Why Does Load Data Vary Between Reloading Manuals?

Written by Sierra Bullets Ballistic Technician Duane Siercks

One of the first things new reloaders notice is that load data varies between reloading manuals.  The Sierra Bullets Technicians frequently get inquiries asking us to explain why the load data appears to be inconsistent.

An example of load data variances for two 168 gr. bullets:

308 Winchester Sierra HornadyHere are five reasons why the load data varies:

The Bullet

Basically, the similarities in the .30 caliber 168 grain Match bullets (for example) end with weight and diameter. The bullets likely have dimensional differences such as bearing surface length. Bearing surface has a large effect on pressure and velocity. There are also differences in boat tail, flat base, ogive and over-all lengths, which each help determine the cartridge over-all-length (COAL). With different COAL’s, we can expect changes in pressure and velocity also. In some calibers there are differences in bullet diameter with different bullet manufacturers.

It is also worth noting that bullet manufacturers do not all use the same copper alloy for their jackets. This produces more or less friction that results in load pressures and velocities.  The solid copper bullets also vary quite a bit in comparison to a lead core and copper jacketed bullet.

The Gun

Each gun is unique, even if you are using the same make, model, and caliber.  Special consideration should be used to consider that not all firearm chambers are the same either, creating more variables that need consideration.  There can be drastic differences in the throat length. This controls the amount of “jump” that a bullet experiences when the cartridge is fired.

The Powder

Within normal manufacturing tolerances, you can see some variation in a given powders burn rate between different lots of the same powder. So naturally when two different Manuals are produced, it would be doubtful that the same lots would be tested.

The Cases

New cases are almost always near minimum specs in dimension. A load fired in a new case would likely have slightly more pressure that when fired in a re-sized case. This would certainly be true if we were loading into fire-formed cases that have had minimal re-sizing done. Fired cases that are full length resized most of the time be slightly larger than the new unfired cases. This gives you differences in case capacity. The same powder charge placed within a new case and a full length resized case will produce different pressure levels and probably different velocities.


Temperature can cause pressure increases or decreases. Hot temperatures tend to cause pressures to increase, while cold temperatures will usually do the opposite. Humidity and altitude can impact pressures and velocities likewise.


As you can see, an amazing number of variables effect any load combination. With the differences in the manuals, you’re just seeing firsthand examples of what took place when the data was collected with that particular set of components and firearm.  Think of a reloading manual as a report. In essence, a reloading manual says, “We tried this particular component combination, and these are the results we obtained.”

Remember that you may or may not reach the same maximum load safely.  There is no “one load fits all bullets.”  The minimum load data offers a safe place to start.  The maximum load data listed should always be regarded as a safety guideline and not necessarily a goal!  Your gun should shoot accurately without breaching the maximum load data.  The best advice is: always start low and work your load up!

If you have questions about variances in load data or other reloading questions, please call our ballistic technicians at 1-800-223-8799 or send us an email at sierra@sierrabullets.com.

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4 Responses to Why Does Load Data Vary Between Reloading Manuals?

  1. Pingback: Why Does Load Data Vary Between Reloading Manuals? — Sierra Bullets | Rifleman III Journal

  2. Daryl Davis says:

    Additionally. load date as well as dimensions like COAL are established as a baseline for ALL reloaders in ALL situations which may or may not be the most accurate load for a particular rifle or handgun. Having said that, varying from established load data and case dimensions (in the case of custom machined dies for a particular chamber( is best left to an experienced handloader….

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Dana Wallach says:

    I think that the most important aspect to “common” reloading practices that you guys may have overlooked is the selection of the primer. Most bullet manufacturers are in league with one primer manufacturer or another and rarely do you see primers duplicated in the loading manual selections for like cartridges.


  4. Daniel says:

    This has been a big issue in my mind for the last few years. My first manual I had purchased was Lymans 49th edition so that’s the I used for a couple of years. I recently got ahold of Sierras 5th edition. To give an example of inconsistencies: .308 win using Varget powder and Sierra 168gr Matchking. Lymans 49th lists 45.7gr Varget as being maximum charge while Sierras 5th lists 41.4gr Varget as being maximum charge. Now that’s over 6gr difference! As I said, Lymans 49th was my first manual so that’s what I went with. In my Savage 110 Tactical, I’m loading 44gr Varget with a 168gr Sierra Matchking and have gotten excellent groups at 500yds with no pressure signs at all.


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