Whether you have just purchased a new firearm or you are working on a load that will print smaller groups down range, the inclination is to start from square one at the loading bench to give it that personal touch.

The reality is that unless we are wildcatting, we do not need to re-invent the wheel. Time being a key ingredient to our success, we can save a lot of it by simply starting with recommended loads.

For any given cartridge, there are usually several powder choices. Some simply work better with a given cartridge and some simply work better with a given firearm.

Before we go any further, I would like to reiterate a statement we have all heard but should take to heart.


Do not take data from this publication, email lists, web sites or any other source as gospel. Always cross check and recheck to make certain that what you are doing has been proven safe.

A wonderful emerging source of information can be found on the Internet. Simply going through some of the lists or web sites and reading information about the cartridge with which you are working will give you some very useful insight.

For example, if you see a recommended load for a specific cartridge using IMR 4064, make note of it. Then look for additional references where individuals have gotten good results with this component. You may see a pattern developing and you can make note of the charge they are using. Crosscheck it to make sure that it is a recommended powder for your cartridge in the manuals, (that is plural), and then proceed.

Always start with the beginning charge weight from the manual(s) and work up. You may be pleasantly surprised at the dramatic difference simply switching powders can give you. I recently kept seeing a powder listed for a cartridge I was working on and I finally jumped in and bought a pound of it. My group size was cut in half before I started fine-tuning the load to my gun.

What I like to do is load 10 rounds for each change that I make. For example: Start at the minimum charge weight and load 10 rounds, bump the charge up a little and load 10 more, a little more powder and 10 more rounds. I stop just below max charge and load 10 more rounds. Then I am ready to head for the range. For the record, your charge increases should be in relation to case size. A 1 grain change won't make a huge difference on a large case, but will be dramatic in a small case.

At the range, I start with the lightest charge and fire 3 to 5 rounds. Checking brass for pressure signs after each shot and viewing the results on paper will give you a positive or negative response to this particular combination.

If pressure signs warrant progression, move on to the next combination. Repeat the procedure for each combination and you should end up with at least 1 load that you are impressed with.

Now you have decided you like the 4th combination, you still have 5 to 7 rounds left in that combo. Run your firearm through your cleaning program and shoot those 5 to 7 rounds.

Still happy with the performance? Is it better than what you had been working with?

Now you have a choice, you can either go ahead and burn up the other rounds that you were not impressed with, or you can save a little money, take them home, and pull them apart.

Switching powders is of course only one of many options, but I consider powder selection to be the single most important factor in working up a load. You can spend countless hours and many dollars and still not have a load with which you are happy. Spend some time reading, look at what others are using and you will quickly discover a powder that may be much improved over what you are currently using.

Because changing any component can have dramatic effects on performance and pressure,

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Last Modified: Tuesday, January 3, 2012 7:11 AM