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Powder ignorance

Discussion in 'Handloading and Reloading' started by Crimp, Dec 18, 2006.

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  1. Crimp

    Crimp Member

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    It's hard for me to put this into a concise question, so please forgive me for rambling. My ignorance is such, I'm not sure how to ask the question.

    For years now, I've wondered about powder applications and have tried to make intelligent decisions about their specific useages. Sure, I know what a burn rate chart is and understand fast and slow powders. But, for instance, if you look at loading manuals and read people's experiences on the forums, there's seemingly a load for every dang handgun caliber imaginable with Bullseye, AA#5, Unique, 231 or Blue Dot! I think some people load .25's all the way up to .50's with Bullseye. And, you'll hear otherwise reasonable people say stuff similar to, "If you don't like that Power Pistol load, try H110 or AA#2!"

    I also understand that powders aren't linear in performance as to their load weights and that they'll swap burn-rate position with different pressure loadings. Also, some of them have pressure spikes and some burn with a smoother curve within their burn rate.

    Another consideration is the pressure rating of the round. For instance, 9mm is a small-cavity, relatively high-pressure cartridge and IMHO should probably be using powders somewhere around HS-6 or maybe slower to keep from spiking pressure out of its SAAMI rating while trying to get an adequate fps. Yet, I have excellent 9mm performance with Titegroup and when I chrony them, SDs around 6 or 8.

    When considering the gamut of calibers from, say, .380 up through 44 mag, it actually does appear to me that you could do well with one powder. Maybe somewhere around Universal. But, then on the other hand, HS-6 is just a few numbers slower and AA#5 is just a few numbers faster, so what difference woud they make? I've read some people think True Blue is capable of loading just about everything with decent results, and with my narrow experience, I have to agree.

    I suppose I shouldn't drag this out any longer, so let me ask - can some one put all this in perspective for me?

    If True Blue was the answer, how could Bullseye be a do-it-all too? If AA#7 was the answer for everything, why wouldn't you hear people talking the same about Longshot which sits right beside it on (most) burn rate charts?

    Ahhh me... If I wasn't so dang old, I believe I'd take a college course in internal ballistics before I worry myself to death!
     
  2. PsychoKnight

    PsychoKnight Member

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    I don't know if I have the answer, or even properly understand the question, but I think there are a dozen favorite powders for each and every caliber (and the range of burn characteristics are extreme) because every shooter has a different prioritized list of goals they want to acheive w/ their handloads. It would be uncommon for someone to recommend the same powder for a light plinking load, a medium target load, and a high velocity/heavy bullet hunting load in the same gun. Someone seeking maximum velocity might not care about muzzle flash and being billowed w/ residual half-burnt powder, while a another loader creating a defensive practice load would want to duplicate their factory defense rounds, and both the powder and factory rounds may be chosen for a compromised combination of recoil controllability, low muzzle flash, and kinetic energy. I really don't think anyone would use Bullseye for Moose hunting behind a 500gr .500SW, or use 2400 for plinking tin cans with a 25acp. Its not much personal preference as it is a perceived match between a reloader's goal, and the powder they think can best make it happen. Ask for a favorite 230gr RN 45ACP load and you'll get a dozen powder names in your ear. I'm not going to try each and every one of them, but if I can figure out WHY the shooter chose that powder, and it matches my purposes, then I might have a very short list to try out. Sometimes people will pick a compromise powder to use for all their calibers, not because its the very best choice for the various types of loads within each caliber, but because its convenvient to not have to deal with 6 or 9 different powders. Reloaders who are accuracy nuts and trickle-charge each and every target load will likely have many powders, compared to high volume progressive users.These are my thoughts but maybe other people might have more coherent explanations.
     
  3. 1911user

    1911user Member

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    For a given caliber there is a range of burn rates that is approapriate and useful. In general, you use a slower powder within that range to get the maximum safe velocity for a caliber especially with heavier bullets. The downside to the slower powder is you must use more of it to get a given velocity with a certain bullet. However, you may not be able to safely reach that max. velocity with a faster powder so the slower powder is the only real choice; the peak pressure on the faster powder is too high compared to industry limits on that caliber. For plinking or practice loads, you can often use a faster powder to get 75-90% of max velocity (for a given bullet weight) and use much less powder to do it.

    Some people intentionally use slower powders just so they can see the case over 1/2 full and a double powder charge would be very obvious. I don't do that, but understand their position.

    Read what others are doing and look at factory loading manuals to get a feel for what is reasonable and safe vs. dangerous. All powder manufacturers have basic reloading information available via the web or in small handouts where powder is sold; those are free normally.
     
  4. Crimp

    Crimp Member

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    PsychoKnight: Thanks for the thoughtful answer. I appreciate it, and believe you're right about much of the powder choices being personal preferences more than a thoughtful powder match to a bullet weight and caliber. Something like, "My grandpappy used Blue Dirt, uhhh, Blue Dot in his .45 Colt and took a deer or two, so I'm going to use it in my new 500 S&W..."

    Granted, each powder has its own characteristics; Alliant's Power Pistol with its flash, some flake powders not metering well, Vihtavuori's clean burns, etc. As 1911user mentioned, the slower powders that will get you the velocity you require is what I usually try to obtain without buying ever powder available. Still, I can't argue, for instance, with using very fast Titegroup in 9x19 when very low SDs and high velocities and accuracies are obtained. Even within that cartridge, Lyman lists "accuracy" powders from Bullseye down through N340 within a small bullet weight difference.

    Perhaps I should simply prioritize my needs for each caliber I load and pick a powder to match my requirements and be damned about the specific burn rate. If I somewhat compromise on the priorities, perhaps I could do it all with just 2 or 3 powders.

    Still, I'd like to have more insight into it all to know exactly why certain powder(s) are "the best" for a given application. Thanks again for your, and 1911user's thoughts.
     
  5. Ben Shepherd

    Ben Shepherd Member

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    Clays universal is just that. I suppose IF I were limited to ONE powder for handgun use that would be it.

    The only problem is, with the big magnums, you're only going to get about 75-80% of the velocity that was designed into that calibers potential. This due to burn rates, pressure spikes, etc., as you noted.

    If you give me the option of 2 powders for handguns? EASY- Universal and 2400. Done.

    Rifles? NEVER gonna happen. Way too large of a case capacity spread.
     
    Last edited: Dec 19, 2006
  6. JackOfAllTradesMasterAtNone

    JackOfAllTradesMasterAtNone Member

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    Yes, PsychoKnight had some good answers.

    Ford, Chevy, Chrysler...

    S&W, Ruger, Colt...

    Winchester, Accurate Arms, Hogden...


    WhichEverTicklesYourFancy. There are some combinations however, that are better suited for a given/wanted result.


    -Steve
     
  7. highlander 5

    highlander 5 Member

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    some of us such as myself will pick a powder on economy. I use 231 a lot mainly because I can get a thousand rounds or more out of a pound. Is there a powder that would be more accurate in my pistols,probably but I reload more for cost than anything else
     
  8. GaryL

    GaryL Member

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    Well, I'm not going to add much more to this than has already been discussed, but I have noticed that in a given caliber, every gun is a little different, and every lot of powder is a little different (not counting the different brands or types), and every shooter is a little different, so the best powder for accuracy in a given application isn't always the best across the board for everyone (for accuracy). Then add in the other factors, and the best brand arguments....

    I had (wish I still did have) a 45acp that loved a heavy Herco load (right about max). I could freehand an honest 6" - 8" group at 50 yds with that thing (that is good for me anyway). Someday I'll find that combination again with a different 45.
     
  9. RecoilRob

    RecoilRob Member

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    The problem you are having is understanding the distinction between 'doing well' and 'getting the maximum performance' out of the cartridge.

    Unique will work in ANY handgun cartridge, rifle cartridge, and shotgun cartridge. It will offer peak performance in high pressure handgun rounds up to the 9mm, but larger case capacity rounds will get more FPS with slower burning powders at the same peak pressures.

    Same in rifles. Unique is one of the top powders for the small 25-20 but must be used for reduced velocity loads in anything larger. You CAN shoot 30-06 with Unique, but at cast bullet type velocities because the quick burning peaks pressures very quickly and the vast case capacity cannot be taken advantage of using such a fast powder. But, you CAN use it if you wish.

    Going the other way...slow powder in a small case can be demonstrated by my experiment of many years ago with IMR4831 in .357 under a 158JHP. My normal 15grn 2400 load filled the case to the base of the bullet so I filled the case the same with the ultra-slow 4831. Firing rewarded me with a nearly silent 'pop' and the bullet barely sticking in the railroad tie target backing. Much unburnt powder was strewn across the floor. So, too slow for the case doesn't work under ANY circumstances.

    Too fast for the case works always, but at reduced maximum velocity. If you want to max out the case, you must tailor the burn speed to the case volume. Simple, isn't it!
     
  10. Redneck with a 40

    Redneck with a 40 Member

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    I load my 40 S&W with 180 grain lead and fmj's with Unique powder. 6 grains for the FMJ's, 5.1 grains for the lead bullets. Both of these loads are awesome for target practice, mild recoil and flash. Unique is my powder of choice for the 40 S&W, works great in 9mm, 38 special, and even 45 ACP.
     
  11. BBQJOE

    BBQJOE Member

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    I must say this thread was quite informative for me, being as that I'm fairly new to reloading myself and had similar questions.
    I use unique for my 9mm, .38 special, and .44 special loads.
    The only thing I do find is that my .44 gets fairly grungy after a day at the range.
    Guessing it's the unique.
     
  12. CZ57

    CZ57 member

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    Crimp: I'd say that you have a concise perspective rather than a concise question. Reading your original post, I see many of the answers in it.

    The truth may not be popular, so I'll say that this is just my oppinion. Why do you see so many articles in gun magazines about the 1911? Absolutely, it's a great pistol, but, could it be possible that the largest number of advertisers are 1911 manufacturers? A parallel condition exists with powders. When I started handloading, it appeared that there were just a few handgun propellents manufactured. Bullseye, W-231, Unique, H-110 and W-296. Why was that? Could it have been that these were and still are, the best selling powders with American handloaders?

    Very little was written then about other powders for the most part, and I really don't remember much mention of what was going on in Europe. Typically, if someone wrote a favorable article on the 9 X 19mm, they would get bombarded with letters from irate .45 ACP devotee's. Norma powders were loved by a minority of handloaders even though the price tag was a bit higher than most. Importation stopped, restarted, then stopped again several times mainly due to a lack of interest, and very little gun press.

    Winchester Action Pistol was and is a great handgun cartridge propellent, and it didn't catch on for many of the same reasons, coupled with the fact that it was formulated specifically for handgun use with no shotgun application. Last I heard, W-231 is still the best selling powder in the US, followed closely by Unique. Winchester, IMO, never really cared whether WAP succeded or not, and their load data reflects this, because 231 and 296 are dominant sellers and dual purpose powders that were added around 1990, give or take, like WSL, WST and WSF, could fill the cracks not covered by 231 and 296. Anyone that has ever looked at the data supplied by Winchester, is well aware that a good number of handgun loads only showed data with 231 and 296 used outside of .45 ACP and 9mm and later, .40 and 10mm. On the other hand, Alliant Power Pistol did catch on without duplicity in shotgun loads, but how many reloaders know that Power Pistol is essentially a large flake version of Bullseye? I've used it and it never excited me personally as much as WAP, or how it is sold today: Ramshot Silhouette.

    Load requirement tends to isolate ideal powders, and you can end up with a lot of different powders if you carry it too far. Guys that tend to shoot Paper Punchers, Plinkers, or lightest load to meet a required power factor can usually get by with 231 or Unique and others go unmentioned except that many now prefer Universal and its cleaner burn, to Unique. Conversely, many are not yet aware that Ramshot ZIP is very similar to W-231 and burns cleaner. Hodgdon had no PR problem with Universal, but Ramshot doesn't enjoy the same following, YET!

    Powders are placed in rank on the burn rate chart by a test that's very finite: Closed Bomb Testing. It is only usefull in a general idea context. Looking at how powders perform in specific cartridges is a better way to go. Some manuals list loads by highest load density (slowest burners by caliber) down to lowest load density (fastest burners by caliber). It's not as easy as it once was to get detailed pressure data for powders. One reason I like to recommend Load manuals with pressure data included. Pressure Curve analysis is much more concise, but hard to come by these days. Since you mentioned Ramshot True Blue and you've probably seen me recommend it, I'll give you some background with apologies to everyone for the length of this post! I have used Unique, like most others have. I have used True Blue in all the same cartridges where Unique sees the most use and I prefer True Blue as a general use powder. It's also the best powder I've used for both jacketed and cast bullets in the .40 S&W. Silhouette will do as well with jacketed, but True Blue has a slight edge for cast bullet loads IMO. No matter, I use both, anyway. There's a post up now where a newer reloader asked about the best general use powder and I did not reply even though I feel it's True Blue. Better metering, lower flash, better uniformity provable by standard deviation of your handloads. But, the data is not yet available like that of Unique, or Universal. If it was, I would have jumped in. There are a few that have bashed True Blue a bit, and with little or no actual experience using it. Claiming it's dirty or not ballistically uniform. That is not the case. It's certainly not as clean burning as something like Universal and other flake powders, but by ball powder standards it's cleaner than many that get recommended continually, i.e. W-231. There is probably no greater test for a propellent, as far as uniformity, than a cartridge with a very narrow load window that absolutely requires pressure stability from the powder. The 5.7 X 28mm may be one of the toughest test existing right now. So which powder would you think that FN Herstal would use in loading their factory round. Well, I'll tell you, it's Ramshot True Blue or whatever it's called in Belgium where it's manufactured.

    This is a situation where you will only go as far as your interest and desire to think outside the box, will take you. Otherwise, nobody would have a need to have anything but Bullseye, W-231, Unique, W-296 or H-110 on their bench for handgun reloading. For what it's worth, that excludes me right there. I'm not currently using any of them and I am very happy with the alternatives.;)
     
  13. GaryL

    GaryL Member

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    About all that proves is that ideal powder for 5.7x28 may very well be True Blue. You have a well reasoned argument, so I just want to point out that something that performs exceptionally well in one situation doesn't automatically extrapolate out to all other situations, and can actually be far less than ideal for a variety of reasons (some of which you elaborated on).

    I agree with your assessment regarding magazines reviews and advertising.
     
  14. redneck2

    redneck2 Member

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    It's probably as much a function of the first powder that someone tried and it worked. Now, something else may be "better", but "better" is a subjective term. To one person, a blue Chevy is "better" than a green Ford or red Dodge, but all will get the job done.

    To some, "better" is a ball powder that meters like a dream. Problem (for some) is that ball powders are sometimes dirtier and aren't as forgiving with temperature variations. Depends on your priorities.

    I use Varget in my .223. Varget is too slow for my 50 grain bullets, and BLC-2 or H-335 should be "better". Problem is, I get considerably smaller than MOA groups, so why change? Varget doesn't meter as well as the other two, but I'm not going to give up super accuracy for a little easier metering. To others, metering may be more important.

    Kinda like walking down the snack chip or cereal aisle at the grocery store. There are hundreds of choices, and somebody buys every one.
     
  15. CZ57

    CZ57 member

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    Yeah, I agree, But I believe I mentioned actually using True Blue in a number of cartridges where I have found the results very good and not isolated to one specific example. In the 5.7 X 28mm, I referenced it because it illustrates the stability of the powder where others of similar burn rate could be used, but don't have the stability. 7.62 X 25mm is another example. My actual experience covers 9mm, .38 Sp, .357 Magnum, .40 S&W and the .45 ACP. In each caliber, I have had above average accuracy, and without a lot of effort finding it.

    One of the things that caught my attention early own was published data for True Blue. There was pressure analysis, and Standard Deviations for all of the handloads provided, and they ran from .380 to .454 Casull. 90% of the loads, or more showed SDs under 10 and quite a few at 5 or below.

    Many will argue that a low SD won't necessarily guarantee accuracy, and I'm not trying to say that accuracy is automatic by the use of a certain powder, but anyone that is technically oriented in this endeavor should understand that when a powder can achieve single digit Standard Deviation across a range of cartridges this broad, we haven't seen anything like it before now. By all means, put up your opinions for which powder will. The only cartridge that I haven't seen data for is 10mm. When a situation like this exists, Ramshot is very good about generating it. Now, can anyone tell me of a powder that will achieve standard deviations this low in cartridges from .380 to .454? Even powder manufacturers data will be fine, if you can find it! In the cartridges I've mentioned, there has not been one failure to achieve 5 shot rested groups of 1" or under at 50'. Either with the first loading or the second.;)

    Also, I've burned four pounds of this stuff to date.

    Moreover, do we have any disagreement that three of the most recommended powders for use in everything handgun, are Bullseye, W-231, Unique and add TiteGroup for grins. Then try loading them, since they are great all around powders, in cartridges with higher stability requirements like the 5.7 or the 7.62 X 25mm.
     
    Last edited: Apr 13, 2007
  16. joneb

    joneb Member

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    I have compared powder burn rates from five sources and have noticed a lot of discrepancies. I agree with Mr. Shepherd a minimum two pistol powders may cover the spread, and with 2400 it will do well with a few rifle loads to boot.
    I have 7 pistol powders in my cabinet :confused: and I would like to cut the number in 1/2 give or take :)
     
  17. Walkalong

    Walkalong Moderator

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    The answer = 700X. Clean and accurate in the .44 Spl.:)

    To get back on burn rates. You could pick 3 powders from any manufacturer and they would cover everything.

    AA# 2, AA# 5, AA# 9 for Accurate.

    W231, WSF, W296 for Winchester.

    Clays, Universal Clays, H110 for Hodgdon.

    Bullseye, Unique, 2400, for Alliant.

    etc. etc.
     
  18. CZ57

    CZ57 member

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    Jibjab: I feel your pain. I'm DOWN to about 10 of them, but I do try powders when they come out if they look promising. I don't really feel that one powder will cover all, and I'm not real sure about two either. One magnum and the second better be mighty flexible. But the reality is, most guys starting out do tend to try and get by with a single powder until experimentation becomes a significant component of the addiction. My point is that I believe there are better choices NOW, than when I started.;)

    WA: Good list, but now you've convinced me that 4 is the minimum.;)
     
  19. jbeltz7

    jbeltz7 Member

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    Please pardon a new pistol reloader wading into the deep-end but I have a new Lee Classic turret w/.357 dies setting in the box and wanted to buy a can of powder and box of primers that would allow me to experiment with as many light - heavy loads as possible. Also local retailer availability would be nice as I would like to start this weekend. So when I walk into the gunshop tommorrow morning what should I ask for? TIA
     
  20. CZ57

    CZ57 member

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    jbeltz7: Even the most experienced swimmer can still drown in the shallow end of the pool. Your question is a little tougher than it sounds, so let me give you the most honest answer I know. It will be a compromise in that you can't expect very light or very heavy loads with a single powder. About the best you can expect to cover is about 60% of the load range. It may be 30% above the middle, and 30% below with some powders, or it may be 40-20 or 20-40 with others. I think True Blue is a good choice here, but the best source for data will be: http://www.ramshot.com/powders/ or maybe the Lyman P&R III if True Blue is listed. Your dealer may not even have it. Universal is probably a good choice that he will have. AA#5 is a good all-around powder for this, but it will be a bit dirty. HS-6 is another good choice. V-V N340 is similar to HS-6 but will cost you more. I like AA#7 for slightly less than full-power loads, especially for defense applications in short barrelled revolvers, but it would fall into the 40% above middle, 20% below category. Another good and overlooked choice here is IMR SR-4756, clean burning and can be very accurate with cast loads and it meters well. You may do better if you use start charges with cast bullets for your light loads and reserve jacketed along with the cast bullets for your warmer loads. Of the powders I mentioned, I'd recommend you look in your load manual and see which on is closest to what you think your needs will be.;)

    For priming these powders, I like the CCI-500 Primer.

    Don't forget to start any load at the minimum, or start charge level and work up according to the manufacturer's recommendation.
     
  21. Steve C

    Steve C Member

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    Unique. An oldie but a goody. There is data for just about every cartridge manufactured. There is a reason its been around for 100 years. If I had to live with only one powder it would be Unique.
     
  22. RecoilRob

    RecoilRob Member

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    The biggest variation I have seen in published data is 430fps from Suggested Starting load to Max in 357's. Most powders look more like 300fps or so.

    So, the more important question a loader must answer when choosing a powder is "What do I want?"

    A powder suitiable for a really mild target-type load will NOT work for a high velocity one. And conversely, a powder suitable for a max-power load will not work for a real powder puff load.

    It is all in the burning rates. The fast powder burns well at low pressure but when you pump it up the pressure spikes too high early on to make really high velocities.

    Slower powders will make max velocities in the case but don't burn well at lower pressures and can cause erratic velocites and even dangerous combustion problems that can harm the gun or the shooter.

    A loader needs to choose what he wants and then pick a powder to get there. In 357, Unique will work down low to the mid-range while 2400 works from the mid-range up to max.

    WW231 can do about the same as Unique but is not suitable for really high performance 357's.
     
  23. Walkalong

    Walkalong Moderator

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    I just don't have any experience with Competition, Slihouette, or True Blue, but that will change. It has not been available around here. I am definitely going to pick up some True Blue to try for some full power loads in some auto cartridges.;)

    Don't like Unique, too dirty, has to be a better alternative, oh yea, Universal Clays so far.:evil:
     
  24. mek42

    mek42 Member

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    jbeltz7:

    I am biased toward Hodgdon powders (my main reloading manual is the 2006 Hodgdon magazine style manual) and prefer ball powders for metering. I am also fairly new to reloading. The two pistol powders I have are Win231 / HP38 (these are two names for the same powder, confirmed by a call to Hodgdon - you should call them yourself to confirm) and H110 (which may be the same powder as Win296 but I am not willing to say that it is.

    I got the H110 for my 44 mag and the HP38 for my 45 ACP and 38 / 357. From the Hodgdon 2006 magazine style reloading manual, it looks like HP38 may be used for all bullet weights at 38 (including +P) loads as well as 357 loads at 158 grain or smaller bullets. For larger bullets at 357 loads I would use the H110.

    If I didn't have a 44 mag, I would only have the HP38 powder and not also the H110.

    Good luck. Be safe and don't be afraid to ask even the most basic questions here. I know I'm asking some really basic questions - I think everyone here would much rather answer newbie questions all day long than hear of a mishap.
     
  25. sansone

    sansone Member

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    I choose the burn rate according to barrel length. sometimes I'll test a load at night to check muzzle flash(giving some small indication if the powder is still burning upon exit).. sometimes I can find unburned powder on the firing bench
     
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