Reloading with Surplus and other non-canister Powders.


Jan 25, 2008
About 15 years ago, while paging through a Shotgun news, I ran across an add for some surplus powder. Although I'd never head of WC860, and had no idea what it would be good for, at $3.65 per pound delivered, I had to try it. It's been an interesting experience. Having no real data, but an idea, a chronograph, and enough sense to know when to stop.

First let’s look at the 5 main sources of surplus/non-canister powder.

1. Military pulldown. The U.S. Military is not permitted to sell loaded ammunition as surplus. Instead they sell the loaded ammo to contractor, who separated it into component parts, and sells them separately. Most pulldown powder began life in spec, but is now old, and may have lost some of its zip. It's common for these powder to run a little slower then new virgin powder.

2. Military Overruns. The made too much of the new good stuff, and had to sell it off at a discount. Typically warmer then pulldown.

3. Out of Spec. Sometimes a lot doesn't meet standards and gets sold off. This can be some great powder, but is it out of spec because it too hot, or too cold? Start extra low and work up.

4. Plant closing. From time to time, a commercial loader will go out of business, and their powder will get sold off. The commercial guys have access to some really nice powder, about twice as many as we do.

5. Foreign manufacture. Some surplus sellers are importing powder from Russian, and other for iron curtain countries. This is usually high quality powder, and often times difficult to tell the difference between powders you know and love, usually with good data.

Now if all those variables didn't scare you off, and you bought your new, only half known power, where do you start with your loads. The first step is to determine the maximum velocity potential of a given powder, in a given cartridge. We start with a light for caliber bullet, a low powder charge, and work up to a case full of powder, 2 rounds per interval. Once you found this maximum velocity, compare it with your loading manual, and see what weight bullets are typically launched around these velocities, and you now know about what bullet weight will be close to optimum for that cartridge, powder combination. Work up your bullet weights in stages, making sure data hold with each increased bullet weight. Another benefit of this method is a light bullet will generate less pressure. This provides an extra margin of safety while learning the properties of the new powder. Once you've worked up loads with 3 or 4 different bullet weights in one caliber, and chrongraphed along the way, you now have some decent data you can compare with your loading books.

Sometimes you will run into a powder that is just too cold for a give cartridge. Well, since a lot of the powder is .50BMG or 20mm pull down, it can be pretty slow. In this case, remember these three rules: The bigger the case, the sharper the bottle neck, and the longer the barrel, the slower the powder you can use, and still get maximum performance. The 7mm STW, 7mm and 300 ultra mags were made for surplus powder.

Here are the surplus/commercial powder's I've loaded with: remember lots vary.

WC820: Ball powder. It’s similar in burn rate to H110. Original used in the .30 carbine. I have a jug of pulldown, and not surprisingly, it’s somewhat slower then H110. Some commercial loaders are using this as new virgin powder in .357 and .44 mag. loads. I’ve had good results in .357 mag.

WC297: Commercial powder, slightly slower then W296. This is probably the finest pistol powder I’ve ever used. It works great in my .44 Mag.

WC844. Ball powder, original application 5.56 NATO. Use H335 data. My lot is hot. If I attempt to use the original U.S Army loading data it blows primers. This is my primary .223 powder.

WC846: Chemically identical to WC844 (see above). The fast lots are labeled WC844, the slow lots are labeled WC846. Original application 7.62 NATO. Use BLC-2 data. I can’t tell the difference between my lot and BLC-2. I’ve had excellent results in 22-250, .308, and .338 Mag. It shoots one hole with all three rifles.

WC852: Ball Powder, original application 30.06. This powder has been reported to have a wide variation of burn rates, any where from H414 to RL22. There were several large, out of spec lots of this powder. My lot is very close to H450. If it’s designated WC852f (for fast) it might be even hotter. For regular WC852, start with H414 minimum data, and work up from there, and stop when your gun tells you to. I’ve had acceptable results with .270 Winchester, and .338 Win Mag.

AR2213SC: Commercial equivalent of H4831SC. I can’t tell the difference. I’ve had Great results in .270 Winchester, and .338 Win Mag.

WC868: 20mm new virgin
WC860: 50 Cal pulldown.
WC872: 20mm new virgin and pull down.

I listed these three powders together, in order of my lots, fastest to slowest. These are very slow powders, WC860 is generally the easiest to find, and considered to be 8% slower then H870. These are great powders for anything with STW, or RUM in its name with a 26+” barrel. Use either FED215, or FED215GM primers. IME the rest are a waste of time with these powders.

IMR5010. Original application 50 BMG. In come applications IMR5010 and WC860 are used interchangeably my lot of pulldown 5010 is slower then the loading manuals would suggest, but it’s very accurate in my 7mm STW. If I was going to shoot matches with it, and was not concerned about velocity, this is probably the powder I would use.

So next time you look at my signature block, you might better understand the motto, “Start low and work up. When in doubt, start lower.”

Interesting information. How do you know the origin (pull down, over run, out of spec, etc) of the surplus powder when you buy it?

Great write-up that is most informative. We find surplus and non-canister powders available in Canada occasionally. I really appreciate your emphasis on safety w/o neglecting the benefits. Thanks.
JD, the adds will typically include this information. When ordering, I always call the supplier and visit with them about the powder I'm considering first. They will typically say if is new, pulldown, or out of spec ect. When I bought the 868, the only thing they were able to tell me was that it was an overrun of a new powder for the 20mm. Having loaded 3 different cannon powders in the past, I backed off over 20 grains from where I expected the max to be, and worked up. Good thing, because the max came early. In any event, it's turned out to be a really fine powder.
Thanks A_S, good write up. Thanks for posting.

Good luck on finding 5010. It is very hard to find and costly now when it rarely is for sale.. I use to pay $3/lb now it is not even out there to buy. That is hard on us 50bmg loaders. The 860 has also gone way up in price and is sometimes hard to find and is not suggested for tracer loads. Use 5010 for tracer loads.
I bought from pats and hi-tech before the prices went crazy and you could not get it. I still have about 10 jugs of 5010 and 9 jugs of 860. However I am not looking forward to when I need to restock.---Take Care