Thursday, June 16, 2005

Titegroup and LilGun, Two Powders From Hodgdon

I've been fooling with a couple of Hodgdon's newer canister powders for the handloader and here are my impressions.
Hodgdon's LilGun is a powder designed for loading the .410 shotgun, some of the smaller rifle cartridges and, especially magnum revolver ammo. I haven't messed with the .410 bore shotgun since before I started shaving so my work with this powder has been in the .357 Magnum.

LilGun is a double based powder containing both nitrocellulose and nitroglycerine, it is about the same burning rate as H110, a little slower according to one burn rate chart from Hodgdon and a little faster than H110 according to Ramshot's burn rate chart. This discrepancy in those burn rate charts shows the folly of trying to determine load data simply by looking at the charts.

Fans of high velocity revolver ammo will swear by this powder. Using Hodgdon's max listed load of 18.0 grains of LilGun behind the Hornaday 158 grain XTP hollowpoint I was able to chronograph over 1400 fps (feet per second) out of my Ruger GP100's six inch tube. This is a full 150 fps gain over any other powder I've tried in all the years I've been messing around with the .357.

This same load clocked over 1900 fps in my 18.5 inch barreled Marlin 1894C Carbine. Just because I could I drove up to a friend's in Lawton Oklahoma, this friend has one of those pricey Oehler Ballistic Laboratories, we put a strain gauge on my carbine and tested the pressure. Here I'll confess to exceeding Hodgdon's listed maximum load , something I do not recommend.

I did it because I had access to pressure testing equipment, we loaded the ammo right there and took extreme care. We worked up in half grain steps, we were trying to break the magic 2,000 fps barrier with the carbine. We did it though the pressure was some 3,000 pounds per square inch over the SAAMI maximum. I won't give the data nor will I use that load for general shooting. My carbine digested it with no trouble but accuracy went to that hot place the preacher warned me about. Stick to the listed max. For another thing it was a real pain working with that much powder, the cases got so full it was difficult to start the bullet.

One odd thing about this powder is that pressure and velocity fell off when we tried sparking the load with Winchester small pistol magnum primers. Extreme spreads and standard deviations also increased with the mag primers. At least in my shootin' irons the standard small pistol primer gives higher velocity and better consistency. Please don't ask me why. Starline brass was used in all the initial tests, later repeated with Federal brass with negligible differences.

Recoil in that light carbine is brisk. Not painful by any means but noticeably higher than with most other loads I've used.

On the other end of the spectrum is Hodgdon's Titegroup. As the name implies, this powder is for lighter target loads. I've tried it with lead alloy bullets in .38 Special, .357 Mag and .45 Colt. In the .38 and .357 I've used it with both my own home-cast 158 grain Lee Semiwadcutters and the Speer swaged 148 grain hollow based wadcutters. In the .45 Colt I've only used it in my home cast 250 grain round nosed flat points, again out of a Lee mold. I confess to loving the Lee molds, not only are they the most inexpensive on the market but the aluminum blocks are light enough that there isn't a lot of fatigue during a long casting session. Also, unlike the other brands on the market you buy the double cavity mold and it comes with the handles already on. Other, unnamed molds (cough, Lyman, cough), the durned handles cost more than the whole setup from Lee.

I haven't bothered setting up the Chronograph working with Titegroup, I'm not particularly interested in the velocity of these loads. They get to the target before I get bored waiting around and they have enough bohemous to fight their way through a piece of target paper and the backing, that's all I'm interested in.

What does interest me is that Titegroup is both clean shooting and economical. In the .38 a load of 3.0 grains behind the 148 grain wadcutter does the trick. That's well over 2,000 rounds out of a pound of powder. I like that. The same charge works fine with that bullet in .357 brass.

I went up a half grain using the semiwadcutter bullets just because there is so much more airspace in the case with the bullets not being seated so deeply. I'm not sure I really needed too but once the powder measure was set I haven't bothered changing it. Again, the same charge worked fine in both the .38 and the .357.

Accuracy in both the .38 and the .357s is close enough to my best loads with other powders that whether one shoots better than the other depends more on how I'm shooting on a given day than on the load.

The .38s I shot this load in were our old Colt Police Positive Special with a four inch barrel and my wife's S&W Ladysmith Model 60. The .357s were the Ruger six inch GP100 and my little three inch tubed Ruger SP101, my preferred carry gun. I haven't tried it in my Marlin Carbine but I suspect it'd be a superb small game load.

In the .45 Colt I went with just under Hodgdon's max load of 6.2 grains, my measure was throwing 6.0 and I quit fooling with the adjustments. My Cimarron Arms copy of the Colt Single Action Army shot more accurately with this load than anything else I've tried to date and that includes the two boxes of factory fodder that I put through it while waiting for my dies and mold to come from Midway. I've loaded Alliant's Unique, Bullseye and Red Dot as well as Accurate's Number Five and Hodgdon's Universal Clays, Titegroup beat them all as far as accuracy goes in my .45.

Hodgdon claims that Titegroup is position insensitive, that it burns consistently regardless of where that little charge is in those fairly large .38 and .357 cases and the cavernous .45 Colt case. To check out that claim I set up a sandbag rest on a fifty yard bench Using both the Cimarron .45 and the GP100 I shot five groups from each, elevating the muzzle between shots and then gently getting on the bags so as to keep the powder charge near the primer. I then fired groups without elevating the muzzle. I'm not a good enough shot to tell the difference. I then fired a couple-three groups elevating the muzzle on one shot and holding the gun down on the next so that the powder charge would be by the bullet one time and the primer the next. There was still no significant difference. It will take a better shot than I am to prove Hodgdon wrong.

The downside to Titegroup is that the charges take so little room in the case that one could easily double or even triple-charge a load. The answer is to take that extra step and shine a small flashlight down every case in the loading block once the cases are charged.

So, there you have it. Titegroup is replacing Bullseye, Red Dot, 700X, Clays and Universal Clays for my light target loads and LilGun is replacing H110, 2400, Blue Dot, 4227, 800X and Accurate Number Nine for my heavy loads. I'll keep some Unique around just for my medium power woodsloafing loads, just because. I'm sure my insurance agent will sleep better at night knowing that I'm replacing eleven different powders with three.

Update 60/18/05: Having slept on it I thought I should elaborate a bit on what happened when we deliberatly went over the Hodgdon maximum load for LilGun in the .357 Mag. We went up in half grain steps and there was very little change in pressure and velocity the first couple of steps, the pressure stayed under SAMMI Max with a comfortable margin, but little or no gain in velocity. Then, in one half-grain step the pressure went from well under to right at that max. The next step up went to an average of 3,000 over with the highest peak pressure of the test at over 7,000 over max.
In a future carnival I'll write some on what the late P. O. Ackley, one of the gurus of America's golden age of wildcatting called the "balance point" of powders, the point at which the increases in powder charge stops giving easily-predictable increases in pressure and velocity. There is a way, using a chronograph, to find that balance point without having pressure testing equipment. It's too long to include in this post so I'll save it for another time.


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KuduKing said...

Thanks for this post, very informative! I discovered Titegroup a few years ago and think it's a great choice. There is a lot of resistance to change in the shooting community. The Bullseye/Unique/2400 crowd has ywt to modernize and they regularly talk down any other powder that comes along, especially Titegroup. I've found great sucess with Titegroup in .44 Special, 9mm, .380 and .32 Auto. Recently loaded some .38 Special 140 TC cast bullets with 4.0 grains of Titegroup and it shoots great in my every .38 I have. Thanks for the wadcutter load, I have a bunch to load up and was looking for a light target load.