Propellant Choices: Eliminating the Horror of Rusty Muzzleloaders

By Randy Wakeman


T7 crud in barrel
This picture shows the crud left in the breech after just one shot using
Triple Se7en powder. Illustration provided by Randy Wakeman.

Muzzleloaders tend to destroy themselves if not maintained. Unfortunately, muzzleloaders can destroy themselves even IF maintained, but not fastidiously maintained. While this might be good for new gun sales, it rarely is good for your wallet.

Much of this is perpetuated by the marketing drivel and bad information that has come from powder and gun manufacturers for years. Tell a lie long enough and loud enough and it tends to stick. Sadly, some of it has stuck and muzzleloading consumers are the ones it usually gets stuck to.

Most metals do require reasonable care. Muzzleloaders come in a couple of popular forms, pre-rusted and not pre-rusted. There is “pretty rust” and not-so-pretty rust. You might be surprised at this notion. Gun metal “blue” is typically not blue at all, it is black. Black oxide, which is cosmetically more appealing than red oxide (“rust”) is a common gun barrel finish. It serves primarily as a medium to retain oil, eliminating direct air contact with the surface of the metal.

Stainless (or “stainless finish”) muzzleloaders often have little or nothing in the way of surface coatings. While still capable of rusting, the chromium content of the steel slows this propensity. In either case, the exterior finishes are easily maintained, as they are both visible and accessible. What goes on deep inside your barrel is quite another matter. The most important factor that dictates maintenance needs is the propellant we choose. Ranking muzzleloader propellants by what they do to our barrels makes appropriate powder selection a simple matter. I’m listing them from the WORST to the BEST, based on my experience.

PYRODEX

With little question, Pyrodex is the nastiest, most invasive propellant in common use. It is harder on most barrel metals than organic powder (“blackpowder”) and can etch stainless steel barrels, as noted by Doc White many years ago. It stinks and it sucks. With the huge negatives associated with Pyrodex, the most available barrel-rotter of the day, it might seem puzzling why the stuff gets used at all?

Well, it gets used because it works. Even though it is corrosive, moisture-sucking and has a poor shelf life, it is consistent, cheap to make and easy enough to use in so-called “blackpowder rifles.” Pyrodex has done a lot of things. It is dangerous enough to manufacture that it cost its inventor his life, yet so cheap to make in quantity it has made a fortune for Hodgdon Powder and set the stage for their monopoly of the “black powder substitute” market. By virtue of its current ease of shipment (compared to blackpowder) and widespread availability it has become a standard of sorts, even if the standard it has set defines dirty, corrosive, smelly and filthy.

BLACKPOWDER

Organic blackpowder is less damaging to gun barrels than Pyrodex. Its easy ignition means that it is still the best choice for many applications. No other material is as suitable for pan powder and a variety of military and avalanche control applications. In fact, blackpowder is added as the “igniter pad” to Pyrodex pellets, where the loading of a pellet backwards may result in a misfire for #11 capped firearms.

Many, many current muzzleloading enthusiasts have never tried black powder. This isn’t likely to change, despite its easy ignition and cheap cost that make it the only suitable choice for some uses. Poor distribution and restrictive shipping and storage regulations have made it cumbersome and costly to make available in many areas.

SHOCKEY’S GOLD / AMERICAN PIONEER

This product has given us poor, erratic velocities and is just not consistent enough to be worth the bother. It, like others in the “ascorbic acid” based family of propellants, is sulfur free and therefore less corrosive than Pyrodex and black powder. Its performance is worse than both, though, and it often leaves a peculiar, hard crud at the muzzle. In general, this propellant is not worth using.

HODGDON’S TRIPLE SE7EN

Good, consistent velocities and no sulfur. Crud rings, frozen breech plugs and it does not “clean up with just water” better than blackpowder. Nevertheless, T7 is widely available and it single handedly took the market by storm in 2002.

It has been an inspiration. Enough so to inspire the elimination of #11 caps, harder still in pellet form. The crud ring has inspired all kinds of primers and wild attempts to clean up the hard, slag like fouling left by this gluconic acid smokeless powder.

It is available, though, an powder that is consistent enough to work with. Working with it requires a spit patch between sabots. In pellet form, reduced accuracy and erratic high pressures make it another type of inspiration. Since 2002, T7 has been the best we have had, primarily because the other stuff has been so bad (Shockey), unavailable, or both bad and unavailable.

BLACK MAG 3

It has been okay, then unavailable. It has been very bad, supplied in 1 pound lumps, then unavailable again. It has been very good, then unavailable. It is claimed to be back, but I find it unavailable. It has been less problematic with crud and corrosion than Triple Se7en, but Triple Se7en is available. Call it the eternally unavailable solution to Pyrodex pollution, but I’m tempted to call it the Easter Bunny.

BLACKHORN 209

The best there has been to date in terms of low-to-no corrosivity, wonderful consistency and good velocities. It also has the best shelf life of any “sub.” Practically speaking, it is a smokeless powder in the sense that Triple Se7en (di-nitro sodium benzoate) is. It gives similar performance to Triple Se7en loose powder without all the headaches and spit patching. Sure, all these powders are smokeless; they smoke less than blackpowder.

Not only is Blackhorn 209 the best powder for inline muzzleloaders that I’ve seen, it is available! Blackhorn 209 works superbly in quality 209 primer ignited muzzleloaders. You must use 209 primers, just as you must use 209 primers with Triple Se7en. The crummy breechplugs that blow more fire from the sides than they get through the plug to the powder don’t work so well with Blackhorn 209. Ironically, some muzzleloader breechplug design has been a march to the rear, mostly due to attempts to handle Triple Se7en crud.

Blackhorn 209 is such a comparatively clean, consistent, long-shelf life propellant to use that the few muzzleloading companies that “just don’t get it” had better get it soon or will find themselves getting out of it. For those that have already experienced the accuracy and user-friendliness of Blackhorn 209, any inline that cannot ignite it properly is an inline rifle not worth wasting your money on. Blackhorn 209 eliminates the “Horror of Rusty Muzzleloaders” like no other propellant sufficiently accurate for long range hunting use. BH209 improves the inline muzzleloading experience vividly. It is about time.

The rest of the "inline muzzleloading blackpowder substitutes" are now obsolete. It is past time for this, since the first sub rotted its first barrel and the improved versions seized their first breechplugs, only to rot barrels at a slower pace. Those days are over. Boy, am I ever thankful for that.




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Copyright 2008 by Randy Wakeman. All rights reserved.



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