First article about choosing powders. There is another article coming on the same topic, covering different parts.
(1500 words)

I had been “gifted” a box of reloading supplies. This was a bunch of 30-30 bullets, some miscellaneous things, and 200+ .45 ACP cases. This sat on a shelf for years before my friend mentioned that one of her co-workers was selling his reloading press. I offered to buy it.

Today I know that I over paid. What got was a Lee Single stage press. Not enough for me to reload, but enough for me to at least get started. Along with all of those .45ACP cases was a set of dies for .45ACP. Maybe two sets. I know I have two sets of .45ACP dies now.

I decided that I was going to learn how to reload to make some range candy.

My history with guns started very late in life. I managed to sell a domain name for a boat load of money. That money went to numerous things. That included a 7.62×39, 7.62×51, 5.56×45, 9×19, and a .45ACP. Along with each of those, I purchased 2000 rounds of each caliber.

I was down to around 500 rounds of .45ACP and made the reloading plunge.

So there I am, with numerous tools and no idea how to use them. Since my press said “Lee” on it, I purchased the Lee reloading manual. I still have that book.

I read the section on how to reload twice and then went shopping for what I needed to complete my first round of reloading.

According to that book, I needed:

  • Bullets
  • Primer
  • Powder
  • Calibers
  • Powder measuring device

Do NOT use this list. It is incomplete, in my opinion.

The measuring device they recommended was a volumetric device. Little calibrated scoops. Each scope would measure out a fixed amount of powder, by volume.

The Lee people had taken many samples of different powders to find their density. Once they knew the density of a powder, they could translate a load given in grains into a volume in cubic centimeters. If a powder was consistent enough in density, and the safe charge could be made with one of their powder measure scoops, they would give that measure in their recipes.

They are so confident in this method that each(?) die set from Lee comes with a powder measure scoop that should work with some powders for that caliber. And they have that reloading information with their die.

As you can tell from this tale, I bought into this. The cost of the entire set of scoops was less than a scale.

Having decided I was going to reload this way, I had a set of powders that “worked” with this method. I went to my LGS and looked through all the powders they had until I found one that matched the list of powders I had recipes for. That happened to be Accurate #5.

I brought it home, primed 5 cases, put powder in 50 cases. Checked the powder level in all the cases, then seated the bullets in each case.

All the rounds worked. I had successfully reloaded 50 .45ACP cartridges!

Why did I choose that powder?

The simple answer is because my local store had that powder and those bullets, so that is what I got. Nothing more exciting than that. It was also a powder that could be used to reload 9×19.

There are seven and a half pages of recipes for .45ACP loads. This is an overwhelming number of choices for somebody new.

The Decision Tree

Pick the right bullet! Let’s assume you want range candy. You need to decide what range candy is, for you.

For me, that was simple, I looked at the boxes of the ammo I was currently shooting, “Federal American Eagle Ammunition 45 ACP 230 Grain Full Metal Jacket”. For personal defense rounds, I was using HydraShok 45 ACP 230 grain.

This sets my first criteria, I will be reloading 230 grain bullets.

At the time, I was still laboring under the idea that any self-defense round I carried needed to be a commercial round. There was no need to reload JHP or anything exotic like that.

This sets my second criteria, I will be reloading FMJ bullets.

These two decisions reduce my choices from 7.5 pages to just one page.

All I need is to pick a powder that a vendor has in stock, and I’m good to go.

Why So Many Powders?

Because we live in America! Oorah!

Seriously, it is because we have competition between different manufacturers as well as different criteria for the “right” powder.

The defining characteristic that we are concerned with is the “burn rate”. Smokeless powders fall into the category of “progressive burning powders”. That is to say, the powder burns grain by grain. Black Powder, on the other hand, burns all at once.

In addition, smokeless powders require a certain pressure to operate.

We’ve all been told that smokeless powers are more powerful than black powder. This is true. So why don’t we use smokeless powders in cannon?

The reason is that the pressure doesn’t build up enough in a cannon to get a rapid and efficient burn. So the powder just sizzles.

Let’s consider a hypothetical powder, the GFZ-SL. This powder was developed specifically for the 5.56×45 fired out of a 20-inch barrel with a muzzle velocity of 3100 ft/second.

The kinematic formula we use to determine the acceleration of a bullet is:

v 2 = v02 + 2 a s

v is the muzzle velocity (3100ft/sec). v0 is the initial velocity, which is zero. a is the acceleration. s is the barrel length (20 inches).

Solving for a we get:

With our given values, we find that a=2,882,942ft/s2

We want to know how long it takes for the bullet to fly down the barrel. That is 1.667ft=12at2 Solving for t and substitution our acceleration, we find that the bullet flight time is 1.075ms.

If we start with 22.1 grains of powder, that means we are burning 20,551.25gr/s.

If we were to use the same powder in a firearm with a 7in barrel, we are going to have slightly different results. Instead of 1.075ms, we now have an in barrel flight time of 0.646ms. In that time, we only burn 13.1grains of powder.

This means that we are burning that excess powder outside the barrel. This gives a larger muzzle flash as well as being significantly louder.

If we were tuning our cartridge to this barrel length, we would want to reduce the amount of powder used or to use a faster burning powder. Don’t do this on your own. This requires the proper equipment to make sure you do not go over pressure and grenade your firearm, or leave a bullet stuck in the barrel, so the next round causes your barrel to explode. Always follow the recommended loads from your reloading manuals.

How do I pick the right powder?

At least one of the reloading manuals gives a “best” rating. That is the powder which they found performed the best for their test barrel.

Your other source is the Internet. Yes, I know I’ve told you not to trust the Internet for reloading references. This is not that.

If you read on the Internet that 25.1grains of GFZ-SL is a great load for your AR-15, and they made a typographic error, or were running stupid hot loads, you might end up in the hospital or the morgue.

If, on the other hand, they say that IMR 4895 is a better powder for 5.56 than GFZ-SL they are not telling you the recipe, they are telling you their powder choice. It is your responsibility to find a recipe for that powder in your trusted sources.

During the great panic, I could not find IMR4895. I had done my first 30-30 Winchester rounds using nearly the last of my IMR4895, I needed something else. I found a powder by Hornady powder called “LEVERevolution”. They said it was good for 30-30 Winchester. I ordered a few pounds of it.

When it arrived, and I was ready to use it for reloading, I couldn’t find a recipe in my at hand reloading manual. Fortunately, for me, they printed the 30-30 Winchester recipe on the powder can. That was my trusted source for the recipe.

I now have three or four different powders that I will use for 5.56×45 rounds. I still have my go-to powder, IMR 4895, But I am not out of luck if there is no IMR 4895 to find.


There is another section coming about powders. Not tonight.

The short of powder selection is that you need to do your research. You have to have a good decision tree. You need to have multiple trusted sources for your recipes. Even then, you double-check.

I have an app I use for reloading. It is helpful when comparing the powders that are available with the caliber I want to reload.

Once I’ve picked a recipe within that app, I then make sure that the recipe is within the safe boundaries set forth by my reloading manuals.

Be safe.

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By awa

5 thoughts on “Reloading: Picking a Recipe – Part 7”
  1. Availability of powder and ease of use are also considerations. That’s why my first .308 loads used IMR 4166 and my current loads use Ramshot TAC. When I was starting reloading in March 2020 at the beginning of a supply shortage I went into the store with a short list of powders that the Hodgdon web site had recipes for. IMR 4166 was on the shelf, Varget was predictably not on the shelf. The other points are that it was a relatively new powder so Hodgdon was the only data source, it’s an extruded powder that doesn’t play well with volumetric powder droppers and being new it was low demand and even lower supply. So I located an available spherical rifle powder for easier metering with good data. Ramshot TAC was available and had lots of .308 and 5.56 loads.
    I happen to use recipes from the powder manufacturers for most of my loads, although the Lyman manual has similar loads. Lyman definitely notes a “best” powder for each cartridge and bullet combination.

  2. When it comes to powders-check all cases after powder goes in, then check them again.. quick story- my buddy Donnie has YEARS experience reloading. He was experimenting with 300 blackout rounds and Unique powder. He somehow got a double charge of Unique(ONLY 10 grains!) in one case. Result? Blew the mag out of magwell, bulged upper receiver and BROKE the bolt carrier..only TEN grains.. it can happen to anyone. Luckily he was not injured. Go slow!

  3. This jumped out at me: ” I was still laboring under the idea that any self-defense round I carried needed to be a commercial round.”
    There are, as with anything, as many opinions about this as there are… a…… errr…. buttholes.
    However, that is a good idea to continue laboring under. Read the books and columns out there by people who have spent time defending use of deadly force cases. If the prosecutor can point to your self loads, and make the claim that you were knowingly loading them to be more lethal, it will take time and money to defend against that.
    Do not get me wrong, it is a piece of cake to defend against, and I will never say to not load your own self defense rounds, but are you going to really get better performance from them compared to commercially available rounds? Plenty of good, reliable, and effective self defense rounds out there. No reason to load your own and potentially add a day or two to a self defense trial.

    1. We’re trying to standardize on Winchester Ranger-T for the household SD loads.
      The local PD doesn’t comment on what they use (or, I simply got the department jerk when I called and asked), but the day after the local range was closed for use for annual training, there were LOTS of empty Ranger-T boxes in the trash…
      Its performance also looks reasonable as per Lucky Gunner Labs … so there’s a nominally second objective source to point at as to why we chose it.

    2. Masaad Ayoob’s reasons for this are quite different. His argument is if there is a question of circumstance such as distance involved- commercial manufacturers would be able to provide exemplar rounds for ballistic testing.

Only one rule: Don't be a dick.

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