Black Powder and Black Powder Substitutes
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by Doug Blair

Black powder or a substitute for black powder is the ONLY SAFE propellant you can use in a muzzleloader. The reason for this is because black powder or a black powder subititute generates a relatively low breech pressure. Smokeless powder, which is black in color, is NOT black powder and it generates far too much pressure. Due to the primitive design of the muzzleloader with only the thin foil of the percussion cap sealing the breech and in a flintlock there is only the simple touchole which is not sealed at all one can understand why these guns can't stand high pressure. While high pressure is desirable in modern "high power" rifles and is why we get the high velocities, the muzzleloader will not tolerate them.

Blackpowder & Blackpowder substitutes

Blackpowder was invented by the Chinese and is the most ancient usable propellant still in use today. It is an intimate mechanical mixture consisting of potassium nitrate (salt peter), charcoal and sulphur. It is available in 4 different granulations 1F being the coarsest, and 4F being the finest. Fg is used primarily for your largest bore shotguns and cannons. FFg is used for larger bore rifles (45 cal. up to and including 62 caliber) and most muzzleloading shotguns (the ones that do not require the Fg). FFFg is the most popular granulation used for smaller muzzleloading rifles (from 50 cal. on down especially when loading with round balls) and is used in most of the pistols. FFFFg IS ONLY TO BE USED TO PRIIME FLINTLOCKS!!!!!!!!!!
At this time the only black powder substitutes are Pyrodex, Clean Shot, & Black Mag. (I'm not even sure if the last 2 are still being manufactured as I've not seen any in the local sporting goods stores in some time). Pyrodex was invented by the late Dan Pawlak. Dan and his associates were producing Pyrodex for Hodgdon Powder Company and on Jan. 27, 1977 the plant was destroyed by a deflagration which killed Dan and 3 of his coworkers. Pyrodex was then out of the picture for several years and was again becoming available by 1981.At this time Pyrodex is the most usable black powder substitute. Although it works fine in a percussion firearm it is all but unusable in a flintlock rifle due to the integrity and ignition temperature. Pryodex burns erratically until it gets up to operating pressure. This is why you can't use it in a fintlock. (The percussion cap gives it a boost to get it going and there is no problem however there simply isn't enough there in a priming charge no matter how much priming is used). The only way to use Pyrodex in a flintlock is to use a duplex load (about 10 gr. of black powder poured down the barrel first and then the remainder of the charge being the Pyrodex). Pyrodex comes in 2 grades "P" which is equivalent to FFFg and "RS" which is equivalent to FFg. They have also come out with a new product called the Pyrodex Pellets which are available for shooters using 50 and 54 caliber in-line rifles. Pyrodex is loaded in a volume to volume basis. Meaning if you normally shoot 50 gr. volume of black powder you would also shoot 50 gr. Pyrodex by volume. One hundred grains by weight of blackpowder would be the equivalent of 80 grains of Pyrodex if weighed on scales. However by volume this amount of blackpowder and Pyrodex is equal. So you can see the difference in the 2 products. This means you get more shots per pound of Pyrodex than with blackpowder. On the average you should get approximately 25% more shots with Pyrodex. However sometime later in 1999 Goex is going to release a new black powder substitute called Clear Shot. This powder is supposed to be non-corrosive, have the same velocities as black powder and does not contain ascorbic acids or perchlorates. Also it is rumored that even in the most humid areas of the country it will not pick up moisture. I don't know much about this powder since it hasn't even been released but you can rest assured I'll be ready to try it when it is! I plan to give it a thorough road test in my cap and ball revolver and see if it is all they say it is. Of course since this is an explosive you need to handle it VERY CAREFULLY! Some of the safe handling practices include never smoke around black powder or it's substitutes. Never assume an old gun is unloaded. Never assume that an old gun is safe to shoot without having the gun checked by a competent gunsmith. Some of the old guns found in the desert (in Arizona among other places) are and have been proven to be loaded and will still fire even though they have been loaded for decades. Store powder in their originial container. Never store in a glass container. Store in a cool, dry place. Never attempt to use ANY kind of smokeless powder in ANY muzzleloader. Keep percussion caps away from powder. Never use any steel measurers, funnels or anything made of steel near blackpowder. Use brass as it doesn't spark. Do not prime flintlocks or cap percussion ignition firearms before loading. If you are shooting a double barrel gun and fire only one barrel remove the priming or cap from the unfired barrel before reloading the fired barrel. Never load directly from a flask or powder horn. ALWAYS USE A SEPERATE POWDER MEASURER!!!!!!! Stick to the loads recommended by your guns manufacturer. Never substitute 3Fg for 2Fg of the same weight powder charge. Never attempt "magnum" or extra heavy loads unless recommended by the manufacturer. Be sure you are using the correct charge and correct granulation for the projectile you are choosing to use as each type of projectile has a direct effect on pressures generated in the barrel. Always start with the minimum recommended load and GRADUALLY work up the load to the optimum (most accurate) load within the guidelines of the manufacturer. Keep percussion caps and powder out of the reach of children.
Using these guidelines and common sense you are about to embark on a wonderful new world of the muzzleloading shooter/hunter.

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