Red Dot: THe Low-Cost Utility Powder
Date: Dec 05 2019
In this age of ever-increasing propellant specialization, it’s nice to have a powder that works in a broad range of rifle and handgun cartridges and shotshells. Alliant Red Dot is one such powder. It has been on handloaders’ benches since 1932 and is a uniform, efficient and economical powder. The Lyman Cast Bullet Handbook lists Red Dot loads for for nearly every rifle and handgun cartridge included in the manual. Loads are listed for small cartridges such as the .22 Hornet and .218 Bee up through the .243 Winchester and 6mm Remington, .270 Winchester and .30-06. Loads are even included for large cartridges such as the 7mm Remington Magnum, .300 and .338 Winchester Magnums and the .375 H&H Magnum.
Red Dot was originally intended as a shotshell powder for ⅞- to 1⅛-ounce target and field loads in the 12 gauge. When I shot trap years ago, nearly everyone on the line shot reloads containing 18 grains of the powder with 1⅛ ounces of shot. The powder is too fast-burning for smaller gauges. Thumbing through several shotshell reloading manuals, I found only a single one-ounce load for the 16 gauge.
Red Dot is a double-based powder of about 20 percent nitroglycerine content. Its kernels are round and flat and contain some flakes dyed red to identify the powder. For a bulky flake powder, it drops consistent charge weights from a powder measure. My Ohaus measure dispensed the following charges: Ten throws weighed from 11.1 to 11.5 grains. The Ohaus was then adjusted and 10 throws ranged from 4.5 grains to 4.8 grains.
Red Dot occupies more space in .308 Winchester and .30-06 cases than less bulky charges of commonly used “reduced load” rifle powders such as IMR-4198. Still, for safety’s sake it’s prudent to check cases for a double charge of powder before seating bullets. It was the first powder I loaded with cast bullets in the 7mm Remington Magnum – I could have thrown the bullets better than the rifle shot them. At first the dismal accuracy was thought to be due to the powder settling every which way in the magnum cases, resulting in wide swings in velocity. Then a smear of lead was noticed in the lubrication groove at the seam on sized bullets. Measuring unsized bullets showed they were way out of round due to a misaligned mould.
I aligned the RCBS 7mm-145-SILH mould and cast another batch of bullets. Some of the bullets were loaded with 14 grains of Red Dot, and some contained the same charge of Red Dot and Puff-Lon case filler. The filler was added onto the powder, filling to the top of the cases, and bullets were seated to compress the filler and keep the powder tight against the primer flash hole. Accuracy was much better with the round bullets, resulting in groups of about 1.5 inches. Cartridges containing filler grouped bullets slightly tighter. Extreme velocity spreads did not vary with the powder tight against the flash hole or loose in the case. Extreme spreads were 43 fps without filler and 42 fps with filler. That showed that Red Dot ignited easily and burned uniformly. The powder also burned cleanly.
That 14-grain load of Red Dot is close to what former NRA writer Ed Harris
recommended for a reduced-velocity and economical load for a variety of rifle cartridges. Harris suggested a load of 13 grains of Red Dot in cases larger than the .300 Savage with bores .30-caliber and larger and using jacketed or cast bullets of normal weight for a given cartridge. Harris also had good luck with that charge of Red Dot in the .30-40 Krag, .303 British, 7.65 Argentine, .308 Winchester, 7.62x54R Russian, .30-06 and 8x57. Harris stated velocities from the .308 and .30-06 at about 1,450 fps with 200-grain cast bullets, 1,500 fps with 170-grain cast bullets and 1,600 fps with 150-grain cast bullets. Jacketed bullet velocities were about 150 fps slower.
I load a lighter charge of Red Dot with a plainbase cast bullet in the .30-30 Winchester. Bullets cost but a few cents each and 7.0 grains of the powder provide 1,000 rounds from a pound of powder. So for a nickel per shot, the load is about as inexpensive as can be. I cast the bullet from an RCBS 30-150-CM mould. Velocity was 1,285 fps from the 24-inch barrel of a Winchester Model 94 Legacy and extreme velocity spread was a low 18 fps. The Model 94’s rear sight does not have enough elevation correction to mesh with the bullets’ trajectory, but a Nikon scope on the rifle had plenty of adjustment.
Most reloading manuals provide few Red Dot loads for jacketed bullets. In fact, Vista Outdoor’s Reloading + Reloading Accessories catalog (RCBS, Alliant Powder, Speer Bullets and CCI) includes Red Dot jacketed bullet loads for only the .44 S&W Special, .45 Auto and .45 Colt. That’s okay, because most handgun cartridges provide the most versatility when shooting swaged lead and cast lead-alloy bullets.
Red Dot provides about as much velocity to 100-grain bullets as any other powder loaded in the .32 H&R Magnum. Only 2 grains of powder, though, gives Speer 98-grain swaged lead wadcutter bullets a velocity of 742 fps. I can shoot the .32 all day with that load’s mild recoil for less than a penny per charge of powder. The standard practice load for my Ruger Blackhawk .41 Magnum is 7 grains of Red Dot with 210-grain cast bullets. At just over 1,000 fps, that combination provides just enough recoil that you know you’re shooting an authentic magnum handgun. The same goes for a lightweight Smith & Wesson 329PD .44 Remington Magnum. Five grains of Red Dot in .44 Special cases propels 200-grain wadcutter bullets at about 800 fps. An additional grain produces about the same velocity in .44 Magnum cases. Recoil is mild.
I started using Red Dot not long after I started handloading. First it was used for shotshells but its use quickly expanded to handgun and rifle cartridges, and now I use more of the powder than ever. Burning all that Red Dot over the years has taught me there is no reason to use heavier charges of other powders for practice and small-game hunting with a handgun or rifle. With Red Dot’s relatively light charge weights, all that shooting is penny-wise.