Choosing the Right Powder for a Long Range Rifle

You’ve just unpacked your new long range hunting package.

But there’s one thing missing; the reloading powder. 

For starters, gunpowder tucked behind a projectile can help pile up pressure to enable a shot from the muzzle at that high speed. 

That said, the market is inundated with a wide collection of powders. 

How do you choose the best powder for long range shooting? 

You can narrow your options by leveraging a few strategies, which we’ll discuss later in this article.

But first,

Types of Powders 

There are two main types of gun powders; black powder and nitrocellulose.

Black Powder

Black powder is a blend of fuels (sulfur and charcoal) and potassium nitrate, an oxidizer. This powder burns relatively slower and leaves sizable residue and smoke.

That said, black powder is almost obsolete as a propellant in modern arms.

Nitrocellulose

Nitrocellulose is a single molecule that bundles up fuel and oxidizer. This composition allows it to burn faster, generating more energy than black powder. The burn rate increases as the pressure rises.

This powder converts almost entirely into gas, leaving little residue and smoke.

Other advantages of smokeless powder include its ability to minimize the corrosive effect on your rifle’s bores, stability in-store, and improved control over its burning rate.

Most gun powders produced today are either single or double-base.

Single base powders consist of nitrocellulose alone. Double-base powders, on the other hand, comprise a mixture of nitroglycerin and nitrocellulose.

Gunpowder Characteristics

When it comes to long range powder selection, it’d be best to know crucial characteristics to help you narrow down your options. 

These include:

Burn Rate 

The burn rate will determine the peak pressure generated by the powder charge, and it is crucial to match the load type (magnum vs. standard) and bullet weight. 

Non-magnum loads use faster burning powder, while their magnum counterparts use slower burning powders. 

Density 

The powder’s density will determine the bulk amount for a specific charge weight.

Bulkier powder brands can help prevent double charges — if one charge occupies most of the powder space, a double charge can trigger an overflow or reduce the bullet seating depth. 

That way, the powder can stop the ram before it reaches the top. 

Granule Shape

Gunpowder particles are known as granules. The shapes of these granules differ from one gunpowder to another and will affect burning characteristics and metering. 

Common gunpower granule shapes include:

  • Ball Powder: This powder features small, spherical granules. Ball powders typically meter well. 
  • Flattened Ball Powder:  These are more or less like ball powder but are slightly flat.
  • Flake Powder: These granules are shaped like tiny disks. It can be challenging to meter flake powder because it can be less uniform in density when metering. 
  • Stick Powder: This powder type is often used in rifle applications. Stick powder has granules similar to small extruded cylinders. 

How to Choose Long Range Shooting Powder

Here’s what you should consider when choosing powder for big game hunting.

The Bullet

Determine the bullet you intend to use.

Then, review the reload data to decide the muzzle velocity you want to achieve.

As you scrutinize the powder charges, you’ll likely find that the option that matches your requirement is marked “C,”

The “C” indicates a lightly compressed powder charge. That’s the gunpowder you’ll want to buy.

“C-rated” powder can deliver maximum or near-maximum charge weights, yielding a load density of 95 to 103 percent and by extension, uniform velocities for the best accuracy.

Buy or Download a Manufacturer’s Load Data Manual

The manufacturer's website is a good place to look for the best powder for long-range hunting.

While you can buy the load manual, you can find plenty of free info on the manufacturer’s site,

Some top gunpowder brands include:

  • Vihtavuori powders
  • Winchester powder
  • Alliant powder
  • Hodgdon powders

Check Your Rifle’s Caliber and Bullet Weight in the Reload Data Manual

When you look up your ammo, you’ll see a list of powders compatible with your needs.

In addition, the manual provides helpful details such as powder charge, muzzle velocities, cartridge overall length (COL), etc., to help you decide which powder best works for you.

When it comes to long range powder selection:

  • Avoid slowing burning powder
  • Choose fast burning powder because it'll deliver better velocity in all bullet weights.
  • Select powder that offers the highest velocity at the lowest pressure. The perfect velocity depends on your bullet type and rifle.

Choose a Powder That Matches Your Guns Specs and Barrel Length 

Your manual will have an extensive list of powders compatible with your rifle. Pick one made to work with your rifle’s barrel length.

You can start by buying small amounts of different powders and sampling them to see which offers the best performance.

As a rule of thumb;

  • Avoid buying large amounts of powder at once more so if you haven’t tested it before. Instead, test the powder first, determine what you like, develop accurate loads, and then buy in larger amounts.

 Put differently, focus on achieving the most accurate load first.

  • Never experiment with a powder the manual doesn’t recommend.

How to Store Your Powder Safely

Make sure you store your powder in a cool, dark, and dry place.

Gunpowder is temperature sensitive, so you’ll want to pick a place with no humidity fluctuations. 

While garages and basements offer temperature stability, they aren’t the best places to store your gunpowder.

Consider storing your powder in places with less temperature sensitivity, such as an open shelf upstairs. You can also rent a climate-controlled facility for larger amounts of powder.

Other things to remember include:

  • Avoid reloading your rifle near electrical or mechanical equipment
  • Avoid storing gunpowder in small amounts
  • Ensure the powder stays in its original container, away from humidity and solvents

 Long Range Powder Selection: The Bottom Line

The tidbits above are a great place to start when looking for long range gunpowder.

You can always contact the manufacturer if you’re unsure of the best powder for your rifle. And, don’t spend your money on large amounts of gunpowder if you’re a beginner.

The more you determine what works for your rifle, the easier it is to choose gunpowder that’ll deliver the desired results in the long run.

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