Some thoughts about selecting pistol powders

Any time you go to choose reloading components, you have to ask yourself- with all of the choices out there, which product is right for this application?


When you’re selecting a pistol powder, here are a few things to consider:

  1. Caliber, barrel length, power level, bullet weight
  2. Metering capabilities
  3. Load data
  4. Safety and case capacity
  5. Availability
  6. Cost

I know this is not an exhaustive list, but it’s enough to get you started 🙂 – so let’s take a look at each of these considerations…

Before you get started, you may want to read the following article on smokeless gunpowders from the “Reloading 101” section on this site:
Gunpowder Basics

Now that you have the basics down, let’s talk about the criteria from our list:

Caliber, barrel length, power level, bullet weight

Any time you go to figure something out, you have to start somewhere, and with powder selection, the caliber you’re going to load for is the place to start. Some calibers perform better with faster powders (such as 9mm) where other calibers will favor slower powders (such as 44 Magnum). If you look at online sources of load data, or in your reloading manual, you can pick the caliber you’re loading for, and see what powders are listed. If you have a short barreled gun (snub nose revolver or short barreled automatic) then you should look for faster powders. If you have a long barrel handgun (like a 6″ revolver) you can use slower powders. You also need to decide how powerful your loads will be. If you’re loading 44 Magnum, and want to reduce your load, you have to be careful not to use powders that are intended for heavy loads such as Hodgdon H-110/Winchester 296 (same powder). Those powders require 90%+ load level to burn properly and can be dangerous if down-loaded. Bullet weight will also make a difference on what powder you use. Generally, lighter bullets can handle faster powders, and heavier bullets will favor slower powders. Consult your load data to determine which powder is right for your bullet weight.

Metering Capabilities

If you’re loading for pistol, you’re likely using a progressive reloading press. Each press has it’s own powder measure design, and each has types of powder that it will meter better, and types of powder that meter less reliably. In general, flake powders (such as Alliant Unique) are not as consistent as ball powders or flattened ball powders (such as Winchester 213/Hodgdon HP-38 – the same powder).

Load Data

I’ve already mentioned that consulting load data is a good way to pick a powder. If you have abundant load data (start with manufacturer data, then look at user-supplied data on websites) then you may have more “tried and true” options for your loads. If you don’t see load data posted, don’t assume you can’t use that powder, but be prepared to do some foot work to find out what the correct load should be. Load data from trusted sources (forum participants you trust, friends, etc) can be a good way to go.

Safety and Case Capacity

Some loads do not fill the case very much in terms of air to powder ratio. If you add a tall slender case to the equation (think 38 special) then you will have a tough time visually inspecting the powder level while you load. It would be very easy to double-charge if you had an equipment malfunction or other stoppage of your workflow. There are two options here to make sure you are safe: first would be to use a powder that will “overflow” upon a double chare, the second is to use a powder check system. Dillon, Hornady, and RCBS offer great powder checking solutions – better safe than sorry!


Let’s face it- in this political climate some times you have to be creative with what you can find due to the shortage of reloading components we are currently suffering through. You may have to start with what powders are available, and select primers, bullets, and load data from that standpoint. What’s important is to always use reliable load data, and don’t experiment with potentially dangerous unknown loads. Always check your load data from two sources if possible, and ALWAYS double check your load data before starting your loading process! Keeping good records is a great idea as well.


I think it’s important to consider the cost of powder, but it’s the last thing to consider in my opinion. The proper application for your intended uses and the safety factor are more important. Some powders are more expensive than others, and some loads are more expensive than others. Usually the cost of bullets is much more than the cost of primers or powder (unless you cast your own bullets). If you want to calculate the cost of powder for your loads, just remember that 1 pound = 7000 grains. It’s easy enought to calculate once you know that.

There you have it. Some thoughts to keep in mind when you go to pick a powder. If you’re going to order a 5lb cannister of powder, you better be sure of what you’re getting 🙂

Did I miss anything here? Feel free to comment with your thoughts.


10 thoughts on “Some thoughts about selecting pistol powders”

  1. Are there any cross references for powders? If so wherre can you find them? I understand that Hodgdon makes powder for Winchester in some cases. Is Winchester 231 and Hodgdon HP 38 one in the same? My local supply house may only have one or the other brand and I want to make sure that I get the right stuff.

  2. After watching your vids, it is clear that you prefer 321 for pistols; I plan to try it as well…however, What power is best for 223/308? What is your favorite?


    Good stuff by the way…keep it up!

  3. John- Yes, I’ve found Winchester 231 and Hodgdon HP-38 to burn well, meter well, and generally have good availability. They are the same powder with a different label.

    For cross-reference, that’s a tricky one. I haven’t seen a chart like that (perhaps I should put one together for this site 🙂 ) There are however several burn rate charts that are handy for comparing powders.

    For 223 there are a lot of options, Reloder 7 is one that I have used. For 308 again you have a lot of options, but Hodgdon Varget seems to be a great performer, quite accurate.


  4. FWIW to all I’ve found H110 to work well in the .44 Magnum with high power jacketed bullets and Unique for mediumn velocity loads using lead bullets.

  5. I began buying powder last year, as the Obamanation scare hit. What I looked for were powders that with loads for more than one of my calibers. In pistol, that’s .32 acp to .357 Magnum. Both Bullseye and Unique gave me that option. #5 also gave me some coverage. My goals are to cut my ammo costs, and just to be sure I’d even have ammo; if I find a benchrest-accurate load, it’s a bonus.

  6. Question on a Winchester powder. Hornady’s reloading book shows that WIN ACT PIST, or believed to also be WAP will work well with all of the pistols, 9mm, 40 S&W, and 357 sig. my problem is when i went to buy WIN ACT PIST the only logical choice was Winchester Auto Comp Smokeless Powder. Are these powers exactly the same or do i need to add or subtract grains?

  7. I was reading my new Hornady book and wondering what ACT PIST was too, Brandon. According to this thread, Winchester discontinued ACT PIST and sold it to Ramshot. It’s now called Silohette. I think it’s best to call Ramshot and ask if Silohette is the same as Action Pistol (ACT PIST). I attempted to compare load data from Hornady to Ramshot, but I don’t see a direct match or confidence inspiring correlation. Both companies publish load data for the 9mm Luger with 4″ barrel velocities, but the Ramshot load is much hotter and faster. I’d like to try the Hornady .44 Special load, myself.

  8. Under metering a quote says Winchester 213/ Hodgdon HP38 are the same powder, father down on January 14,2010 at 7:27 AM the ADMIN states that Winchester 231 and Hodgdon HP 38 are the same powder with different labels, who is correct is it 213 OR 231 and HP 38 are the same????

  9. I left this same comment elsewhere on this website, couldn’t find it later so doing it again. I’m new to reloading and my gun store recomended Winchester 748, from what they had in stock, to reload my .45ACP. From my web search, I see it’s used for rifle, but I can’t find any data on using this powder with .45ACP. Any experience with it or any opinions? If I can use it, how much powder to use?? THX

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