When you start looking for reloading powder, one of the first things you’ll probably notice is that there are three companies who distribute the majority of powder throughout the country. There are other distributors and brands operating under different names, but if you purchase powder, there is a very strong chance it came through one of the following three companies.
The history of Alliant Powder dates back to 1872, when they were known as Laflin & Rand. They later became the Hercules Powder Company, which was one of the most respected and trusted names in ammunition at the time. Their products included items for rifle, shotgun, and handgun cartridges as well as muzzleloading applications.
Today, Alliant provides many different powders that can be used for different purposes. They are a member of Vista Outdoor Inc., a global company that oversees numerous brands including Federal Premium Ammunition, Blazer, Bushnell, and Speer.
Hodgdon Powder is arguably the most successful powder company in the U.S.A. Founder Bruce Hodgdon purchased 50,000 pounds of surplus gunpowder after World War II and began selling to other gunowners who were interested in reloading.
The Hodgdon company now provides a wide range of smokeless and muzzleloading powders. Even the product that started the company, known as H4895, is still produced and sold. Based in Kansas, Hodgdon regularly creates innovative and technologically-advanced powders that meet the needs of many different shooters and reloaders.
Focusing primarily on powders for outdoor sports, especially big-game hunting, Western Powders is a brand that provides excellent products as well as reloading data, shooting accessories, and gun care supplies. Based out of Montana, it has been a leading powder distributor since 1972.
Their powder brands include Ramshot, which offers a full range of powders for hunting and marksmanship, Accurate, which is focused on shooting precision, and Blackhorn 209, which creates low-residue powder for muzzleloading.
When selecting a powder, you should take into consideration load density. Density is how much space will be left for air when the powder is poured into the cartridge. There needs to be sufficient room for the explosion to perform properly, and most factory powders will have a listed density somewhere between 80 and 90%.
It is generally recommended that anyone reloading should not try to exceed 95% load density because the primers need room to flame through the powder, which will result in more consistent pressure and bullet velocity.
It is also recommended that density should not go below 80%. This is because low load density causes the point of peak pressure to move towards the muzzle and velocity will drop. Low load density can also allow the powder to shift in the cartridge, causing inconsistent pressures.
In the end, gunpowder density will factor into how much powder should be used for a given load. It is an important characteristic of the gunpowder and should be considered whenever you are reloading ammunition for any purpose. Density will impact the performance and is heavily influenced by the shape of the granules.
Reloading powder comes with various properties that affect how the cartridge will perform. While there are other, more detailed differences, the basic variables that will change from product to product, the ones that you need to become most familiar with, are shape, density, and burn rate. If you understand these three properties, you have the foundation for basic powder knowledge.
Basic Smokeless Powder Shapes and Metering
An essential characteristic that will change in powders is the shape of the grains. The shape is on a tiny level that you can only see with a microscope, but it makes a major impact on how a powder will deliver energy to the bullet.
What Is Powder Metering?
The shape has a direct impact on “metering,” which is a term for how consistently the powder measures. If someone says a powder “meters well,” it means it can be measured with greater precision.
Ball powder consists of tiny spheres that can generally be manufactured more rapidly, often reducing the cost of the final product. It meters better, resulting in more accurate loads and can have a greater shelf life compared to other powders. Many ball powders will burn at lower temperatures, which should extend the life of a barrel. Ball powder burns at about 3,200 to 3,300 Fahrenheit, while other powders only reach a max of about 3,400 Fahrenheit. The difference in temperature might seem minimal but it can make a difference over thousands of shots.
Flattened Ball Powder
This is a product that is very similar to typical ball powder, but has a flattened, oval shape, similar to a ball of bread dough. This powder is known to deliver similar results as spherical ball powder. To create this shape, ball powder is run through rollers, resulting in the flattened ball product. Flattened powder is generally preferred in shotgun shells. This is because the shape minimizes powder movement in the shell, keeping it from moving into compressible areas like the back of the wad.
This type of powder has granules that are shaped like tiny discs. They are essentially powder that is extended into a tube shape and cut into tiny sections, almost like cutting a very tiny summer sausage. They are used mostly in handgun and shotgun cartridges. Because of their shape, they can stack up when measuring, making it difficult to meter with precision. This leads to reduced consistency when reloading cartridges with flake powder.
Shaped like small cylinders, this is the type of powder that is most popular for rifle cartridges. While highly-effective in rifle ammunition, stick powder is difficult to meter accurately and can lead to inconsistencies in the measurements. While stick powder is often considered the most difficult to meter, reducing the length of the “sticks” can make for more consistent loading. The cylinders, or sticks, may break, leading to further inconsistencies. Most stick powder burns hot, which could reduce barrel quality over time. Despite potential reloading drawbacks, stick powder is a popular choice for shot consistency and accuracy.
This is an excerpt from Widener’s Reloading and Shooting Supply’s Guide to Smokeless Powder
Used with permission, photo courtesy of Wideners.
Deep Appalachian Roots
Widener’s has roots that run deep – in fact, the company goes way back into the late 1970’s. Of course, we weren’t selling much on the internet back then but it was in 1978 that Wideners.com founder Stan Widener first starting selling shooting supplies and reloading components. An avid hunter, it didn’t take much for the bug to swallow him whole and his passion for shooting sports quickly turned into a full-time career.
The Digital Age
Wideners.com got its start in 1996 when the company opened up shop on the world wide web. Sure, the first site wasn’t much to look at compared to today’s site but we were pretty excited to have the chance to serve shooters all over the country with primers, powders and more. It’s clear that a lot has changed in terms of technology but we still pride ourselves on always making time to treat our customers right. That includes making time to help new shooters and reloaders learn about the sport we love through tools like this handy Guide to Smokeless Gun Powder.
Still based in Appalachia, Wideners.com continues to pride itself on friendly customer service, competitive prices and most of our employees are, themselves, shooters and reloaders. That means when you call in with a question about ammunition or reloading components, odds are good we have somebody that’s willing to lend a hand and has actually used the product themselves. Pair that knowledge with fast shipping and a flawless inventory tracking system that ensures you don’t get stuck waiting on a backorder and you’ll be hooked!