Testing Surplus Powder WC820 (n)

Here in the backwoods of north Louisiana a pound of gunpowder costs about $25 including sales tax. After nearing the bottom of the can of Alliant 2400 powder I used for 357 mag rifle and 44 mag pistol, I started thinking about a cheaper, bulk replacement for it. Then I noticed guys on Internet forums talking about surplus powder WC820 working well in their 357 mag pistols and rifles. So I checked out the surplus powder for sale at www.gibrass.com

They listed three versions of WC820:

  • WC820 (n) as in new at $64 per 8 lb jug
  • WC820 pull down at $56 per 8 lb jug
  • WC820 (f) as in fast at $56 per 8 lb jug

I called gibrass.com at 1-800-714-6348 and ordered an 8 lb jug of WC820 (n). Adding shipping and a $20 per-order hazmat charge, it would come in my door at $11.75 per lb, a large savings. I snailmailed Jeff Bartlett at gibrass.com a copy of my driver's license and waited for the UPS man.

While waiting, I went back to the forums and noticed guys getting good results with WC820 in 44 mag as well as 357 mag. As Jeff Bartlett was waiting for my driver's license copy to arrive before shipping my original order, I called him again and changed my order to two jugs of WC820 (n). While talking to Jeff, he informed me that WC820 was the same powder as AA#9 but from different lots. My WC820 (n) would load like a slightly faster burning AA#9.

Exactly 7 days after placing my original order, the UPS man delivered me two 8 lb jugs, 16 lbs, of WC820 (n). With shipping + hazmat charge, it came in my door at exactly $159.68 or $9.98 per lb.

Click for full size popup photoHere's one of the 8 lb jugs beside the smaller container I filled from the jug. Each jug was a little bigger than a gallon milk jug. The smaller container is a plastic pint milk bottle with the outside painted black to keep UV light from deteriorating the powder inside. It holds about 1.25 lbs of WC820 (n). I keep the small container on my bench and the large jug and its mate in a freezer under controlled temperature and humidity.

When the small bottle gets low, without opening the big jug's lid
I pull the big jug from the freezer and put it in a refrigerator for a day to give it a slow warm-up. The next day, I let it come to room temperature for a few hours, then fill the small bottle.

Click for full size popup photo  

Here's a look at the label on the above 8 lb jug.

The inscribed 5-20-05 is the date it came in my door.

Both jugs were Lot # 47320.

Click for full size popup photo  

This shows the small bottle.

It is clearly labeled as to its contents and is also labeled with its VMD of .0695 which I measured, as I do to all new powders, with a Lee 4.3cc dipper.

For safety in case of fire, that red plastic lid will pop off easily.

NOTE: I live in a rural area with no fire code. Your local fire code may require you to store powder in its original container.

Click for full size popup photo This close-up with a toothpick for scale shows the tiny grain size of WC820 (n) on the left compared to Varget on the right.

Probably because of the very small grains, WC820 (n) metered extremely uniformly with Lee dippers and in my Lee Auto Disk measure. I mean extremely.

When checking VMD with a Lee 4.3cc dipper, 5 level dippers full weighed 309.1 grs. Just for the heck of it, I did it again. That 5 also weighed 309.1 grs.

With Auto Disk cavity .82cc, for example, all of 5 charges weighed between 11.8 grs and 11.7 grs with most of them somewhere in between. The average was 11.76 grs. With cavity .88cc, all charges weighed between 12.9 grs and 12.8 grs with the average weight 12.82 grs.

Click for full size popup photoBut those small grains caused problems with my Lee Auto Disk measure. They leaked from around the back of the hopper as you see in this photo. And if I tightened the hopper enough to prevent leakage, it bound on the disk and caused half charges and no charges, possibly dangerous conditions. I really like the Lee Auto Disk measure in combination with Lee's Powder Through Expander Die for cast bullets, so I loosened the hopper and let it leak.

After perhaps 300 loaded rounds I cleaned the powder off my bench. Just for the heck of it, I weighed that powder—30 grs or about 4¢. The weight also included some kernels of Varget, splinters of wood, and some brass shavings. So the cost of the leaked powder wasn't much of a factor. However, safety was a factor. So if you use an Auto Disk measure with WC820 (n) clean your bench frequently.

For reference purposes only, below see the dippers and cavities used in this test and the average amount of WC820 (n) thrown by each. NOTE: due to humidity differences alone, your results will vary!

Lee dippers:

  •   .7cc = 10.1 grs
  • 1.0cc = 14.4 grs
  • 4.3cc = 61.88 grs


Lee Auto Disk cavities:

  •   .82cc = 11.8 grs
  •   .88cc = 12.8 grs
  •   .95cc = 13.7 grs
  • 1.02cc = 14.7 grs
  • 1.09cc = 15.7 grs
  • 1.18cc = 17.4 grs
  • 1.26cc = 18.4 grs
  • 1.36cc = 19.7 grs

The firearms used in this test and distances tested were:

  • Ruger SBH 44 mag pistol, 7 1/2" barrel w/factory iron sights @ 25 yards
  • Rossi M92 357 mag rifle, 20" barrel w/peep sights @ 25 yards
  • Winchester M94 30-30 rifle, 20" barrel w/peep sights @ 50 yards

Click for full size popup photoThe cast bullets used in this test as you see them here and from left to right are (weights are average and include lube and gas check if used):

44 mag:

  • Custom Cast (out of business) 240 gr SWC Keith @ 245.4 grs
  • Lee TL430-240-SWC @ 247.0 grs
357 mag:

  • Laser-Cast 158 gr SWC @ 155.1 gr
  • Lee TL358-158-SWC @ 155.8 grs

  • Meister 164.5 gr
  • Laser-Cast 169.0 gr including added gascheck and Lee Liquid Alox
  • Lyman 311041 w/gas check @ 178.5 grs
  • Lee C309-170-F w/gas check @ 172.6grs
  • Lee C309-113-F w/gas check @ 116.5 grs

The testing (All tests used standard, non-magnum primers.)

NOTE: all 25 yard groups were actually shot at 30 yards!

44 mag

I began with 44 mag and used low AA#9 data. My intentions were to start low and to increase the size of the Auto Disk cavity in increments until high pressure revealed itself in the cases or high recoil revealed the wimp in me. Two facts are worth noting:

  • Both bullets shot and chronographed almost identically.
  • Best accuracy came with just a slight crimp on the bullet.
Click for full size popup photo The results with a sample group on the right:

Cases = R-P; primers = CCI Large Pistol.

  •   .82cc/11.8 grs =   675 fps
  •   .95cc/13.7 grs =   810 fps
  • 1.02cc/14.7 grs =   961 fps
  • 1.09cc/15.7 grs = 1095 fps
  • 1.18cc/17.4 grs = 1163 fps & best overall accuracy
  • 1.26cc/18.4 grs = 1226 fps
  • 1.36cc/19.7 grs = 1296 fps & too much recoil for me
NOTE: Below 17.4 grs WC820 (n), I experienced an occasional squib load due to poor ignition. So use mag primers for low velocity loads. Expect ~100 fps more velocity with the same amount of powder.

Obviously, WC820 (n) works well in 44 mag pistol. From now on, my go-to 44 mag load is the 1.18cc Auto Disk cavity with WC820 (n) and the Custom Cast 240 gr SWC @ 1163 fps.

Just for reference, I also shot one only 44 mag, 5 shot, 25 yard group with the Hornady 265 gr jacketed Flat Point and 1.18cc/17.4 grs WC820 (n). The results were:

AV = 1118 fps; ES = 39; SD = 16; Group size = 3 1/8"

Click for full size popup photo

357 mag

The 357 magnum rifle results were outstanding with WC820 (n). Over on the right see examples of groups with both the Laser-Cast and Lee bullets.

Like the 44 bullets, the 357 bullets went over the chronograph with almost identical data. So I combined the results. Again, I started low, but I stopped increasing the size of the Auto Disk cavity when velocities touched 1600 fps, which, I knew from experience, was the rifle's barrel leading point with non-gaschecked bullets.

Click for full size popup photo Testing the 357 mag rifle wasn't nearly as extensive as with the 44 mag pistol because great results came immediately. The results:

Cases = R-P; primers = CCI Small Pistol. Again, best results came with just a slight crimp on the bullet.

  • .82cc/11.8 grs = 1567 fps
  • .88cc/12.8 grs = 1623 fps
Standard Deviation with both bullets averaged only about 12.

The rifle is now zeroed dead-on as shown in the top group with the Laser-Cast bullet @ 1623 fps. That bullet, by the way, came in the door as 1,000 at a cost of about 6 ¢ per bullet.


Testing WC820 (n) in 30-30 rifle came about as the result of a forum guy mentioning he used 15 grs of it with 170 gr cast bullets in 30-30 for plinking loads. So I had to give it a try. The Lee 1.0cc dipper threw ~14.4 grs so I used it and shot one only 5 shot, 50 yard group with the ~170 gr bullets I had on hand.

Cases = WW; primers = CCI Large Rifle BR.

I began with the Meister, which had previously given awful 50 yard or greater groups and great chronograph results. It remained true to form. The results with 1.0cc/14.4 grs WC820 (n):

AV = 1640 fps; SD = 9; Group size = 16 1/4"

As expected, the Laser-Cast performed fine with both an added gas check and Lee Liquid Alox lube. The results with 1.0cc/14.4 grs WC820 (n):

AV = 1638 fps; SD = 11; Group size = 2 5/8"

The Lyman 311041, a Custom Cast bullet with my Lee Liquid Alox and gas check added, did okay, too. The results with 1.0cc/14.4 grs WC820 (n):

AV = 1620 fps; SD = 29: Group size = 2 7/8"

Click for full size popup photo The Lee C309-170-F liked WC820 (n) as you can see from the photo on the right.

The results with 1.0cc/14.4 grs WC820 (n):

AV = 1612 fps; SD = 17; Group size = 5 in 3" & 4 in 15/16"

To be fair, I must mention that the Lee C309-170-F bullets were indexed. Still, 4 in less than 1" at 50 yards is great, especially considering the fact that my target was in deep shade, and it was also taped to a sheet of newspaper which was suspended from the top and flapping in the breeze. I had to time each shot so the bullet hit the target when the sheet of newspaper was straight up and down—or thereabouts, anyway.

Click for full size popup photo The shocker of all my testing was the Lee C309-113-F "soup can" bullet, it is called. I had previously wasted several days trying to get it to shoot using several different powders. Groups at 50 yards ran 6" to 12" and even more. All that little bullet needed to cure its ills was a dose of WC820 (n).

I used a .7cc Lee dipper for ~10.1 gr WC820 (n). The photo on the right speaks for itself.

The data:

AV = 1480 fps; SD = 23; Group size = 5 in 1 1/4"

That was with the target flapping in the breeze, too!

In conclusion, I can only say one thing: WC820 (n) works well. Hey, there's something else I can say—I wish I'd bought 3 jugs instead of 2. I'll run out in a couple of years, and there might not be any more. . . .

Copyright 2005 by Junior Doughty

Home     Back to the Reloading section