column By: Terry Wieland | April, 23
Of course, there are many gradations in between, with some (like me) having certain rifles they continually experiment with and others they don’t.
The first category of shooters are the guys who keep up a steady demand for older powders, ensuring they stay in production, because that’s what works. I have rifles that perform best with Hodgdon H-4831 and only H-4831, and others that prefer H-4350 or IMR-3031. All three are standards and current supply problems notwithstanding, will probably stay in production long after we have shuffled off this mortal coil.
Sometimes though, shooters with rock-solid preferences find themselves running out of their favorite powder. I have one acquaintance who swears by Varget, but was unable to find any for more than a year. Taking pity on him, I doled some out from my own meager supplies, figuring he might do the same for me someday.
We can’t always find a generous friend with a stash, though, and then we’re thrown back on taking whatever powder we can find and making it work. Two years ago, when supplies were at their tightest, the kind people at Shooters World managed to find me some samples of the powders they import from Czechia (aka the Czech Republic), and market under such generic names as Auto, Ultimate, Major, and Heavy (all pistol powders) and Precision, Long Rifle, Tactical, and Match (rifle powders).
Shooters World was created by Ned and Karen Gerard in 2014, and they were joined by a third partner, ballistician Ken Johnson, later that year. They import the Explosia line of powders from Czechia, which are marketed in Europe under the Lovex brand. Shooters World is the exclusive American importer of Explosia, and the line includes rifle, pistol and shotgun propellants.
The trick with a new line of powders is finding reliable load data, and most powder suppliers now offer their own manual either in paper or digital form. For powder makers, especially, this makes eminent sense. No handloader who values his guns or personal parts (eyes, fingers, that sort of thing) is going to start loading with a powder unless he has reliable data to guide him. Waiting for another manufacturer, such as Lyman or Speer, to include your product in its manual, which may or may not happen, and even then, may not appear for a year or more, and finally with no guarantee everyone will buy it, is not exactly a formula for success.
Shooters World publishes its own free online manual, which can be downloaded as a pdf or stored on your computer. Shooters World also has an interactive manual on its website and it prints basic loads for the most common calibers on its container labels.
Two years ago, I did some work with Shooters World pistol powders in the .32 ACP and .380 ACP (Handloader No. 332, June-July 2021). I was overdue to try the rifle powders (again, supply problems) but was finally able to.
Overall, the results were very gratifying. In an age when powders are developed and marketed for closely defined and specialized purposes, such as Hodgdon’s US-869 (ultra-magnums up to .50 BMG) or CFE 223 (sizzling smallbores), it’s nice to find a powder like Shooters World’s Long Rifle, that delivers fine results in everything from the 6.5 Creedmoor to the .300 Winchester Magnum.
This doesn’t mean Shooters World has no specialty powders. SBR SOCOM is intended specifically for the .458 SOCOM, and Blackout for the .300 Blackout and cartridges in that class, such as the 7.62x39mm and the .30 Carbine.
The three I picked to start with were Match Rifle, Blackout and SW-4350. This was a matter of matching powders and data to rifles and components I had available, but the .222 Remington, .270 Winchester and .303 British make a nice cross section. You won’t find the .280 Remington or .458 Lott in their manual, but you will find some unexpected ones like the .38-55 and 9.2x74R. This simply points out the logistical difficulties of compiling a manual, with the need for pressure barrels and testing, and trying to predict what your customers will want first. I expect, like most manuals, it will be expanded as data becomes available.
Incidentally, for those three cartridges, some of my all-time favorite powders are Hodgdon’s H-4198, H-4895, H-4831, and BL-C(2). As I write this, in late 2022, all four are listed as “out of stock” on Hodgdon’s website. H-4895, that venerable “wonder powder,” can be used quite satisfactorily in all three (.222, .270 and .303) of these quite disparate cartridges, which is why you will never find me without at least an 8-pound keg.
For the .222 Remington, I started with Shooters World Blackout, with Speer 50-grain hollowpoint TNT bullets. The results were, to put it mildly, surprising. Using a midrange load of 19 grains, I got an average velocity for five shots of 2,934 feet per second (fps) but an extreme spread (ES) of 216 fps! I couldn’t believe it, so I tried five more shots and got an average of 2,912 fps and an ES of 207 fps. Obviously, Blackout and the .222 are not a match made in heaven.
I then tried 24.2 grains of Match Rifle (midway between their recommended starting and maximum loads) and got 3,020 fps with an ES of 24 fps. This is much more typical for the .222, which is not only one of the most precise of cartridges but also, in my experience, one of the most forgiving.
Match Rifle was also my choice for the .303 British, which is not known for being cooperative. A load of 41 grains behind the Speer 180-grain Hot-Cor roundnose gave me 2,327 fps and an ES of 117 fps – not out of line at all for the .303, which, at 135 years of age, is entitled to be crotchety and generally is. With the old .303, a great deal depends on the rifle you shoot it in. I used a No. 4 Mk. I match rifle, with a 25-inch barrel, in virtually new condition.
My final test, and the one I expected to find most interesting, was Shooters World SW-4350 in the .270 Winchester with Swift 130-grain Scirocco bullets. A load of 54 grains gave me 2,868 fps with an ES of 43 fps. Like the others, this was a midrange load and delivered pretty much what Shooters World promised. My rifle has a 22-inch barrel. Shooters World does not give barrel length in its load data, but I doubt they used one that short.
There are now three 4350s aside from this one: IMR (the original), H-4350, and Accurate 4350. While their burning rates are similar, they are not interchangeable by any means. Some rifle/cartridge combinations prefer one, some prefer another. I had a 6.5x55 that was dynamite with IMR-4350 but did not respond as well to H-4350, while a 6.5x54 M-S loves the Hodgdon version but not IMR. Depending on the cartridge and bullet, maximum recommended loads can vary as much as four grains from one to another. I understand why manufacturers duplicate numbers this way, but at the same time, it sets a trap for the unwary or newcomers to the game who think one 4350 is exactly the same as another. They ain’t.
An added wrinkle is that while various powder burning-rate charts show one 4350 being slightly faster than another, they can switch places depending on the particular rifle, with IMR slower in one, H-4350 slower in another.
Weather and logistics conspired to prevent me doing a full test with these powders and cartridges, but the chronograph results were educational.