There may be no true universal powder when it comes to reloading, but here are a few types that can keep you shooting when supplies are tight.
Of the numerous questions I’m asked by new reloaders, the choice of powder ranks among the most often repeated. “Is there one powder I can use for all my cartridges?” Sadly, the answer is no, but there are several powders that can cover an awful lot of ground. Considering that our supply of reloading components is drying up fast, a universal powder—much like a universal cartridge—can be the wise choice.
“Universal” can be a highly subjective term, and for the reloader, it’ll depend highly on the choice of cartridges you’re loading for. For more than a few years, my centerfire rifles consisted of a .22-250 Remington for varmints, a .308 Winchester and .300 Winchester Magnum for medium game, and a .375 Holland & Holland for the big stuff.
I searched for a powder that’d effectively fuel all four cartridges, and there are a few which will check all the boxes. I settled on IMR4064, for two reasons: One, it worked in all four cases, but two, because I had it on hand at the time. Good ol’ IMR4064 is a medium-burning powder, long popular in the .308 Winchester—where I first used it—and rather flexible. It’s a good choice in the .22-250, though Hodgdon’s H380 is probably the powder best-suited for that case. H380 would probably have been an equally universal powder, as it’ll work just as well as IMR4064 in the .300 Winchester Magnum, though both powders work best in the .300 with lighter bullets.
I did, however, find reliable data for IMR4064 in an older Sierra manual for bullets all the way up to 220 grains for the belted cartridge; though I’ll be the first to admit that slower burning powders like IMR4350, H4831SC, Reloder 19 and Reloder 22 are much better performers in that cartridge. The .375 H&H Magnum runs well on medium to moderately slow powders—my favorite loads use IMR4350—but IMR4064 is a solid candidate even if at the faster end of the spectrum.
For that particular quartet, Alliant’s Reloder 15 or Hodgdon’s Varget would’ve worked just as well. The .308 Winchester needs the fastest-burning powders, and if we take that cartridge out of the mix, we could easily bump up to Hodgdon 414. Take the .300 Winchester Magnum out of the mix, and IMR4064, Varget and RL-15 are perfect choices. If the choice of cartridges is widened much further, say to include the .300 RUM or the 7 STW, or the .218 Bee or .22 Hornet, and you may be looking for two entirely different powders on opposite ends of the burn rate spectrum.
Looking at Alliant’s Reloder 15—with a burn rate ever-so-slightly slower than IMR4064—you’ll find a powder that can solve more than a few problems, to the point where it’s never far from reach. I’ve used it in the .30-30 Winchester, .308 Winchester, 7×57 Mauser (.275 Rigby), .243 Winchester, .223 Remington and .30-06 Springfield. It’s my go-to powder (probably as a result of the excellent data I’ve found in the Woodleigh Reloading Manual) for the .404 Jeffery, .470 Nitro Express and .505 Gibbs, as it produces the velocities I’m after, at a significant reduction in felt recoil. That’s not to say that IMR 4064 or 4166 wouldn’t do the same; I had the Woodleigh data and because of the performance I never looked elsewhere, though I should develop a Plan B.
Universal Powder For Handguns
Handgun cartridges are much more forgiving. Looking at some of the most popular choices for defensive handguns—I’ll throw the 9mm Luger, .38 Special, .357 Magnum, .40 S&W and .45 ACP in the mix—and you’ll see several powders that’ll fuel them all very nicely. I like TiteGroup from Hodgdon, as it’s not only a universal choice, but it also generates healthy velocities with very little powder, making a pound of powder go an awful long way. But TiteGroup isn’t the only choice; Hodgdon’s CFE Pistol, the aptly named Universal and HP-38 will also work well in all five of these cartridges.
For the faster handgun cartridges, like the .44 Remington Magnum, .41 Remington Magnum and .454 Casull, powders like Hodgdon’s H110 and Alliant 2400 certainly shine, helping to wring the most velocity out of the bigger cases. But, in a pinch (which we are definitely in), all three of these can be fed Hodgdon’s TiteGroup—though at the cost of significantly lower velocities. But there are times where ammunition at lower velocities is better than no ammunition at all.
Trail Boss is another powder with a whole bunch of applications. It can, again at the price of low velocities, function in all sorts of cases, from the smaller handgun cases all the way up to the .416 Rigby and .458 Winchester Magnum. In many applications, like the rifle cases I’ve mentioned, Trail Boss is a wonderful tool to create low-velocity ammunition to train shooters who are unaccustomed to the severe recoil.
I’m sure the ammunition/component drought will pass, and we’ll all be able to buy what factory ammunition and reloading components we want. When that happens, let’s stock up on the items we need, but also take the time and make the effort to build a library of suitable loads for each of the guns, so we’re not married to that one combination.
Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in the April 2021 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.
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