6.5 Creedmoor H4895 reduced loads: 123 SMK and 142 SMK

6.5 Creedmoor H4895 reduced loads: 123 SMK and 142 SMK

When I started reloading center-fire rifle in the 90s I was mostly concerned with maximizing velocity.  A younger guy, I tried to squeeze every bit of energy out of my hunting loads.   As I started to pursue match rifles, that desire for velocity was replaced by one for precision.  I stopped shooting the hottest loads and sought out the one that patterned the best with the lowest standard deviation.  On occasion I’d see some old timers shooting reduced loads (often with lead bullets) but that never really piqued my interest.  Often they’d run a small charge of a fast burning pistol/shotgun powder like Unique which I viewed as a recipe for disaster- if you weren’t vigilant, a double charge could easily find its way into the case.

A few weeks ago I was browsing a hunting site and started reading about reduced loads with Hodgdon H4895, a popular powder with many reloaders and one, that almost embarrassingly, I have never worked with.  I ran over to the local store and purchased a pound.

Hodgdon H4895 is sometimes called one of the most versatile rifle powders available.  Compatible with a wide range of cartridges, it can also be used for reduced loads in for center-fire rifle cartridges.  If you go to Hodgdon’s website, you’ll find two technical documents about reduced loads for rifles, one related to H4895 and the other IMR Trail Boss (a bulky powder that safely makes even lighter loads).

According to Hodgdon, H4895 is the slowest burning powder they offer that can be used to safely reduce loads.  They recommend starting at 60% of the maximum load and working up from there, click on this link, and take a look at the documentation on their website.  DON’T TRY THIS WITH OTHER POWDERS OR CARTRIDGES THAT YOU CAN’T FIND H4895 DATA FOR, YOU’LL GET INJURED OR KILLED!

New to reduced loads, I was curious to see how it would work out.  But before I get to that, we need to ask: why reduce loads in a rifle?  Is it, to quote my friend Cranky, “a solution in search of a problem”?  Besides the downsides of decreased external ballistic and terminal performance, what benefits can you gain?

Reduced loads could be beneficial because they allow for:

  • Less recoil for young shooters.  You can download a rifle for a young shooter to kick less with less muzzle blast.  Get a lightweight 308 Winchester hunting rifle, download it, and as your kid grows, change over to full power loads.  Maybe it is a better option than the horrific blast associated with muzzle brakes?
  • Less mirage than full power loads.  For shorter range shooting, you can fire more rounds before you pick up mirage from the barrel.  I fired the 50 rounds shot in this post in about 20 minutes with no noticeable barrel mirage- impressive!
  • Short range plinking.  The reduced loads run cooler.  If you are shooting varmints or plinking at closer ranges, the reduced loads will be easier on your gear.
  • Practice from alternate positions, especially with lightweight hunting rifles.  If you shoot heavy guns and pick up a hunting rifle, you know how much more they beat you up.  With reduced recoil loads, a hunter could work on offhand, positional, and field expedient shooting positions at short to moderate ranges with his actual hunting rifle without worrying about developing a flinch.

I’m decided to try some reduced load in my 6.5 Creedmoor.  I know what you are thinking, that cartridge doesn’t kick much.  I get it, but I didn’t see a lot of reduced load info online for the Creed, so I decided to give it a whirl.

Before we start working with reduced loads, please take the time to read the following disclaimer:

WARNING: The loads shown are for informational purposes only.  They are only safe in the rifle shown and may not be safe in yours.  Consult appropriate load manuals prior to developing your own handloads.  Rifleshooter.com and its authors, do not assume any responsibility, directly or indirectly for the safety of the readers attempting to follow any instructions or perform any of the tasks shown, or the use or misuse of any information contained herein, on this website.

I apologize for shooting this rifle so much lately, I really like it.  I built it with parts from Brownells, including:

All the parts, the barrel, chassis, scope and trigger, work together well for a nice shooting rifle.

I selected the Sierra 123 gr. (above, center) and 142 gr. MatchKing (SMK) bullets (above, right) for this test.  I loaded them over 4XF Norma brass that had been bushing neck sized in a Redding Competition Match die set.  H4895 meters well, so all loads were dropped through a Harrell’s measure.

Looking at the Hodgdon website, I decided to start each load at 60%, and work up in 10% increments until I shot a full power load.  That would give me a 60, 70, 80, 90 and 100% load.  To calculate the load, I multiplied the maximum load on Hodgdon’s website by the percentage (for example 60% would be .6 x max load) and rounded to the nearest tenth of a grain.

For a target I placed 1″ orange dots at 100 yards.  I fired all shots prone, from a bipod and rear bag.

The results are shown in the table below.  Note I calculated the actual percentage the charge weighs (%MAX) in relationship to the maximum listed load.  This accounts for any rounding errors.  Velocity was recorded with a MagnetoSpeed V3 barrel mounted ballistic chronograph.

The first thing you’ll note about the 123 and 142 SMK loads is they are precise.  The 123 SMK had an average group size of .471″ (.450 MOA) while the 142 SMK had an average group size of .448 (.428 MOA) across all loads, 60%-100%!  Wow!  Totally not what I expected.  I pictured the slower loads grouping in the 4-5″ range!  Shocked!

Here is the target, the 142 SMK is on the top, the 123 SMK on the bottom.  What else do you notice besides small groups?  The point of impact between is nearly identical for the 123 and 142 loads in each increment.  Plus, the point of impact for the 60% loads are only about 2″ below the point of impact for the full power load.  The best groups were achieved with the 70% loads for the 123 and 142 SMK.

The 70% 142 SMK load (above), .257″ (.245 MOA)! That’s five shots folks!

The 70% 123 SMK load, .317″ (.303 MOA)!

I’m impressed with how well all the loads shot.  Node what? Node who??  No Node???

I went ahead and plotted the muzzle velocities on a line graph for both series of loads (above).  Note how flat the lines are, showing whats appears to be a linear relationship between the load percentage and muzzle velocity.  Cool stuff.

I was curious what the effective range of these reduced loads were so I modeled the 142 SMK loads with a G7 BC in the ballistic calculator.

If you take a look at the drop, you’ll note that out to 100 yards, where the program was set to zero, everything is pretty similar.  Pushing to 200 yards, the changes start to become more apparent with the 60% load dropping 10″ to the 100% loads 3.6″.  That’s a 6.4″ difference, a lot less than I thought you’d see considering these loads have a muzzle velocity 848 feet/second apart.

Let’s take a look at drift, again, with the 142 SMK loads.

Again, you see that at 100 yards things are pretty close with a more pronounced separation starting to manifest itself at the 200 yard line.  In a 10 mile/hour full value crosswind, the 60% load has 4.2″ of drift while the 100% load has 2.4″, or 1.8″ more.  That’s less of a difference than I thought I’d see.

The big question is how much did it reduce felt recoil?  The answer is a lot, but I don’t have a great way to quantify it (I don’t like the recoil equations you can use, they don’t capture the intangibles, like muzzle blast and how it feels for the shooter, but if you like math, check out this recoil calculator).  The muzzle blast for the 60 and 70% loads was significantly less, and the rifle, albeit heavy, barely moved.  With the scope set at 25X the reticle would stay within 2-3″ of the point of aim during the recoil impulse.  The rifle made a popping noise, reminiscent of the old, slow, black powder cartridges.  It was just plain fun to shoot!

200 Yards?

100 yards looks good, but what about 200?  Let’s find out.  I loaded up some of the 142 SMK 70% loads and headed to the range.  I fired 40 rounds, six different 5-shot groups, and one 10-shot groups.  Results are below:

You can see group sizes ranged from 1.049 (.501 MOA) to 1.604″ (.766 MOA/ this was the 10-shot group) with an average size of 1.298″ (.620 MOA).  That’s pretty solid for such a slow bullet.

What about hunting with reduced loads?  For hunting applications greater consideration needs to be given to terminal effects.  Some of the lightest loads may only be marginal at shorter ranges and careful consideration should be given to the cartridge, bullet and type of game selected.  Most rifle hunting bullets are made to expand at higher velocities and this needs to be considered for hunting applications.

I’m impressed with how well the reduced loads shot in my 6.5 Creedmoor.  I’m definitely trying it in a couple of other cartridges.  I also have plans on trying to game a local 200 yard F-class (well sorta F-class, it isn’t sanctioned) match with my no recoil rifle.

This was a blast.  If you never tried reduced H4895 loads, you may want to try it.  I just ordered a container of Trail Boss, a bulky powder that can be safely used for even slower reduced loads.

For more information on reduced H4895 loads, visit Hodgdon’s website.

For 6.5 Creedmoor load data, see Sierra Bullets.