Hodgdon’s newest blackpowder substitute requires less cleaning and is more powerful than regular Pyrodex.
By Ralph M. Lermayer
Perhaps no facet of the shooting sports is as clearly polarized as the world of muzzleloading. In one corner is the purist who sees muzzleloading as a way to connect with history. This is a diminishing but dedicated group of traditionalists. In the other corner is the hardcore hunter who sees muzzleloading as a means of expanding his seasons, adding an element of challenge or just a convenient way to put a little more meat in the locker. While I dabble in both sides, the vast majority of hunters, myself included, tend to fall into the latter camp.
We choose inlines, power them to the max and expect performance, accuracy and reliability paralleling the centerfire. To this end, we’re constantly looking for a product that will give us a little more edge.
Standard blackpowder has a host of drawbacks. It’s hard to come by, corrosive, messy and gets downright finicky when things get damp. To its credit, once you work up a load, it’s predictable, accurate and can be counted on to push a bullet to the same point of impact at minus 10 or 100 degrees of ambient temperature. If you can live with its downsides, nothing can compare with the predictability of a well-worked-up blackpowder load.
Unfortunately, living with all the negatives is not an option for many of us, so we look for the alternatives. That brings us to the blackpowder substitutes, and here, we have two options. First, Pyrodex, a product developed and marketed by Hodgdon Powder Co., or a host of alternatives based on a formula using ascorbic acid.
I routinely try them all, and not just by jamming a charge down the bore and shooting from the bench for a super group, but by testing each in a variety of barrel lengths, different loads and, most importantly, under different temperatures and moisture conditions.
Loose Pyrodex can be very sensitive to seating pressure, but paying attention to seating pressure produces extreme accuracy. Jam one in a panic, load looser or harder than your bench technique, and the impact point will wander.
Pyrodex pellets put an end to that. Drop them in the bore, seat the bullet on top and you get the same ride out of the chute every time. Pellets have become my first choice. Getting the punch I wanted from the early pellets took a charge of nearly 130 grains. The move to the more powerful Triple Seven boosted the power, but still required about a 120-grain load to realize everything the rifles and loads would deliver. That meant a combination of 50- and 30-grain pellets to get to that sweet spot.
Let me explain. Unlike conventional nitrocellulose-based centerfire powder, the burning of blackpowder and its substitutes takes takes time and can’t be rushed. Powder still burning after the bullet has exited doesn’t burn as completely, leaving crud in the bore. The ideal load, the sweet spot, is a charge that is all burned at the precise moment the bullet exits the bore.
Old timers used to shoot over snow or a clean blanket, increasing the charge until they saw unburned flecks of powder on the snow or blanket. Then they would back off a bit, and with that batch of powder, hold that load. Another indicator of that perfect load is a sharp crack instead of a rolling boom.
The balanced load is always the most accurate, leaves minimal fouling and is the most consistent
We know the standard barrel length (24 inches) rate of twist (1:28) and the most popular bullets (240 to 300 grains) for most modern .50-caliber inlines. Why not give us a pellet that would produce a burn rate and power level tuned to these parameters and push a 240-grain bullet at 2,000 fps, delivering consistent accuracy, a sharp crack and minimal fouling?
A few months back, Chris Hodgdon sent me just such a product to use. I had to swear not to mention it until now, but Chris wanted me to wring it out and see if it was what I’d been wanting for so long.
Triple Seven Magnum, with a simple two-pellet (100-grain) load, is delivering the best level of accuracy I’ve ever had in my Knight, Thompson/Center, CVA, Traditions and Ultimate rifles. With a 240- to 325-grain saboted bullet or 295-grain Power Belt, the product leaves virtually no fouling, can be fired seven or eight times without excessive fouling, and doesn’t stink!
My goal was a simple two-pelletload that would drive my prime loads (240 to 300-grain bullets) to about 2,000 fps accurately, leave no excessive buildup, and stay consistent over a wide range of ambient temperatures. I was hoping to avoid any three-pellet loads, as they enlarge the length of the powder column and effectively shorten the usable barrel length.
Despite how loudly and often I shout that three-pellet loads are inefficient, unnecessary, deliver little gain, and generate excessive recoil and can be dangerous in certain guns, I tested them anyway. The chart shows the results.
Using a third pellet added 400 fps with the 250-grain load and did nearly the same for the 300-grain Hornady. However, accuracy diminished, and recoil was brutal. My 240-grain bullet, traveling at just under 2,000 fps, drops less than 2 inches at 200 yards. I’ll pass on the recoil, thank you, but you’ll have to let your shoulder decide.
The Real Test
It was a freezing day, with temps hovering around 10 degrees, when I spotted the mule deer buck bedded with a group of does beneath the wall of a huge Kansas bluff. It took over an hour to get behind the bluff and climb up the back end. I hoped to get above them and shoot down at an unsuspecting target. Didn’t work!
After all that effort, something boogered them just before I could top over the bluff and look down. The whole herd, strung out in a line with the buck in the middle, was hauling fast on the flats 200 yards below me. I dropped to one knee, popped open my shooting sticks, found the buck in the scope and squeezed the trigger. Two Pyrodex Triple Seven Magnum pellets sent a 240-grain saboted bullet exactly where it needed to go. That Kansas buck is on the wall, and my search for the perfect muzzleloader powder is over.
Reprinted from the September 2007 issue of Buckmasters GunHunter Magazine. Subscribe today to have GunHunter delivered to your home.