|October - November 2002
Volume 37, Number
The Cooper Arms .218 Mashburn Bee is outfitted with a Leupold 40X scope(photo by Stan Trzoniec). The five shot stainless Taurus Model 455 Stellar Tracker .45 ACP features a 4-inch barrel (Photo by Steve Gash). Red fox photo by Ron Spomer.
As many hunters and shooters have
come to know in recent years, the Western Powders Company of Miles City, Montana, markets
the Ramshot line of canister powders for reloading. Purchased domestically and imported
from Belgium, the bulk powders are transported to Montana where they are tested, packaged
and marketed. Currently, there are nine powders in the Ramshot line: four handgun powders,
four rifle powders and one shotgun powder. All are double-base, of spherical construction
and very fine granulation. Western also markets non-canister grades of powder to
Of the handgun powders, Enforcer is
the slowest and therefore most suitable for big-bore calibers. Its also the one
selected for this column. Westerns reloading manual, the Ramshot Powders Handloading
Guide, Edition II, pairs Enforcer with seven calibers. In spite of the law
enforcement/defense aura inspired by its name, the calibers include the .357 Magnum, .44
Magnum, .454 Casull and .22 Hornet along with the .38 Special, .40 S&W and .45 ACP.
Wishing to keep things under control, I chose to work with the .357 Magnum, .44 Magnum and
.45 ACP but with several bullet weights in each caliber.
Before beginning the actual loading
and shooting chores, I dug out my copy of the earlier Ramshot Powders Load Guide, Edition
I, mainly to see what had been added in the interim. Powder density information isnt
included in the second edition guide but in the first its given as 940 grams/liter
for Enforcer. That is, indeed, mighty high, especially for a handgun powder, but one look
at the finely granuled powder itself and youll believe it. The powder meters exceedingly well, as one would
expect, and charge-to-charge variations are miniscule.
One interesting thing about
comparing the first edition to the second was that the listed test barrel length for
Enforcer for the .357 Magnum and .45 ACP changed, but the specific velocities, standard
deviations and pressures did not. In the case of the .357 Magnum, the first edition listed
a test barrel of 10 inches; the second, 7.71 inches. For the .45 ACP, the first edition
barrel was 5 inches; the second edition claimed 4. I dont know what to make of all
this, but I suspect the 10-inch barrel was actually used for the .357 data. It may be too
close to call for the .45 ACP, the difference in lengths being but one inch, but Im
leaning toward the first edition again, namely the 5-inch barrel. Regardless, its
what I get in my guns that counts.
I began with the .357 Magnum, a Ruger single
action with a 4 5/8-inch barrel. This gun tends to shoot jacketed bullets better than
cast, and as the data was for jacketed bullets, I checked out the 125-, 140- and 158-grain
loads. While the 125-grain bullet in this caliber has a marvelous reputation as a
defensive choice, I prefer heavier bullets for field use. Nevertheless, Western offers
load data for three 125-grain bullets, from Hornady, Speer and Sierra, respectively. The
first two with Winchester Small Pistol Magnum primers are 14.5 grains for about 1,650 fps.
The latter, with Federal 200 primers is also offered with but a single load of 16.7 grains
at 1,730 fps. Using a Speer bullet, I dropped 10 percent off the stated charge and began
at 13.0 grains. A 14.0-grain load offered the best accuracy and over 1,300 fps. My
favorite bullet weight in this caliber for small game such as coyotes, javalina and large
jackrabbits is the 140 grainer. A Speer jacketed hollowpoint (JHP) was chosen here too,
rather than the Hornady XTP of the load table. The single load book entry was for 15.3
grains. I began at 14.0 but found happiness at 15.0 grains with a velocity of 1,234 fps
and very small groups. A third bullet weight of 158 grains was also tested.
Here the manual chose another
Hornady and I another Speer, a 158-grain softpoint. The loads given were 12.8 and 13.0
grains of Enforcer. Thats too close for me, so I cut the 13.0-grain load to 11.5 for
starters. As luck would have it, my best groups came at 12.8 grains. Velocity was 1,149
fps. Better safe than sorry, though, and unless the start load is at least a full grain
less than the maximum, I prefer to cut the maximum load by about 10 percent or so and work
up from there.
Sometimes, with experience, we
develop good feelings about a powder before we even try it. It was this way for me with
Enforcer and the .44 Magnum. It just seemed right. I was not disappointed. Distaining
lightweight bullets in this caliber, I began with a Sierra 240-grain jacketed hollow
cavity (JHC). Together with CCI 300 primers, I got my best results at the maximum charge
of 20.0 grains (I began with 18.0). Velocity at 1,357 fps was a bit under the books
1,477, but the Ruger Super Blackhawk with its 7 1/2-inch barrel is a bit stubbier than the
factorys 8.275-inch tube. My groups with this load were the best of the test series
at 1 1/4 inches at 25 yards. Next came the 270-grain Speer Gold Dot Soft Point (GDSP).
There was no load data for this bullet, but as its weight is halfway between the 240- and
300-grain bullets, for which there is data, I chose a powder charge midway between the two
and subtracted 10 percent - 20.0 grains maximum for the 240; 16.0 grains maximum for the
300 suggested 18.0 grains for the 270 - and started with 16.0 grains. I went to the
trouble because Ive come to like this bullet, finding its the heaviest for
which I can make adequate sight adjustments. Accuracy with this bullet was good at a tick
over 2 inches at 1,190 fps. Corrected to the muzzle, this is an honest 1,200 fps. All in
all, its a very good load.
I tried the 300-grain bullets -
Sierras in my case - with my usual reluctance. Experience has taught me that its
difficult to drive these bullets much over 1,200 fps from my barrel, and at that speed I
cannot lower the rear sight enough to obtain a hit on target that is close to point of
aim. Typically, hits are 6 to 8 inches high at 25 yards, twice that at 50 yards, 4 times
that at 100. To some this may be minute of elk and forge ahead,
but Ill pass. (Parenthetically, my Bisley Vaquero in .45 Colt with a 5 1/2-inch
barrel will push 300-grain bullets to 1,200 fps and strike point of aim at 50 yards.)
Nonetheless, 16.0 grains clocked 1,197 fps and gave 3-inch groups. Groups were headed in
the wrong direction here, but Enforcer performed very well, giving good velocity and very
small extreme spreads.
My final efforts were with the .45
ACP in a Colt Government Model with a 5-inch barrel. I used a cast 200-grain semiwadcutter
(SWC), a 225-grain Speer JHP and a 230-grain Sierra JHC. Primer selection by Western was
the Federal 155, a Large Pistol Magnum primer. This struck me as odd enough that I shot
the entire .45 ACP series twice, once with the standard Large Pistol Federal 150 primer
and again with the Magnum 155. While velocities and extreme spreads were pretty much a
wash with all three bullet weights, the Magnum primers consistently produced smaller
groups. With the 200-grain lead bullet, the maximum charge of 13.5 grains produced the
smallest groups and 1,023 fps, a bit over the manuals 953 fps, but that was for, I
think, a jacketed bullet. The manual didnt have any 225-grain data, only 230 grain,
so I used the latter for both. The manual gave three powder levels with a Hornady XTP
hollowpoint of 12.3, 13.4 and 14.0 grains. Tighter extreme spreads came with the
12.3-grain load with both bullets, as did smaller groups, always with the Magnum primers.
In the end I have to give high marks to Enforcer. It
burns cleanly, meters extremely well and produces high velocity. Group sizes for the guns
used ran from typical to better than typical, sometimes much better. Im not sure
what more I could ask.