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Early smokeless powder dates back to 1892 and provided the transition from black powder to today’s smokeless powders.

Photo by Charlie Burchfield

There is no shortage of conversation at camp when it comes to the subject of reloading your own. Some years back my friend, Joe, and I had to leave Joe’s father-in-law, Stan, and my brother, Mark’s discussion on reloading to get some sleep prior to the next day’s hunt.

Mark and Stan continued comparing their experiences late into the night discussing bullets, primers, rifle calibers, and the like. The next morning they said it was well after midnight when the light over the kitchen table was turned off.

Today similar conversations still take place. After all, reloading your own ammunition is a matter of personal preference.

The caliber of the firearm, the type, and overall weight of bullet to be used is the first consideration. And there are lots to choose from.

Another aspect are primers. They are the caps that ignite the powder. The selection here is vastly reduced when compared with bullet selection.

However, the next component to be considered can present more of a challenge than most realize.

At camp when I listened to Mark and Stan talking about bullets and ballistics, the powder they used was rarely discussed. It wasn’t that they didn’t consider this part

of the equation important. If that discussion was taking place today, considering the advancement in smokeless powders that has occurred in the past two decades, no doubt there would be a few more fine points to be included in the conversation.

The most recent listing of smokeless powders is an eye opener. Currently offered to those of us who reload their own ammunition are 148 different choices of smokeless powder to choose from.

Simply put, some combinations of bullets and powder work better in a particular firearm than others.

Keep in mind that it’s the bullet that will be the deciding factor relating to the “right” smokeless powder chosen that will propel the bullet you choose to use.

My father took great pride in crafting hand loaded ammunition. As he did then, my brother and I still do today. And that is to check the reloading manual.

Dad like Sierra bullets. He felt they produced the best bullets money could buy. However reloading components, especially bullets, are pretty darn good. Besides that, the lineup of projectiles offered is impressive.

So how do you begin to make the right choice? After all, the right powder is fundamentally important to the accuracy of the bullet being fired.

The starting point is readily found in loading books developed by bullet manufacturers. My preference is the hardbound books. However the same information can be found by going online and searching the various bullet manufacturers’ web sites.

In the case of my reloading library, readily at hand are reloading manuals published by Lyman, Nosler, Horandy, Speer, Nosler, Barnes, Hodgdon, and Sierra.

To keep the information current, the manuals are replaced on a rotating basis. This helps insure the data at hand is up to date.

The data for each caliber provides a selection of bullets to choose from. Within that framework a variety of powders are suggested. The powder listing provides a starting load in grains and maximum load in grains to be loaded. A range of bullet velocities are included as well.

In the case of the Hodgdon manual, the selection process is a little different. First pick a caliber, the manual provides bullet selection then provides a number of powder choices. Again the minimum and maximum loads are provided along with velocities and chamber pressures.

Smokeless powders were introduced in 1892, which were designated “MR” or Military Rifle. The “IMR” or Improved Military Rifle powder IMR4198 was introduced in the early 1930’s. In 1942 IMR4831 was offered. In the 1950’s and 60’s reloading really took off. Since then a wide variety of smokeless powders have and continue to be introduced and with good reason.

Each new powder, when used properly, holds the potential to increase the performance of old, and the growing number of new, calibers, bullet designs, and weights available today.

One of the most versatile powders to hit the market is Hodgdon’s Extreme Extruded Powder, VARGET. The powder features small extruded grains for uniform metering, insensitivity to hot/cold temperatures, and higher energy for improved velocities.

The powder provides easy ignition and clean burning that translates into superb accuracy.

Varget has proven ideal for a variety of popular cartridges as the 223 Remington, 22-250 Remington, 308 Winchester, 30-06, 375 H&H, and many more.

When it comes to reloading your own ammunition, today there is an ever growing number of top quality reloading components hitting the market. Some may challenge

products you may have used in the past. By giving some of the “new” products a try you might be surprised to see the results in improved accuracy out of your favorite firearm on your next visit to the shooting range.

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Charlie Burchfield is an active member and past president of the Pennsylvania Outdoor Writers Association, an active member of the Professional Outdoor Media Association, Outdoor Writers Assoc. of America and the Mason-Dixon Outdoor Writers. Gateway Outdoors e-mail is GWOutdoors@comcast.net

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