Pushing the Wrong Way with Handloading

October 14, 2020
Tom Gresham

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We all want more power, in everything. More horsepower, for sure, in our trucks, boats, ATVs, etc. The popularity of magnum cartridges shows that hunters and shooters are no different. We want more power. More velocity. Flatter-shooting cartridges. Harder-hitting bullets.

Fortunately, most of today's handloaders understand that cranking up loads to high pressures and higher velocities isn't a smart path. There are several reasons why, as well as modern alternatives which make it unnecessary.

Start at the basics. Each cartridge has a specified pressure limit as established by the Sporting Arms and

Understanding your powders is critical to your success in the field. Hodgdon Reloading produces great powders that make reloading simple and effective.

Ammunition Manufacturing Institute (SAAMI). The pressure limitation placed on each cartridge was established using many criteria, including the fact that some cartridges have been chambered for old firearms which don't have the strength of modern guns. Take the .45-70 Government cartridge, for instance. It can be fired in a 150-year old trapdoor Springfield rifle. The cartridge originally used black powder, which produces much less pressure than do modern powders. Therefore, factory cartridges as well as modern loading data keep pressures low.  

However -- and there always seems to be a "however" in handloading -- there are exceptions, and with the .45-70, you'll see load data for "modern rifles" and maybe even different loads for the lever rifles. Hodgdon shows loads for the 400-grain bullet using H335 as well as both the IMR and Hodgdon versions of 4198 for modern rifles, but it has loads for the trapdoor Springfield, as well. Don't overlook the surprising Trail Boss powder when you want to reduce recoil and velocity for many different cartridges. It's a great powder to have near your loading bench.

We used to load rifle and pistol cartridges "hot" to get more velocity and more energy. We thought we were making magnums out of the .30-06 and .44 Specials. Sure, we might have gotten a couple of hundred more feet per second out of that old rifle, and it might have been safe. Might have been. The problem is that we were forging into unknown territory where pressure spikes have been known to blow up guns.

We don't have to do that these days. First, we can always get a magnum rifle if that's what we want. Get a .300 Mag rather than hotrod your .30-06. You don't need to juice up a 6.5x55 when you can get a 6.5 PRC. Plus, there's a new reason to stick to published loads.

Magic bullets. Well, that's what I call the modern bullets which have very high ballistic coefficients (BC). Compare the downrange ballistics of a .264 Winchester Magnum using a bullet design from 40 years ago and a 6.5 Creedmoor with a modern, high BC bullet, and the light-kicking Creedmoor will shoot flatter and hit harder at some point downrange. Magic.

Honestly, you'll probably get better accuracy with moderate loads, as well. Shop around for different powders. I'm seeing loading propellants back on the shelves (after being hard to find throughout the year).  Just look at the wide range of powders you can use for a given cartridge, cruising the Hodgdon web site. (CLICK HERE) Also, the Hodgdon folks just bought Ramshot and Accurate powders, so they will have even more choices for you soon.

Stay within recommended loads. They shoot better. They recoil less. You'll make your powder supply go farther. Your rifle will appreciate it. The high BC target and hunting bullets will do more for your downrange performance than you can do by souping up your loads.

Here's a secret. If your hunting limits likely shots to less than 300 yards, drop the load to the middle or even the bottom of the recommend loads on the Hodgdon web site.  Now you really have comfortable shooting. One warning, though. Do not reduce powder charges below the recommended starting loads. Although rare and hard to duplicate, there is a chance that a reduced (below published data) loads -- especially in magnums -- can create dangerous pressure spikes. Stay with published load data, use good loading practices, and for really reduced loads, go with Trail Boss.

If you haven't taken up handloading now, this is a good time to start. It adds to your shooting fun and it often becomes a full-blown hobby in its own right. ~ Tom

Good shooting!

Tom Gresham
Author, outdoorsman, gun rights activist, and firearms enthusiast for more than five decades, Tom Gresham hosts Tom Gresham's Gun Talk, the first nationally-syndicated radio show about guns and the shooting sports, and is also the producer and co-host of the Guns & Gear, GunVenture and First Person Defender television series.