Hodgdon's Triple Se7en Propellant
It would be a bit negligent not to mention Hodgdon's Triple Seven powder and pellets on a muzzleloading section, as it is now regarded as the finest commonly available propellant for blackpowder arms. And I cannot disagree.
A bit of background is in order: April 1, 1996 was the day that Dean Barrett, V-P of Hodgdon Powder Company, filed for patent on the "Pyrodex Pellet." Introduced at the SHOT SHOW shortly thereafter, the Pyrodex pellet changed muzzleloading quickly, and forever. Despite a few shrill cries from those who felt you somehow "needed" to measure powder to muzzleload, consumers voted quickly and strongly for convenience with their purchasing dollars and the current "Pellet Dynasty" was born.
Combined with saboted projectiles, it wasn't long before loose blackpowder and Pyrodex performance levels were shattered, with "magnum muzzleloading mania" that hasn't stopped since. Burning progressively down the bore, Pyrodex pellets can produce muzzle velocities from today's muzzleloading rifles exceeding 2600 fps, just as published in current in-line muzzleloading catalogs.
Despite this performance potential, most experienced muzzleloaders that I know long ago correctly recognized the hyperbole of muzzleloading manufacturers as more sizzle than bacon. Deer hunting remains a sub-100 yard game, and a 90 to 100 grain charge putting a quality bullet in the right place is more than adequate to stock the meat locker.
Most muzzleloaders I've tested operate most accurately within a fairly narrow range of 90 to 100 grains of loose powder. The fact that 50 grain pellets were introduced first takes advantage of that. I won't say that "recoil is for chumps," but I won't completely deny it, either. Pyrodex has become the standard blackpowder-esque muzzleloading propellant, with wide availability and consistent performance. To date, the majority of my sub one-half inch 100 yard groups have been with nothing but a pair of Pyrodex pellets. Consistent compaction and moisture content seems to have a lot to do with it, courtesy of Hodgdon quality control.
In 2002 Hodgdon did it again, introducing their "Triple Seven" loose powder. Triple Seven is apparently an gluconic acid (sugar-based) propellant that is far more efficient than blackpowder or Pyrodex, with corresponding increases in muzzle velocity.
The exact recipe is no doubt hidden away in Chris Hodgdon's secret vault surrounded by a moat full of vicious salt water crocodiles, but carbon-based fuels need, err, carbon to burn. If not charcoal, there are few more economical options than sugar. The problem has always been the carmelization process, where several previous attempts have failed to achieve consistency, but Hodgdon has finally done it right. In no way a "black powder performance substitute," the pressures generated by Triple Seven are greater than the Pyrodex or blackpowder genre products, and so are the muzzle velocities.
Triple Seven pellets followed in 2003, and they likewise offer higher velocities in three pellet configuration than their Pyrodex counterparts (though less accuracy), as they can produce more gas in a finite barrel volume. The two pellet velocities have been virtually interchangeable with Pyrodex pellets, however. Still, almost without exception, the most accurate loads have not been the fastest loads, and deer don't seem to care how fast you miss them.
Last fall, I picked off a nice Russian boar at about 120 yards in scrub brush with a Knight Elite. The load was a very pleasant-to-shoot two pellet Triple Seven charge pushing a .44 caliber 300 grain "Dead Center" bullet. The pig went in a half circle for about 15 yards then fell over dead. When we zipped him open, he was sloshing, having bled right into the chest cavity. The bullet nicked a rib on the way in, destroyed both the upper heart and lungs, smashed through the armor and puffed out a six inch circle of hide, stripping it off the muscle tissue on the far side. Retained weight of the projectile was 210 grains, despite the rough ride, and it expanded like one would hope, to about twice its original diameter.
Interviewing some of the staff reinforced what I had seen before, compared to small caliber high velocity rounds muzzleloading projectiles can be a far quicker, more devastating way to take tough hogs. It wasn't uncommon for 7mm Remington Magnum shot boars to go 150 or even 200 yards despite a good hit. It kills them, but just does not dump the energy inside the body cavity like bigger bores do, sometimes just leaving the undesirable "laser beam effect" holes in them. Muzzleloading can be a superb way to quickly harvest game.
Triple Seven is harder to ignite than blackpowder or Pyrodex, and Hodgdon recommends only 209 shotshell ignition for Triple Seven pellets, though musket caps work quite nicely in inline frontstuffers. Triple Seven loose powder is far more economical, and is easier to ignite as well.
Triple Seven FFg loose powder, 90 grains, has given superb performance in an Austin & Halleck Flintlock "Mountain Rifle," producing 1-1/4" groups at 100 yards, shooting 360 grain Extreme sabots with XS Sights Ghost Ring sights. Goex FFFFg was used in the frizzen pan. The same Triple Seven FFg with 100 grain volumetric charges has given superb accuracy in a wide variety of tested rifles, including the Austin & Halleck 420, Thompson Contender G2, and Knight Disc Elite .50 caliber.
One complaint, largely unfounded, is the hard fouling produced by Triple Seven residue. All blackpowder, Pyrodex, and Triple Seven charges leave behind a large percentage of solid residues. If you spit-patch between shots, there has been little issue with Triple Seven. Only one rifle has even given me a "Triple Seven Crud Ring," of any note, and that is the .45 caliber G2 Contender. When spit-patching that rifle, it really does have a hard sugary "crunch" when nearing the breechplug, and I don't know why. It just takes a second spit-patch between shots, though. For the G2, using the new Triple Seven .45 caliber pellets largely eliminates the fouling. Due to the diminutive size of the T/C Contender's barrel, that is about all the propellant that can be properly combusted anyway.
For pellet use my preference remains slightly Pyrodex pellets over Triple Seven pellets. They are noticeably more accurate on chronograph and on paper in too many guns to ignore. This has not been the case with Triple Seven loose powder vs. Pyrodex RS, however.
There is a lot to like about Triple Seven. Though Hodgdon touts the "easy water clean-up," I've not found Pyrodex clean-up to be all that stressful. I like the less felt recoil for a given velocity with Triple Seven loose powder compared to Pyrodex and similar, and I like the added performance from a 90 to 100 grain loose powder charge. Though Hodgdon does not claim Triple Seven as "non-corrosive," it is less corrosive than either blackpowder or Pyrodex. As I always hunt with a fouled bore for accuracy reasons, it is a little extra cushion not present with Pyrodex use.
Whether the gun is an A&H flinter, a Thompson Hawken, a Knight Elite, or a Savage 10ML-II, Triple Seven FFg is the one powder that has given superb results in all of them. It is the flexibility, availability, peppiness, and consistency that make Triple Seven FFg loose powder the very first choice for the majority of muzzleloading rifles made today, with the less aggressive corrosive qualities and the lack of sulfur as additional bonuses. For the majority of today's muzzleloading rifles, it is the best that there is. If you've not tried a pound of it yet, do so. Once you have I think you'll feel the same way.
Copyright 2004 by Randy Wakeman. All rights reserved.