other By: Brian Pearce | June, 23
Cylindrical powders are usually manufactured in an extrusion process wherein, while still moist, it is pushed through various size holes and cut to length, with the size and length being part of the recipe to control burn rate. Cylindrical powders are also commonly referred to as “extruded” powders. Regardless, the end result is a powder that is shaped similarly to tiny logs. These powders have been a standard for modern bottleneck cartridges, offering accuracy, reliability and top velocities.
Unfortunately, cylindrical powders with long “log” geometry can bridge, or hang up, when being charged or thrown from a powder measure into the mouth of small-caliber cartridges common to varmint shooting. And when thrown from a powder measure, they fail to meter with enough weight consistency to give the kind of shot-to-shot accuracy that demanding shooters desire. If a cylindrical powder is chosen that features rather long sticks, it is usually best to weigh each charge, then charge the case with the aid of a funnel or drop tube. Examples include IMR-7828, IMR-4064 and Hodgdon H-4831. Some cylindrical powders feature a shorter and smaller diameter stick that results in improved metering qualities and less bridging as it enters the cartridge neck. Examples include Hodgdon H-322, Accurate 2015 and Alliant Reloder 15. Powders such as Alliant Reloder 7 and 2400 are double-based, extruded stick powders but are cut to such short lengths that they appear more like a flake powder rather than other common cylindrical extruded propellants.
There was a time when ball powders failed to give the accuracy and overall performance common with cylindrical powders, but technology has improved their performance substantially, and they have become widely popular with varmint shooters and in accuracy-demanding competition circles. They have gained favor with ammunition companies with U.S. government contracts for war munitions, military competitions and police contracts – and they have found great favor and acceptance with me. Examples of ball powders include Hodgdon H-335, BL-C(2), Winchester 748 and the Western Powders Ramshot product line, such as X-Terminator and TAC.
Primer choice is a crucial aspect of assembling safe, accurate handloads. In some instances substituting primer type or switching manufacturer changes the dynamics of a given load very little. In other instances it can change pressure as much as 10,000 psi and beyond. None of the cartridges discussed here require a magnum primer to obtain proper powder ignition, and they are generally not recommended. Choosing a bullet of the same weight but from another manufacturer (and sometimes even by the same manufacturer) from load data will likely change pressures, sometimes substantially. And cases vary in capacity, material, flash hole size, etc., all of which affect pressure. In short, handloads should constitute the exact components as published, and it is suggested to start 7 to 10 percent below maximum charges, then work up to maximum charges to make certain each particular load is safe in your gun.
.17 Remington/.17 Remington Fireball
The .17 Remington and .17 Remington Fireball have gained popularity due to high velocity, low recoil, accuracy and effectiveness on pests and varmints. Stick and ball powders are capable of duplicating factory load velocities, with each turning in top-drawer accuracy. Proven ball powders include Accurate AA-2520, AA-2230, Winchester W-748, Western Powders TAC and X-Terminator, with extruded powders including Hodgdon Varget and H-322. Hornady offers V-MAX bullets in 20- and 25-grain weights that are accurate with a high ballistic coefficient that is ideal for varminting. And there is a 20-grain hollowpoint that offers instant expansion.
The cartridge became an overnight sensation among many varmint shooters for good reason. It offered a relatively flat trajectory at distances out to 500 yards, was accurate, used efficient powder charges (extending barrel life) and gave excellent performance on prairie dogs. Recoil was also low, which usually allowed shooters to see the bullet strike while watching the target through the riflescope, and on a busy shooting day of 600 to 800 rounds of ammunition, there is often less shooter fatigue.
Early claims indicated that no canister grade powders could duplicate factory load velocities at safe pressures, but my early experiments resulted in the 32-grain Hornady V-MAX bullet reaching 4,248 fps using 28.4 grains of Hodgdon H-4895, and 28.3 grains of Winchester W-748 pushing the 40-grain V-MAX 3,866 fps. These velocities essentially duplicated factory loads when fired from the same rifle. Other powders have also proven worthy, including Western Powders TAC, X-Terminator, Accurate AA-2520 and Vihtavuori VV-N140.
The .22 Hornet was developed in the late 1920s, with Winchester finalizing its dimensions and producing the first commercial ammunition about 1930. It was an important U.S. cartridge development designed primarily for the purpose of varmint shooting. Even after being largely replaced by bigger and faster varmint cartridges, its popularity continues due to its comparatively quiet manners, efficiency and a certain charm that is difficult to put into words.
Factory loads have traditionally pushed 45- (Remington) and 46-grain (Winchester) bullets around 2,650 fps. For many years Alliant (formerly Hercules) 2400 was a popular powder that allowed handloaders to duplicate factory loads. Today, however, there are propellants that allow the Hornet to churn up a bit more velocity, including Hodgdon Lil’Gun, H-110, Winchester W-296, Western Powders Enforcer and Accurate AA-1680, while staying within SAAMI pressure guidelines of 43,500 CUP. Lil’Gun is known for significantly exceeding the velocities of factory ammunition, while producing less pressure than industry standards. From a 24-inch barrel, 40-grain bullets can reach over 3,000 fps from this 81-year-old cartridge.
In developing .22 Hornet handloads, an important ingredient for consistency and accuracy is the primer. A small pistol primer, such as Federal 100 or CCI 500, offers reliable ignition and usually results in lower extreme spreads and improved accuracy. As long as the headspace, firing pin and firing pin hole relationship is correct, pistol primers will not flow excessively nor will they extrude from pressure.
The .218 Bee appeared around 1938 in the Winchester Model 65 lever-action rifle. It was based on the .32 W.C.F. (aka .32-20) case but necked to .22 caliber to accept common .223/.224-inch bullets. It has slightly greater case capacity than the Hornet, which resulted in 46-grain flatnose bullets (due to the tubular magazine) being advertised at 2,760 fps.
It can be difficult to improve upon factory load velocities with the Bee due to the fact that case capacity is limited and industry working pressure limits are established at 40,000 CUP. Nonetheless, factory velocities can be duplicated (and even exceeded somewhat) and accuracy improved with some tuning of the loads. Outstanding propellants include Hodgdon Lil’Gun, H-110, Accurate AA-1680 and IMR-4198. Like the Hornet, primer choice will affect accuracy and pressures.
When using leverguns, flatnose bullets are suggested, whereas bolt-action and single-shot rifles can take advantage of the same bullets in spitzer form that are used in the .22 Hornet and expand reliably at Bee velocities. To get proper function in the majority of repeating rifles, the overall cartridge length should be held closely to the industry standard of 1.680 inches.
.223 Remington/.222 Remington
Rifling twist rates have ranged from 1 in 14, to 1 in 6.5 inches, and as a result it can stabilize bullets ranging from 40 to 90 grains when matched to the correct rifling twist. This feature adds to its versatility.
The selection of ideal powders for handloading the .223 Remington is unusually crowded and includes both ball and cylindrical types, with many offering excellent performance in terms of accuracy and velocity. With the broad bullet weight range associated with this cartridge, some powders offer performance advantages with specific bullet weights. Popular cylindrical powders include Hodgdon H-322, H-4198, Benchmark, H-4895, Varget, IMR-4198, IMR-4895, IMR-4320, Alliant Reloder 7, Reloder 10, Reloder 15, Accurate AA-2015, AA-2495, Vihtavuori VV-N135 and VV-N140. A few examples of outstanding ball powders include Hodgdon H-335, BL-C(2), Winchester W-748, Accurate AA-2230, AA-2520, Western Powders X-Terminator and TAC.
In working up loads, since the .223 is a small capacity case, even small increases in powder charges can significantly raise pressures. If military cases are used, due to their thicker construction and reduced capacity, powder charges will need to be reduced accordingly. Maximum loads should always be approached with caution.
Although once popular among varmint shooters, the .223 Remington has largely dethroned the .222 Remington and .222 Remington Magnum. Nonetheless they are still worthy varmint rounds and there are still many rifles so chambered floating around. Naturally, the same powders that perform best in the .223 are the best choices for the triple deuces.
The .222 Remington was once a very popular benchrest cartridge, and even produced a “perfect group” that measured .009 inch at 100 yards. In the Light Varmint class (10½ pounds or less), on September 23, 1973, Mac McMillan stacked five shots into what other witnesses felt was absolutely a perfect hole, but after the target was mailed all around the country and exposed to heat and humidity, it was officially measured at .009 inch. Mac’s load consisted of 23.5 grains of Hodgdon BL-C Lot #1 powder, CCI BR-4 benchrest primers and 50-grain bullets from J-4 Precision Jackets. This record clearly illustrates the accuracy obtainable with ball powders. For a super accurate field load, I might suggest 24.0 grains of Hodgdon BL-C(2) powder and any of the excellent 50-grain varmint bullets available from Sierra, Nosler, Hornady or Speer. (Bullet seating depth will need to be experimented with to see what your rifle prefers.)
.22-250 Remington/.220 Swift
There are many ball and cylindrical powders that give superb accuracy while reaching top velocities in the .22-250. During the 1970s I obtained good all-around performance using suitable charges of IMR-4064 powder with 50-, 55- and 60-grain bullets. Unfortunately, it was slow to handload, as its rather long sticks often hung up in the case neck and powder tube junction. Eventually I switched to stick powders with a shorter cut, such as Hodgdon Varget, H-4895 and Alliant RL-15. I have also had excellent results with ball powders, including H-380, H-335, BL-C(2), Winchester W-748, Accurate AA-2460, AA-2520 and Western Powders Big Game.
Maximum loads should be approached with caution to make certain they are safe in your gun, and if you tend to shoot with a hot barrel when prairie dogs are thick, I suggest reducing maximum loads by 1 to 2 grains to prevent rupturing primers. Another “hot barrel” shooting tip is not chambering a round – wherein it cooks as though in an oven – until just before firing.
For the .220 Swift, the same powders that are ideal in the .22-250 Remington will likewise give best results.
.243 Winchester/6mm Remington
The .243 Winchester and .244 Remington were each introduced in 1955. The .243 was based on a necked-down .308 Winchester case, and rifles were fitted with a 1-in-10-inch twist, while the .244 was a necked-down .257 Roberts case and fitted with a 1-in-12-inch twist barrel. The .243 was initially loaded with an 80-grain varmint-style bullet and a 100-grain “deer” bullet, while the .244 was offered with 75- and 90-grain varmint-style bullets only. Winchester clearly identified the .243 to potential buyers as being a dual-purpose cartridge for varmints and deer, while Remington pushed the .244 primarily as a superior varmint round, which limited its marketability. The .243 sold like hotcakes, while the .244 suffered terribly.
In 1963 Remington reintroduced the .244 as the 6mm Remington, which was the same cartridge, but rifles were fitted with a 1-in-9-inch twist that better stabilized 100-grain (and heavier) bullets. The .243 Winchester had already gained widespread acceptance, in spite of the 6mm offering greater case capacity and velocity. Each are excellent varmint cartridges.
The two above 6mms stoked with 80-, 90- and 100-grain bullets thrive on slower-burning propellants, such as Hodgdon H-4350, IMR-4350, IMR-4831, Alliant RL-19, RL-22, Winchester W-760, Ramshot Hunter, Big Game, Magnum, Accurate AA-2700, AA-4350 and AA-3100. With popular lightweight bullets weighing 55 to 70 grains, faster-burning propellants usually offer a distinct velocity advantage. Examples include Hodgdon H-380, Varget, BL-C(2), H-4895, Superformance, Accurate AA-2230, AA-2520, Western Powders TAC, X-Terminator, IMR-4007 SSC and IMR-4320.
Never reduce the powder charges of .243 Winchester or 6mm Remington loads below the suggested start loads, and never begin with maximum powder charges. Begin with start loads then carefully work up to maximum charges while watching for signs of excess pressure. With proper loading techniques, the 6mms will easily develop accurate, high-performance ammunition.