Handloaders always welcome new propellants in their efforts to improve the velocity and accuracy of their loads. So, in anticipation of stepping up the performance of my .223 Rem. handloads, I’ve been using several new propellants from Alliant and Hodgdon, including Alliant’s AR-Comp and Power Pro series of Varmint, 1200-R and 2000-MR and Hodgdon’s CFE 223. A few of these work well with the complete range of 0.224-inch bullets, while a couple others are restricted to a narrower range of weights.
Loading Lots To speed up the .223 Rem. loading process I use propellants that meter precisely. Four of these new options have fine spherical-shaped granules and in five charges dropped from a measure they varied at the most 0.10 of a grain in weight. AR-Comp is a cylindrical propellant with short and thin kernels, and it varied 0.20 of a grain over five thrown charges. Still, its extreme spread of velocity of 42 fps was actually the narrowest of the five propellants over 10 shots.
1200-R Alliant states that a maximum charge of 1200-R imparts a velocity of ,3805 fps to 40-grain bullets. The 24-inch barrel of my much-fired Remington Model 700 SPS launched Hornady 40-grain V-MAX bullets at slightly more than 3,700 fps with that maximum 26.8 grains of 1200-R. That’s about the fastest I’ve been able to fire that weight bullet with any of a dozen propellants loaded in the .223 Rem.
Varmint Varmint has a slightly slower burn rate than 1200-R, which makes it useful in the .223 Rem. loaded with 40- to 55-grain bullets. I was a bit disappointed, though, with chronograph readings from four .223 Rem.-chambered rifles that were 200 to nearly 400 fps slower than the velocities Alliant states for Varmint. Alliant lists 50-grain bullets at 3,377 fps with 26.3 grains of Varmint and 3,700 fps for 40-grain bullets with 27.9 grains of the propellant. The Remington’s 24-inch barrel turned in 3,131 fps with 50-grain bullets using 26.3 grains of the propellant, and 40 grainers reached 3,276 fps with 27.5 grains of Varmint. That 40-grain combination lost only 90 fps when fired through a 20-inch barrel.
AR-Comp According to Alliant, its AR-Comp provides consistent pressures and velocities whether the season is searing summer or arctic winter. The extreme spread of velocity for 10 shots was only 42 fps shooting AR-Comp with Berger 52-grain bullets on a 30 degree F day. Velocity was entirely acceptable at 3,302 fps. Accuracy was great, too, with five-shot groups at 100 yards as tight as 0.58 inches from the Remington SPS’s pencil-thin barrel. Here’s a winter winner.
CFE 223 This propellant reduces copper fouling by depositing an ingredient that shields the pores of the metal in the bore, hence the name Copper Fouling Eraser. That means little to me because I reach for a cleaning rod and solvent at the mere glimpse of a dirty bore. However, I am partial to CFE 223 for its good accuracy and the fairly high velocities it gave 55-grain bullets fired from the .223 Rem. My Savage Model 10 grouped five Nosler 55-grain Varmageddon bullets as tight as 0.54 inches at 100 yards. When propelled by 28.0 grains of CFE 223 the Varmageddon’s velocity of 3,173 fps was on par for the top speeds of other propellants fired from my Savage’s 22-inch barrel, but less than the 3,292 fps reached with a 24-inch barrel used in the Nosler Reloading Guide 7.
CFE 223 didn’t show all that much loss of bullet velocity when shot from shorter barrels. Hornady 55-grain V-MAX bullets, with an average velocity of 3,067 fps fired with 27.5 grains of CFE 223 from the Savage’s 22-inch barrel, lost only 32 fps from a 20-inch barrel and about 200 fps from a 6-inch-shorter, 16-inch barrel of a JARD J16 autoloader.
The Savage’s 1:9-inch twist barrel is not supposed to stabilize Sierra 77-grain MatchKing bullets, but it did with CFE 223, and five groups averaged 0.63 inches at 100 yards. Velocity came up a bit short of Hodgdon’s stated 2,811 fps. But a little velocity in exchange for a great measure of accuracy is always a good swap.
2000-Medium Rifle Alliant’s 2000-MR is a relatively slow-burning propellant best matched with 68-grain and heavier bullets. A maximum load of 26.6 grains of the propellant produced a velocity slightly higher than 2,800 fps with Sierra 69-grain MatchKing bullets when shot from my Savage rifle. That was a bit slow compared to Alliant’s results of 3,070 fps.
The maximum amount of 2000-MR filled cases to the bottom of the neck, thereby resulting in a slightly compressed charge when seating Sierra bullets to a cartridge overall length of 2.260 inches. After doing so, that tight propellant column no doubt was responsible for an extreme spread of velocity of 55 fps over 10 shots. Groups, though, had a nice, round shape. One Sierra hit a smidgen high from one group and another landed a tad low from another group. But chronograph readings showed the velocities of the two bullets were close to average. I’m to blame for their waywardness. Had I not sent the two bullets on the wrong course, the 2000-MR and MatchKing combination would have rivaled the accuracy of any of the loads tested.
After firing several hundred .223s loaded with these new propellants, a few recipes are sure keepers. So excuse me as I again retreat to the basement bench to load a few of these propellant and bullet combinations for the .223 Rem. to last the rest of the year.