Hodgdon Powder Company CFE BLK Handloads
Date: Nov 22 2021
Hodgdon’s CFE BLK became available in January 2017, joining CFE 223 and CFE Pistol. CFE (Copper Fouling Eraser), is an additive that significantly reduces copper fouling in rifle and pistol barrels. CFE BLK is a spherical powder formulated for the .300 AAC Blackout, but suitable for a wide variety of rounds, including smaller capacity rounds in the Hornet/Fireball class and AR-15 cartridges ranging from the 6.8 Remington SPC to .458 SOCOM. Hodgdon’s website (hodgdonreloading.com) shows 17 compatible cartridges. There are no doubt other cartridges CFE BLK would serve well, if willing to carefully extrapolate from the same cartridge Accurate 1680 data, which has a similar – though certainly not identical – burn rate.
As an enduring .22 Hornet fan, I glommed onto CFE BLK quickly. I’ve long used H-110/Winchester 296 (number 63 and 64 on the relative burn rate chart, CFE BLK number 70) to fuel my Hornet loads, receiving top velocities (2,953 feet per second with a 40-grain V-MAX, for example), from maximum loads providing fairly decent accuracy (usually around .85 inch). Still, I was always bothered by the old pistol powders’ dirty nature and tendency to show pressure increases under a hot sun, occasionally requiring a ramrod to remove stuck cases. CFE BLK offered a solution, proving temperature insensitive, ultraclean and developing lower chamber pressures.
CFE BLK was a natural choice for my .17 Hornet (Hornady). Accurate 1680 has long been my go-to powder for 20-grain Hornady V-MAX bullets, giving me .25- to .50-inch groups from a Savage Model 25 Walking Varminter rifle, but experiments with CFE BLK turned in worthwhile results that may improve in other rifles. I’ve also enjoyed worthwhile results with CFE BLK in an older .218 Bee bolt rifle.
I became an especially ardent CFE BLK fan after acquiring a .221 Remington Fireball rifle. The Remington Model 788, originally chambered in .222 Remington, included a thin 24-inch barrel that had been set back and rethreaded to create a Fireball chamber. This experiment impressed me enough to have another Fireball rifle built, this one carrying a heavier stainless steel barrel threaded into a smoother Howa 1500 Mini Action. Certain powders seem custom made for specific cartridges and CFE BLK is the “magic dust” for the .221 Remington Fireball. This powder provides top velocities in the Fireball, combined with lower chamber pressures than favorites like Alliant Reloder 7, Accurate 1680 and Hodgdon 4198. So it is no surprise that CFE BLK also pairs superbly with the necked-down .17 Remington Fireball.
Unsurprisingly, CFE BLK is exceptionally compatible with various gas guns, as it was designed specifically for the .300 AAC Blackout. My experiences involve the 6.8 Remington SPC (my nighttime thermal-imaging hog rifle) and .300 AAC Blackout (10-5-inch-tubed “pistol”) and very limited auditioning with a 7.62x39mm Soviet (short-barreled bolt rifle).
My .17 Hornet, chambered in Savage’s affordable 25 Walking Varminter with a medium-weight 22-inch barrel with a 1:9 twist, is perhaps my favorite varmint rifle, so it consumes hundreds of rounds each spring. I fell into a super-accurate load right out of the gate while attempting to duplicate Hornady factory ammunition, which shot remarkably when the rifle was new and I was accumulating handloading brass. Twelve grains of Accurate 1680 beneath Hornady’s 20-grain V-MAX shoots super-tight groups at factory ammunition velocities, so I’ve never really been inclined to experiment further. The exceptions were Hornady’s 15.5-grain NTX, as I was curious to see how much velocity could be developed with the flyweight nontoxic bullet, and the 20-grain Nosler Varmageddon, in seeking a more affordable alternative to the V-MAX for high-volume shooting. With the 15.5 NTX, velocity hit nearly 3,850 feet per second (fps) with a maximum load of 13 grains, though accuracy was best using 12.5 grains at 3,689 fps, which fairly matches the A-1680 and Hornady factory loads velocity-wise. The Nosler bullet shot best throttled back to 3,365 fps, though juggling the seating depth on this relatively short bullet might improve accuracy with heavier charges.
CFE BLK paired especially well with the .17 Remington Fireball – a Remington Model 700 SPS Varmint with heavy 26-inch barrel (1:9 twist). Sub .5-MOA groups resulted from both Hornady’s 15.5 NTX and 20-grain V-MAX. A maximum load of 18 grains hit 4,532 fps with the NTX, but the most accurate, .48 inch, resulted from backing off a full grain, but still clocking a jaw-dropping 4,250 fps. With the 20-grain slug, a maximum load of 17 grains hit 4,091 fps while printing .50 inch. Backing off a grain shrank groups to .45 inch at a slower 3,792 fps.
I had loaded random .22 Hornet loads with CFE BLK in the past, but directed them at local Columbia ground squirrels – maintaining impressive hit-to-miss ratios – and not paper. To get a better handle on how well CFE BLK was operating in this round, I shot three Hornady bullets through paper with my ancient Savage 340 E with a 24-inch sporter-weight barrel (1:16 twist). These were 35- and 40-grain V-MAX and a 45-grain Hornet Varmint softnose. Overall, velocities were well below W-296/H-110 recipes, but primers retained rounded edges instead of being smashed flat like my older loads. The 35-grain V-MAX did especially well with 12 grains of powder at just 2,451 fps, printing at .36 inch. The best 40-grain V-MAX group measured .49 inch center-to-center, and clocked 2,453 fps. The 45-grain softpoint didn’t do quite as well, grouping into .76 inch at just 2,226 fps. Despite the disappointing velocity, CFE BLK produced some of the tightest groups this rifle has assembled during our long 38-year relationship.
The .218 Bee that I had the opportunity to shoot was a 1947 vintage Winchester Model 43 Special with 24-inch sporter barrel (1:16 twist). Though a good-looking rifle, it wasn’t exactly a tack driver, but certainly accurate enough for burrowing rodents at moderate ranges. It didn’t pair well with the 35-grain Hornady V-MAX, as 1.29 inches was its best showing, though velocity topped out at 3,255 fps. The rifle broke an inch with 15 grains of CFE BLK at just 2,689 fps beneath Sierra’s 45-grain Varminter SP, with its best groups resulting from 14.5 and 15 grains of powder at 2,622 to 2,704 fps when paired with Hornady’s SP SX.
As mentioned, the .221 Remington Fireball is where CFE BLK truly shines. My converted Remington 788, bedded in a snazzy Boyd’s Zombie Hunter Green Thumbhole Featherweight stock, proved pretty touchy with lighter bullets (32 to 36 grains). It broke an inch with Cutting Edge Bullet’s 32-grain MTH with 19.5 grains of powder at 3,399 fps, slightly more than an inch with 19 grains beneath Nosler’s Ballistic Tip Lead Free, and an impressive .51 inch with the Varmint Grenade and 18 grains at 2,912 fps. The rifle came into its own with Berger’s 40-grain FB Varmint, with all loads printing less than .75 inch, the best .55 and .51 inch with 18.5 and 20 grains of powder at 3,172 to 3,245 fps. Barnes’ 52-grain Match Burner combined with 18 grains of powder produced a .66-inch group. Then there was Hornady’s 52-grain ELD Match: 17.5 grains of powder resulted in a .28-inch group at 2,829 fps and .78 inch at 3,128 fps with 18 grains of powder.
My current hog-culling rifle, a parts-build AR-15 with 18-inch barrel (1:11 twist) chambered in 6.8 Remington SPC, really likes CFE BLK, providing not only acceptable accuracy but excellent velocity. Cutting Edge’s 82-grain ER Raptor (a milled mono-copper bullet with large polymer tip); Speer’s 90-grain TNT (an explosive varmint HP); Hornady’s 100-grain GMX (a polymer-tipped mono-copper design) and MidwayUSA’s 115-grain FMJ (mirroring original military bullets) were tested for this section. Taken as a group, the two lightest ER Raptor loads and all others consistently created groups surrounding an inch, with a few exceptions. Twenty five grains of powder sent the Hornady 100-grain GMX into a .74-inch group at a thumping 2,890 fps, and a maximum load of 25.5 grains of powder assembled a .47-inch group at 2,507 fps with the Midway 115-grain FMJ.
Considering the .300 AAC Blackout test firearm was a pistol with 10.5-inch barrel (1:10 twist) – Alexander Arms’ Highlander Pistol – accuracy results were remarkable (groups shot at 75 yards). No load tested printed outside an inch, including the single subsonic number, showing that CFE BLK is indeed the Blackout powder. Hornady’s 125-grain SST – an excellent hog bullet – grouped best when pushed to a 19 grain maximum, printing .35 inch at 1,756 fps and delivering 856 foot pounds of kinetic energy. Nosler’s 180-grain Ballistic Tip Hunting grouped .55-inch at 1,591 fps, producing 1,012 foot-pounds of energy. Lapua’s 200-grain SP Mega was sent at a subsonic 1,134 fps, for just 571 foot-pounds of energy, the reason I don’t recommend subsonic loads for hogs.
My only experience pairing CFE BLK with the 7.62x39mm Soviet involved a rifle review for Wolfe Publishing’s Rifle magazine, shooting CZ USA’s 527 American Synthetic Suppressor-Ready with 16.5-inch barrel (1:9.5 twist) and Rebel Silencers SOS Hunter suppressor installed. That load is worth mentioning as a stand-alone because it proved the most accurate of all loads, factory and handloads, tested in that rifle. After auditioning a wide variety of load weights with CFE BLK, 25 grains proved to be the right combination when paired with Barnes’ 108-grain TAC-RRLP FB (a frangible design), grouping into .62 inch at 2,223 fps.
Versatile Hodgdon CFE BLK deserves a place on the loading bench, especially for smaller varmint rounds or just about anything that can be run through an AR-15.