Reloading: Hodgdon Extreme Powder—The Consistent Choice

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These are the author’s favorite three powders from the Hodgdon Extreme line. You can cover a lot of ground with just these propellants.
These are the author’s favorite three powders from the Hodgdon Extreme line. You can cover a lot of ground with just these propellants.

Engineered to produce velocities as regular as clockwork, the Hodgdon Extreme Powder line delivers what reloaders chase—consistency.

What Makes Up The Hodgdon Extreme Powder Line:

The Hodgdon name has long been synonymous with excellent smokeless powders, and it has been marketing, developing and selling powders for reloaders since the end of World War II. Bruce Hodgdon started it all, selling surplus U.S. military rifle powder via small classified ads. Today, the company is nothing shy of wonderful … and still has the Hodgdon family at the helm.

Smokeless Powder Evolution

The process of creating a reliable smokeless powder has been as much of an evolution as—and has gone hand-in-hand with—the improvements in bullet technology. Modern powder has been an important ingredient in the successes of our long-range cartridges, because they will produce the consistent pressures and velocities that are so important to accuracy.

Before the advent of our single- and double-base smokeless powder, Cordite was the solution to the corrosive nature of black powder. It was manufactured in long, spaghetti-like strands, and while it certainly worked (Cordite fueled many of our classic hunting cartridges, such as the .375 Holland & Holland, .404 Jeffery, .30-06 Springfield and .416 Rigby), it was extremely sensitive to changes in temperature.

One of the reasons the .416 Rigby case is so large is to keep the pressure as low as possible, because the Cordite propellant gave one set of pressures in jolly, old England yet increased notably in the tropics of India and Africa. The modern update of the Rigby—the .416 Remington Magnum—shows that the same ballistics can be achieved at a higher pressure in a smaller case. Yes, the pressures are higher, but modern powders are more consistent across a wide range of temperatures.

While H4350 is usually more closely associated with cartridges such as the 7mm Remington Magnum and the .300 Winchester Magnum, it’s perfectly at home in the 6.5 Creedmoor, shown here with new Hornady A-Tip bullets.
While H4350 is usually more closely associated with cartridges such as the 7mm Remington Magnum and the .300 Winchester Magnum, it’s perfectly at home in the 6.5 Creedmoor, shown here with new Hornady A-Tip bullets.

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The extruded and spherical powders in vogue at the outbreak of World War II began a movement to create powders insensitive to temperature changes. Hodgdon has been at the forefront of that technology (recently, with the IMR Enduron line).

The Extreme Powder Line

However, before that came the Hodgdon Extreme powder line. There are certainly some gems in that lineup, from the fast-burning to the slowest-burning powders for huge cases.

H322: Starting low in the line, among the faster-burning powders, you’ll find H322. It has given fine accuracy in the smaller cases such as the .222 Remington and .223 Remington, and I’ve seen some excellent targets from a .308 Winchester loaded with H322 and lighter (168 grains and under) bullets. I also like the way H322 behaves in the .45-70 Government and the .458 Winchester Magnum.

So, if you want to use the same ammunition in your .223 for prairie dogs in the summer heat and for coyotes in the frigid winter, give H322 an audition. Likewise, if you’re a fan of the .458 Winchester Magnum and have intentions of taking that big stick to Africa for buffalo, Alaska for brown bear or Australia for banteng and water buffalo, you might want to keep H322 in mind.

H4895: Sliding up the scale, we see H4895—with ties to the original surplus military powder that Bruce Hodgdon sold. It’s another great choice for medium cartridges such as the .308 Winchester and the good, old .250-3000 Savage. It was a good powder years ago; it has been made better by the modern coatings to reduce temperature sensitivity.

Hodgdon’s Varget is an extremely versatile powder, which is equally applicable to the .308 Winchester as it is to the big .416 Remington Magnum.
Hodgdon’s Varget is an extremely versatile powder, which is equally applicable to the .308 Winchester as it is to the big .416 Remington Magnum.

Varget: This might be one of the most versatile and useful offerings in the lineup and has all but replaced IMR4064 in most of the cartridges in which I loaded it. Varget works in the .22-250 Remington (although I prefer Hodgdon’s H380, I do have several loads for Varget), is stellar in the .308 Winchester and .30-06 Springfield, and shines in both the .375 H&H and .416 Remington Magnum.

Varget, along with Reloder 15 and IMR4166, have given excellent results in many medium-capacity cases, as well as the larger-volume safari cartridges. The consistency of Varget across the temperature range has shown that it’s equally at home on the target range as it is in the hunting field. While perhaps it’s not the optimum choice for the “children” of the .30-06, the .270 and .280 will run on Varget, and the .338-’06 and .35 Whelen simply love it.

H4350: Looking at the Extreme powder just up the burn rate scale will yield H4350. Now, for years, this powder was a sure go-to for the .300 Winchester Magnum and has been great in the .375 H&H Magnum. However, recently, it’s proved to be the powder for the 6.5 Creedmoor.

H4350 has a burn rate not far off from its IMR counterpart, so any application for which IMR4350 would suffice could be equally served by H4350—although the two are not interchangeable. It’ll serve the .243 Winchester, .280 Remington, .270 Winchester and all the WSM family, and it’s proven to be a good choice for both the .338-06 and my beloved .318 Westley Richards.

H4831SC: Next up, you’ll find H4831SC, with the “SC” standing for “short cut,” because it’s designed to meter better with a shorter grain structure. I’ve come to rely on this powder in a number of ways—at opposite ends of the spectrum. I first came to know H4831SC when loading the behemoth .378 Weatherby Magnum for the late professional hunter, Jay T. Carlson, using more than 100 grains of H4831SC to drive 300-grain Nosler Partitions at a muzzle velocity of 2,975 fps.

H4831SC (the “SC” stands for “short cut,” as in the grain length) can fuel the big magnum cases such as the .378 Weatherby Magnum, as well as smaller cases such as the 6.5-284 Norma, with fantastic accuracy and consistency.
H4831SC (the “SC” stands for “short cut,” as in the grain length) can fuel the big magnum cases such as the .378 Weatherby Magnum, as well as smaller cases such as the 6.5-284 Norma, with fantastic accuracy and consistency.

H4831SC has also been magical in my 6.5-284 Norma, pushing 140-grain boat-tail bullets to such a consistent velocity that it maintains 1/3 MOA out to 500 yards (maybe more; I haven’t put it on paper beyond that distance). It’s equally at home inside a .300 Winchester Magnum case as it is inside a .270 Winchester, .280 Remington or .25-06 Remington and has been factory loaded in the .470 Nitro Express. Of all the Hodgdon Extreme powders, I find H4831SC to be among the most universal and useful, especially when talking about the larger cases.

H1000, Retumbo and H50BMG: Rounding out the series of Hodgdon Extreme powders is a trio of very slow-burning powders, suitable for the fastest cartridges yet developed. H1000, Retumbo and H50BMG all develop fantastic velocities. I’ve used Retumbo in both the .300 Remington Ultra Magnum and the .30-378 Weatherby Magnum, although I do feel Retumbo burns a bit dirty. H1000 will serve some of the smaller cases. By that, I mean the .300 Winchester Magnum, 6.5-284 Norma and many of the smaller Weatherby Magnums. But it will also work in the .470 NE and .416 Rigby.

Consistency Is Key

What I like most about this line of powder is the consistency. While single-digit extreme spread figures don’t always equate to accuracy, they certainly are a big part of the equation, and I’ve found Hodgdon’s Extreme powders to be among the best when it comes to consistent velocity.

For a hunter who travels, or at least uses his or her rifle in a number of varying environments or seasons, the Extreme line makes all sorts of sense. I’ve tried to prove the Hodgdon technology wrong—both by putting the ammunition on ice and by letting it sit in the summer sun—and it works. I’ve seen very little variance in velocity. I can’t say the same for many other powders.


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