Skip to main content

Reloader's Reaction: What's the Best Way to Measure Powder?

Reloader's Reaction: What's the Best Way to Measure Powder?
At typical shooting distances, a properly functioning powder measure works fine. But for longer ranges many handloaders prefer to weigh every charge for best accuracy.

The only way to be certain each and every powder charge in a batch of cartridges weighs the same is to carefully weigh them on a scale. Even so, many handloaders have discovered that a small variation in powder charge weight usually has little to no effect on accuracy out to the maximum distances they shoot, and for that reason they save time by measuring charges rather than weighing them.

In conventional benchrest competition, where targets are placed at 100 and 200 yards, top-ranked shooters customarily average less than 1/4 m.o.a. accuracy. They use the same dozen or so carefully prepared cases for each rifle and reload them between relays during a match.

Instead of weighing powder charges, they use precision-built measures to throw them. Ask one of those guys how much Vihtavuori N130 he is shooting in his 6mm PPC, and rather than giving an answer in grains, he will likely tell you what setting he uses on his Harrell or Culver powder measure.

Back when I bumped off a lot more prairie dogs each summer than I do today, I decided to compare the accuracy of ammunition prepared with weighed powder charges and those thrown by the measure of a progressive press. Several different powders and bullets were loaded in the .223 Remington. I shot the ammo in two custom rifles in .223 Remington, both capable of shooting inside half an inch at 100 yards. I also tried the loads in my rail gun.

Groups fired out to 500 yards revealed no difference in accuracy between weighed and measured charges. Some of the ammo loaded on the progressive press was actually a bit more accurate in the rail gun, but I chalked that up to fluke rather than uniformity differences in how powder charges were dispensed.

Benchrest shooters and varminters shoot small cartridges that burn relatively small powder charges, but measuring powder for cartridges with bigger appetites can work equally well.

Before a rifle built by Kenny Jarrett is shipped to a customer, it must consistently shoot three bullets inside half an inch at 100 yards. I used to visit his shop quite often and, just for the fun of it, occasionally accuracy-tested rifles for him. The powder charges of all test ammunition used in Jarrett's shop are thrown by RCBS and Redding measures. A scale is used, but only when adjusting the measures to throw the desired charge weight. Same goes for his line of custom ammunition.

For most of the reloading most of us do, powder measures available from RCBS, Lyman, Lee, Hornady and Redding are precise enough. Benchrest shooters usually go for precision-machined units like the Micro-Measure from Neal Jones as well as the Harrell and RFD/R from Sinclair International.

Benchrest competitors sometimes tweak the loads they are shooting between relays, and the custom measures they use have more precise repeatability of adjustment than some mass-produced measures. I started using a Jones measure during my benchrest shooting days and continue to use it today. With many powders it is not a whole lot better than high-quality measures available from other sources, but it does operate more smoothly and throws charges of large-grained powders a bit more consistently.

How a measure is used is extremely important. To throw charges with minimum variation, it has to be operated exactly the same for each charge of powder. If you bounce the handle hard against its stops on one charge and then operate it softly on the next, the two charges will likely vary more in weight than if the handle is operated exactly the same both times.

I consider a charge weight variation of 0.3 grain acceptable in the larger cartridges such as .30-06 and up, but a good measure, operated properly and filled with a smooth-flowing powder, should hold that to no more than 0.1 grain. When measuring extremely heavy charges, consistency will improve with some measures when two half-charges are thrown into the case rather than one whole charge. In other words, the handle is operated twice on a 40-grain setting rather than once on an 80-grain setting.


Finely granulated powders meter through any measure more accurately than coarser powders. This is why benchrest shooters use either ball powders or fine-grained stick powders such as Vihtavuori N130 and IMR-8208 XBR. Same goes for varmint cartridges.

Any time I don't use a ball powder such as W748 or A-2015 in the .223 Remington, I'll use a small-grain stick powder with Benchmark and V-N135. If H4831 and IMR-7828 are your favorites for the .270 Winchester, finer-granulated versions of those two powders designated H4831SC (short cut) and IMR-7828SSC (super short cut) flow through measures more uniformly than the originals and their burn rates are the same.

Digital dispensing systems capable of automatically measuring and weighing powder charges are available from Lyman, RCBS, Hornady and PACT. After the machine is programmed for the desired charge weight, a push on its start button or placing the pan on the digital scale causes it to trickle powder from a reservoir into the pan. In addition to being more precise with large-granule powders than a standard measure, it totally eliminates operator inconsistency in throwing charges.

To reach peak efficiency with one you may need to modify your loading sequence a bit. When using a standard measure, I charge all cases with powder before moving on to bullet-seating. Depending on the size of the charge being dispensed, a digital machine can take anywhere from five to 30 seconds to get its job done, so seating a bullet on a charged case while the machine is dispensing powder for the next one speeds up the operation a bit.

Distance to the target often has a bearing on whether a handloader chooses to weigh or measure powder charges. Out to 500 yards I don't believe it matters enough to go to the trouble, but when punching paper at greater distances those tiny variations can become big ones and for that I believe carefully weighing each charge is the way to go.

Most of us load so few rounds of big game ammunition each year, weighing charges is no big hassle. High-volume loading is where it can save a lot of time.

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

Recent Videos

Scott Rupp gets a chance to talk to Aaron Oelger about a few new products from Hodgdon and why reloading store shelves are empty.

Hodgdon Reloading

Beth Shimanski of Savage introduces their all new straight-pull rifle. With an Accu-Fit stock and left hand adjustable bolt, this rifle is a perfect choice for anyone!

Savage Impulse

RifleShooter Magazine editor Scott Rupp breaks down all the features of the Mossberg Patriot Predator rifle chambered in 6.5 PRC.

Mossberg Patriot Predator 6.5 PRC Rifle Review

Introduced in 1965 with the .444 Marlin cartridge, the Model 444 was the most powerful lever action of its day.

Marlin Model 1895 in .444 Marlin

J. Scott Rupp takes a first look at the Springfield M1A Loaded rifle chambered in the popular 6.5 Creedmoor.

Review: Springfield Armory M1A Loaded Rifle in 6.5 Creedmoor

If looking to acquire an automated powder-charge dispensing unit to speed up precision reloading, don't judge the RCBS ChargeMaster Lite powder scale and dispenser by its name; the Little Green machine packs a heavy-weight punch with speed and accuracy.

RCBS ChargeMaster Lite Review: Not 'Lite' on Ability

The new Sako Finnlight II sports an innovative stock and Cerakote metal paired with the terrific 85 action.

RS Sako Finnlight II

The Remington Model Seven is ready, willing and able to handle just about any task.

Remington Model Seven SS HS Bolt-Action Rifle Review

RifleShooter Magazine Covers Print and Tablet Versions

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!


Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services


Buy Digital Single Issues

Magazine App Logo

Don't miss an issue.
Buy single digital issue for your phone or tablet.

Buy Single Digital Issue on the RifleShooter App

Other Magazines

See All Other Magazines

Special Interest Magazines

See All Special Interest Magazines

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Get the top Rifle Shooter stories delivered right to your inbox.

Phone Icon

Get Digital Access.

All RifleShooter subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now

Enjoying What You're Reading?

Get a Full Year
of Guns & Ammo
& Digital Access.

Offer only for new subscribers.

Subscribe Now