Reloading Powders


My name is Tom. I have a friend that just gave me a Texan FW shotgun shell reloader. My problem is that this is an older reloader from the 1970’s, and the charts for loads does not have any of the current powders on it. It shows Red Dot powder, but a friend told me to stay away from that because it is a dirty burning powder. I am going to use a Winchester powder, but have no charts for it. Do you know of a publication that I can purchase that would show these loads?


Dear Tom,

Need current reloading recipes for todays powders and other components? Nothing easier. Just go to the powder manufacturer’s web site. Alliant, Winchester, IMR and Hodgdon seem to be the most popular and easily available powders, so I’d use a powder from one of them. All the current recipes are listed on their sites. You can also get free reloading recipe booklets anywhere powder is sold. Hodgdon’s hard cover “Shotshell Data Manual” is particularly useful and informative, though it’s not free. It has a tremendous amount of current information on reloading, how to, what to, tests, ballistics and such. It’s really worth the money. Lyman’s 4th edition of their “Shotshell Reloading Handbook” is informative, but now getting out of date.

As to powders: Alliant’s Red Dot is now being made on newer machinery since Alliant bought Hercules and the new lots burn much cleaner than in the past. It would be a mistake to dismiss it. Red Dot has won more championships than all the other cannister powders put together. Hodgdon’s Australian-made Clays has more or less similar reloading characteristics and burns very clean. You might also consider IMR’s 700X, another old standard that is tried and true. Winchester’s WST Super Target is a Ball process powder. It has fine grains and meters well, but none of the Ball process powders are known for being particularly clean burning. I really wouldn’t worry about it. Clean burn is a much over rated attribute. I shoot a gas gun and noted absolutely no functional difference between Red Dot and Clays. None at all. I’m not the world’s most conscientious cleaner either.

The reason that the fast powders like Red Dot and 700X have been so popular is that they are very economical. You quite often use less grains of powder to achieve a given velocity with your selected components. For example, many recipes will call for 18.0 grains of Red Dot, whereas the same components would call for 19.0 or even 20.0 grains of WST to reach the same velocity. Not always, but often. This means that you sometimes need 10% more of the slower powder. If the price on both the WST and Red Dot is $120 for 8#, that means that the real comparative price of the WST is $132 vs $120 for the Red Dot. The Red Dot is cheaper to use and that’s one of the major attractions of reloading, isn’t it. Of course, the real difference is less per box, but it seems so much more when you buy that 8# jug.

The economics is the same when you go to a slower powder, like from Red Dot to Green Dot or Clays to International Clays. You need more grains of the slower powder to equal the same performance, so it ends up costing more. I’m not saying that it’s a bad decision to go with a slower powder, depending on what you want to do. Many people feel slower powders give tighter core densities. I’m just saying that it is going to cost you some more money to do it. Nothing’s free.

When you say you have no “charts” for Winchester powders, are you referring to bushing charts? As to which Texan bushing throws how much Winchester WST, I’d really be careful if you are just working off a chart. I highly recommend that you get a powder scale and weigh your charges even if you do manage to find a bushing chart. I never trust those charts. When I’m setting up a machine I always, always weigh what is actually being thrown. Bushings are very often approximations, not exact amounts.

Remember too, that any gravity feed powder drop is going to vary a bit. I use a powder baffle between my powder bottle and the bar to, in theory, even things out. Frankly, I get about 1/2 grain variance with or without the powder baffle. I try to keep my powder bottle between 2/3 and 1/3 full to even things out, but I still get that 1/2 grain variance from time to time. Yes, I have noticed a bit less variance with the smaller grained Winchester Ball powders than with the larger grained Red Dot, Clays and 700X, but some variance is still there. Fortuntely, I get very little variance when I reload pistol cartridges on my Dillon 550 using the fine grained Bullseye. A 1/2 grain can make a big difference in a 3.5 grain pistol load! It’s usually not the end of the world on a conservative 18.0 grain shotgun load.

That’s why it’s always best to leave yourself a little room for a slight error. I make an effort never to load absolute max pressures. That said, I do try to keep my reloads at relatively high published recipe pressures, rather than the lowest ones. There are arguments both ways. The low pressure argument, for a given velocity, is that you get less pellet deformation with low pressure shells and thus a tighter pattern with fewer distorted pellet flyers. A second argument for low pressure is that some feel that the kick is more of a shove than a punch. I’m not at all sure about the latter statement as I’ve experimented with recoil and slow shells a bit and heard it both ways from my test subjects. As to slow burn powders giving tighter patterns, I have seen this some of the time, but not enough to draw any absolute conclusions. There are so many other variables. I usually like to do my choking with my chokes, not my shell, but I do recognize that slow powders have some potential here.

Since I shoot mostly gas guns, I like to keep the pressures towards the upper range of normal. These are all still listed and approved loads. Higher pressures insure more consistent powder burn under all weather conditions. In my experience, they also provide a slightly more reliable gas pulse to operate the gas guns. I’ve also found that they have a better chance of insuring full obturation of a less than perfect wad skirt. As to recoil, as I said above, I’ve never shown anything conclusive using fast and slow powders with a test group. When I tested, three of my test shooters picked the fast powder Red Dot load as kicking less, three picked the slow powder Unique load as softer. Anyway, shooting a gas gun I don’t really care. Also, as mentioned above, the fast powders are more economical to use, though the real difference is small.

There it is. More than you ever wanted to know and definitely more than I know. Boots off. Beer open.

Best regards,

Bruce Buck
The Technoid writing for Shotgun Report, LLC
(Often in error. Never in doubt.)

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