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Written By:  Kyle R. CEO of Broken Box R LLC

 

Copyright © 2015 Broken Box R LLC – All Rights Reserved