Man does not live by long-guns alone. We know that many of our readers own .45 ACP handguns and load for this extremely accurate “classic” cartridge. When selecting a powder for the .45 ACP, there are many good options. All the major powder manufacturers make propellants with appropriate density and burn rate characteristics for the .45 ACP. Popular choices include: AA #5 (Accurate Powder); Bullseye (Alliant); Clays, HP-38, and Titegroup (Hodgdon); VV N310 and N320 (Vihtavuori); and WW 231 and WST (Winchester). We’ve tried all those powders in a variety of .45 ACP handguns. When we consider all the factors that make for a good pistol powder, we think N320 is one of the best available propellants for the .45 ACP. Vihtavuori N320 is very accurate, it meters well, and it burns clean, with minimal smoke and flash. If you haven’t tried VV N320 yet, you should.
Pros and Cons of Different Powders for the .45 ACP
This Editor has personally tried out eight or more different powders for the .45 ACP. Bullseye works but it is very dirty (both smoke out the barrel and sooty powder fouling on case). Though it otherwise burns clean, Titegroup leaves a singular (and nasty) high-temp flame streak on your brass that is hard to remove. AA #5 is a good choice for progressive press newbies as you use more powder so a double charge will (usually) be obvious. I like AA #5 but N320 was more accurate. Clays burns clean but some powder measures struggle with flake powders like this. WW 231 offered excellent accuracy and metered well, but it kicked out sparks with little pieces of debris that would hit me in the face. Who wants that?
I personally tried all the powders listed above with lead, plated, and jacketed bullets. After testing for accuracy, consistency, and ease of metering, I selected VV N320 as the best overall performer.
No powder tested was more accurate (WW 231 was equally accurate).
Meters very well in all kinds of powder measures.
Produces very little smoke from muzzle.
Does not put nasty burn streak on brass like Tite-Group does.
Low Flash — you don’t get particles and sparks flying out like WW 231.
Cases come out from gun very clean — so you can tumble less often.
Forum member and gunsmith Michael Ezell agrees that N320 is a good choice for the .45 ACP. Mike has also found that WW 231, while accurate, produces sparks and a large flash. Mike writes: “I first started using N320 after my first night shoot, while shooting IDPA/IPSC matches. It was astonishing how much of a fireball the WW 231 created. I was literally blinded by the flash while trying to shoot a match. As you can imagine, that didn’t work out very well. I went from WW 231 to N320 and never looked back…and the flash from it was a fraction of what a kid’s sparkler would give off. I have nothing but good things to say about [N320] after using both. Night shoots are a real eye-opener! When it comes to a personal protection… there is, statistically, a very high chance that if you ever have to use a gun to protect yourself or your family, it’ll be in the darkness[.] Being blinded by muzzle flash (and deafened by the noise) are things that should be considered, IMO.”
This Editor owns a full-size, all-stainless S&W 1911. After trying numerous powders, I found VV N320 delivered the best combination of accuracy, easy metering, consistency, clean burning qualities, and low muzzle flash. My gun has proven exceptionally accurate using N320 with bullets from 180 grains to 230 grains — it will shoot as accurately as some expensive customs I’ve tried. At right is 5-round group I shot offhand at 10 yards with my 5″ S&W 1911. The bullet hole edges are sharp because I was using semi-wad-cutters. Rounds were loaded with Vihtavuori N320 and 200-grain SWCs from Precision Bullets in Texas.
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Brownells now offers a full line of name-brand reloading equipment and supplies — all backed by Brownells unconditional lifetime guarantee. The new Brownells reloading product line features Dies, Presses, and Tools from RCBS, Lee Precision, Lyman, Redding, Sinclair International, and many more. Along with reloading tools and equipment, Brownells will offer reloading components (Brass, Bullets, Primers, Powder, etc.) from major manufacturers including Hornady, Nosler, Sierra, Hodgdon, Remington, Winchester, and others.
To kick off the launch of its new Reloading product line, Brownells is running a limited-time promotion. For orders containing reloading products, customers can receive a $10 discount on orders totaling more than $99, a $20 discount on orders totaling more than $199, or a $30 discount on orders totaling more than $299. Don’t delay. These special discounts are valid Thursday, August 16, 2012 through Monday, August 20, 2012. Use product codes DRR ($99+), DRS ($199+), or DRT ($299+) during check-out.
“We are excited to launch our new reloading category,” said Pete Brownell, President/CEO of Brownells. “Much like the addition of our ammunition line last year, the ‘You asked, we listened’ philosophy played a major part in our decision. We found that many of our customers enjoy reloading and find it to be a cost saver, so we’re happy to provide them with the supplies they want.”
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Vihtavuori has updated the loading information for a number of popular rifle chamberings. You can find the updated reloading data online in the Vihtavuori Reloading database. The updated online information supplements the Vihtavuori Reloading Guide (10th Edition) print version (and its PDF version). The online Reloading Database has been revised with updated and enhanced loading data (including some new powder options) for the following cartridges:
.300 Win Mag
.338 Lapua Magnum
NOTE: Vihtavuori promises that: “The updated PDF for the downloads section and the printed version of the guide will be available at the end of the year 2012″.
Story Tip by EdLongrange. We welcome reader submissions.
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Bryan at Powder Valley Inc. (PVI) let us know that Powder Valley is offering a “Freedom Special” on July 4th. You get free shipping (exclusive of hazmat and insurance) for online orders (over $150) placed on July 4th. Bryan explains: “In celebration of Independence Day and the wonderful men and women who have fought for our great nation Powder Valley is offering free freight (does not include hazmat and insurance) on all orders over $150.00.”
IMPORTANT: To qualify, Orders must be placed ONLINE between 12:01 AM and 11:59 PM ET on July 4, 2012.. Don’t forget that, where required, hazmat fees and insurance costs will still charged with shipments.
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Eurenco (European Energetics Corporation) is a French company owned by the SNPE Group. Eurenco specializes in production of propellants and explosives. Eurenco currently owns and operates five modern production plants in Belgium (Clermont), Finland (Vihtavuori), France (Bergerac, Sorgues) and Sweden (Bofors AB, Karlskoga). Readers are doubtless familiar with Vihtavuori powders, which are marketed and distributed by the Nammo Lapua group based in Finland. Though Nammo Lapua distributes Vihtavuori powder, Eurenco actually owns the Vihtavuori factory located in Vihtavuori, Finland.
Eurenco Looks for Buyer for Vihtavuori Plant
On June 18, Eurenco stated that it is “considering” selling the Vihtavuori Ltd. production facility to a third party. This factory currently employs 100 workers, and has annual revenues of $15 million Euros.
Eurenco hopes to sell the plant to a Finnish company, and we are informed that at least one investment group from Finland is interested. Eurenco revealed no immediate plans to shut the facility or to curtail production while Eurenco seeks a buyer. However, Eurenco said that the primary reason for selling the plant was reduced military demand for Vihtavuori products in recent years.
No Change in Vihtavuori Powder Distribution in USA
We discussed the potential Vihtavuori factory sale with Adam Braverman, U.S. representative for Nammo Lapua. Adam first noted that Nammo Lapua is NOT a potential buyer for the plant: “That’s not on the table.” But Adam emphasized that he forsees no changes to the current Vihtavuori distribution scheme: “Vihtavuori powder buyers should expect ‘business as usual’. We do not forsee any price or product availablity changes in the short term. There is plenty of powder inventory available, so we can fill all existing demands through the end of 2012.” While Eurenco looks for a new owner of the Vihtavuori plant, there will be no changes to the current system of distribution of Vihtavuori powders in the USA. Adam said: “There is plenty of powder in the European warehouses, and Nammo Lapua will continue to export Vihtavuori propellants to the USA importers (Hodgdon and Kaltron) who will distribute them to our retailers. We do not anticipate any supply shortages.”
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Successful long-range shooters know that careful weighing of powder charges helps them achieve superior long-range accuracy. By maintaining powder charges within very narrow weight tolerances, hand-loaders can produce ammo with more consistent muzzle velocities from shot to shot. Low Extreme Spread (ES) and Standard Deviation (SD) numbers translate directly to reduced vertical dispersion at very long ranges (although velocity is not the only contributing factor to vertical spread). In pursuit of load weight uniformity, many of our top long-range aces have invested in the latest, high-tech magnetic force restoration (MFR) digital scales (such as the Sartorius GD503). These laboratory-grade MFR scales are extremely stable (with minimal drift) and they can reliably measure to .005 grain, that is five thousandths of a grain. That is less than the weight of one kernel of typical extruded powder. For example, with Varget, there are three to four kernels in one-tenth of one grain of Varget. That means each kernel weighs .025 to .035 grains.
With the capability of modern modern MFR scales to measure less than one-hundreth of a grain, we have a new frontier in precision reloading. You’ll note, in the preceding paragraph, we said that one-tenth of one grain of Varget is three or four kernels. Well, “which is it?” you might ask. The answer is that it might be three, or it might be four, depending on the size of the individual kernels. That’s a disturbing uncertainty that we simply had to accept… until now.
Powder Kernel Uniforming — A Breakthrough
We now have the tools and the methodology to resolve the inherent uncertainty in individual kernel weight. Using the new technique of powder kernel uniforming, first pioneered by German Salazar, we can now, for the first time, ensure that every kernel of powder that goes into a cartridge is virtually the same weight — the same, in fact, within 0.01 grain (one-hundredth of a grain) TOTAL spread.
For a reloader looking to achieve “perfect” load weight uniformity, powder kernel uniforming offers the ultimate control over powder weight. The method we devised to uniform individual kernels consists of kernel core-drilling. The propellant we chose for this kernel-uniforming test was a new prototype (not yet commercially available) EuroChemie RL “X” propellant. This was chosen because it offered relatively large, can-shaped kernels that could be drilled relatively easily.
Core-Drilling Kernels with Micro Drill-Bits
The center of each kernel was bored out with a micro-drill. But here’s the key. Before drilling, we first weighed each kernel. Then we selected a micro drill bit of appropriate diameter to achieve uniform weights. With the heavier kernels (in the 0.04 gr range) we used a larger micro-bit. With the lighter kernels (in the 0.02 range), we selected a smaller diameter micro-bit that removed less material from the center of the kernel. Obviously, many kernels were ruined while we perfected the drilling process. It required great patience and a very steady hand. But after a few dozen hours of drilling, we had a batch of uniformed kernels that were all within plus or minus .005 grains (.01 grain ES). Now we were ready to do some testing.
Proof That It Works
All this time-consuming work to drill holes in individual kernels would be pointless, of course, if it did not produce meaningful accuracy gains. The proof, as they say, is “on the target”. We were curious to see if our uniformed powder kernels would out-perform unmodified kernels, so we did some field testing. We prepared two batches of 6mmBR ammo in Lapua brass, with full case prep, and bullet base to ogive sorting (we wanted to eliminate as many variables as possible). Bullets were Lapua 105gr Scenar Ls, which proved to be some of the most consistent projectiles we’ve ever measured.
One set of rounds was loaded with a carefully-weighed charge of unmodified kernels. Case to case charge weight was held to .05 grain (half a tenth uniformity). Then we prepared a second batch of cartridges with uniformed kernels, using the exact same charge weight, also held to .05 grain (half a tenth) tolerances. We took these rounds to the range, and did a “round-robin” test at 800 yards, shooting one of each type in sequence (i.e. one uniformed on right, then one non-uniformed on left) until we had two 10-round groups. The test was done with a rail gun fitted with a 1:8″ twist, 28″ Krieger 0.236″ land barrel. The uniformed-kernel ammo was shot at the right diamond, while the non-uniformed rounds were shot at the left diamond. Conditions were good, so we simply “held center” on every shot. No attempt was made to correct for wind as our primary concern was vertical dispersion.
Ammo with Uniformed Kernels Shows Significantly Less Vertical Dispersion at Long Range
As you can see, the uniformed-kernel ammo out-performed the non-uniformed ammo. The difference is quite clear. The rounds with non-uniformed kernels (on the left) produced a 10-shot group with roughly 3.0 inches of vertical dispersion. On the right, our ammo with uniformed kernels produced a group with 9 of 10 shots showing roughly 1.75 inches of vertical dispersion (we did have one high flier among the uniformed-kernel rounds). Additionally, we had a lower 10-shot ES and SD with the uniformed-kernel ammo. We repeated this test two more times and the results were similar. The targets speak for themselves. If you are looking for ultimate long-range accuracy, powder kernel uniforming is a “new frontier” you may wish to explore. With all other factors held constant, we were able to reduce vertical dispersion by more than an inch at 800 yards by drill-uniforming our NitroChemie powder. That’s huge in the long-range game.
Yes, the kernel-uniforming process is incredibly time-consuming and tedious, and a set of micro-drills is not cheap. We also freely acknowledge that the process may be much less productive with narrow-kernel propellants that are hard to drill. (Also EuroChemie powders are preferred because the burn rate controlling compounds are impregnated throughout the entire kernel — not just the outside.) But the potential for significant accuracy gains is there. We proved that.
Is it worth the huge investment of time to drill your powder kernels? That’s a question each reader must ask himself. But if you know the competitor on the next bench over has uniformed his kernels, can you afford not to do the same? Sometimes the extra effort is worth it, just for the peace of mind you get knowing you’ve done everything possible to achieve “ultimate accuracy”.
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Here’s a tip that can help you score higher at matches and get more predictable results when weighing loads with an electronic scale. Kelly Bachand, a top prone shooter and electrical engineering major at the Univ. of Washington, tells us that all digital scales can drift. Therefore Kelly recommends re-calibrating electronic scales often. In addition — and this is key — Kelly recommends that you shoot the ammo in the exact order in which it was loaded. Arrange your loaded ammo in a box in the order of loading and shoot it first-loaded to last-loaded. (Or, if you prefer, shoot it last-loaded to first-loaded.) The important thing is to maintain the order and not mix everything up. That way, if your scale drifts, the effect of drift on charge weight will be incremental from one loaded round to the next, so point of impact change should be negligible. Conversely, if you shoot your last-loaded round right after your first-loaded round, the effect of scale drift is at its maximum, so powder charge varience is maximized. And that can produce a different point of impact (POI) on the target.
Tips on Loading with Electronic Scales by Kelly Bachand
If you use a digital scale to measure powder charges, recalibrate the scale often. I like to do this about every 25 rounds or so. Additionally, most electronic scales rely on eddy currents for their precision. Eddy currents are easily disrupted by static electricity so keep a cloth or ground strap nearby to remove any static currents should the scale start acting up; I usually just use a fabric softener sheet that has gone through the dryer once.
Shoot Ammo in Order of Loading
I shoot my rounds in the same order or reverse order as I load them. If the charge weight varies due to scale drift during use, the difference will be gradual if I shoot in the same order as production (or reverse order). I should be able to adjust for the slight varience in charge weight without having any wildly high or low shots (see the charts below for a graphical demonstration). I usually load my ammunition just 100 rounds at a time. Give yourself plenty of time and remember that you will make your best ammunition when you are fully awake and alert.
This graph demonstrates the effect a .01% (that’s 1/100th of 1 percent) difference in scale measurement would have over the course of 100 rounds assuming the desired load is somewhere between 46 and 47 grains. The final round made would have almost 1% less (or more) powder than the first, that’s almost an 0.5 grain difference from the first. If shot back to back, these rounds will invariably have different points of impact on the target.
This graph demonstrates the same .01% difference in scale measurement but this time with a recalibration every 25 rounds. By recalibrating the scale every 25 rounds the furthest a weighed charge ever gets from the original is less than 0.25%. Again if the charge being weighed is between 46 and 47 grains then the 26th round made would vary from the 1st by .12 grains. Even that small difference would likely show on target.
Either way it is important to note that if the bullets are shot in the same (or reverse) order as they are made, the biggest difference from bullet to bullet in this example is less than .01 grains.
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Here’s a good deal for you 50 BMG shooters. Wideners.com has NEW 8-lb jugs of military ball (spherical) powders on sale for just $39.00 per jug. That works out to just $4.88 per pound. Two types are offered at this price: WC867 and WC872. Both types are NEW never-loaded powders, not re-claimed or “pull-down” propellants. Wideners notes: “There is almost no difference between WC867 and WC872 powder and the same loading data is used for both. The slight differences will depend on the bullet used, the neck tension, whether you are shooting a bolt action or semi auto. Use loading data for AA8700, work loads up accordingly.”
While these powders are optimized for the 50 BMG, WC867 and WC872 can be used for other maxi-sized cartridges that require a very slow-burning propellent. To make this an even better deal, Widener’s will waive the Hazmat fee if you purchase six (6) 8-lb jugs: “Buy in Increments of 6 and we will pay the Hazardous Material Fee for you. That is 6, 12 or 18 Kegs etc.; if you buy less than 6, you will pay the Hazardous Materials Fees.” To order, visit Wideners.com or call 1-800-615-3006.
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A while back, Sinclair International’s Reloading Press Blog featured a “round-table” discussion of reloading techniques. Sinclair’s team of tech staffers were asked: “What do you feel is the one-most crucial step in precision reloading?”
Here are their responses (along with comments from our Editors):
Phil Hoham: “I feel that when working up a load do not go too high or too low in your powder charge. Stay away from “suggested loads” you hear at the range, or on the internet. Always be sure to use a published reloading manual that presents not only minimums and maximums, but also pressure, velocity, and a proper range of powders used. Do not get distracted in the reloading process, and remain focused at all times during each step involved.”
AccurateShooter.com: Some loads presented on the Internet are OK as a starting point, but it is absolutely critical to understand that pressure maximums will vary considerably from one rifle to another (of the same chambering). For example, one 6mmBR rifle shooting 105gr bullets can max out with 30.0 grains of Varget powder, while another rifle, with the same chamber dimensions, but a different barrel, could tolerate (and perform better) with half a grain more powder. You need to adjust recommended loads to your particular rifle and barrel.
Pete Petros: “This could be a very broad topic, but if I were to pick one, it would be making sure to pay close attention, and weigh each and every powder charge to ensure that each load is exact and consistent. This is important not only for accuracy, but also for safety reasons.”
AccurateShooter.com: If you’re shooting beyond 200 yards, it is critical to weigh your loads with an accurate scale. Loads that are uniform (within a few kernels) will exhibit lower Extreme Spread and Standard Deviation. And remember, even if you stick with the same powder, when you get a new powder lot, you may have to adjust your load quite a bit. For example, .308 Palma shooters have learned they may need to adjust Varget loads by up to a full grain from one lot of Varget to the next.
Ron Dague: “I feel that the most important step(s) in reloading for accuracy are in the initial case prep. Uniforming the primer pocket to the same depth to ensure consistency in primer seating is a crucial step. Additionally de-burring the flash holes, each in the same way to clean up and chamfer the inside is important. It ensures that the ignition from the primer is uniform and flows out in the same consistent pattern. Doing so will create uniform powder ignition and tighten up your velocity Extreme Spread.”
AccurateShooter.com: With some brands of brass, primer pocket uniforming and flash-hole deburring is useful. However, with the best Lapua, Norma, and RWS brass it may be unnecessary, or worse, counter-productive. So long as your Lapua brass flash-holes are not obstructed or smaller than spec, it may be best to leave them alone. This is particularly true with the small flash holes in 220 Russian, 6BR, and 6.5×47 cases. MOST of the flash-hole reaming tools on the market have cutting bits that vary in size because of manufacturing tolerances. We’ve found tools with an advertised diameter of .0625″ (1/16″) that actually cut an 0.068″ hole. In addition, we are wary of flash-hole deburring tools that cut an aggressive inside chamfer on the flash-holes. The reason is that it is very difficult to control the amount of chamfer precisely, even with tools that have a depth stop.
Rod Green: “I feel that bullet seating is the most important step. If you had focused on making sure all prior steps (case prep, powder charge, etc.) of the process have been carefully taken to ensure uniformity, bullet seating is the last step, and can mean all the difference in the world in terms of consistency. Making sure that the bullet is seated to the same depth each time, and time is taken to ensure that true aligned seating can make the load.”
Bob Blaine: “I agree with Rod. I strongly feel that consistent bullet seating depth is the most important step in creating the most accurate hand loads. I have seen the results in both my bench and long range rifles. Taking the time to ensure exactness in the seating process is by far, the number one most important step in my book.”
AccurateShooter.com: Agreed. When loading match ammo, after bullet seating, we check every loaded round for base of case to ogive length. If it varies by more than 3 thousandths, that round is segregated or we attempt to re-seat the bullet. We measure base of case to bullet ogive with a comparator mounted on one jaw of our calipers. You may have to pre-sort your bullets to hold the case-base to ogive measurement (of loaded rounds) within .003″.
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At SHOT Show, we had the chance to meet with German software engineer Hartmut Broemel, creator of QuickLOAD software. This software program, while not a substitute for conventional load manuals, allows shooters to evaluate a wide range of powders and bullets, comparing potential loads on the basis of predicted pressures, velocities, load density and projectile in-barrel time.
We took the opportunity, in the video below, to explain some of the fine points of QuickLOAD for our members. QuickLOAD, sold by Neconos.com, helps reloaders understand how changing variables can affect pressures and velocities. It can predict the effect of changes in ambient temperature, bullet seating depth, and barrel length.
In the video below we explain how to adjust the program for true case capacity, bullet seating into the lands, and other important factors. If you are a new QuickLOAD user, or are contemplating buying the $152.95 program, you should watch the video. The program isn’t perfect, but it can accelerate the load development process, and it can save you money by narrowing down the list of appropriate powders for your cartridge.
No other product currently available to serious reloaders offers as much predictive power as QuickLOAD, and you’ll find your money well spent just for the vast collection of data on bullets and cartridges. With a couple mouse-clicks you can instantly get the specifications of hundreds of bullets and cartridges. Likewise, in a matter of seconds, you can compare load density for a half-dozen powders, or compare the projected velocities of one cartridge versus another.
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Hodgdon Powder has introduced a new spherical (ball) powder called CFE™223. Hodgdon claims that this new powder “greatly deters copper fouling” compared to other propellants. Originally developed for U.S. rapid-fire military systems, CFE™223 incorporates a proprietary chemistry named “Copper Fouling Eraser”. Based on tests with extended shot strings, Hodgdon claims that, by using CFE™223, match shooters, varmint hunters, and AR shooters can maintain accuracy for longer periods, with less barrel-cleaning time.
Load Data Now Available Online for CFE™223
Reload data for CFE™223 is available for 27 different cartridges with 147 loads. It is suitable for loading in many popular chamberings including: .204 Ruger, .223 Rem, 22-250, 6mmBR, .243 Win, 6.5 Creedmoor, .260 Rem, 7mm-08, and .308 Win. Maximum velocities are obtained in the .204 Ruger, .223 Rem, 22-250, and .308 Win with load data found at Hodgdon’s Reloading Data Center. CFE™223 is a spherical (ball) powder, so it meters well. The new powder will be available in one- and eight-pound containers starting in January, 2012. For more info, call (913) 362-9455 or write to: Hodgdon Powder, 6231 Robinson, Shawnee Mission, KS 66202.
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Hodgdon® Powder Co. will release its 9th Annual Manual early next year. The 2012 Hodgdon Annual Manual features 100+ pages of rifle and pistol data with over 5,000 load recipes. The load data covers 30 Hodgdon, 19 IMR® and 10 Winchester® brand powders. New content this year includes: 300 AAC Blackout load data, and lead-free bullet recipes for 21 rifle cartridges. In addition, the new 2012 Manual spotlights Hodgdon’s new CFE™223 propellant. Tests of this new powder show that it can deter copper fouling in many cartridge types (“CFE” stand for “Copper Fouling Eraser”). The 2012 manual provides plenty of reloading recipes for the new CFE™223 — 147 loads for 27 cartridges.
Along with comprehensive load data, the 2012 manual offers seven authoritative articles by top gun and outdoor industry writers. One interesting article covers economical hand-loading with lead free “green” bullets. Both competitive shooters and hunters will find other articles of interest.
You’ll find the 2012 Hodgdon manual at newsstands and gun stores in early 2012, priced at $8.99. You can also order direct by visiting Hodgdon.com or calling (912) 362-9455. (Direct sales price is $11.99.)
Story tip by EdLongrange. We welcome reader submissions.
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