Your Savage Runs on Ping-Pong Balls:
A Look at 10ML-II Compatible Powders

By Randy Wakeman

Some may be puzzled at the notion of a ping-pong ball propelled muzzleloader, but that's a common form of nitrocellulose, as are comic books (ink) and counter-top finishes. That's what smokeless powder is, just a form of energetic nitrocellulose, which is a bit peppier than a roll of film or a ping-pong ball.

Since 2002, most other muzzleloaders have been running on sugar cubes. Sugar cubes are what Triple 7 is; just a more energetic form of sugar called gluconic acid. Cubed sugar or pelleted powder, the analogy to Triple 7 is an easy one to make.

Right now, the Savage 10ML-II is the most versatile muzzleloader available. You make the choice of corrosive black powder, fake synthetic black powder hopped up with perchorates (Pyrodex) that leaves behind a variety of toxic, corrosive substances, or the gluconic acid or fructose based substances that also eat barrels and destroy equipment.

Enough people have set the woods on fire with Pyrodex, and lost game due to a zero visibility condition after the shot to make ping-pong ball related propellants perfected over the last one hundred and twenty-five years, the type the Savage 10ML-II was specifically designed for, an easy choice. The economy, visibility retention, non-corrosiveness, and inherent safety of these powders are both sensible and of proven benefit.

Additionally, cellulose that has been nitrated in propellant form cannot combust properly and does not explode when unconfined as black powder does. The lack of a fire hazard is clear, as smokeless powders need confinement and back pressure to work in small arms applications.

As any reloader knows, smokeless powder extinguishes itself after it leaves the muzzle. Using an incorrect, too slow of a powder can result in a blooper. Proper ignition never happens, and without enough back pressure to sustain a good burn, its is flame quickly extinguished.

Though some continually look for a mysterious new powder to do the job, after the last twelve years of testing it is largely a waste of time. Flake type shotshell powders burn too fast, quickly destroying sabot integrity, to be of much value as hunting loads. Ball powders are to be avoided as well, as they are generally too hard to ignite (high percentage of coating) in a low-resistance application like a slippery sabot. As is, there are many readily available propellants quite suitable, and I will try to touch on those that I have tested myself.

Basically, the valves in a powder plant form dough. That dough becomes one of two distinct types of propellants: single-based or double-based. The energy potential from a given family of single-based propellants is all the same. I have to qualify "given family," as the more nitrated our cellulose is, the more energy potential is present in the primary dough.

The professional ballistician primarily works with the geometry (size and shape) of the powder to control burn rate. Doubled-based powders have nitroglycerin (and chemical variants) added that allow the professional ballistician the option of controlling energy content of the powder as well rather than relying on just geometry.

Coatings are used in all common consumer powders. Coatings are a sophisticated subject that encompasses metering, burn rate control, anti-static agents, cleaning agents, and sundry other characteristics.

In any case, let's take a quick peek at Savage 10ML-II propellants, starting with the double-based variety. The following comments assume the use of .451, .452, and .458 inch diameter bullets with the appropriate current formulation MMP sabots for the Savage 10ML-II.


Alliant 2400

Alliant 2400 got its name from its development and use in the .22 Hornet. It achieved 2400 fps with the .22 Hornet, and the name was born. It contains 15% nitro, and is what I consider fine as frog hair. It has proven to be a very good propellant for 250 grain class bullets, and a bit lighter. It exhibits no temperature sensitivity of note, and like all double-based propellants it "helps itself along" after ignition, needing little back pressure.

However, its burn rate prohibits it from widespread use with 300 grain projectiles, as you just run out of sabot when you try to gain any respectable velocity. 32 to 34 grains of Alliant 2400 do a fine job with Barnes 250 grain MZ-Expanders and Hornady .452 standard XTPs. You don't use much powder, so it is both economical and low-recoil.

Alliant Reloder 7

A much slower powder, Alliant Reloder 7 is 7% nitro, and is very easy on ventliners and sabots alike. It is a short-cut extruded grain powder, and with a much slower burning rate, is far better for 300 grain class (minimum) bullets than anything lighter. 55 to 60 grains of Reloder 7 does a fine job, and it meters extremely well to boot.

Accurate Arms 5744

AA 5744 was developed from a variation of the old Hercules "Spotter Tracer" propellant. It is 20% nitro, perhaps the easiest to ignite 10ML-II powder of all, the best bet for use with the 3.1cc and 3.4cc Lee Dippers (or 40 to 45 grains by weight), and it works fabulously with most any bullet weight from 200 grains to 300 grains.

Temperature insensitive, remarkably consistent from lot to lot, easy metering, and its general "position insensitivity" make it the only propellant most 10ML-II shooters will ever need. It is likely the most forgiving and reliable powder you can use, and gets a 300 grain Barnes MZ-Expander or Hornady XTP out the muzzle at a MV of 2050 fps or so.

Not quite as fast as some of the 3 pellet sugar cube burners, the complete dependability of this powder under all conditions makes it a top choice for deer-sized game. It is forgiving in loading exactitude; +/- 2 grains load to load still gives astonishingly good accuracy.

Deer don't care how fast you miss them, and nothing much matters if your gun is not reliable under all conditions. For this long list of reasons, it remains the hunter's first choice as a Savage 10ML-II propellant.


Vihtavouri N110

42 grains of N110 pushing a .452 inch, 250 grain Hornady XTP defines the Savage 10ML-II factory accuracy load. Single based powders burn a bit cleaner than many of their double-based counterparts (relative, as all Savage 10ML-II propellants are spectacularly clean compared to black powder and sugar-burners). Perfectly matched in burn rate to the 250 grain Barnes 250 MZ-Expander and Hornady XTP, it is an ideal 250 grain bullet propellant that gives reasonably low recoil and good velocity.

Vihtavouri N120

For 300 grain bullet use at 2200 fps velocities, this powder has no equal in my experience. 55 to 60 grains by weight of N120 is a great load with 300 grain bullets. It is currently my pick among Savage 10ML-II powders, along with Accurate Arms 5744 for more general purposes. These two powders cover every North American hunting scenario that I can think of. As perfectly matched as N110 is to 250 grain bullets, the same holds true for N120 with 300 grain bullets, and that is really saying something.

Hodgdon / IMR SR4759

If anything, a wee notch slower than Vihtavouri N110, SR4759 has generally good availability, its primary attribute, and is best used only for 250 grain bullets. About 42 grains is a reasonable charge, with a cautionary note. Poor Hodgdon / IMR quality control has resulted in up to 200 fps lot-to-lot variations.

Several shooters like this powder, but if you change to a new can from a different lot, you had better bring your chronograph to the range with you. You may have to go down two full grains to eliminate sabot damage, or go up two full grains to get the same performance as before. The lot to lot consistency makes it not worth my time these days, particularly when hunting out of state. A new can of this stuff can be a brave new world.

Accurate Arms 2015

For those who just prefer, or think they need bullet weights of 325, 350, or 375 grains, Accurate Arms 2015 (about 67 grains by weight) becomes an efficient, balanced load with these heavier bullets while keeping pressures low. It has given me some remarkable groups, but the recoil from 350 grain bullets at hunting speeds is something that I have enjoyed as much as I care to at present.

For dangerous game, or really tough game, 67 to 70 grains of AA 2015 pushing a Barnes .458 inch, 350 grain "X" bullet is a splendid choice. For deer family game inclusive of caribou, elk, and moose, the needless burning of the heavy powder charges required by AA 2015 strikes me as, well, needless.


As you might imagine, I prefer ping-pong balls to sugar cubes. They are more fun to play with, encourage exercise, and don't rot your teeth. More connected to the topic is they do not destroy equipment or visibility, and the unlike fragile, porous sugar-smoking propellants, their coatings displace the moisture sucking qualities that may make the fake black powders inconsistent and erratic under rugged, high humidity, field conditions.

There are certainly more propellants that can be used in the Savage 10ML-II, but here are seven suitable propellants that are very good, far more than for any other muzzleloader ever made. Of course, you still have the ability to use Goex, Pyrodex, American Pioneer, Black Mag 3, and Triple Se7en if you elect to do so.

NOTE: All ball powders are to be avoided, Hodgdon Lil' Gun is to be specifically avoided, and shotshell type (flake) powders are to be strictly avoided.

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Copyright 2005 by Randy Wakeman. All rights reserved.