By Frank Iannamico
Saving money is usually one of the primary reasons for reloading, although some shooters will argue accuracy is their motive. I doubt however, if tack driving accuracy is the motive of many machine gunners. Many shooters have relied on inexpensive military surplus ammo to fulfill their needs. In recent times of ever restrictive importing laws, along with many sources of ammunition drying up, reloading may be that groups future option.
Shooters of military style firearms have an distinct economic advantage over most other shooters because there are a lot of military surplus components available at bargain prices. Once fired brass, surplus or pulled projectiles, and of course the subject of this article, surplus military gun powders.
Many of the surplus powders available are the ball type. There are a few powders that will cover a wide application of uses. Generally there is reloading data available or existing data for a similar commercial powder can be used. Virtually all military powders currently on the market have a commercial equivalent.
There are probably more powders and applications than contained herein. I am simply sharing with you my personal experiences with the powders and cartridges. I always have had very good results using surplus powders.
There are several sources for surplus powders. These suppliers can usually be found in the classified ad section of any firearms publication such as: Small Arms Review, Shot Gun News, or the Gun List. The suppliers listed in any of those periodicals usually sell their goods at wholesale prices. The catch is if you plan on purchasing a pound or two it isn’t quite the bargain it may appear to be. The reason is the UPS haz-mat charge of $10.00 per shipment, plus the normal ground shipping charge will make a couple of pounds of gunpowder very expensive. Incidentally, there is no haz-mat charge on; these primed brass, loaded cartridges or projectiles. An FFL is no longer required to purchase reloading components through mail order.
In order to purchase cheaply you will need to order a large amount of powder at one time. If you just don’t need very much, get a few of your shooting friends to order along with you. You can ship four eight pound canisters of gun powder for one $10.00 haz-mat charge! The same applies to primers. The haz-mat charge is $10.00 whether you buy 100 or 5000. So to get more bang for your buck (no pun intended) you will need order in large quantity. As a bonus, large orders usually result in even lower prices.
Note: Primers and gun powder cannot be shipped together.
A few years ago I found a great deal on a pistol powder that I regularly use. I told a few friends about the deal, before long the order grew so large that we all enjoyed an even greater discount because of the huge quantity we eventually ordered. I haven’t purchased any pistol powder for four years (and I use a substantial amount of pistol powder). Its real nice not to always be running out of something when reloading. Especially powder, as inexpensive surplus powder is usually not available locally in most areas. Usually it is only available by mail order.
Now that your hopefully convinced on the economics of surplus powders here is a list of what is available and some applications. NOTE: Commercial equivalents are listed only as a possible source of reloading data.
SAFETY FIRST! NOTE: ALWAYS consult a reliable loading data manual for proven, tested loads and complete safety instructions. Never exceed recommended loads. Be aware that reloading manuals often suggest a slightly lower charge when using military surplus brass. Various lot numbers of military powders may vary slightly from lot to lot in burning rate.
WC231; (bulk) A pistol powder that is also a commercial powder manufactured by Winchester. This is the only pistol powder I use, although WC 820 has some magnum pistol applications. WC231 is a flake type powder that burns very clean, and measures well in progressive presses such as the Dillon or Lee line. The cartridges I load with 231 and have had good results include; .45 ACP, 9mm, 38 Special, .38 S&W, 7.62X25, .380, .44 Special and 9X18 Makarov.
WC820; This powder was one of original propellants used by the U.S. government for loading the M1/M2 U.S. Carbine rounds. I personally have found it to be the best powder available for reliable operation in a full auto M2 carbine. In addition to loading the .30 carbine cartridge, it can be successfully used in .44 Magnum and .357 Magnum loads. Because WC820 is rather slow burning for a pistol powder magnum primers are suggested in both the .44 and 357 applications. WC820 is similar to equivalent Commercial H110 powder. H-110 and WC820 are very fine grain ball powders.
The manuals that accompany Dillon presses suggest not using H110 powder. H110 is very fine and can jam the powder bar. However, I have used WC820 in Dillon presses with no problems.
WC 846; This powder was specified by the government to charge the 7.62 NATO round (.308 Winchester) as fired in the M14 service rifle and M60 General Purpose Machine Gun. WC 846 is, of course, great for reloading the 7.62 NATO rounds. In addition it can also be used in 30’06 and .223 rounds. There are a great number of possible uses for this powder in other military and commercial cartridges. WC 846 is equivalent to commercial BLC2 powder.
WC 844; This powder is one of the powders used for loading the M16 NATO round the 5.56mm, (.223 Remington). This powder, of course, works excellent for reloading for the 5.56 round. It too has many other possibilities for other cartridge loadings including 7.62 NATO. WC 844 is equivalent to commercial H-335 powder.
WC680; (bulk) This powder is used primarily for the loading of the Russian M43 cartridge commonly referred to as the 7.62×39. The government reportably used it during the Vietnam War, when government ammunition suppliers were manufacturing 7.62×39 for use in captured enemy weapons. The brass they manufactured was boxer primed as well!
For those who don’t remember, boxer primed 7.62×39 wasn’t available for years for general consumption. As a matter of fact prior to the early 1980’s 7.62×39 was rather scarce (read expensive) in this country until surplus Chinese rounds began being imported in large quantity. Today 7.62×39 is a common cartridge in the U.S.. Boxer primed reloadable brass is available from several manufacturers. There have even been several commercial U.S. gun manufacturers offering their popular models chambered for the Russian round.
WC680 can also be loaded in the U.S. .30 carbine round, but I personally have had better results with WC820 in the .30 carbine.
WC852; One of the original powders loaded in the military 30’06 round. Caution must be used when using this powder because there are up to 8 lots currently available that all have different burning rates!
To attain a military spec velocity of 2750 FPS with a 147 grain FMJ projectile, the powder charge can vary from 47 grains to 63 grains, depending on the burning rate of any particular lot! Be certain to check with the dealer that you purchase from their recommendations on the lot they are selling you.
WC870 Original .50 caliber military powder. Commercial equivalent, H-870. Can be used in sporting magnum rifle loads.
Army manual TM 43-0001-27 is a small arms ammunition guide and the powders and charges the military uses are listed in it. It would be prudent to lower any powder charge listed in the manual, as they may be too hot for reloads.
Thanks to Steve Martin of Reloaders Outlet, Penn Hills, PA
|This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V1N4 (January 1998)|