Gentleman: It Is Just Called "Gunpowder"

By Randy Wakeman

For centuries, no particular distinction was made in small arms propellants. It was just called gunpowder, likely because that all it is, a propellant.

There is a wide area for innocent misunderstanding, based not on facts of any sort-- but strictly on independent companies' commercial marketing attempts. Effective marketing is precisely what good companies do-- however, it has all too often been at the expense of reality. Most modern inline muzzleloaders shoot the same projectiles at similar velocities and similar ranges. Loading from the muzzle is a severe restriction, and no .45 caliber projectile can fly particularly well. No .45-70 Government load can possibly have the trajectory of a .22-250 or a .300 Win. Mag. Basic, fundamental external ballistics physics prohibit that.

As much as muzzleloading propellant manufacturers try to change how their new propellants are presented and touted, they cannot classify their propellants or reclassify their propellants to suit their latest ad campaigns. The U.S. Department of Transportation classifies these propellants, not powder companies.

Hodgdon Pyrodex was sold for many years as a "smokeless propellant for muzzleloading." Hodgdon printed this on bottle after bottle of Pyrodex, and on box after box of Pyrodex pellets-- not by accident, by intent. The U.S. DOT says that it is. That has changed now--not the propellant, but only the marketing.

Loose black powder is DOT classified as 1.1 Hazardous Material. It is an explosive, and is harder to legally ship, store, and sell due to the rules that come with a 1.1 classification.

Hodgdon Pyrodex, Hodgdon Triple Se7en, American Pioneer, Goex Pinnacle, and Accurate Arms 5744 are all DOT 1.3 powders. They are all classified as smokeless. Perhaps American Pioneer is a bit more forthright in their products: Modern Gun Powder for Black Powder Guns is their trademark. That is what it is.

Sulfurless propellants giving higher velocities by weight than black powder with less maintenance is what BlackMag3, American Pioneer, Hodgdon Triple Se7en, Goex Pinnacle and Accurate Arms 5744 all promise and deliver.

None are chemically, volumetrically, or in weight identical to black powder. Not even close. As far as "modern" propellants, ascorbic acid based BlackMag3, ascorbic acid American Pioneer, ascorbic acid based Goex Pinnacle, gluconic acid salt based Hodgdon Triple Se7en are all far more "modern" and recent compared to Accurate Arms 5744 which has been a nitrocellulose based powder on the scene for decades. ALL of these powders can be used, and are recommended to be used, in modern centerfire brass cartridges. All of them.

Now the issue of safety is injected. Not for safety, but for marketing purposes. No powder manufacturer has the authority to override the individual muzzleloading gun manufacturer's recommended loads-- not one. The Thompson / Center Cherokee is a .32 caliber sidelock, with a maximum load of 50 grains (volume) FFFg black powder or 50 grains (volume) Hodgdon Pyrodex "P." What powder manufacturer will sign their name to the use of 100 grains of powder by volume in this rifle? If you want to know, it won't take you long to find out.

Every box of Triple Se7en .50 caliber 50 grain "equivalent" pellets comes with a "never exceed" warning. NEVER EXCEED TWO PELLETS, 100 grains equivalent, followed by the usual talk of severe injury to shooter and bystander, including death. However, THREE Triple Se7en pellets (sometimes called "magnum loads") are allowed and encouraged by Knight, Thompson, CVA, and other in many of their guns.

Does Hodgdon go out of their way to discourage this? Of course not, it means more pellets are burned per shot, and that's good for business. In the case of Thompson and Knight, anyway, you have well-tested proven product before these loads are allowed. Again, no powder company can tell Knight, Thompson, or Savage Arms what their guns are designed, tested, and proven to be able to use.

The reality is, shoot a quality muzzleloading manufacturer's gun, and follow their recommended loads. The manufacturer's loads exist to keep you safe. Modern black powder replacement powders are marketed to be sold, all too often at the expense of candid, forthright information.

More often then not, my black powder replacement powder in a Savage 10ML-II is a charge of 45 grains by weight of Accurate Arms 5744 pushing a 300 grain Barnes bullet. There is NO safer way to muzzleload, by any standard of current muzzleloading firearms design. No powder company, no firearms company, no bullet company, no industry entity can begin to show differently, or EVER has. Don't we all really know the reasons why?

Sometimes gunpowder is just gunpowder, and a cigar is just a cigar.


We have no universal muzzleloading standards to rely upon today; neither SAAMI / ANSI in the United States or the CIP have any criteria for sulfurless black powder replacement proofing, or maximum service loads. There, of course, are no "NATO" muzzleloading guidelines, either. That leaves muzzleloading in a bit of a fix, where ad-copy and hyperbole have developed biases and attitudes, not empirical evidence.

I do shoot sulfurless black powder replacement powders, and have almost exclusively since Triple Se7en came out in 2002. The vast majority of muzzleloading hunters do not shoot black powder; most never have. The last half-dozen or so animals have been one-shot drops with a Savage and Accurate Arms 5744. The best bet for anyone entering muzzleloading is to buy a quality rifle from a quality manufacturer, and whether it is Savage, Thompson, or Knight, follow their recommended propellant suggestions. None of the three are powder makers or sellers, they just want their guns to perform safely and well for you.

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Copyright 2005 by Randy Wakeman. All rights reserved.