Unsafe Muzzleloaders?

By Randy Wakeman


It is a sad fact that many muzzleloaders produced in the recent past with Spanish barrels are marked with a pressure rating of 700 kp/cm² clearly stamped on the barrels. The proof rating above is converted to psi by the following formula: kp/cm² x 14.22 = psi. Directly put, these barrels are factory marked for a maximum pressure of only 9954 psi.

It is also well documented that so-called magnum loads, for example 150 grains of Pyrodex pushing a 260 grain saboted projectile, can easily develop pressures exceeding 20,000 psi. Much more moderate charges of 100 grains of Pyrodex pushing the same 260 grain saboted bullet can easily develop pressures in the 13,000-14,000 range. In fact, the original Pyrodex pellet patent states this quite clearly, to name only one document.

Do these barrels have any business being fired with loads that create more than twice the stamped barrels pressure rating? Does this create an unnecessary risk, both to the shooter and to those around him? Will it take death or dismemberment and the resultant lawsuits for this to change?

Some may think my barrel safety questions inappropriate. Why would any manufacturer market borderline or untested product? Why would Enron steal money from its employees, why would Morton-Thiokol okay space shuttle O-ring systems about which their engineers had severe reservations? Must it take a "60 Minutes" expose or loss of life to change or improve things?

Call me dense, but what smokeless powder firearms manufacturer directs you to set off any load in any gun at near proof pressure under any circumstances, much less exceed it? Yet, some muzzleloading companies have done just that. Wouldn't a lot of people like to know what that might have to do with their gun and what pressure their gun is really proofed for? Pressure limits are no secret in SAAMI / smokeless-land; in muzzleloading, they apparently are.

Hodgdon Powder Co. has long warned that either 100 grains Pyrodex pellets in .50 caliber or 100 grains Triple Seven pellets in .50 caliber is the MAXIMUM ALLOWABLE LOAD. When muzzleloading manufacturers deviate from the propellant maker's warnings, the burden is on them to prove its safety.

Are they dangerous? I don't know. Have they ever been shown to be safe with high-octane loads? How does a modern shooter know what his gun is capable of? Shouldn't modern muzzleloaders be proved safe prior to sale? Isn't this a reasonable question for any gun owner to ask? I most certainly think it is.

Addendum:

There are two basic types of "proof." "Provisional" proof that applies generally to barrels in the early stages of manufacture, to prevent the maker from continuing work on defective tubes. "Definitive proof" applies to all arms and is effected in the white, or in the finished state.

Inspection of many Traditions and CVA guns made in the last decade of the 20th Century will clearly show the Spanish House of Eibar definitive black powder proof mark. Likely you will also see the ammunition inspection proof mark as well. A pressure stamping on the barrel, typically 700KP/CM2, will follow this. That pressure is expressed in "kiloponds / cm2." The equivalent in PSI is approx. 9957 PSI.

It is well documented that 150 grain Pyrodex pellet loads pushing 250 to 300 grain saboted projectiles can exceed 2.5 X that pressure, often upwards of 25,000 - 27,000 PSI. These are common loads, as confirmed by the original Pyrodex patent and many readily available independent sources, such as Lyman's.

There is no evidence to show that these barrels are tested in any way and there is evidence to show that they are not. If there is further testing beyond what is clearly stamped on the barrels, it is unknown and not reflected on the original substandard proof embossed on those barrels. Nor is there any supplementary proof to indicate that this is being done.

The simple question, posed again and again, is have those guns been proofed or tested to 20,000 PSI, 25,000 PSI, or 30,000 PSI? If so, who is doing the testing and what guns are being tested? Why are there no marks to indicate a "tested" barrel from an untested one? What specific loads are they tested with? Are they tested with pellets at all? What metal is used in these barrels? How do I know that my gun has been tested beyond the internationally respected house of Eibar stamp?

What reasonable assurances can be provided to a customer so he knows his individual gun has been tested? Somehow, a terse phone call from a manufacturer that says these proofs are "not really proof marks" or "just a manufacturing mark" or "minimum pressures" or "it is ALL hogwash, just follow the manual" seems ill-prepared and insufficient.

Traditions and CVA / BPI have been aware of these questions for some time. They have been unable to answer or fully address them. (Unless you think that Traditions calling me "anti-Second Amendment" or CVA starting a "Randy, you are out of your mind" thread on their forum should be construed as an answer.)

I don't know what testing there is, with what, by who and why the Eibar Proof marks remain far, far too low. The public response from Traditions and CVA / BPI has been non-existent. If they can address these issues fully and put the matter to rest, why haven't they? Traditions and CVA/BPI have been asked again and again why a customer should consider their recommended loads as safe when they defy the clear barrel proofs, C. I. P. maximum service pressures and Hodgdon Powder's own maximum load warnings.

With a mess like this, it is clear that the Black Powder Industry desperately needs an overseeing body like SAMMI. Though SAMMI participation is voluntary, it has made the firearms industry a better place by setting the rules. Only those with self-destructive proclivities would knowingly break a powder manufacturer's reloading rules. Yet, if you are a muzzleloader, you are a reloader.

Educated consumers can decide for themselves what chances they may or may not be taking. Whether they are safe with "their loads," I cannot possibly say. I wish I could say that I believe these guns to be well-tested and proven safe. The best I can offer remains "I don't know."


CVA VOLUNTARY RECALL NOTICE:

In August 1997 CVA implemented a Voluntary Recall of In-Line rifle models with serial numbers ending in -95 and -96. If you have a CVA In-Line model with such a serial number, DO NOT USE OR ALLOW ANYONE ELSE TO USE THE GUN. If you have one of these rifles, please call CVA immediately at 770-449-4687 for complete details and a free replacement gun. Example serial numbers: 61-13-XXXXXX-95 or 61-13-XXXXXX-96.

In May 1999 Blackpowder Products, Inc. purchased the assets of Connecticut Valley Arms, Inc. and now operates under the trade name of Connecticut Valley Arms and/or CVA. Any claims relating to the above described Voluntary Recall should be addressed to Connecticut Valley Arms, Inc., not Blackpowder Products, Inc. Blackpowder Products, Inc. assumes no liability for any products manufactured prior to January 1, 1998.




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Copyright 2003 by Randy Wakeman. All rights reserved.



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