Reloading: Top Handgun Powders

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Reloading: Top Handgun Powders
Photo: Massaro Media Group.

We look at the top multitasking handgun powders that are ideally suited for fueling revolvers and pistols.

Reloading handgun cartridges has long been an economical means of creating both practice ammunition and hunting loads. Yes, our component prices have skyrocketed, but so has the price of loaded ammunition. There are still some ways to save money, primarily by casting your own bullets … and choosing a universal handgun powder that can serve several different handgun cartridges.

I’d feel pretty comfortable saying that the .38 S&W Special, .357 Remington Magnum, 9mm Luger, .44 Remington Magnum and .45 ACP head the list of most popular centerfire handgun cartridges, and these vary quite differently in case capacity, bullet weight and velocities. Despite their differences, just a couple of powders can handle the lot of them, and a few are very economical, giving good performance with a light charge weight.

Alliant Unique

Alliant’s Unique has been around since the late 19th century, and it’s been a stellar performer in both shotshells and handgun cartridges alike. Unique is a double-based flake powder, which remains a staple on the bench of anyone reloading pistol cartridges. I’ve long loved this powder in low-velocity loads in my .45 Colt, and it has worked well with both practice loads and higher velocity loads with lighter bullets in my .38 Special.

Alliant’s Unique is more than suitable for standard pistol cartridges, and it can fuel many of the cowboy action loads in larger cases.

The thing about Unique is that, despite its reputation for burning a bit on the dirty side, and though it might not generate top velocities in the magnum cartridges, it sure is handy for practice loads and cast bullet loads. For example, 8.0 grains of Unique under a 255-grain lead bullet in the .45 Colt gives 800 fps from my gun, making a fun load for the range. If you haven’t tried Unique, it’s high time you do so—it will quickly become a good friend.

Hodgdon Titegroup

Hodgdon’s Titegroup has a catchphrase printed right on the label: A little goes a long way. The very name alludes to consistent accuracy and precision, and the spherical grain structure allows it to work well in a powder measure. It burns clean, and charge weights are definitely on the lower side.

Titegroup’s claim to fame is that “a little goes a long way,” and that is absolutely true. Photo: Massaro Media Group.

Titegroup is suitable for all but the largest cases, and it has worked well for me over the years in my .38 Special snubby, and in my .45 ACP. Titegroup is a name that you will see on many load data sheets, for cartridges ranging from .25 ACP to .38 Special, to .44 Special to .45 ACP. While it’s not a powder well-suited to magnum handgun cartridges, Titegroup has such a wide variety of applications that it’s safe to say it’ll find a place in your reloading room.

Hodgdon H110

Hodgdon’s H110 is the darling of the magnum handgun cartridge world. Whether .41 Magnum, .44 Magnum, .357 Magnum, .454 Casull or .475 Linebaugh, Hodgdon’s H110 will get the job done … and it will do that job well. Looking across the various loading manuals, you’ll find a suitable load for H110 for any of the speedy cases, including the .460 S&W and .500 S&W. It’s often responsible for the highest velocities in any given data set among the magnum cases, and I’ve found it to deliver uniform velocities and excellent accuracy. It’s also a great choice when loading these cartridges in a rifle or carbine.

Ramshot ZIP

Ramshot’s ZIP is another do-all pistol powder, which generates good velocities and accuracy from low charge weights. Burning a bit too fast for the magnum-class cartridges, it’s a sound choice for the 9mm Luger with all bullet weights, and my Sig Sauer 1911 .45 ACP simply loves 5.6 grains of this powder with a good 230-grain projectile. A double-based flake powder, ZIP meters very well and it’s easy on the wallet. I find myself reaching for this powder quite often.

Ramshot’s ZIP deserves to be more popular than it is. The propellant gives great results and is suitable for many different cartridges. Photo: Massaro Media Group.

Accurate 5744

Accurate 5744 is sure to please those who enjoy the big-bore handgun cartridges, and it also doubles as a great choice for very light loads in the big-bore rifle cartridges. In fact, if you want to introduce a recoil-sensitive shooter to the .375 H&H or .416 Rigby without causing a flinch, look no further than 5744. It also does very well in the larger Sharps-style cartridges, like the .45-70, .45-90, .45-110 and .50-90. In the pistol cartridges, it attains good velocities in the .44 Remington Magnum, .45 Colt, .454 Casull and .460 S&W Magnum, as well as the big .500 Linebaugh and .500 S&W Magnum. If you enjoy big “buffalo cartridges” to pair with your magnum handguns, Accurate’s 5744 might be the best way to cover both bases.

Accurate’s 5744 is great for larger pistol cases, as well as big-bore rifle cartridges, such as the .45-70 Government. Photo: Massaro Media Group.

Alliant Bullseye

Alliant’s Bullseye is another of those universally accepted pistol powders; in fact, all of the reloaders older than me, who imparted their wisdom upon me at a young age, had a few pounds of Bullseye hanging around. Like Unique and ZIP, Bullseye is a perfect choice for almost all standard-class cartridges, from .25 Auto, up through the .38 Special and .44 Special, to the “cowboy loads” for the .45 Colt.

Note that Bullseye can be a bit “clingy” in a powder thrower, as the grain structure tends to adhere to the sides of plastic powder hoppers, but I’ve always had very uniform results when loading Bullseye for target loads in the .38 Special, .45 ACP or .44-40 Winchester. Bullseye seems to like to work with cast bullets. It’s been around since 1913, and though it does tend to burn dirty, I don’t see it going away anytime soon.

Alliant 2400

Good old 2400 powder from Alliant has a wide number of applications among the magnum pistol cartridges; if you shoot .357 Magnum and/or .44 Magnum, you’d be doing yourself a favor by grabbing a bunch of 2400. It’s capable of delivering lower velocity loads without becoming erratic, yet it will come close to the velocities attained by Hodgdon’s H110. If you reload for your .410-bore, 2400 powder is the go-to choice, and it works very well in the .22 Hornet and .218 Bee also.

In these days of product unavailability, it’s good to have a powder supply that has several applications within your list of cartridges. There are other powders that fit this bill—Winchester 231, Accurate’s No. 5 and No. 9, and more—so it makes perfect sense to take a look at your lineup and find a powder or two that has universal appeal.

Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in the August 2024 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.

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