Why I Do Not Publish my Pet Reload Recipes

By Gary Zinn

In this era of independent websites, blogs and forums, there are many reloaders who are eager to share their favorite load recipes with the world. I am not one of these. I will not publish my pet recipes for the cartridges I load, because I feel it would be both inappropriate and irresponsible to do so.

Here are a couple of examples to explain what I mean. Several years ago, I was testing a hand load that I had developed for one of my .223 Remington rifles. I had shot several groups, with very good results, and ended up with three unfired cartridges and one clean target on the 200 yard board at the shooting range. I fired these three cartridges into the target, walked down to retrieve it and beheld a 3/8-inch group (at 200 yards!).

This instantly became one of my pet loads for that rifle. I have since confirmed on many occasions that load, in that rifle, consistently shoots very well, 1/2 MOA or better when I do my part.

However, I will not quote the recipe here. This is because each load, the rifle in which it is fired, the environmental conditions and the shooter doing the work are different. It would be foolish at best, and irresponsible at worst, for me to publish the load and claim or imply something to the effect this is a sub-1/2 MOA load in other rifles.

As another example, consider hand loads for autoloading pistols. I am not a good enough handgun shooter to even think about doing competitive accuracy shooting. Rather, I shoot for fun and I load handgun cartridges with the objective of getting them to function smoothly and reliably in my pistols. When I get a load to the point where I do not get cycling malfunctions, I call it good and do not worry about getting the last little bit of velocity or accuracy out of the load.

In other words, my loads are tuned to my pistols. My 9mm pistol cycles easily, so it likes lighter loads of powders that give moderate velocity for a given bullet weight. These loads function fine in my pistol, but might short stroke or stovepipe in a tighter pistol.

Conversely, my 40 S&W pistol is a make and model that has a reputation for working best with full power loads. My gun runs true to form, functioning best with near maximum charges of high energy powders, such as Power Pistol. It does not like milder old standbys, such as Universal, at all. My pet recipes would likely work in any 40 S&W pistol, but might prove stronger than necessary for an easier cycling gun, making it jarring to shoot and accelerating wear.

These examples illustrate why I feel that it is inappropriate for me to foist my favorite loads on an unsuspecting world. Looking at the issue from the other side, I also will never use load recipes that originate from unreliable sources. I mistrust all such data as inadequately tested and documented and thus potentially troublesome or dangerous to use.

Browse some of the shooting forums and sooner or later you will see something like this: Joe Blow writes, "Hey, I just bought a rifle chambered for the .350 Zombie Smasher cartridge. Can anyone tell me the best load to use in it?"

Inevitably, a reply will be posted, "Yo, Joe. Bobby Threefingers here. I load the .350 ZS with xx.x grains of powder Y, under a zzz-grain bullet. Blows zombies to bits every time! Happy hunting."

When I see such a sketchy load recipe quoted, I assume that the subtext is, "This is as much powder as I could cram into the case and still get the bullet seated deep enough to load in my rifle. I think it is a good load because it kicks like a mule, sounds like a cannon and has not yet broken my gun."

In my silly example, Bobby probably told Joe all he thought was important about the load in question, which was probably exactly the amount of information Joe thought he needed; i.e., a powder name and charge weight and a bullet weight. However, Joe was careless for asking for the information so casually and Bobby was irresponsible by providing such sketchy data.

Here are some unanswered questions about this load. What is the case brand and trimmed length? What primer brand and type (standard or magnum) was used? What specific brand and type of bullet was used? What is the overall length of the loaded cartridge? What rifle (action type, barrel length, twist rate) was the load developed for? What is the chronographed muzzle velocity of the load? Is this a maximum powder charge? Is the chamber pressure of the load within established SAAMI or CIP maximum limits?

There are innumerable load recipes floating around for which all or some of these questions are not answered. Such vague and incomplete load specs are unreliable at best and highly dangerous at worst, and should NEVER be used. You have been warned!

The sane way to select load recipes is to stick with those listed in established and reliable sources. By "established and reliable sources," I mean the printed reloading manuals and on-line load data sites of the reloading equipment, powder and bullet companies that have a track record for providing comprehensive, detailed and safe load recipes. Anyone familiar with the scene will know what these sources are, so I will simply note that the ones I use most are the Lyman, Hornady, Speer, Nosler and Lee printed manuals and the Hodgdon, Hornady, Alliant and Nosler data sites.

These sources list the components used, critical dimensions (case length and cartridge O.A.L.) and (usually) length and rifling twist rate of the test barrel or firearm used to work up the listed loads. Another important variable listed in most comprehensive manuals is the chamber pressure of the maximum load. (The Speer, Hodgdon and A-Square reloading manuals are especially good about providing pressure information. -Editor.)

When I want to develop a new load, I first check one of my primary sources, find a recipe that looks promising to me and carefully review and record all the listed information about it. Then I cross check it against another manual or data site. This is important, for misprints, although very rare, can occur. Once I have verified the load data, I can work up the load with confidence that I am not stumbling into a disaster.

To explain what I mean by cross checking a load, suppose I want to work up a .223 Remington load, using Winchester 748 powder and a 55 grain bullet. The Hornady Handbook of Cartridge Reloading (9th edition) lists a top load of 26.4 grains of W748, yielding a MV of 3200 f.p.s. Cross checking this with the Lee Modern Reloading Manual (2nd ed., revised), I find a maximum load of 26.3 grains of W784, with a MV of 3150 f.p.s. The two sources are very close, which verifies that I have a valid and safe load recipe.

The Lee manual also notes that the chamber pressure of the maximum load is 41,250 p.s.i., a mild pressure for .223 Remington loads. This is because Winchester 748 powder routinely generates lower pressures that most comparable powders. The Hornady manual does not list pressure data, although Hornady load data is within the SAAMI maximum for standardized cartridges.

I invoke Bobby and Joe one more time to stress the importance of being selective regarding the source of load data, and of cross checking load recipes. Suppose Bobby's .350 ZS load recipe uses 51.6 grains of powder, but when he was posting it to Joe he accidentally typed it as 56.1 grains. Think about the ramifications of such erroneous single-source information getting loose on the internet.

One more critical point: the maximum load listed for a particular cartridge and components combination is exactly that, maximum. The maximum powder charge specified is a reinforced concrete wall, not merely a line in the sand. Anyone who blithely loads a cartridge above the stated maximum will, sooner or later, pay for doing so. I do not want to be nearby when that happens.

I already have a couple of articles on this website that make reference to hand loads for specific cartridges and I am working on more. As I said, I have not and will not quote any of my personal recipes in any of these articles and I hope readers now understand why. The nearest I will come to tipping my hand is when I may, from time to time, cite data on a load from a reputable source and note that it is very close to a load that performs well in one or another of my firearms.

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