This is a subject that not a lot of handloaders know about, and even less is written about. I have found it to be one of the best kept secrets in handloading today. With commercial powders costing upward of $26.00 to $30.00 a pound, these powders are an excellent low cost alternative that can produce accuracy and velocity at equal, or many times better, performance levels than many of the higher cost commercial powders deliver.
First things first. What exactly is "Surplus Military Powder"?, where do you buy it?, and most important of all, where do you obtain data to load for it?
Surplus military gunpowder comes in 2 types. These powders are most always classified as "New", or "Pulldown" powders. New means just that. The powder is of new manufacture, just the same as the powder you buy off the shelf at your favorite gun shop, or supplier like Midway, etc. Pulldown powder is powder that has been loaded into cartridges by an ammunition manufacturer under a military contract. This powder was then reclaimed by a process called "Demilling". It basically means the ammunition has been disassembled, and the components sold separately. This can happen for a number of reasons. The military has very strict velocity requirements that must be met on each and every single lot of ammunition they accept. If a given lot is out of range by even a small amount the military can, and will reject it. Most people don't know, but the military has much stricter requirements on it's ammunition than commercial manufacturers do.
Up until recently this "out of range" ammo could be sold as is by a commercial company to the general public. however our dear friend Bill Clinton put a stop to that with an Executive Order some years back. Now the only way this ammunition can be sold is by going through the demilling process, and it's components sold off separately, hence the term "pulldown" or "demilled" powder.
A lot of military ammo that is sold today, like Federal XM-193 Ball in .223 is actually overrun ammo that is produced off the same line as the military contract ammo is produced. It is just run after, or before the contract run is manufactured. This is then legal for civilian sale, as is surplus ammunition that was manufactured before Clinton signed his "Kings Decree" preventing it.
Now back to purchasing and loading this excellent powder. A lot of reloaders shy away from this powder because not a lot of data is written about loading it. First off here are 2 places that have a large amount of this type of powder in stock at very good prices, and are excellent to deal with.
Most all of this powder is listed as to what type of cartridges it was originally manufactured for. Jeff over at gibrass is excellent to deal with, and provides cross reference data to get you started safely loading this powder. Both of these outfits move a lot of this stuff, and their stock changes on a week to week basis. Most of the military surplus powder sold comes packaged like this:
If you handload for .30 Carbine, 9 MM, .45 ACP, .30-06, .308, and just about all of the large belted, overbore Magnums, there is a surplus powder that will fill the bill nicely.
I have purchased 6, 8 pound jugs of this powder of different types, and have used it to reload .30-06, .308, .300 Winchester Magnum, .300 Weatherby Magnum, and .338-378 Weatherby Magnum. In the larger overbore Magnums, WC-872 Ball Powder is hard to beat. This powder is very slow burning, and was originally developed for the Army's 20 MM Vulcan Rapid Fire Cannon round. As I stated it is very slow burning and because of this, almost impossible to get into trouble with it because you simply can't get too much of it into a case. WC-860 is another slightly faster powder that I have used with good success in both of my .300 Magnums, and in my .30-06's.
To start loading this powder, just start with the cross reference data provided by starting with the lowest load listed. This is important for 2 reasons. First, these powders can vary greatly from lot to lot. Second, just like loading with commercial powder, you must take into account case capacity, which can vary from brand to brand, or military cases that can be thicker. WC-872 can be loaded safely with H-870 data, as can WC-860 which was originally developed for the .50 BMG cartridge. You can then work up slowly until you achieve the velocity and accuracy you desire, just like you do when working with commercial powders. With most of these slow burning rifle powders, Magnum primers are a must, just like when working with Reloader 25, Retumbo, or any of the other commercial slow burning rifle powders. I've found these powders to be very clean burning and accurate, and can cost as little as $45.00 for an 8 pound jug. When compared to many of the commercial powders that can be as high as $155.00 for 8 pounds, this represents a substantial savings, at a enhanced level of performance as well as accuracy. Bill T.