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Jim Waddell Reviews “Western Powders Handloading Guide, Edition 1”
By Jim Waddell
Until now, Western Powders offered reloading data for their powders online and in the form of a nice little magazine. The people at Western must have been impressed enough with the success of their smaller guide that finally went in for all the marbles and brought a book, the Western Powders Handloading Guide, Edition 1.
One of the people at Western Powders told me that the noted gun scribe Lane Pearce called in to remark that he was glad to have gotten the book mailed to him, because it would have been too heavy to carry around all day if he’d picked it up at the Shot Show. I couldn’t agree more. It IS HEAVY, weighing in at a bit less than 3 1/2 pounds. That’s because it’s a full-sized publication containing 488 pages of handloading know-how, classy pictures, along with comprehensive load data for rifles and handguns all printed in glorious full-color on high-quality paper.
It appears Western Powders and Wolfe Publishing went all out in developing this manual as the aesthetics and layout are superb. The photographs are on par with those you would find in those huge picture books you see on coffee tables in country club homes. They are just gorgeous.
Western Powders has a unique way of laying out the data. Most manuals are made by bullet manufacturers and list the bullet for a specific caliber, then list the powders they tested for that bullet. This guide, made from a powder manufacturer’s perspective, comes from it from a different angle. Powders appropriate for a given cartridge are listed and each specific bullet tested is provided with its own minimum and maximum charge weights, velocities and pressures.
Most experienced handloaders are aware that different makes or styles of the same weight bullet can give differing pressures due to length of bearing surface on the shank of the bullet along with other factors. The way this data is displayed makes it easy to see those differences. For instance in the .222 Remington, they list the 40 grain Nosler Ballistic Tip, then right under it is the Nosler 40 grain Ballistic Tip, Lead Free. The powder charges for the lead free bullet are slightly less due to the longer shank of that bullet in contact with the bore giving greater resistance. I haven’t seen this attention to detail described in other loading guides. Their ballistics lab, which I’ve visited, is absolutely top flight.
I love obscure cartridges. Many of the older black powder cartridges are included in this book, mostly using Blackhorn 209 or Accurate 5744 where appropriate. Being able to access trustworthy data for these older cartridges using modern propellants was worth the cost of the book to me. They also had data for some pretty wild wildcats.
I was surprised to see James Calhoon’s family of .19 caliber wildcats covered along with some of the history of these interesting little varmint cartridge. It is no secret that the author of the book has an affinity for obscure varmint cartridges and this book really shines with the small calibers, .17 through .20 caliber stuff that I had never heard of but really enjoyed reading about.
In the handgun data section, there is a lot of attention paid to the Thompson Center single-shot cartridges. In talking to the Western staff, I learned that a lot of this data was a hold-over from the original Accurate Arms manuals that were so popular a couple of decades ago. This was one of the Western Powders’ goals, they wanted to make the book, at least in part, into an updated version of these older Accurate Arms manuals and then integrate the newer Ramshot and Blackhorn propellant lines. I think they did this in spades.
The articles are different from any other manual I’ve ever read. The preface of the book humorously attributes the President of Western Powders commenting that nobody reads the preface of the book or even the articles. If you don’t, you are missing out on information that can truly make you a better handloader. There are also some pretty advanced articles written from a ballistician’s perspective. One covers the role of powder position within a cartridge and how that may affect pressure and velocity. This is an area that hasn’t been covered much in past publications but it affects in calibers that were originally suited for black powder loads with large powder capacities such as the .45 Colt, .44-40 and similar numbers are pretty noteworthy.
At the conclusion of the rifle data section, the book features some very informative tutorials on issues of interest to reloaders and shooters, several that I haven’t seen been covered outside of specific articles in gun magazines. Examples of this is how to slug a barrel to determine its actual bore and groove diameter, using a chronograph with handloads, determining twist rates and loading shotshells for handguns.
Then there is also a nicely done burn rate chart that compares Accurate and Ramshot powders with powders of other manufacturers.
Suggested retail for the Western Powders Handloading Guide is $39.99 and currently they’re available at Western Powders on-line store with free shipping. There is even a place on the order form that allows the buyer to request an autograph from the author. To me, this book is worth every penny and will have a spot on my reloading bench for years to come.