Is It Time to Rethink Your Pet Load?

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You needn’t be a slave to your pet load.

We all have our favorite recipes we follow to the letter. But with new components available, you might improve your pet load with some tinkering.

For a handloader, one of the beauties of a canister-grade powder is that it’s consistent (within reason) from decade to decade. Rifle or pistol, if the brand and type of powder, primer, and make and weight of bullet stay the same, the load should give consistent performance.

I know loaders who reach for a recipe they’d cooked up during the late Carter administration, put it all together and head to the range or woods just as happy as can be. And frankly, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a pet load if it fits the bill and performs in a manner you’re happy with.

But, as with any other aspect of the shooting industry, great pains have been taken to improve both powders and projectiles. For the first time in shooting history, we can—with great confidence—grab an affordable rifle off the shelf, screw a scope on it and, with factory-loaded ammunition, print MOA groups. In fact, this might be the “golden age” of affordable accuracy. So, the results we obtained years ago with older components might warrant a revision; or, at the very least, some of the new components might deserve an audition.

Irrefutable Results

My favorite, old .300 Winchester (a Winchester Model 70 Classic Stainless that shoots rather well) likes a 180-grain boat-tail bullet and 68½ grains of IMR 4350 with a Federal GM215M primer. Hornady’s InterLock, Sierra’s GameKing, Swift’s Scirocco II—all will print sub-MOA at 100 yards with that same formula. The extreme velocity spread on these bullets runs anywhere from 30 to 50 fps. And while that might not make a huge difference inside of 300 yards, it will on a target rifle that you’d want to stretch out to 1,000 yards.

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With the longer ogive bullets such as the Nosler AccuBond Long Range, this rifle shows a definite preference for IMR Enduron 4955. With bullets of 150 grains, and especially the mono-metal bullets of this weight, the rifle likes IMR Enduron 4451. I’m not sure why, but this gun likes the newer powder designs with different bullets.

When the author starts a new load, such as the .280 Ackley Improved he took to Namibia, he usually picks a new powder.
When the author starts a new load, such as the .280 Ackley Improved he took to Namibia, he usually picks a new powder.

I had a variety of load data for the .318 Westley Richards that was provided by the good folks at Woodleigh Bullets and tested in real rifles instead of universal receivers. However, the best results came from some data Nathan Chesney and I interpolated with the newer Reloder 16 from Alliant: It gave extreme velocity spreads in the single digits, and the velocity hit 2,475 fps with the 250-grain Woodleigh Weldcore. By contrast, many other powders were struggling to attain the 2,400 fps mark that the century-old formula called for. If Nate and I hadn’t been willing to experiment with a new powder, I’d have missed the sub-MOA accuracy and enhanced velocity this rifle delivers.

There are so many new powders and projectiles on the market that I’m sure there’s a “sleeper” somewhere in your gun safe; a rifle or pistol that has, up until the point at which you experiment with some new components, given only mediocre results. Some time at both benches could have you looking at that rifle or pistol in an entirely different light.

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New and Proven Winners

Am I insinuating that the old pet loads are somehow invalid or obsolete? Not at all, although things are most definitely changing. Some of the older powders are being discontinued. For instance, IMR 4320, which was the factory propellant for the early .308 Winchester ammunition, will be leaving us soon. It’s a shame, because I have quite a few loads for different cartridges based on using this powder.

Nevertheless, it’s not the end of the world if this powder or, speaking more broadly, any single powder were to be discontinued. Looking at a burn rate chart, powders have been added that are very close to—although possibly not interchangeable with—some of the older classics, but with more-uniform characteristics.

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” So saith “Ol’ Grumpy Pants” (my father), who still wears a sweatshirt from 1989 and is convinced that his old dot-matrix printer might come in handy someday. His mystical formula of a .308 Winchester with a 165-grain bullet over IMR 4064 has become the “song of his people,” in spite of the fact that I’ve shown him better accuracy with Hodgdon’s Varget and H380 or Alliant’s Reloder 15—and this is in his own rifle. He has redefined the concept of “stubborn” and simply likes his proven formula.

There was good data for the author’s .318 Westley Richards, but he decided to think outside the box for his ammo.
There was good data for the author’s .318 Westley Richards, but he decided to think outside the box for his ammo.

But I enjoy experimentation, and finding a new load—even with a proven bullet—with a new powder that might provide better accuracy or velocity is a labor of love.

Those new powder developments—IMR’s Enduron line, Hodgdon’s Extreme line, the newer powders from Accurate and Ramshot, as well as the new offerings from Alliant—have proved to be winners, and I can’t think of a single example of a new powder released in the last few years that hasn’t proved to be an improvement. They burn cleaner, offer copper-fouling remover and are much less sensitive to fluctuations in temperature. In addition, I’m seeing velocity spreads getting narrower all the time.

I’m not exactly abandoning my IMR4350 loads: I’ve found that the .30-06 Springfield, .300 Winchester Magnum and .375 H&H Magnum really like that powder (or any of the classics). However, because the IMR Enduron line has five offerings, and each is very close in burn rate to an existing classic powder, I’m slowly developing my own new data centered around those powders.


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Winchester’s new StaBALL 6.5 is a new powder that’s highly intriguing; it sits right in between the various 4350s (IMR, Hodgdon and Accurate) and IMR4831 and H4831SC. But because of the grain structure, it’ll take up less room in the case and meters wonderfully. It’s been showing an increase in velocity when compared with powders of similar burn rate, and it possesses all the copper-fouling reducers and temperature insensitivity the IMR Enduron and Hodgdon Extreme powders have.

Is Your Pet Load Obsolete?

While I could spend half the pages of this issue pontificating on this point, the recent developments in projectiles warrant some attention.

Component bullets, such as the Trophy Bonded Tip (newly available as a component) and Terminal Ascent from Federal for hunters; the A-TIP Match from Hornady for the long-range crowd; and the Gold Dot G2 for pistol fans are all fantastic designs that could re-inspire you.

We seek the best reloading gear—VLD chamfer tools, micrometer-adjustable crimp dies and seating dies, etc.—and, of course, we prepare our cases to be as uniform as possible. So, it stands to reason that we’d want the best projectiles and powders money can buy … or, at least, that we can afford.

Personally, I have those go-to pet loads that have never let me down, but I truly enjoy the new developments and using them in the field.

Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in the March 2020 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.

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