Loading For Handgun Cartridges

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While developing the data presented in this loading guide, we have determined several "rules of thumb" that we will attempt to highlight in the form of "helpful hints." But first we need to divide the discussion on loading handgun cartridges into two categories: straight walled and bottlenecked.

Let's examine straight-walled cartridges first. They are the most common configuration of handgun ammunition. Nearly every shooter has had at least one handgun chambered for a straight-walled cartridge at one time or another.

Several important factors must be considered when reloading this type of handgun cartridge. The first is variation in case length. Uniform length is mandatory to assure that a uniform crimp can be applied to the bullet. The reloader must measure and trim, if necessary, each case every time they're loaded.

Another factor is overall loaded length. An analogy can be made between a straight-walled pistol cartridge and a cylinder in an automobile engine. The pressure in the cartridge case varies directly with the bullet seating depth. The greater the pressure the higher the bullet's velocity (and therefore energy). Likewise, in the car engine, increasing the cylinder's compression ratio produces more power from a given amount of fuel. In both cases, the available fuel is burning in a confined volume. The smaller the volume — the greater the pressure. Therefore, if all other factors are the same, the deeper the bullet is seated into the case, the higher the pressure and the velocity will be.

We have listed the loaded length of each component combination in this edition. In order to duplicate our results as closely as possible, you must maintain the overall length noted as well as use the same components.

Another factor to consider is bullet "pull." This is the amount of force required to move a bullet that is securely seated and crimped in the cartridge case. Reloaders often think that bullet pull results from the crimp alone. Not so! The crimp does contribute significantly to the total value which is why uniform case length is so important. However, the more important factor is the degree of interference (i.e., the "fit") between the case and the bullet before the crimp is applied.

For this reason, lighter weight bullets are not recommended to be used in "magnum" handgun cartridges with Accurate's No. 9 propellant. Loading heavier (i.e., longer) bullets or faster burning powder partially offsets the problem of lower bullet pull. While this is not a dangerous condition, it is a concern for potentially poor performance due to large variations in bullet velocity.

Bullet diameter is also very important, especially when shooting cast bullets in revolvers. If the bullet is undersized for the cylinder throat, sufficient obturation (i.e., bullet expansion) must occur to seal off the powder gases. The harder the bullet metal is, the more pressure is required to expand the bullet.

By measuring the cylinder throat diameter, you may either make or buy cast bullets to match the revolver that the handloads will be fired in. If your gun's cylinder has excessively large throat dimensions, finding the right size bullet could be a problem. The only solution we can offer (short of having a new cylinder fitted to the gun) is to use a bullet of moderate hardness. The bullet should also have a flat base and the cartridge must be loaded to sufficiently high pressures to assure proper obturation.

Leading in revolver barrels is often the result of "gas cutting" (i.e., gas leaking around the bullet base which locally melts the metal) instead of excessive bullet velocity. The frustrating aspect of a leading problem is that when you reduce the velocity to try to improve the situation — it often gets worse! We're trying to point out the importance of matching the bullet diameter to the specific revolver's cylinder dimensions. In an automatic or single-shot handgun, the bullet diameter should match the barrel groove diameter or even be 0.001" over for best results.

We also need to touch briefly on primer selection — specifically, when to use "standard" vs. "magnum" primers. We have found no need for magnum primers with any handgun loads using our canister Nitro 100, No. 2, No. 5, No. 7 or No. 9 propellants, unless, of course, they provide better accuracy in your firearm.

In our tests we have found no significant effect on performance using magnum primers — with one exception. Winchester Small Pistol Magnum primers are significantly more powerful than most small rifle primers. If you use this primer in handgun loads with our propellants, DO NOT EXCEED the listed START CHARGE in the Loading Guide. Our tests with Accurate No. 9 powder indicate that this particular primer can raise pressures as much as 35%. This primer has a specific use and is not necessary or recommended for handloading Accurate propellants.

Another type of cartridge that needs special mention is the low pressure, originally black powder, handgun loads. These include the .3840 WCF, the .44-40 WCF, the .44 S&W Special, and the venerable .45 Colt. When ball-type propellants are used to load these cartridges, often a relatively large volume of airspace remains. These cartridges were designed for a case full of black powder. Firearms chambered for these old loads, even when safe for use with smokeless propellant, are restricted to relatively low pressures. Even when the firearm is made of modern steel, the cartridge cases are not suitable for high pressure loads.

As a result, we find ourselves trying to balance a relatively weak cartridge case in a potentially weak firearm with a modern smokeless propellant having a high bulk density. Ball powders pack a lot of energy into a small space and were not intended to be used in a low density loading application. Fortunately, the situation is not as bleak as I have made it seem. Modern ball propellants are usable — if not ideal--in these old cartridges.

Because of these limitations, data for the .44-40 WCF is listed as "use as is, do not reduce." Pressures are already so low that it is pointless to reduce the charge weight any further. Use of these loads as listed should give satisfactory performance. Remember this note of caution: If you want magnum performance, then buy a gun chambered for a magnum cartridge.

That's enough of straight-walled handgun cartridges. Let's discuss the bottlenecked variety next.

Only a few of these cartridges were originally designed and chambered for handguns. Most of them were developed to function in foreign autoloading pistols like the 7.65 Borchardt, .30 Luger, 7.63 Mauser, 7.62 Tokarev and the 7mm and 8mm Japanese Nambu loadings. The only factory bottlenecked round that comes to mind that was designed for and actually chambered in a revolver is the .22 Remington Jet.

The .256 Winchester Magnum actually preceded the Jet and was also intended to be offered in a new Smith & Wesson revolver. However, functional problems involving the fired cases thrusting back against the recoil plate and locking the cylinder up scuttled that plan. The single-shot Ruger Hawkeye was chambered for the .256 Magnum in the early 1960s and was the only handgun available for the cartridge until the Contender came along a few years later.

The availability of what many shooters call a "hand-rifle" began with Remington's singleshot, bolt-action model XP-100 chambered for the .221 Fireball — again in the early 1960s. Since then several different types of these firearms have been introduced that fire typically rifle cartridges.

Since its introduction in the late 1960s, the Thompson Center Contender has really set the standard for high performance specialty handguns. The Contender is a break-action, singleshot handgun featuring interchangeable barrels. Different cartridges can be fired by just switching barrels on the same frame. In addition to more traditional handgun loadings, Contender barrels are also available in many factory and wildcat rifle cartridges. Several proprietary rounds were developed especially for the Contender. The .30 and .35 Herrett are both bottlenecked designs based on reformed .30-30 brass.

For the most part, bottlenecked handgun ammunition is hand loaded using techniques and methods associated with loading similarly shaped rifle ammo.

Let's discuss briefly some areas of specific concern regarding bottlenecked cartridges used in handguns. The first is the overall length for a loaded cartridge. When these cartridges are used in a single-shot firearm, the only limiting factor is the chamber throat. Originally, several of the wildcats listed were developed to use the existing pistol bullets. The recent developments of specialty single-shot pistol bullets for these cartridges have effectively invalidated the recommended OAL. When used in a single shot handgun any bullet must be seated adequately deep in the neck (one caliber is a good rule of thumb) to provide sufficient bullet pull in order to ensure consistant ignition. Otherwise, seating depth should provide the best accuracy in YOUR firearm. (Avoid seating jacketed bullets tightly into the lands as this will raise pressures.)

Another consideration is the headspace of the loaded round in the chamber. Bottleneck cartridges fired in handguns and especially in the T/C Contender "must" headspace on the shoulder. Improper sizing die adjustment will greatly reduce case life. The message usually comes through loud and clear when only the case head extracts from the chamber.

What this means is to adjust the sizing die to size all the various parts of the case without moving the shoulder back. If however, your chamber is considerably larger than the sizing die, you must move the shoulder back to the position it occupied prior to sizing since the brass will flow forward. If neck sized cases will properly chamber in your firearm then full length size only when the cases become too tight.

For more information, see "Loading Rifle Cartridges."

.22 HORNET

The .22 Hornet is a rifle cartridge that is an excellent choice for field use in handguns (T/C Contender). With the right components, accuracy is superb. Accurate powders will provide consistent results in this mild-mannered round. This cartridge is effective on varmints out to about 125 yards.

The SAAMI Maximum Average Pressure for the .22 Hornet is 43,000 C.U.P.

.22 HORNET

Gun

T/C

Max Length

1.403"

Barrel Length

10"

Trim Length

1.383"

Primer

CCI 500

OAL Max

1.723"

Case

WW

OAL Min

1.660"

START LOADS

MAXIMUM LOADS

Cartridge

Bullet

Powder

Grains

Vel.

Powder

Grains

Ve!.

C.U.P.

Length

Comment

44 (L) RNGC

1680

10.4

1802

1680

11.5

2048

31,100

1.665"

LY225438

2015

11.3

1621

2015

12.5

1842

29,700

Penny's

N100

2.7

1321

N100

3.0

1501

32,600

SRA 40 Hornet

1680

12.6

2109

1680

14.0

2397

43,000

1.715"

2015

11.3

1590

2015

12.5

1807

26,900

Compressed

NOS 45 Hornet

1680

11.1

1909

1680

12.3

2169

40,700

1.720"

2015

11.3

1646

2015

12.5

1870

32,100

Compressed

HDY 50 SX

1680

10.4

1831

1680

11.5

2081

42,400

1.780"

*

2015

10.8

1566

2015

12.0

1780

35,000

Compressed

* Over SAAMI MAX OAL

* Over SAAMI MAX OAL

.218 BEE

The .218 Bee chambered in the Thompson/Center Contender 14-inch barrel showed little velocity loss compared to rifle data. Additionally, the Contender pistol allows the use of pointed bullets which will greatly improve down-range ballistics.

The SAAMI Maximum Average Pressure for the .218 Bee is 40,000 C.U.P.

.218 BEE

Gun

T/C

Max Length

1.345"

Barrel Length

14"

Trim Length

1.325"

Primer

CCI 400

OAL Max

1.680"

Case

WW

OAL Min

1.645"

Bullet

START LOADS Powder Grains

Vel.

MAXIMUM LOADS Powder Grains

Vel.

C.U.P.

Cartridge Length

Comment

44 (L) RNGC

1680

9.9

1938

1680

11.0

2202

30,100

1.615"

LY225438

SRA 40 Hornet*

1680

13.5

2324

1680

15.0

2641

34,700

1.760"

HDY 45 HP 'Bee"

1680

12.6

2157

1680

14.0

2451

39,800

1.610"

SPR 46 FN

1680

12.6

2152

1680

14.0

2445

38,600

1.670"

HDY 50 SX*

1680

11.7

1991

1680

13.0

2263

36,600

1.780"

* Not for use in firearms with a tubular magazine

* Not for use in firearms with a tubular magazine

Smokeless Powders Handloaders Guide

.221 REMINGTON FIREBALL

Introduced in 1963 for the Remington XP-100 single shot bolt action pistol, the .221 Fireball is a shortened version of the .222 Remington.

To minimize the velocity loss in a 10" barrel, Remington engineers established a Maximum Average Pressure of 52,000 C.U.P versus 46,000 C.U.P for the .222 Remington.

.221 REMINGTON FIREBALL

Gun

T/C

Max Length

1.400"

Barrel Length

14"

Trim Length

1.380"

Primer

REM 70

OAL Max

1.830"

Case

REM

OAL Min

1.780"

START LOADS

MAXIMUM LOADS

Cartridge

Bullet

Powder

Grains

Vel.

Powder

Grains

Vel.

C.U.P.

Length

Comment

NOS 45 SP

1680

16.5

2593

1680

18.3

2947

51,300

1.765"

2015

18.0

2420

2015

20.0

2750

47,100

Compressed

2230

18.9

2393

2230

21.0

2719

49,500

Compressed

HDY 50 SX

1680

16.0

2475

1680

17.8

2813

51,500

1.825"

2015

17.6

2327

2015

19.5

2644

45,600

Compressed

2230

18.9

2352

2230

21.0

2673

49,500

Compressed

NOS 55 SBT

1680

15.3

2380

1680

17.0

2700

52,000

1.850"

*

2015

17.1

2268

2015

19.0

2577

48,700

Case Full

2230

18.0

2245

2230

20.0

2551

51,600

Compressed

* Over SAAMI MAX OAL

* Over SAAMI MAX OAL

222 REMINGTON

The .222 Remington combines accuracy with a mild report even when chambered in a handgun.

The .222 Remington is a capable varmint cartridge out to about 200 yards.

The SAAMI Maximum Average Pressure for the .222 Remington is 50,000 P.S.I.

.222 REMINGTON

Gun

T/C

Max Length

1.7GG"

Barrel Length

14"

Trim Length

1.68G"

Primer

REM 7°

OAL Max

2.13G"

Case

REM/WW

OAL Min

2.G4G"

START LOADS

MAXIMUM LOADS

Cartridge

Bullet

Powder

Grains

Vel.

Powder

Grains

Vel.

P.S.I.

Length

Comment

NOS 45 SB

1680

18.9

2698

1680

21.G

3G66

48,5GG

2.G65"

2015

22.1

2769

2015

24.5

3147

49,3GG

2230

24.3

279G

2230

27.G

3171

47,4GG

Compressed

2460

24.3

2757

2460

27.G

3133

45,9GG

Compressed

2495

21.6

2526

2495

24.G

287G

39,9GG

Compressed

2520

22.5

2499

2520

25.G

284G

34,2GG

Compressed

HDY 5G SX

1680

16.8

2442

1680

18.5

2778

5G,GGG

2.15G"

*WW cases

2015

21.2

2625

2015

23.5

2983

45,8GG

2230

22.1

2613

2230

24.5

2969

48,2GG

Compressed

2460

22.1

2594

2460

24.5

2948

46,GGG

Compressed

2495

21.6

2437

2495

24.G

2769

41,1GG

Compressed

2520

22.5

244G

2520

25.G

2773

38,3GG

Compressed

HDY 53 HP Match

1680

17.1

24G9

1680

19.G

2737

47,4GG

2.19G" *

2015

21.2

26G4

2015

23.5

295G

5G,GGG

2230

22.1

2526

2230

24.5

287G

46,4GG

Compressed

2460

22.1

2519

2460

24.5

2862

45,5GG

Compressed

2495

21.6

246G

2495

24.G

2795

46,3GG

Compressed

2520

22.5

2441

2520

25.G

2774

4G,9GG

Compressed

NOS 55 SB

1680

17.1

237G

1680

19.G

2693

44,2GG

2.155"

*WW Cases

2015

2G.3

2482

2015

22.5

282G

46,1GG

2230

22.1

2521

2230

24.5

2865

46,2GG

2460

22.1

2494

2460

24.5

2834

45,GGG

2495

21.2

2328

2495

23.5

2645

42,1GG

Compressed

2520

22.1

2335

2520

24.5

2653

36,3GG

Compressed

.378 9.6Gmm

.376 9.55mm

.357 9.G7mm

.313

7.95mm

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  • aston
    Does smokeless powder need to be compressed?
    2 years ago

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