Almost on a
daily basis, I receive emails that go something like " What
is the maximum load for my Ruger Blackhawk?" The
model of the gun may vary. It could be a Smith & Wesson
model 19, a Colt Python, Browning A-Bolt, Winchester
model 94, or almost any other cartridge firing weapon. For
some reason, the shooter wants to stuff his firearm with the
elusive "maximum load".
shooter wants to run his weapon at the edge of destruction is
beyond me. I guess that the simplest way to find the maximum
load for any given firearm would be to incrementally load more
and more powerful loads for the gun, and start firing them in
succession until the gun blows up. The last cartridge that did
not blow up the gun was the maximum load. The problem with that
method is that you have destroyed the weapon, and the
information gained by doing so will not apply directly to a gun
of like make and model. Due to differences in manufacturing
tolerances for firearms, each gun is a law unto itself. A
load that works fine in my Ruger Vaquero might give excessive
pressure in yours.
Even if the
"maximum load" did not blow the weapon to pieces, it
could, over time, beat the gun to death. If you have an
automobile with a tachometer, you will notice that it is marked,
usually with a red line, the maximum RPMs that the engine will
run, yet no sane person wants to run his engine constantly at
redline. The life of the engine would be measured in minutes
instead of years. It is the same with a firearm. A quality
gun with normal use will give service for several generations,
yet constantly subjecting the weapon to excessive pressure will
beat the gun to death. Every time that the gun is fired, stress
is placed upon not only the chamber but the frame and certain
internal parts. Modern guns are very strong and built to
withstand these stresses, but constantly running the gun at peak
pressures will gradually shoot the gun loose. In certain
designs of revolvers, such as the Smith & Wesson, the frames
will stretch, resulting in excessive tolerances, bad timing, and
misfires. Run these same guns with ammunition for which
they were designed, and they will last for years.
Let us examine
the case of rifle cartridges and excessive pressure. Modern
bottle-neck cartridges are made to perform at high pressure, and
the rifles in which they are chambered are very efficient at
converting that pressure into a very flat shooting and accurate
package. Loading ammunition near peak pressure can result in
good accuracy and velocity, but exceeding the working pressure
of the rifle and cartridge results in erratic velocity, poor
accuracy, and sticky extraction at best. At worst, it can wreck
your rifle and result in bodily injury. Most normal human beings
are issued two eyes at birth, without the option of acquiring
more later. Excessive pressure in a rifle can result in hot
powder gasses streaming at high speed into the shooter’s face.
It is a very good way to lose an eye, and only to obtain that
mysterious maximum load.
reason, many shooters want the most velocity possible with any
given bullet. Sometimes this is a good thing, and sometimes it
works against the purpose for using the gun. For instance, a
bullet designed to work well at 30-06 velocities will blow to
pieces if fired into a game animal at close range from the
latest and greatest .300 Ultra Short Nuclear Fat Magnum. The
recent craving to push .30 caliber big game bullets at .22
varmint bullet velocities makes the big game bullets behave like
varmint bullets at close range. I know of hunters who are
trading off their .300 Winchester Magnums for .300s with greater
case capacity to obtain a couple of hundred more feet-per-second
velocity, to go deer hunting! This is why a hunter using one of
these super .300s needs to use only premium, bonded core bullets
so that they don’t come apart upon impact. Make no mistake,
these new super magnums offer flatter trajectory, but that is
about it. Sometimes they offer less penetration than if the same
bullet were moving slower. This is the same rationale that makes
shooters want to stoke their guns with "maximum"
loads. They mistakenly think that pushing the bullet
faster results in better performance. This is just not always
It is not only
hand gunners and riflemen who suffer from "maximumitis".
Shotgunners also have their version of this malady. The reason
that the twelve gauge 3 ˝ inch shell is so popular is because
no one makes a four inch shell. A turkey or waterfowl is killed
by two or three well-placed pellets to the vitals of the bird,
but shot gunners want to throw as much lead out the barrel as
possible. It has been proven that pellet speed is more important
to penetration than any other factor. Throwing more pellets does
nothing to improve penetration. A lighter payload at faster
speed is a more effective load for a shot gunner who can shoot
accurately, yet most hunters want to throw as many pellets as
possible at the target.
When Ruger and
Hornady introduced the .480 Ruger cartridge and gun, many
hand gunners lamented that it wasn’t a .475 Linebaugh, as if a
325 grain bullet at 1350 feet-per-second wasn’t enough.
Handloaded, the .480 can push a 405 grain hard-cast lead bullet
at 1300 feet-per-second. Let me tell you that this load
can kill anything that bleeds, yet many cried that this was not
enough! The .475 Linebaugh is a fine cartridge, but it is not
for everyone. The guns are expensive and the recoil
substantial. I have even heard from shooters wanting to know the
"maximum load" for the .475 Linebaugh! Most likely,
these shooters had never even fired one.
All of this
brings us to the point of this article. Your firearm, any
firearm, will give longer life, better performance, and greater
accuracy if fed a steady diet of quality ammunition, whether
factory or hand loaded. Handloads should be worked up from
reliable load data to a load which gives good velocity and
accuracy with any given bullet. Many times the most accurate
loads are just below those that offer the fastest velocity. I
will take accuracy over a few feet-per-second any day. I
have a load that will, from my Browning 30-06, group three
Hornady 150 grain Spire point bullets into a tight cluster year
after year, and it also gives top velocity and easy extraction.
I could most likely push that bullet even faster in this gun,
but I won’t. It would offer no better performance. It is the
perfect whitetail deer load for my rifle. It may give lousy
accuracy and excessive pressure in your rifle. Guns are
individuals, and should be treated as such.
handloaders are looking for an instant answer rather than
working up the best load for their individual gun. The best load
for your gun is found with patience and deliberation. These
days, we want instant everything. We tap our fingers in anxiety
waiting on the microwave. If internet downloads take more
than ten seconds, we go spend two thousand bucks on a new
computer that can do it in five seconds. If you are in a hurry
to find the best load for your gun, you are better off with
handloader should have several load data books, and read them.
Compare data. Look at some of the better loads, and slowly work
your way up to one that gives good performance and accuracy with
the bullet of your choice. This is the best load for your
particular gun. Maximum velocity is not necessarily maximum
Got something to say about this article? Want to agree (or
disagree) with it? Click the following link to go to the GUNBlast Feedback Page.
All content © 2002 GunBlast.com.
All rights reserved.