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Rifle Magazine
October - November 2002
Volume 37, Number 5
ISSN: 0017-7393
Number 219
On the cover...
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.
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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 ammunition manufacturers.

Of the handgun powders, Enforcer is the slowest and therefore most suitable for big-bore calibers. It’s also the one selected for this column. Western’s 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 isn’t included in the second edition guide but in the first it’s 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 you’ll 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 don’t 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 I’m leaning toward the first edition again, namely the 5-inch barrel. Regardless, it’s 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. That’s 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 book’s 1,477, but the Ruger Super Blackhawk with its 7 1/2-inch barrel is a bit stubbier than the factory’s 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 I’ve come to like this bullet, finding it’s 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, it’s a very good load.

I tried the 300-grain bullets - Sierras in my case - with my usual reluctance. Experience has taught me that it’s 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 I’ll 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 manual’s 953 fps, but that was for, I think, a jacketed bullet. The manual didn’t 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. I’m not sure what more I could ask.

Lead Head Bullets
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