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 by John Barsness

There are two basic kinds of powder charges for reduced loads: small charges of fast-burning handgun/shotgun powders, and larger charges of rifle or specialty powders.
There are two basic kinds of powder charges for reduced loads: small charges of fast-burning handgun/shotgun powders, and larger charges of rifle or specialty powders.

MANY SHOOTERS like to use reduced loads in their rifles, whether for hunting or cheap practice.  Reduced loads also tend to reduce wear on rifle barrels, because erosion is caused primarily from the heat of burning powder, so decreases with smaller powder charges.

In addition to the money saved by using less powder, cast bullets are often used.  These can often (though not always) be purchased for much less than jacketed bullets, but are cheaper if you cast your own, especially with free lead, such as wheelweights found in the street.  Even if you have to buy lead for the going retail price of around $3 a pound, a pound will make 50 140-grain bullets.  You might find jacketed bullets for that price at a garage sale, but it’s been a long time since I bought 50 at a store for $3.

There are two basic kinds of powder charges for reduced loads: small charges of fast-burning handgun/shotgun powders, and larger charges of rifle or specialty powders.  Both have advantages.  Small amounts of fast powders are of course cheaper to shoot, but can result in erratic accuracy.  There’s also the possibility of accidentally using a double charge, since most shooters who produce reduced loads want to load ‘em quickly.  Rifle and specialty powders cost more, but often are extremely accurate, and less likely to cause excessive pressures because it’s harder to fit a double charge in a case.

Data for reduced loads used to be far more common, but not much appears in manuals anymore, apparently because most rifle handloaders want high velocity.  However, if the powders listed for reduced loads in older manuals are still available, the data’s still usually good, because after all reduced loads produce reduced pressures.

Also, cast bullet manuals like Lyman’s provide plenty of reduced load data that can often be used with jacketed bullets because, contrary to what most handloaders would guess, jacketed bullets normally produce less pressure with the same powder charge, because they seal the bore more completely.  (The exception is very hard cast bullets, but even then jacketed bullets don’t result in more pressure.)

However, it’s sometimes not a good idea to use very small amounts of fast powder with jacketed bullets in bigger cases, unless you want to stuff the cases with kapok or other filler to keep the powder against the primer.  If the powder ends up toward the front of the case it may not burn right, and the bullet can stick in the bore.  (Don’t ask how I know this!)  Personally, I prefer to avoid using fillers in reduced loads, because they add to the expense and time of handloading.

The Internet is another good source of reduced load data.  The popular Blue Dot loads for the .223 Remington became widely known due to gunsmith, bullet-maker and .19 caliber guru James Calhoon.  As a wildcatter Jim already had done plenty of experimenting, finding Blue Dot had potential in standard rounds, so published his results on, which is where I found them.  Naturally, they work very well with his excellent bullets.

Red Dot’s another fine reduced-load powder.  Probably the best-known application is described in “The Load,” an article by C.E.  Harris in the 12th edition of Handloader’s Digest.  After considerable experimentation, Harris found 13.0 grains of Red Dot worked as a starting for reduced loads in any case of about .300 Savage capacity or larger, though the exact charge sometimes needed adjusting up or down.

The biggest case I’ve tried it in was the .416 Remington Magnum, with 210-grain cast bullets for the .41 Magnum, made with a rather soft alloy.  The 210’s broke one of Harris’s other parameters, that the bullet should be in the “normal weight range” for the cartridges, but the load still worked — after adjusting the charge.  I started with 13.0 grains but the velocity turned out to be too fast for the soft bullets, but “working down” to 8.5 grains ended up at about 1100 fps, which apparently was just right.

The handgun bullets were, of course, undersized for the .416’s bore, but came out of the mold at .412”, and would bump up enough from the fast-burning Red Dot to group five shots into 2” at 50 yards, good enough for offhand practice, which is what I wanted it for.  (There was also the problem of the case necks being a little too large, solved by sizing the cases with the expander-ball removed.)

If you have older copies of Handloader’s Digest, American Rifleman or Handloader you’ll find a number of articles on reduced loads.  A few years ago Wolfe Publishing started offering a complete set of Handloader magazine on CD’s, which not only takes up a lot less room than a collection of paper issues but articles can be found much quicker, since a search program’s included.

At the opposite end of the spectrum from the .416, a couple years ago I worked up a load in Hornady’s version of the .17 Hornet to basically duplicate the .17 Mach 2 rimfire.  Unfortunately neither Hornady (or any other bullet maker) offers a 17-grain V-Max, but with Accurate 5744 it was easy to come up with a very accurate load for the 20-grain V-Max at 2100 fps.

I used the suggested technique of filling a case with powder to where the base of a seated bullet would be, weighing the charge, then using 40% of that weight as a starting load.  In the .17 Hornet the starting load turned out to be 4.4 grains, and working up to 7.0 grains got right around the desired 2100 fps, with ¼” groups at 50 yards.  (The Western Powders website recently started listing more reduced 5744 loads for various cartridges.  It also works as a full-power powder in some cartridges, especially for lighter bullets in the .223 Remington.)

Similar formulas from the Hodgdon website also work for H4895 and Trail Boss.  Hodgdon strongly suggests only using H4895 rather than IMR4895, and apparently a few handloaders took this to mean using 60% of the maximum charge listed as a minimum charge was dangerous with IMR4895.  This isn’t so, and in fact if you look through old books and magazines you’ll find plenty of references going back to shortly after World War II listing similar charges with IMR4895.  (The powder was developed just before the war for the Garand’s service load, and many handloaders used “war surplus” IMR4895 after the war, because it was both cheap and versatile.)  Hodgdon’s pressure lab, however, has found that H4895 often works more consistently than IMR4895 with reduced charges, though IMR4895 still works quite well.

When I was young and poor and wanted a very versatile rifle powder IMR4895 was a logical choice, and partly due to familiarity I still use it a lot.  One of my early loads was the 60-grain Hornady in the .257 Roberts at about 3300 fps, which served as a “.223 equivalent” on ground squirrels until I could afford an actual .223.

One of the virtues of either 4895 is the velocity desired can be calculated precisely by dividing it by the maximum charge’s velocity.  This works with all single-based powders, but with the 4895’s you can go lower than with slower-burning powders.  The formula’s particularly handy when you want to develop a reduced big game load, whether for kids starting out or experienced hunters who don’t need always need magnum power.

In the 1990’s I hunted with the .338 Winchester Magnum a lot, and found a fine moderate-range deer load by combining IMR4895 and the 200-grain Speer Hot-Cor.   More recently I developed a moderate 150-grain load with H4895 for a new-to-me .300 Weatherby, one of the rifles actually made in Southgate on the FN Mauser action — the equivalent of a good .30-06 load, both in velocity and recoil.

IMR4227 also works great for even milder varmint and big game loads than possible with IMR4895.  I’ve used it in cases up to the .375 H&H, using a combination suggested by Tom Brownlee (“Ingwe” on the Campfire) for the 220-grain Hornady jacketed flat-nose, and Lyman’s cast-bullet manual lists loads for the .222 and .22-250 Remington, .243 Winchester and .30-06.  Because IMR4227’s faster burning than IMR4895, you’ll save a little money since powder charges will be smaller.

Of course, both IMR4227 and IMR4895 are also good for faster loads.  IMR4227 is a classic powder for the .22 Hornet, and works both for .22 Magnum-equivalent tree squirrel loads and fairly zippy ground squirrel loads.  One of my favorite “slightly reduced” IMR4895 loads is the 35.0-grain IMR4895 starting load listed by Hodgdon for 50-grain bullets in the .22-250, for around 3600 fps.  It’s shot extremely well in several rifles, is plenty for larger varmints from rockchucks to coyotes, and easier on the bore than hotter loads.

Trail Boss was of course designed for reduced loads, specifically Cowboy Action loads with both handgun and rifle rounds.  You just fill up almost any case with this fluffy stuff and go shooting, but there’s also a formula to follow if you want to be a little more “scientific”:  Fill the case to the base of where a seated bullet would be, then weigh the charge and use that as the maximum load (pressure will always be less than maximum for the cartridge).  Use 70% of maximum as a starting load.  I also tried Trail Boss with 20-grain bullets in the .17 Hornet, but couldn’t get enough powder in the case to get more than 1700 fps.  The load wasn’t quite as accurate the 5744 load, but is useful on small, edible game.

For those who don’t like to experiment much, here are a bunch of reduced rifle loads I’ve used over the years.  All resulted in good accuracy, but the finest accuracy loads are marked with an asterisk:

.17 Hornady Hornet3.5 Trail Boss20 Nosler Var. HP1708
7.0 A574420 Hor. V-Max2084*
.22 Hornet12.0 IMR422730 Barnes VG2645
5.0 A574443.5 Lyman cast RN1080*
8.5 IMR422745 Rem. RN1736*
.223 Remington21.0 A574435 Nos. Lead-Free3602*
16.0 IMR489540 Speer Spire Pt.1586*
4.0 Blue Dot42 Calhoon HP1113
6.0 Trail Boss45 Rem. RN1814
.22-250 Remington35.0 IMR489550 Sierra HP3585*
.25-20 WCF4.0 Unique85 Gone Ballistic Cast1297
.257 Roberts41.0 IMR489560 Hornady FN3333
.257 Ackley Improved27.0 IMR489575 Speer FN2079
.270 Winchester50.0 IMR489590 Sierra HP3059*
42.0 IMR4895130 Hornady SP2623
.300 Wby. Mag.60.0 H4895150 Nos. Partition3003
.338 Win. Mag.60.0 IMR4895200 Speer Hot-Cor2652
.35 Whelen10.0 Red Dot158 Lyman cast SWC1428*
47.0 IMR4895140 Speer JHP2082
9.3×62 Mauser13.0 Red Dot200 Huntington cast1433
.375 H&H60.0 IMR4895200 Sierra FP2363
35.0 IMR4227220 Hor. FP1905*
.38-55 WCF20.0 A5744262 Lyman cast1410*
26.0 Blackhorn 209262 Lyman cast1364*
.405 WCF8.0 Red Dot215 Midway cast1148
10.0 Red Dot255 BRP cast1198*
40.0 IMR4895255 BRP cast1657*
.450/.400 NE 3″32.0 A5744408 Lyman cast1366*
.416 Rem. Mag.8.5 Red Dot210 Lyman cast1002
.45-70 Sprg.42.0 IMR4895405 Rem. JFP1327*
(1884 “Trapdoor” Rifle
made in 1889)
27.0 A5744460 Cast Performance1321*

John’s new book MODERN HUNTING OPTICS and other great stuff can be ordered online at