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Thread: How do you work up revolver loads?

  1. #1
    Boolit Master Bazoo's Avatar
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    How do you work up revolver loads?

    I'm curious as to how others work loads up for such as 38 special and 357 magnum.

    Im in the process or working up a load using unique and the RCBS 38-150-SWC in 38 special. I can't find data for this combo so I'm extrapolating data. From what I've found data for lead bullets of similar weight is approximately 3.5-5.0 grains.

    In the past what I've done is make 5 or 10 cartridges to test at 5 intervals between min and max. Starting at the minimum charge and ending at the max. Then I shoot them and see how they group. If there is one that shoots good, I load a box or two to try.

    So let's say hypothetically, I test 3.5, 4.0, 4.5, 4.7, and 5.0. And that 4.5 grains happens to shoot an inch at 15 yards. Should I go to the trouble of loading 4.4 and 4.6 grain charges to test?

    Is there a better method to determine a handgun load? What does everyone else do?

    Bazoo

  2. #2
    Boolit Buddy Scrounge's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bazoo View Post
    I'm curious as to how others work loads up for such as 38 special and 357 magnum.

    Im in the process or working up a load using unique and the RCBS 38-150-SWC in 38 special. I can't find data for this combo so I'm extrapolating data. From what I've found data for lead bullets of similar weight is approximately 3.5-5.0 grains.

    In the past what I've done is make 5 or 10 cartridges to test at 5 intervals between min and max. Starting at the minimum charge and ending at the max. Then I shoot them and see how they group. If there is one that shoots good, I load a box or two to try.

    So let's say hypothetically, I test 3.5, 4.0, 4.5, 4.7, and 5.0. And that 4.5 grains happens to shoot an inch at 15 yards. Should I go to the trouble of loading 4.4 and 4.6 grain charges to test?

    Is there a better method to determine a handgun load? What does everyone else do?

    Bazoo
    Can you consistently measure 1/10 of a grain? That is something like .00648 grams. If so, it might be worth your while. If not, don't bother. What you maybe could do if it's really important to you instead is use a bulkier powder, if you can find one for pistols. It's easier to measure a whole grain, or two or three, than 1/10th. Now all you have to do is find a powder that will work in both. I looked at Alliant 2400, and it's got load data for .38spl+P & .357mag, but not standard .38spl. Green Dot is a shotgun powder, but is also used in some larger pistol cartridges, like my .45acp, but not in .38spl. And those loads also increment in 1/10 grain steps. It might take some serious research. I'm not exactly new to reloading, but I've been out of it for a long time, and I'd strongly hesitate to try to measure that small a quantity of powder. I have no desire to have to pick parts of my pistols out of my face. Maybe in a few years when I feel more competent than I do now. Naturally, YMMV.

  3. #3
    Boolit Master Bazoo's Avatar
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    My scale measures to the 1/10 grain. Can I consistently use it? I reckon. I use it all the time.

    Unique will work for both 38 special and 357 magnum. Unique will only work to about mid level 357 magnum loads though. I plan to use W296 for the magnum loads. I may end up making some +P or light magnums but I'm not working on that currently. Just standard 38 special and full power 357.

  4. #4
    Boolit Bub
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    I would use a chrono to get the velocity I want. I bet I could shoot 100 or 1000 of the same handgun load and not tell the difference in mechanical accuracy.

    And fwiw, I'm not an inexperienced handgun shooter at all. I probably have shot more rounds through a single handgun than most people shoot in a lifetime.

  5. #5
    Boolit Buddy
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bazoo View Post
    I'm curious as to how others work loads up for such as 38 special and 357 magnum.

    Im in the process or working up a load using unique and the RCBS 38-150-SWC in 38 special. I can't find data for this combo so I'm extrapolating data. From what I've found data for lead bullets of similar weight is approximately 3.5-5.0 grains.

    In the past what I've done is make 5 or 10 cartridges to test at 5 intervals between min and max. Starting at the minimum charge and ending at the max. Then I shoot them and see how they group. If there is one that shoots good, I load a box or two to try.

    So let's say hypothetically, I test 3.5, 4.0, 4.5, 4.7, and 5.0. And that 4.5 grains happens to shoot an inch at 15 yards. Should I go to the trouble of loading 4.4 and 4.6 grain charges to test?

    Is there a better method to determine a handgun load? What does everyone else do?

    Bazoo
    There is nothing wrong with the way you are testing. Myself, I usually start my testing at 25 yds. If I end up with more than one load shooting well I back the target up to 50 yds, if I still don't have a winner [accuracy wise] I will go to 100 yds. If I decide to tweak the load I usually go 2 or 3 tenths at a time.

  6. #6
    Boolit Master
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    What dhom said. 15 yards is pretty close unless you're wanting purely SD loads. I'd think at that distance it would be difficult to see much difference in any of them, unless a load was particularly bad.
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  7. #7
    Boolit Master
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    I say refine your charges as much as you care to.

    I use the manuals as much as I have information, then a wee bit of extrapolation where necessary. Then as I am working up I also watch for easy extraction. With clean chambers I strive for my empties to practically fall out. With bear loads in magnum guns I will tolerate a bit of a snap when ejecting but never a struggle.

    Between Unique and H110 or WW296 there sits HS 6 and 2400. Try them, they are also grand powders!

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  8. #8
    Boolit Grand Master tazman's Avatar
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    For what it's worth, the RCBS 38-150-SWC is nearly identical to the Lyman 358477. You may be able to find data for that boolit.
    You can always use data for 158 grain boolits.
    That said, the method you are using will work.
    Loading the higher charge weights after you find a great shooting load is a good test because you may have just found the low edge of a plateau where heavier charges shoot just as accurately and go faster. Good information to have.
    Sometimes those heavier charges group poorly but you will never know without testing.

  9. #9
    AKA: GRMPS Conditor22's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by dhom View Post
    There is nothing wrong with the way you are testing. Myself, I usually start my testing at 25 yds. If I end up with more than one load shooting well I back the target up to 50 yds, if I still don't have a winner [accuracy wise] I will go to 100 yds. If I decide to tweak the load I usually go 2 or 3 tenths at a time.
    100 yards ---- WOW you guys have much better eyes than I do.

    As to load development, I shoot 4 or 5 shot groups, print targets, and labels for each load. Depending on the load spread in the book I'll divide the spread by 5, find the best group (s) and narrow it down from there to .1 grains when done.
    '
    I do all my load development off a bench with a solid rest to eliminate as many variables as I can.

    I do my handgun testing at 35 feet.

  10. #10
    Boolit Master
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    When did measuring .1 grain become a problem? I haven’t kept up with new equipment so I am still using a balance scale.

    Kevin
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  11. #11
    Boolit Master Bazoo's Avatar
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    I appreciate the replies.

    I don't have a chrono yet, but I'm wanting one. I do shoot farther than 15 yards, I just start there. I test from a bench with wrists rested but no parts of the gun touching.

    I shoot out past 100 yards with a handgun offhand. I don't normally test loads at 100, just shoot some steel I have. I have a 6" plate I can hit about half the time at 100. I have a 2/3 IPSC, I can hit it consistently to 100 but do decent out to 150 yards with my 1911. There was a time when I shot every single day rain or shine. Now I shoot 2-3 times a week.

  12. #12
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    I don't measure every wheel gun load!!!!! OMG....I would be at it forever. I get my auto powder measure to within ~0.3 grains of my load using my electronic scales and after several checks for repeatability, I load a ton of the carts I am working on. Revolvers are for close up a personal, so 100 yards(!!!!) is totally out of the question, at least for me. The farthest I go with 44M and 357M (long barrels) is about 40 yards and then the boolits are better than my eyesight! Most are 15-25 yards max. I am happy with that. Not trying to win any prizes.....just make a bunch of holes grouped close together!

    banger

  13. #13
    Boolit Buddy Win94ae's Avatar
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    I use an Audette Ladder Test at 25 yards. Load up cartridges from a middle of the road powder charge, to max, in .2grain increments, shoot the cartridges noting the shot count, then observe which consecutive hits are closer. Load up 3 or so cartridges with the charge weights I deem appropriate, and test them for precision.
    I usually come up with a 4.5MOA load, but have gotten better on occasion.



    I do the same with a rifle, or pistol. I use up a lot less components doing it this way.

  14. #14
    Boolit Master Bazoo's Avatar
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    I don't weigh every charge when loading, I use a powder measure too. I don't weigh charges when working up loads either for that matter. I set my measure and throw however many I want to test.

    Why I'm into handguns in general, and longer ranges particularly with revolvers, I don't know. Just what I like.

  15. #15
    Boolit Buddy
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    Most of what I do is plinking and playing so I usually don't get to critical with it . If it doesn't lead the barrel and I can smack a head size target at 25 yards I'm happy. O suppose if I ever get back to hunting I'll be a little more particular.YMMV

  16. #16
    Boolit Master
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    measuring .1 grains is not the problem, but throwing a charge with a powder measure consistently that measures to the tenth of a grain, especially with a fairly bulky powder like Unique is. Most of my pistol ammo is loaded on a progressive press, using a ball powder, or very fine flake powder. When loading for pistols and revolvers, weighing scores or even hundreds of charges gets pretty tedious and for most purposes is not necessary. It is seldom, if ever, that .1 grains will make difference in handgun accuracy, though in small cases like the 25 or 32 ACP it matters in chamber pressure.
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  17. #17
    Boolit Master Bazoo's Avatar
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    I've not had any issues getting consistent throws with my lee ppm. I have a technique in my throw that gives a knock in the up stroke and it helps a lot. Unique will throw a tenth light sometimes but not all over the place.

    I'm using unique because I like it, and it's what I have that is suitable for 38 special. I'm using 296 for magnum loads because it's what I have. I don't have 2400 currently but I like it.

  18. #18
    Boolit Master


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    I am not anal about pistol loads.

    In your example. I test in .3 gr intervals in my favorite .38/.357 rifle at 50 yards. Then test the best loads in my other .38/.357’s to see if accuracy is acceptable. I pick the load that works the best in all my .38/.357 guns.

    I have seven guns in that caliber. .38’s are the vast majority of what we shoot and I load thousands with a Dillon 1050. It will drop within +/- .1 gr most of the time and .2 nearly always. The load must have a large enough window to take that degree of variation.

    My needs are bulk ammunition that works well in every gun. I am not a good enough shot, or have any uses, where an improvement of 1.5” at 15 years in the pistols, or 1.5” at 50 yards in the rifles matters.

    When I shot Bullseye decades ago, I had a specific load for optimum accuracy...but in that use, it mattered. Now life is simpler. Having the best load for each of seven guns is not important to me. My load is likely more accurate than factory ammunition and that is adequate for me.

    If I was going to hunt deer with a pistol, that would change things and I would get anal. For SD, I use factory ammunition....but if I used handloads, bullet type and energy would trump minor accuracy differences.
    Last edited by dverna; 05-06-2020 at 10:27 PM.
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  19. #19
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    It depends on the cartridge of course. If it's a relatively small case, say a 327 or 357, I'll go .3 grain increments and if it's one of the larger cases I'll go .5 grain increments. I'll also say I won't waste my time on a bullet that I can't get in bulk or that I can't get a mold for. My best luck has been with cast LFN styles in revolvers by a large margin. I also find standard or heavy for caliber bullets tend to shoot accurately in my revolvers. With jacketed bullets, some mentioned above always shoot great. The Match styles that Sierra makes are great and a heavy XTP will be fantastic. Another good, but gone bullet was the Hornady Silhouette bullet in 357.

    I personally feel weighed charges give better results when testing and I have and use a magnetic force restoration balance scale and I can weigh tiny amounts of H110 as an example. That said, I also feel weighed charges is only part of accuracy testing. Because I'm anal or maybe OCD on reloading, I also do case prep work, use optics, and will start at 50 yards off of a rest. Is what I do necessary? No not at all, but I consider it as enjoyable as I consider trying to cast perfect bullets. I'll use an Oehler Chronograph after I know how accurate a load will shoot. The chronograph has given me some surprises, but rarely does a very accurate load give bad ES/SD numbers.

    I never start at a minimum charge as I haven't found accuracy there. With the medium and slow powders I use, they don't work well at lower pressures anyway. I'm sure there are exceptions to the ideas I have on charge weights, but I haven't found them. I also see my favorite powders mentioned above. HS6 and H110 will always shoot at least good for me. I've just bought a few pounds of AA9 and Bluedot to try in a 327 that I shoot heavy for caliber bullets out of.

  20. #20
    Boolit Master
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    I've never really bothered to do a ladder test for pistols. I don't shoot them past 50yd and usually am at 15-25yd as I practice drills. The only work up I have done in the past is when going to max loads for a pistol. Then I will start a bit low and work up. I use a progressive press so I measure charges by volume and check the weight of one every now and then to make sure it is ok. I will clock some loads with the chronograph to make sure they are in the velocity range I want. That is also my check that I am below max for the pistol. One of the factors of my choice in powders is how well it meters from a powder measure, so fine grain or ball powder is preferred.

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Abbreviations used in Reloading

BP Bronze Point IMR Improved Military Rifle PTD Pointed
BR Bench Rest M Magnum RN Round Nose
BT Boat Tail PL Power-Lokt SP Soft Point
C Compressed Charge PR Primer SPCL Soft Point "Core-Lokt"
HP Hollow Point PSPCL Pointed Soft Point "Core Lokt" C.O.L. Cartridge Overall Length
PSP Pointed Soft Point Spz Spitzer Point SBT Spitzer Boat Tail
LRN Lead Round Nose LWC Lead Wad Cutter LSWC Lead Semi Wad Cutter
GC Gas Check