Hodgdon recently introduced a new gunpowder to pistol shooters known as CFE Pistol. This is a spherical powder that has a Copper Fouling Eraser (CFE) formula, and follows the 2012 introduction of the rifle version CFE 223. Copper fouling is usually of minor concern for many pistol shooters, since it is not often evident like it can be for rifles. Still, anything that reduces copper fouling is welcome.
According to Hodgdon's description, CFE technology was originally developed for the U.S. Military and virtually eliminates copper fouling. Hodgdon bills CFE Pistol as a perfect propellant for target and self-defense loads, providing clean burning and low muzzle flash. Hodgdon also claims that CFE Pistol offers top velocities.
Let's face it, some of us are speed freaks. We can't get enough. If the latest-and-greatest powder claims high velocity, it's worth a closer look. Indeed, the published numbers are impressive; with CFE Pistol claiming the highest velocities for some calibers and bullet weights among the other gunpowders listed at their website.
Burn Baby Burn
This double base powder falls into the "medium" burn rate range, and is listed between Winchester AutoComp and Ramshot Silhouette on Hodgdon's burn rate chart. Its spherical shape aids smooth and consistent metering through mechanical powder measures.
Hodgdon has an impressive amount of data for this powder. It includes the .32 H&R Magnum, .327 Federal Magnum, .380 Auto, 9mm Luger, .38 Special, .38 Special +P, .38 Super, .357 SIG, .357 Magnum, .40 S&W, 10mm Auto, .44 S&W Special, .44 Remington Magnum, .45 GAP, .45 ACP and .45 Colt. That's a lot of popular handgun calibers.
Putting CFE to the Test
The calibers tested were .45 ACP, 10mm, .40 S&W, .38 Super, 9mm and .38 Special. Two of three bullets tested in the .38 Special were loaded to +P pressures. I used the same bullets and cartridge overall length (COL) that Hodgdon used where possible, but I didn't always have the same components and had to make substitutions. I used CCI large (300) and small (500) pistol primers and then tested 10 rounds with each load. Velocity was recorded with a Shooting Chrony chronograph at a distance of 10 feet.
I focused on velocity performance and report the velocities from my pistols for the maximum published weight. Starting with the maximum load is not the recommended procedure for testing, and wise folks will work their loads up gradually from the starting load watching for pressure signs. I also loaded some other powders that list high velocities, such as AutoComp, HS-6 and Longshot to compare relative performance. All semi-automatic test guns had 5-inch barrels, which were: .45 ACP - Para Ordnance; 10mm - Clark; .40 S&W - Para Ordnance; .38 Super - Kart; 9mm - Para Ordnance. Hodgdon's published load data from the .45 ACP, 10mm and .38 Super were from 5" barrels, while their published data for .40 S&W and 9mm data were from 4-inch barrels. The .38 Special was tested in a Smith & Wesson Model 66 with a 2.5-inch barrel. Hodgdon's published data was from a 7.7-inch barrel.
Overall, CFE Pistol produced impressive velocities. Some velocities were less than the published speed, while others were higher. There are many reasons why a shooter's velocities won't match the manufacturer's published speeds. The simplest reason is that they are different barrels or barrel lengths. Other factors include different bullets, a different COL, a different lot number of powder, different primers and different brass. Therefore, the question is not so much whether my results match the published results, but instead is whether my results show that CFE Pistol offers high velocity performance in general. The overall results (shown in the tables) suggest that it does.
The .45 ACP velocities I obtained with CFE Pistol were lower than the published values. CFE Pistol propelled the 200-grain bullet to 1086 feet-per-second (fps), and the 230-grain bullets in the mid-800 fps range. The 230-grain lead bullet was the farthest from the published value (-103 fps) but I loaded mine longer than the COL on Hodgdon's website, so this could account for some of that difference because loading longer decreases pressure. The same reason could contribute to the slower 200-grain SWC results as well. The AutoComp loads in the .45 were higher than Hodgdon's values, and were faster than CFE Pistol with the 230-grain bullets but not the 200-grain bullet.
CFE Pistol 10mm velocities were only slightly lower than Hodgdon's, giving high speeds overall, and higher speeds than AutoComp. It pushed the 135-grain Nosler to 1511 fps and the 155-grain bullet to 1361 fps. The AutoComp loads were 30-40 fps slower but a little closer to their published values.
The 135-grain Nosler bullet in the .40 S&W exceeded Hodgdon's values and reached 1456 fps in my 5" barrel with CFE Pistol, which was only 55 fps less than the 10mm load with the same bullet. AutoComp pushed this bullet even faster at 1472 fps, which was 130 fps faster than Hodgdon's data. In fact, AutoComp's performance with this bullet was two fps faster than it produced in the 10mm. It's proof that it's hard to predict what actual velocity you'll get until you try it. The 180-grain speeds with both powders were just a bit over 1,000 fps.
The CFE Pistol .38 Super loads produced over 1300 fps with the 115-grain bullet and over 1200 fps with the 125-grain bullet. These velocities are okay, but the HS-6 loads were significantly faster. HS-6 pushed the 115-grain bullet to over 1400 fps and the 125-grain bullet to over 1300 fps.
Both CFE Pistol and Longshot launched the 115-grain bullet in the 9mm Luger in the 1200 fps range, with CFE Pistol being the faster by 30 fps. The two powders produced nearly identical speeds with the 147-grain bullet at just over 900 fps.
My .38 Special velocities were far lower than Hodgdon's published velocities because my 2.5-inch barrel is far shorter than their 7.7-inch test barrel. But a useful comparison can be made with the other powder tested. CFE Pistol produced 888 fps with the 125-grain bullet, slightly less velocity than AutoComp at 901 fps. CFE Pistol also produced slightly less velocity than Longshot with the 110-grain bullet, though both powders yielded speeds over 1000 fps. CFE Pistol produced slightly more speed than AutoComp with the 158-grain bullet clocking at 750 fps. All of these speeds are respectable velocities from such a short barrel.
CFE Pistol shows promise for producing high velocities in a variety of pistol calibers, and if that's what you're looking for, it's worth trying. Even folks who are not concerned with copper fouling or mostly shoot lead should still consider CFE Pistol powder. Any powder that offers good performance, whether it is velocity, accuracy, cleanliness, low flash, etc., is desirable. If it also eliminates copper fouling, that's icing on the cake.