Black Powder (and Substitutes) Cartridge Loading for CAS
By Abilene, SASS # 27489,AKA David Harper
V1.10 Ė 25Oct2007
The Holy Black
Lube and Fouling
How Much Powder - Volume vs. Weight
Preparing Guns for BP
Bottlenecked Brass for BP Ė the Way to Go
Chamber Fouling Problems from Different Lengths of Ammo
Amount of Smoke - BP vs. Subs
Smoking (as in Cigarettes)
BP and Gamers
Introduction / Disclaimer.This purpose of this article is to provide as much info as possible for those who are interested in shooting in the Frontier Cartridge category in Cowboy Action Shooting matches. We'll cover both the "real" black powder and the substitutes. Some of the info will be what I have personally experienced and some will be what I have garnered from other sources. I am no expert and have only been doing this a few years, but I am a fast learner. I have no direct experience loading for long-range rifle so that will not be covered.
There are a couple of important things to keep in mind for anyone trying to make use of this or any similar info from other sources. First of all, there are many different methods that can achieve the same or similar results. When you see someone say what has worked for them, that doesn't necessarily mean that you will get the same results. There are many factors that affect BP performance and fouling. Bullet hardness and size, the amount and type of lube used, the type of powder, the thickness of brass, condition of the bore and how it has been lubed, all affect performance. And while it is a fairly universal truth that BP needs certain amount of soft lube to keep the fouling within reason, the relative humidity during shooting plays a huge role in fouling buildup or the lack thereof. Someone may say that their method of lubing allows them to shoot all day without the gun binding. But do they shoot in humid or dry climates? And what type of accuracy are they getting? Perhaps they shoot at a club that has large targets at a fairly close distance and they aren't really aware that they are losing accuracy. Having said all that, if you read enough anecdotal info from a variety of sources, you should be better able to make informed decisions about what you would like to do and what is likely to work for you. But in the long run you just have to work up loads and see what works for you, especially with real black powder.
And so I shall go no further before stating that much of what you read here is just my opinion. When I make statements based on what others have reported, it will be so noted. Hopefully this information will be helpful, but please understand that I take no responsibility for what you load or shoot in your own firearms. Fortunately the nature of loading BP and the substitutes is such that it is impossible to have a "double charge" and therefore very little chance of damaging a gun by using ammo that is too powerful. In fact, the lower pressures developed by BP ammo put less stress on any firearm than smokeless loads.
I will also state that I am lazy (or is that just being efficient?) and I will try to be innovative and do things the easiest and least expensive way possible. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't.
I wish I had a digital camera so I could have more pictures for this article. My regular camera does not have a macro feature so I can't get close-ups. Maybe later.
The Holy Black - That's what some BP shooters call their gunpowder. By the way, the term "gunpowder" really refers to black powder, not modern smokeless powders. If you are really into being authentic, you should shoot the real stuff. Yes, it is more of a hassle to load than BP substitutes. Yes, it is possible to rust your guns if you wait too long to clean after shooting. Yes, it is going to get your hands and clothes and guns dirtier than shooting the subs. Yes, I shoot substitutes in some of my guns, without apology, and most of the onlookers will not know whether I am shooting real BP or not. Shooting the subs is great fun. Absolutely! But I will state my opinion that there is a definite difference in shooting them. It has long been said that compared to smokeless, BP has more of a boom than a bang. The subs also boom more than smokeless, but not as much as BP which also has considerably more flame out the muzzle than the subs. Both will give plenty of smoke. Yes, shooting the subs is fun but shooting BP is even funner! And that sulfur stink does lend an aura of realism. Now, the subs stink too, but it is a different smell. But loading the subs (especially CleaNshot) is certainly easier than BP and may be a good way to get started for some folks.
Lube and Fouling. BP leaves a lot of fouling in the bore. BP needs soft lube and plenty of it. This is to keep the fouling soft so that successive shots can push the fouling out the barrel. The hard blue (or red or green) lubes that come on commercial bullets is not adequate for this. The lube grooves on those common commercial bullets can be relubed with soft lube but still may not hold enough lube for rifles, especially longer barrels. People who cast their own bullets can pick a design with large or multiple lube grooves. I will likely start casting some day but do not presently do so. I just buy the cheapest cast bullets I can find locally. Soft lube can be applied to bullets with several methods. The best would be to use a lubrisizer, but they aren't cheap and I don't have one (update: I do have one now). Another common method, which I have used, is to panlube. But first, how do we get that hard lube out of the commercial bullets? Easiest way I know is to lay the bullets on their sides, about 100 at a time, on a section of newspaper (or paper towels) in a wide shallow baking pan, in the oven at around 250 degrees, for 5 minutes or so. The lube wicks down into the paper. Keep an eye on it or it will start smoking and smelling up the kitchen. I recently heard about another method, putting the box of bullets in the freezer overnight and then taking the box and shaking it and the lube is supposed to fall off. I tried it with some .45LC 200gr bullets with hard blue lube. It didn't work for me, just made a mess. Maybe it depends on the type of lube. YMMV (Your Mileage May Vary).
Okay, now how do we get that soft lube into the BP rounds, and what type of lube? SPG is a favorite of many folks, but it can be fairly expensive to buy. There are lots of recipes for homemade BP lubes. I use one of the most common, which is 50/50 beeswax and Crisco. To panlube, place the bullets base down on some sort of wide pan or cooking tray. Then pour the melted lube into the tray until the level rises up just past the lube groove in the bullets. Then let it cool. See: http://www.davidscottharper.com/shoot/Panlube.JPG - When it is hard, you can turn the pan over and the whole chunk of lube and bullets should come out in one piece. Then place the chunk on the edge of the counter or table with one row of bullets that are off the edge of the counter and push the bullets out of the lube cake one at a time with your thumb. If you do it right, the bullet will pop out with the lube still in the groove. You may need to experiment some with how long the lube has been cooling before you pop the bullets out. Sometimes the lube stays with the chunk and doesn't stick to the bullet. If this happens, you can relube that bullet with your next batch. Like I said, there is a little trial and error involved in the panlubing process, so you need to see what works for you. You can also use the cookie cutter method of cutting the bullets out of the lube. For .45LC, a fired, unsized 45-70 case works well, just push the mouth of the 45-70 down over the bullet and cut it out of the lube cake, then push the bullet out of the case with a nail through the primer hole (drill out the primer hole so you can get a decent sized nail in there). This is easier if you do it before the lube gets too hard. This is also pretty messy, so I prefer to just pop the bullets out of the lube cake by hand. After you pop all the bullets out, you will have a cake of lube full of holes. You can then set more bullets in these holes, place the pan into the oven for a few minutes to remelt the lube, and continue.
Of course, you can always buy BP-lubed bullets from several different sources (Meister, Mid-Kansas, etc.) but they charge a lot more for BP-lubed bullets than smokeless lubed bullets (hey, isn't that discrimination?), plus the high cost of shipping. So you end up paying double or more the cost of local sources for regular bullets (one example: I pay $38 per 1000 for 200gr bullets at the local gunshow, with no shipping cost. Mid-Kansas SPG-lubed cowboy alloy bullets cost $75 per 1000, plus shipping). (By the way, if you do buy BP bullets from Mid-Kansas, I understand that they have some two-groove bullets that are not listed on their website, so be sure to ask them about it). I like doing things the easy way, but I'm also a tightwad! By the way, purists will also say that BP loads should have soft lead bullets. While that may be preferable, hard cast bullets have worked just fine for me. Little to no leading in the bores. Possibly softer lead would slug up to fill the grooves better in the bore and give a bit better accuracy, but at CAS distances I don't think it would be significant for me. Speaking of leading, you did know didn't you that guns rarely get leading in the bore or cylinder with BP? Just one of the benefits!
UPDATE: Since writing the above info, I've found a few cost-effective alternatives for BP-friendly bullets. Parson de la Croix in Mississippi sells bullets he calls Parson's Pills (contact info at the end of this article). He will lube his bullets with BP lube for a very small fee, and the bullets are still on par with smokeless prices. I tried some of his 158gr RNFP bullets in .357 cartridges for my 1873 carbine. I haven't done a "torture test" which involves shooting as many stages as possible without cleaning to see if the accuracy starts to fall off. Rather, I shot a mist of water down the muzzle about every other stage. But I did shoot a six stage match with no rifle misses. And in the last few years, several Cowboy Action Shooters have developed bullet designs and had molds built that they have termed "big-lube" bullets. These tend to hold a very large amount of lube and are just the ticket if you cast your own bullets. If you donít cast, there are a few pards selling these bullets as well. If you donít mind spending a little extra, these big-lube bullets are pretty much guaranteed to hold enough lube for even the longest rifle barrels.
A second alternative involves buying "as-cast" unsized and unlubed bullets from Black Dawge. These bullets actually cost slightly less than smokeless bullets. I had picked up a really old Lyman 45 Lubrisizer a year ago, so I bought a .430 sizing die for it and am lubing/sizing bullets for 44-40 and .44 Spcl. These are 2-lube-groove bullets cast in a softer alloy especially for BP. (Update: Black Dawge sold his BP bullets and ammo business to Goex. I donít believe that Goex sells the "as-cast" bullets, but you may be able to find them from other sources).
I have used the panlubed bullets in my .45LC '92 short rifle with a 20" barrel. Depending on the humidity, I can generally shoot about 2 stages before the accuracy starts to fall off, because the bullets don't hold enough lube and I don't use grease cookies. So at least every other stage I will run a wet patch down the bore while the gun is sitting vertical in the guncart. I keep a plastic container full of patches that have been soaked in a solution of 10% Ballistol and 90% water. One or at the most two of these patches pushed down the bore with a jag will get most of the fouling. I have experimented with using a blowtube and this worked the one time I tried it. Instead of swabbing the bore, I just blew several breaths down the bore after each stage. My "blow tube" was pretty simple but worked. I took a plastic drinking straw, the type with a flexible elbow, and wrapped some electrical tape around one end so that it fit in the muzzle of the rifle. Then I just held it against the muzzle while I blew into the straw several times. The moisture in the breath is absorbed by the fouling. Another method I've used more lately is spraying a water mist into the muzzle between stages. I use one of those nasal inhaler type spray bottles, filled with water (remove the little tube from the inside so that it will spray upside down). It make a very fine mist. Cody King uses no lube in his BP rounds, and just scrubs the bores of pistol and rifle with a wet brush between every stage. Works for him.
Okay, let's talk about cookies. Some folks use a grease cookie under the bullet to add lube, whether they are using bullets that don't carry enough lube, or sometimes with no lube in the bullets. The simplest method is to just take a thin sheet of beeswax such as you can buy for making candles, cut it into strips and press the strip over the mouth of the cartridge after putting in the powder. This seems to work for some people, and the beeswax has a high melting point so these cookies should not contaminate your powder. Others will insist that the beeswax isn't really a lube but more of a carrier for lube and must be mixed with something else. So let's go back to the 50/50 beeswax/Crisco mix for making cookies. One method of making them is to melt some of your lube mix, then pour it into a pan of very hot water. The lube will go to the top of the water and after it cools you will have a thin sheet of lube. 1/8" is a good thickness but not critical. Then you can cut out cookies with an empty brass case, using a small nail through the primer hole to push the cookies out of the case.
There are some issues with using the cookies in your cartridges. If your lube mix gets too soft in hot weather, it can migrate into your powder and contaminate it. And the lube can also stick to the base of the bullet and cause accuracy problems. If all of your rifle targets are relatively large and close it might not matter or be noticeable. But then again it might. No sense shooting flyers if you don't have to. So what some will do is to charge the case with powder, then put in a wax paper wad (to separate the lube from the powder), then the grease cookie, then a cardboard wad on top of the cookie to keep it separated from the bullet base. Sounds like a lot of work to me, heheh (which leads to my preference for Cleanshot in rifle cartridges). You can also buy Wonderwads, which are fiber disks impregnated with some BP lube, but they are very pricey. And speaking of wax paper and cardboard wads, how do you get those? Well, you can buy vegetable fiber wads from Circle Fly, or punch them out yourself. Waxed milk cartons are popular sources for cardboard wads. I have cut them out of empty Dr. Pepper 12-pack cases, which is a very thin (.015") but very tough material. You can use an empty case with the mouth sharpened as a punch, but it is a hassle. Punches can be bought but tend to be pricey. I managed to find a gasket punch set from Harbor Freight Tools that cost less than $5 and has one punch that cuts a perfect .452" disk for .45 wads. I use a thin Dr. Pepper cardboard wad under the bullet in all of my .45LC loads, even with no grease cookie. I don't know if it helps at all but doubt if it hurts and it is easy for me to cut out those wads with the cheap punch I have. Long range rifle shooters often use a cardboard wad under the bullet to help protect it from the hot gases, which again I don't know to be an issue in pistol calibers. By the way, Dr. Pepper wads are period correct because Dr. Pepper was invented in the late 1880's, haha!
It is said that you can observe the muzzle of your rifle after shooting a string of shots, and if there is a star of soft lube at the muzzle, then you have enough lube in your BP rifle rounds. If there is no lube star, or a star of hard fouling, then you need more lube.
One other lube method that is used by one pard is to load up the BP ammo with no lube inside, then he dips the bullet nose, all the way to the beginning of the brass, into melted lube. He says it works great and he gets a nice lube star at the end of the rifle muzzle and has no accuracy problems from fouling. Seems to me that it would be pretty messy to deal with, but it sounds easy and works for him.
Having noted that getting enough lube into your cartridges takes extra time and effort, wouldn't it be nice if you could just forget all about the lube and not worry about it? Guess what, in your pistol ammo you can do just that! Here we borrow an idea from the Cap'n'Ball pistol shooters. Some C&B shooters use wonder wads to provide lube in their loads, but others use the old method of smearing some grease over the ball after loading. This grease may help to prevent chainfires in a C&B if the ball isn't large enough to provide a tight seal in the chamber mouth, but the main thing the grease does is to keep the fouling soft. We can use the same principle with cartridge guns. At the loading table, I load 5 rounds into each pistol, then I squeeze a glob of Crisco over the front of the bullet for each of the first two rounds to be fired in each gun. This provides plenty of lube for all 5 shots, and I have never had a gun bind up on me using this method. Some have mentioned using this method and only coating the first shot with grease, but you know if a little is good then more is better. Besides coating the bore with grease, some of it will get blasted into the cylinder pin area and keep the fouling there from binding the cylinder. Even in 100-degree weather I've never had the grease melt out of the cylinder while in the holster during a CAS match. I keep the grease in a pouch hanging from my belt in a small squeeze bottle. Actually, it is the type of bottle that can be found at gunshows for $1, sold as gun oil applicator bottles. Applying the grease in this manner is very simple, and does draw interest from onlookers at the loading table. Some day I intend to buy a brass grease syringe from Dixie Gunworks so I'll be more period correct!
How Much Powder - Volume vs. Weight. Okay, so much for lube, let's talk about the rest of the cartridge load. First of all, you may have seen the comments of others when talking about weight versus volume. They say that BP (and subs) are loaded by volume, not weight. But they still use the term "grains" when talking about volume. Don't let it confuse you. Most of you do not have a powder measure that is calibrated in volume grains, nor do you need one. You just fill up a case by pouring in a little powder at a time until it has the amount of powder that you want (see below), and then you can pour this amount onto a scale to determine the weight of powder charge that you are using. As you may know, there must not be any empty space or air space in BP (or substitute) rounds. There is some controversy as to why an air space is dangerous, and there is some historical data that reduced factory BP loads were produced that did indeed have an air space. However, the conventional wisdom is not only to leave no airspace, but to apply some compression to the powder. How much powder and how much compression? That is a subject that is debated by many and there is no definitive answer. You can use a drop tube to put the powder in the case, and this will compress the powder. Not too many people do that for pistol caliber cartridges, although it is common for long range rifle such as 45-70, etc. Most of us compress the powder a bit when seating the bullet. If you are using a soft bullet, heavy compression of the powder during bullet seating can distort the base of the bullet. Again, not a problem for most of our main match rifle and pistol ammo. When figuring out your load, don't worry at first about how much the powder charge weighs. Rather, you want to determine how much powder to use so that you will achieve slight compression when the bullet is seated. If you are using any grease cookies or wads, then of course you need to figure that into the equation. 1/16" to 1/8" compression of the powder is the most common. Some folks compress up to 1/4" but that much isn't necessary and you risk bulging your cases if you overcompress. Basically, measure your bullet from the base of the bullet to the crimp groove, then fill up the case with enough powder so that the measurement of the empty space on top of the powder is slightly less than the amount of bullet to be seated inside the case. Once you have determined the amount of powder you need to get that slight compression, you can weigh that powder charge, and then you will know how much weight of that type of powder to use for each cartridge. Then you can determine what sort of dipper you need in order to throw that same weight (and therefore that same volume). If you're lucky one of the Lee dippers will throw a close enough amount. Or you can make a dipper from a cartridge case as explained later. Some folks swear by magnum primers for BP, others stick with regular primers and can't tell any difference. Goex and Elephant are the most popular brands of BP. There are some others out there, including Swiss which costs more but is said to provide the most power and the least fouling. Kik, Wano, and Dragon are some other BP brands, and are all suitable for our use. Conventional wisdom says to use FFg for .44 and larger calibers and the finer FFFg for smaller calibers. But you can use either. FFFg is a bit finer and will be slightly more powerful than the same amount of FFg. If you are REALLY interested in getting the most accuracy possible, then you can make up experimental loads with varying amounts of compression, some with magnum primers and some with standard primers, some with cookies or wads and some without, and using different brands and granulations of powder, and then go shoot them at paper. That is a lot of possible combinations to test out and will take a lot of time. And you are going to have to do it in both dry and humid weather to know how that affects performance. Guess what? Most of these variations won't make enough difference in accuracy to concern you for CAS shooting, although there may be some differences in how much fouling occurs, and that definitely affects accuracy. "Tuning loads for accuracy" in this case often becomes "tuning loads for the least amount of fouling."
I will get more into the dangers of static and BP later, but will mention now that BP powder handling equipment is generally different than smokeless powder. Regular plastic powder measures are supposedly dangerous with BP because of the static they can generate. So the standard methods of charging a case with BP are to either use a special automatic powder measure designed for BP, or to dip the powder by hand. Lee sells a set of dippers that are inexpensive and quite handy for this purpose. You can also make dippers from brass cartridge cases. Just find a case that holds slightly more than the amount of powder you need, and either grind off some of the top of the case, or put a bit of epoxy in the bottom of the case to take up some room, so that it holds the amount you desire (make sure no loose BP is present when you are throwing sparks with your grinder!). Then solder a brass or copper handle (I use a piece of 12 gauge solid copper house wire) to the case and Voila! You have a custom dipper. (Example: according to my measurements, a .38 Spcl case full to the top holds about 23 grains volume or 25 grains of weight of 3F Elephant. A .38 Long Colt case holds about 20 grains volume or 22 grains of weight). Here is a picture of a dipper made from a .38 Spcl case, along with a Lee 1.9cc dipper: If using a dipper, you can add the powder through a funnel attached to the top of your powder-thru-charging die if you have one (Lee's are like this). That way, you flare the case mouth and then drop the powder at the same stage. You can do this with a Dillon 550 but you have to get a funnel adaptor from Dillon. If using a progressive, you can also just leave the powder measure empty, and after flaring the case mouth just remove the case from the press to dip your powder (and any cookies, wads, filler, etc.) then replace the charged case onto your press for bullet seating and crimp. Hornady and Lyman make powder measures designed for BP use, although you may need an adaptor if you want to fit one of them on your particular press. Black Dawge Cartridge Co. can also modify your Dillon powder measure to make it BP safe: http://www.stewartdawge.com . (Update: I donít know if Black Dawge still sells these anti-static kits for the Dillon powder measures, but I believe you can get them from Powderinc.com). You can also get inexpensive BP measures (handheld, not automatic) in the $10 range made for muzzleloaders. They are adjustable and calibrated in grains of volume, which is approximately the same as grains of weight for FFg BP. But they aren't as handy to use as dippers for measuring the powder and dispensing it into the cartridge.
Fillers. Previously I mentioned how much powder to put in the case (fill the case so that the bullet provides slight compression). If you are using and wads or cookies, then you will be using somewhat less powder since the additional wads take up some room. This will have the effect of reducing the power of the cartridge somewhat. Less powder equals less power. In a large caliber (.44 or .45), you may want to reduce the power even more. A full load of BP in a large caliber is a lot of fun to shoot, but there is quite a bit of recoil and it will slow you down considerably. If you like all that power, great! It is certainly fun watching guys shoot that stuff. But like I said, you don't need that much power to play this game and the vast majority of shooters do not use full loads in their large caliber pistol ammo. Even a reduced load can still have plenty of boom and kick. So how do you reduce your load? Since there must be no air space in BP ammo, you need to use some sort of filler. Corn meal, grits, and cream of wheat are common filler materials. You can also use caulk backer rod, which is a foam material that you cut into small sections. Capt. Baylor uses this with his CleaNshot loads. I will refer you to his article on loading CleaNshot for info: http://www.curtrich.com/bpsubsdummies.html - I myself like grits to slightly reduce some larger caliber loads (load details later).
Preparing guns for BP. Let's backtrack now a bit and talk about preparing your guns to shoot BP. In general, petroleum based lubes and BP don't mix. The sulfur in BP fouling mixes with petroleum lubes and creates a hard tar. Some dispute this and say they use petroleum based lubes with no problem, and that works for them. My first experience with Pyrodex (see below) convinced me to be careful of what I put in the bore. It is generally accepted procedure to degrease your guns completely (Gunscrubber spray will do this, but so will the much less expensive brake cleaner sprays). Keep these sprays away from wood and grips (including plastic) on your guns. This will remove all lubes, so you then need to immediately relube the guns with a BP friendly lube before they have a chance to flash rust. Some have found that petroleum lubes work okay in the action and on the outside of the guns, but generally not in the bore. Some folks use WD-40. Rowdy Yates and others like using Tri-Flow (a petroleum based lube which also contains teflon) in their BP guns. I use Tri-Flow or Ballistol in the action, but only use Ballistol or Thompson's Bore Butter in the bore. If you avoid detergents when cleaning your guns, the bore seems to become seasoned and fouling is even easier to clean.
Cleaning Guns. Ah yes, this is why many people avoid the fun of shooting BP. Well, yes it is messy compared to smokeless. However, they clean very easily and with environmentally friendly methods. You will find even more methods for cleaning BP than you find in the loading. Most of them work. In general you will want to clean your guns within a few hours if possible. If not possible, then there are a few things you can do to make them safe for longer periods until you can clean properly. I've heard a number of people say that BP residue is not corrosive, but merely hygroscopic (absorbs moisture from the air). They say the stories of BP corrosion arose from the old days when the caps and primers used fulminate of mercury which was very corrosive, and modern primers and caps do not have this problem. They will also say that they have left their guns for days or weeks with no corrosion. That may all be well and true for those individuals. But I have started getting light rust in spots on my shotgun only 4 or 5 hours after shooting during damp weather. Again, humidity plays a big role. The same humidity which makes fouling less of a problem also makes corrosion and rust more of a problem. I usually don't clean my BP guns until 3 or 4 hours at least after shooting them with no problems. Or I might just clean them at the range before leaving. For cleaning in the field I use the 10% Ballistol / 90% water solution. Pistols: remove cylinder, spray inside cylinder (remove bushing if applicable and clean), spray inside frame but not directly into action, and inside barrel and ejector housing. Scrub the corners a bit with a wet toothbrush. Run patches wet with solution through barrel and cylinders. Doesn't take long to come clean. Run dry patch through barrel and cylinder and wipe down frame. Lube cylinder pin with Bore Butter and everything else with straight Ballistol and spray a bit down into the action. Ballistol comes in liquid and aerosol. Get the liquid for mixing with water. I carry one of those little Ballistol spray cans in my cart, as well as a plastic spray bottle of the solution. The Ballistol aerosol will spray out a foam, which is great for getting into nooks and crannies. The nice thing about cleaning with the ballistol/water solution is that after the water is dried, it leaves a slight film of the Ballistol so the metal won't flash rust. But don't rely on that to protect the guns, you should still lube with straight Ballistol or other protectant after cleaning.
If I wait until I'm home to clean the pistols, it is just straight water, hot from the tap. Barrel and cylinder are held under the tap and brushed a couple of passes with a nylon brush. Then a dry patch through them to remove the water. Scrub inside frame with wet toothbrush. Wipe dry. Lube as previously mentioned and wipe outside of gun with Ballistol.
Rifle gets Ballistol/Water patches down bore until clean, then dry patch, then Ballistol patch. Spray solution into action while working lever. This will drip out and make a mess, so do it outside or over a big sink. Wet Q-tips wherever they will reach inside the action. Wipe dry what I can reach, then spray straight Ballistol into action and work lever. Wipe outside of gun with Ballistol. By the way, Ballistol is good for wood and leather, too, so don't worry about getting it on your rifle stock. Now, you might need to do some cleaning during the match. In particular, the brass carriage (or lifter, or elevator) in the toggle-link rifles sometimes gets stuck from fouling. It is said that this can be minimized by shooting a bottleneck cartridge, like 38-40 or 44-40, which due to the bottleneck design and the thinner brass will seal the chamber better and have less fouling blowback into the action. If you have this type of sticking problem, you can just spray a mist of water into the action and work the lever a few times and it will clear right up. Some folks will spray some ballistol into the elevator area for this, but plain water works for me. Removing the elevator and polishing the sides seems to help. By the way, since I started shooting BP in a 44-40 carbine, the action can be cleaned with a single Q-tip since there is so little fouling blowback into the action.
Shotgun, if cleaned at the range, is done by pouring the soapy water that the brass has been soaking in through the barrels. Ballistol/Water mix works, too (or any of the other common cleaners or plain water). Let it sit for a few minutes, then push 1/2 of a paper towel down each bore with a rod. This will get most if not all the fouling out and if you used plastic wads in your loads then a big black plastic "snot" will come out. Usually the bore will be shiny after one pass, depending on the humidity. But if there is any fouling left then repeat. Spray the receiver with the solution, shake off the excess and wipe dry. Then lube spray with straight ballistol on receiver and in bore, shove another paper towel through bore to dry, and wipe down the outside of gun. If I'm cleaning at home, I just run the garden hose through the bores for a minute or two and that gets them clean, then dry and lube. While most people shooting BP with plastic wads report the same ease of cleaning their bores, occasionally someone mentions that this combination left fouling in their guns that was very hard to clean out. I can only suggest that (a) the bore wasn't clean to start with, or (b) the bore was lubed with a product that was not compatible with BP, or (c) the bore is rough or pitted, or (d) some combination of the above. Very dry weather makes the bore harder to clean, but the only time I ever had to put a brush down my bore was when I shot smokeless and BP loads through the shotgun in the same shooting session. My Baikal shotgun has chrome-lined bores which certainly doesn't hurt anything.
Several people have reported that if you spray the inside and outside of your guns with straight Ballistol at the range after shooting, you can leave them for days or even weeks before cleaning. That would be my suggestion if you know that you won't be able to clean them the same day. Regardless of whether the guns are cleaned or waiting to be cleaned, I suggest you store them in something that breathes to prevent trapping humidity with the gun which can then condense and cause rust. I like storing and transporting my guns in Bore-Stores, which contain silicon and breathe well (then I carry these inside an aluminum case). It is also not a good idea to store any gun, BP or not, on foam rubber (like the egg-crate style foam found in some gun carrying cases) unless the gun is wrapped in a cloth or something as the foam can hold moisture against the gun's finish.
It is suggested that guns be broken all the way down at least once a year to inspect for corrosion and to clean the crud that gets inside. If you've been spraying Ballistol into the action, it may be a little messy inside but shouldn't have any rust.
Products that others use for BP cleanup include soapy water, Formula 409, Windex with vinegar, Simple Green, etc. Any of those can be cut with water. One solution that has been used for years is a mixture of equal parts Murphy's Oil Soap, rubbing alcohol, and Hydrogen Peroxide. I sometimes use this for cleaning instead of the Ballistol/water solution, but the alcohol content can sting if you have any cuts on your fingers. These will all work, but my thoughts are that I don't want any detergents or solvents in the barrel that might clean out the "seasoning", so I stick with regular water or the Ballistol/Water mix as much as possible, since plain water seems to work so well.
Oh, and did I mention that your guns won't have any lead in the bore with BP? And that there will be no rings on the fronts of the cylinder? So you won't be spending any time cleaning out lead!
Bottlenecked Brass for BP Ė The Way to Go! You will hear a lot of folks say that the 38-40 and 44-40 rounds are ideal for BP (and 32-20 as well, if you like light loads), particularly for rifles. Firstly, they are historically correct rounds for the Winchester 1873, and because of the bottleneck design and especially because of the thinner brass than straight-walled cases, the brass expands to fill and seal the chamber quite well, so very little fouling gets back into the action. This makes the action of rifles very easy to clean (like one Q-tip) and keeps dirty, sticky actions from being a problem during a match. This was the primary reason I purchased an 1873 carbine in 44-40, and it is my favorite caliber for shooting BP in rifles.
Brass Cleaning. This is another subject that gets a lot of ongoing interest. BP and all of the subs will tarnish and stain your brass quickly if you don't take appropriate measures. Again, many methods work but they don't work the same for everyone. I vary my routine from time to time, but in general I will keep a wide-mouth plastic bottle on my cart, mostly full with water and a squirt of dish soap, and dump the brass into it after each stage, shaking it from time to time. Sometimes, I wait until after the match to put all the brass into the soapy water. Then after I put away my guns and gear, I dump out the soapy water and pour fresh water into the bottle (I keep a gallon jug of clean water in the truck for this. In warm weather this jug of water in the back of the truck gets really hot!). Shake it up, let it sit for a few minutes, then dump the water. Then I dump out the brass into a short wide cardboard box (like the top of a box of printer paper), which rides in the wind and sun in the back of the pickup. In warm weather (most of the time in Texas) the brass will all be dry and ready for the vibrator by the time I get home. The brass is still somewhat stained but a few hours in the vibrator cleans it up.
Some people use Simple Green in their brass soaking solution, some use some vinegar, some add an aspirin (provides the acidity that vinegar provides). I've tried these and plain dish soapy water seems about the same to me.
Now, I have noticed that CleaRshot brass, if dumped right into the soapy water after cleaning, comes out as shiny as it was before shooting. No staining at all! Often during a match I am shooting BP and subs together, so the various brass all gets dumped together in one jug and the fouling mixes. My experiences tend to show that CleaNshot stains brass the worst, followed by BP, then CleaRshot.
Nickle plated brass definitely cleans up easier than regular brass. I like it for that reason, although it is without a doubt more brittle and must be inspected carefully for splits before reloading.
One pard says that the BP fouling inside the brass contaminates the water and then causes staining on the outside of the brass. He puts his brass into a plastic freezer bag and seals it after each stage, then when he gets home he puts each piece under the faucet and brushes/rinses out the inside before cleaning the rest of the brass. Seems like a lot of work. But I tried it one time, with my 12 gauge brass hulls. Now, it was a rainy day so the humidity was very high, but when I took those hulls out of the plastic ziploc bag at home just a few hours later, the brass was so stained that it took scrubbing with steel wool and about 24 hours in the vibrator to clean it. So you see, different strokes for different folks.
In general, I find that in dry weather the brass does not suffer from waiting until hours after shooting before tossing into the cleaning solution, but in humid weather it is best to get the brass into your solution as soon as possible after shooting.
Chamber Fouling Problems from Different Lengths of Ammo. This is something that not too many folks will run into, but I wanted to relate a couple of experiences I had that might help you in avoiding this pitfall. First the shotgun. You have seen those little bitty black 12 Gauge shells sold by Aguilla, haven't you? They are, well, cute. I picked up a few empties and loaded up two of them with BP, just for the heck of it. I loaded about 50 grains of FFg, then just a thin overshot card (no room for an overpowder card), then about 7/8 oz of shot. This filled the hull up all the way into the crimp folds so that it could not be crimped, so I glued in an overshot card on top (I would have roll crimped it but those shells are too short to work in my antique roll crimper). Then I took them to a match. In retrospect, I should have tried these as the last two shotgun shots in the match, or at least the last two in a stage, but I didn't. I used them as the first two of a four shot string. They were very wimpy loads. But the problem was the fouling in the shotgun chambers just forward of the shell. When I tried to load two brass shotshells into the gun for the next two shots, they wouldn't go in! I finally forced them in with considerable effort, then after shooting them they were also exceedingly difficult to remove. Note to self: if shooting shotshells of different length during a match, use the longest ones first and the shorter ones last!
A similar thing happened with my '73 carbine in .357. I normally shoot CleaNshot .357 in it and the magazine holds ten rounds. Well, we had this one stage where you had a choice of which guns to use as long as you hit each target 3 times, and you were allowed to load as many into your rifle as you wanted. So I had the bright idea of loading some .38 Spcl pistol ammo (they were loaded with CleaRshot) into the rifle since I could fit 11 of those in the tube. It worked fine for that stage. But at the next stage when I went back to using .357, I was completely unable to chamber a .357 due to the fouling buildup in the chamber. A few wet patches down the bore and all was well again, but the lesson was learned. We've all heard stories about .44 magnum and .357 guns having problems chambering magnums after a steady diet of specials. But it will do it pronto with BP (or sub) loads, so beware!
Hodgdon 777, also called Triple-7. My experience with this rather new powder is somewhat limited. I first loaded 50 rounds of .44 Special rifle rounds, just to give it a try. I would describe it as CleaNshot on steroids. Hodgdon made this powder to give muzzleloaders the most powerful (highest velocity) BP substitute available. I think it is a little too powerful for regular CAS loads in large calibers like .45 and .44, and have seen chrono data from some pards that indicate it to be pushing the velocity limits for CAS. Some like it for smaller calibers since it can give them the oomph they lack. This powder looks similar to CleaNshot, and I've heard from others that it is just as hygroscopic in it's unfired form, so you need to remove it from your powder measure after loading and blow out all the dust and residue from your dies and press so it doesn't gum up or cause rust. Hodgdon says not to use any fillers with this powder. But then, don't most manufacturers say that for liability reasons anyway? I know Capt. Baylor has used caulk backer rod filler with light loads of 777 with success. So when I ran out of CleaNshot for my .44 Spcl rifle rounds, I used a 25% reduced load of 777 with caulk backer rod on top, and it felt about the same as shooting a full load of CleaNshot or BP. Fouling and cleanup were about the same as CleaNshot. I will wait and let some other mad scientist try it with grits, etc. before I will try that. Hodgdon says you can use a thin card wad, which will reduce the charge only slightly. Cleanup is the same as BP. Hodgdon recommends plain water for cleaning. Hodgdon says not to use this powder in a regular automatic powder measure. They also say not to use FFFg in cartridges, probably because it is too powerful. Stick with FFg for loading 777 in cartridges.. (Update: I have been shooting some .38ís with 777 in the í73 carbine and they feel about the same as .357 with BP or CleaNshot; similar amount of smoke, although the 777 bang is described more as a "crack" than a "boom" of the BP. Also, this way I donít have to adjust the dies from their .38 settings that I use for loading BP .38ís for my í51 conversions.) UPDATE MARCH í07: Iíve heard a rumor that Hodgdon is going to make another version of 777 available that is not quite so hot, and should be better suited for CAS reloading.
Pyrodex. I've had even less experience with Pyrodex than 777, but it has been around for a good while and a lot of people are using it. Actually, the very first "BP" loads I made were with Pyrodex. I wanted to get into BP and a friend suggested Pyro, so I got some RS Select. Loaded 10 pistol rounds (with the hard smokeless lube on the bullets) in .45LC and shot them in a Vaquero. It took me a very long time to clean the hard fouling out of the barrel. This was before I knew about preparing guns for BP. I'm not sure but I think I had the bore lubed with Breakfree CLP. Pyrodex, made by Hodgdon, comes in several different granulations (P, RS, Select) and I don't know enough about them to tell you the preferred types for various applications. I do know that Pyrodex is supposed to have less fouling than BP, but it still requires BP lubed bullets. Pyrodex shooters claim that it works best with magnum primers and a rather heavy compression. I've also heard that Pyro is even more corrosive (or just hygroscopic?) to your guns than BP, but if you clean them within a reasonable time after shooting it should be okay. Pyro tends to be the least expensive of the subs, and the easiest to find. Pyrodex is also available in pellet form, which simplifies loading for both cartridge and C&B, but does cost considerably more per shot in that form. Cleaning is the same as BP. Hodgdon says not to use this powder in a regular automatic powder measure. I have had several pounds of Pyrodex given to me and mostly loaded it into shotshells, and shot them along with BP. They were "okay" but not quite as "boomy" as the BP shells. If I didn't have the BP to compare them to, I probably would have been satisfied with the Pyrodex shells! I also think that Pyrodex smoke tends to have a brownish tint as compared to the white smoke of real BP and the other substitutes.
CleaNshot. Like some other folks, I capitalize the "N" in the middle of this word to help avoid confusing it with CleaRshot, an entirely different product. By the way, it appears that CleaNshot is changing names. This may be related to their loss of a lawsuit by Hodgdon concerning the sale of pellets. Their new name is American Pioneer Powder, see http://www.americanpioneerpowder.com - and the last time I bought it, it was in the new A.P.P. package. However, I will continue to call it CleaNshot for now. I think this is probably the most popular of the BP subs. It is loaded the same as BP in that you want no airspace in the cartridge, although you only want very mild compression. Heavy compression, as well as the use of magnum primers, is said to lead to excessive pressures. I try to compress about 1/16". It is safe to use this powder in plastic automatic powder measures, but it is rather chunky. As such, it may not meter very well out of some measures, so keep an eye on that. The 3F is a little more uniform than the 2F and meters better. I like this for rifle cartridges because it takes no special lubes. The makers suggest using no bullet lube at all (they say it makes its own lube), but a lot of folks use bullets with the regular smokeless lube on them with no problems. One potential problem involves shooting CleaNshot in stainless steel guns. As I mentioned earlier, the first time I shot CleaNshot in my stainless .45LC Navy Arms '92 short rifle, I ended up with rust in the action. It was rainy during the match. I was in a hotel that night and cleaned the rifle over the sink with my Ballistol/water solution, then lubed with Ballistol and put the rifle in its cloth "case". The following week was very rainy with high humidity. When I took the rifle out of the case I found the rust, and had to disassemble the rifle to get it cleaned out (taking a '92 apart is not a lot of fun). Apparently I didn't have it as clean as I thought. I've also heard of at least one pard who got rust on a stainless Vaquero using CleaNshot. So if you use it in stainless guns, just be sure you clean and lube them well and keep an eye on them. One person mentioned to me that CleaNshot has magnesium in it, which attacks stainless steel. Could be? I shoot this powder in a .44 Spcl '66 and a .357 '73. Sometimes towards the end of the match the elevator would start getting sticky in the '66 so I just gave a quick mist of water into the action and it loosened right up. Since I took the elevator out and polished the sides, it has not been sticky. No problems with the '73 - its elevator is sometimes a little sticky by the time I get home hours after a match, but little if any stickiness during the match. And I have never had the elevator out of that gun for cleaning or polishing. Captain Baylor has a lot of sticking problem with his '73 elevator with CleaNshot in that caliber, perhaps a difference in tolerances?
Another property of CleaNshot is that it is very hygroscopic in its unfired form. This means it will absorb moisture from the air. It seems to have a lot of dust as well, and this dust will get all over your reloading press and dies. After loading with CleaNshot, you should empty out the powder hopper and if possible blow the dusty residue off of everywhere it may accumulate. If you don't, it will gum up the works of your powder measure when it absorbs humidity and will cause rust on metal parts. You also should always keep the lid tight on the powder bottle (good idea with any powder), and leave the packet of dessicant in the powder. When you open the powder bottle, you may find the powder has formed some lumps. You should be able to easily break these apart by stirring or shaking up the can. If the lumps are hard and don't break up easily, then the powder has probably gotten too damp and may not be any good.
Cleanup of guns after shooting CleaNshot is the same as BP. In fact, you can just take a single patch, wet with water, and rinse the residue off of the patch after each pass through the bore, instead of using multiple patches. If you shoot a '60 Henry or '66 Yellowboy, my suggestion would be to spray a mist of water on the outside of the receiver midway through the match and wipe it down with a CLEAN cloth, and again after the match. Even doing this, you will eventually get some ugly spots and streaks on the brass receiver. I like a patina on brass guns as well as anyone, but this just looks stained and ugly. So after a few months and a number of matches, I get out the metal polish and make my '66 shiny again.
CleaRshot. This powder is (was) made by Goex and comes in a white metal can. This had the most promise of the subs when it was first produced. The first batch made by Goex was 1000 lbs., mixed by hand. This stuff was great. It is a very fine, uniform powder, meters great out of automatic powder measures (I have heard reports of Goex saying this is okay, and reports of Goex saying this is not okay. I know a lot of people have done it). This first batch must have had a more moist residue, because it didn't seem to need any special BP lubes and I was able to shoot an entire match in the rifle with no accuracy problems. Everybody that tried it seemed to really like it. But then it became very hard to find while Goex tried to gear up a factory for machine production. There were a number of delays, and when it finally became available again I ordered a case of it. But the new stuff was different. I heard Goex was now using a wet manufacturing process (the ingredients are mixed wet, which is safer, then dried later). The new stuff needs to be lubed like BP or fouling will build up in the bore. It is definitely less powerful than equal amounts of BP or other subs. This might actually be desirable since you may be able to load less powerful ammo without needing to use fillers. But I had to quit using it in .38 Special pistol ammo since it was rather wimpy in that caliber and was causing primers to back out. I know another pard who had the same problem with his .38's. And besides, those .38's just felt too wimpy to me with CleaRshot. A case full of BP is quite a bit more satisfying! I do still use it in .44 and .45 pistol ammo since those cases hold enough of it to get a good boom, and I can load those without special lubes and just add Crisco over the bullet at the loading table like C&B shooters, as mentioned earlier. There is no problem with CleaRshot residue rusting guns. I've left them dirty for a week or so, and gray crystals start growing on the residue, but it cleans right up with no problem. I like CleaRshot okay for pistol, but when I'm finished with my current supply I will probably shoot BP in all the pistols unless I know I will be in a situation where I won't be able to clean for a while. The newer production lot of CleaRshot also has been said to have some fouling problems when used with Ballistol, according to some users. I lube the bores and cylinder pins with Bore Butter in my revolvers that shoot CleaRshot ammo, so I haven't experienced this problem.
Right now CleaRshot can still be found, but that may be changing. The Goex factory that produced it in Louisiana blew up. Actually, according to a newspaper article local to that area, a fire started in the factory, so it was evacuated with no injuries. It was expected that the fire would cause an explosion so firefighters had to just stand by, and several hours later it did just that. I heard that Goex had no plans to rebuild (they have suffered through several BP factory explosions in recent years), so the supplies of CleaRshot at distributors may be all that there is (a local store still sells it, at $25.95/lb - yikes!). But someone else reported that Goex was talking with some other investors and may again have plans to produce CleaRshot. Time will tell. Actually I have recently heard that Goex is planning a new BP-substitute, but it will be different than CleaRshot. Update: see PINNACLE:
Pinnacle. This is Goex's brand new (2005) BP substitute. It is being made for Goex by American Pioneer Powder. I have not tried this product, and probably won't since I'm mostly using real BP in all my guns these days. Capt. George Baylor has been testing it and mentioned that it is fairly hot, similar to 777.
Amount of Smoke - BP vs. Subs. It is occasionally said that CleaNshot and CleaRshot smoke more than regular BP. This can be good because we all love that smoke! But it can also slow you down by obscuring the targets more. My experience is that some of the subs may smoke a little bit more than BP, but environmental conditions play a much more significant role. The amount of humidity and breeze (or lack thereof) make much more of a difference than the type of powder. When I shoot with the Butterfield Trail Regulators in Abilene, smoke is never a problem because it is always windy at that range! Well, one pard did tell me about a time that he was there when there was no wind, but it was the exception! And at the other end of the spectrum, the Travis County Regulators shoot in the middle of a rather densely wooded area that provides shade but blocks the wind, and I often have to wait for a long time between shots to see the rifle targets! Frankly, I like just enough of a breeze so the targets can be seen without blowing the smoke away too quickly. When the wind really blows, shooting BP isn't much different than shooting Unique! It is also lots of fun when the cloud of smoke slowly moves back to envelope the posse and irritate them. Here is a picture of Scooter shooting BP in the rain at Tejas Caballeros "Whoopin' 2002".
Static Concerns. Now, this is one very controversial subject and most of the people who are talking about it really don't know that much about the subject. I am a NARTE certified Electrostatic Discharge Control Technician. My experience with controlling static and ESD (electrostatic discharge) in the electronics manufacturing industry gives me considerably more knowledge and insight into this issue than the average reloader, but I am still not qualified as any sort of expert on static and explosives. So I will give you some information that I hope will help educate you, but that is as much as I can do.
The traditional warnings given by BP manufacturers and loading equipment manufacturers has been that BP can be set off by a spark, and so it should not be used in conjunction with plastic reloading measures which can build up a static charge. Are they just making these statements at their lawyers' requests for liability reasons? Perhaps. But then...we really don't know, do we? Now, it is a fact that many substances can explode when they are in the form of particulates suspended in air (like a dust cloud) and are subjected to a spark. Even a dust cloud of flour can explode if it is within a specific range of concentration in air. This is what happens when you hear of grain silos exploding. And this is likely what causes some of the black powder factory explosions. However, sparking of BP dust clouds is not going to be a problem with us reloaders.
I've seen references to articles where people tried to ignite BP with a spark coil and were unable to do so. This is not a definitive test though, because it does not simulate the real world. Static discharge "events" vary considerably in voltage and current levels produced, and in the waveform of the pulse. You may know that it takes at least 3,000 volts to produce a visible spark (like touching a doorknob on a dry day), and a person can generate over 20,000 volts doing ordinary things, again on a dry day. Now, some will say that the voltage is high but the current is tiny, therefore not enough energy (heat, actually) is generated to ignite BP. However, I have seen a study that stated that an ESD event may actually have huge amounts of current (like 70 amps), but only for an extremely short duration (milliseconds or nanoseconds).
"Every so often someone on the SASS Wire or other discussion forum will ask the question, "Has anyone ever actually heard of someone setting off BP with static?" Yes, it is a good question. But just because you get no answers, does that mean that there is no potential for disaster? Not really. It just means that if it does happen, it is rare. This is where I tell you about three instances I have heard of. A CAS shooter in Arizona sent me a description a few years ago of his encounter. He was loading Pyrodex with an RCBS Rock Chucker, with a regular plastic powder measure. The humidity was very low, and he had been reloading for some time. He had a tray of cases that had been filled with powder, waiting to have a bullet seated in them. He reached to the press to remove the case that had just been charged when there was a flash. He described it as more of a flash than an explosion. The powder in the measure went off, melting the powder measure, as did the powder in the cases in the tray. Those cases shot up into the air, leaving the (fired) primers in the bottom of the tray. He had a beard which was burned, but that helped protect his face and his injuries were fortunately not serious. He isn't even exactly sure what happened, and he was there! But static would be a very big suspect, in my opinion, especially with the very dry conditions. Unfortunately, I no longer have the email I had from this pard describing the situation, so I can't swear that I have the details exactly correct, but that is close. (Update: recently Hodgdon reports that they had testing done which indicates that Pyrodex is not sensitive to static. ) (Update 2007: I saw this shooter at the SASS Convention in December í06 and we discussed his accident. He thinks it might have been the shearing of grain(s) in the powder measure rather than static. Even if this was the case, it still points to a potential problem when using a regular powder measure with Pyrodex.)
The second situation was posted to the SASS Wire during a static discussion, by a Dillon sales representative. He said that Dillon was aware of one static accident case, where a man was loading BP blanks. Apparently the man was compressing a newspaper wad into a charged case with a wooden dowel when it went off, seriously injuring his hand. The Dillon rep said that the accident was attributed to static buildup from the carpet. That is all I know of this particular incident.
The third occurrence was described recently on the SASS Wire. A fellow was trying to dispose of a large quantity of BP. He was pouring containers of it into a large plastic bucket (intending, I believe, to mix it with water). Static from the plastic bucket set off the powder, seriously injuring the fellow.
And then in July 2005, I saved the following post to one of the CAS discussion websites. The writer, "Oldelm" from Vermont, was responding to someone about an internet article in which someone unsuccessfully tried to set off BP with the spark from an ignition coil.
Begin Quote:"Well, I'm wonderin now just how much of an "ole wife's tale" that Black Powder / Plastic warning is. There's a feller, Wayne, who I respect a great deal, over on the VOY forum.....
He had this to say...
Ya the special hoppers made on the powder measures are to reduce the chance of static setting off the powder.I've seen that experiment with the electricity and don't know what the secrete is but I have a buddy that carried his lb. of powder on his hip in a plastic lined leather wine bota. Walked out in the pasture to look for ground hogs and the whole pound blew.Burnt his hip bad. Static must have built up from him walking.Never mess with blackpowder on carpets or plastic table cloths. I had a bad blow up that burnt my arms and face.Pain like hell from second degree burns that were a tiny hair from 3rd degree.Blew windows out of the house in Jan. and knocked me off the chair, set my t-shirt on fire, shrapneled my powder measure in my hands and simaltaneously blew a copper Colt flask(full of FFg)and filled the whole house with smoke. Woke me up for sure.My glasses were looking like they were sandblasted.Sitting at the table rubbing my cold feet on the carpet and didn't realize my wife put a plastic table cloth on the table. I heard a little snap and then a BIG BOOM.Powder measure in my hands and the flask on the table in front of me.I guess there are different kinds of electrical charges or something. Plastic? I look for it now whenever I get out the powder.With the powder measures it's the metal metering thing made of steel that is bad and the plastic hopper.There are measures out there made for blackpowder though.
Hey Oldelm, what do you think would happen in that "static" test you posted up if the guy didn't ground the piece of metal the white paper is sitting on?"
End of Quote.
Certainly, all of the above stories are anecdotal / hearsay and second or third hand, except for the one pard in Arizona who related his story to me directly. And that is also the only one that happened in the process of reloading on a press with a plastic powder measure (and it was Pyrodex, not BP). The story from the Dillon rep could be that static was the best guess as to the cause. The guy pouring BP into plastic buckets likely had a dust cloud ignite in that incident.
Nevertheless, it does give one something to think about, eh?
In one of his books, Mike Venturino said that he loaded thousands of rounds of BP with a regular powder measure with no problem, but then he decided that he might be tempting fate so he quit doing it. I'm sure that there are many folks out there doing the same. Are they tempting fate? No one can be completely sure. You can do so if you wish, or you can decide to be more conservative.
Okay, so let's say that you want to be as conservative as possible. What steps should you take? You should ground all conductive items on the workbench, especially the press. This means attaching a wire with a screw or clamp to the metal, then attaching the other end to the 3rd wire ground on the electrical socket. The screw in the center of the socket that holds the cover plate in place should be a good ground point. Remove any plastic, synthetic, styrofoam, etc. from the workbench that are not essential. These are the things that generate static charges. Smaller plastic items that are needed, like funnels, Lee dippers, etc. can be given an anti-static treatment. This can be done with commercially available products, but can also be done by wiping the item with a sheet of fabric softener made for the clothes dryer. It can also be done by washing the item in soapy dishwater, then letting it drip dry without rinsing. All of these methods add a layer of "surfactant" to the surface of the item. These surfactants will absorb humidty out of the air and reduce the tendency of the item to generate or hold a static charge. These methods are also temporary, as the surfactant coating will eventually wear off, depending on the usage.
Will grounding an automatic powder measure make it static-safe? No, although it may help. You cannot ground an insulator (plastic items are generally insulators). But the closer a charged item is to "ground", the smaller the static field will be, as the reduced capacity to ground tends to collapse the static field. Grounding the metal parts of a press will cause the plastic items to be physically closer to ground than they were before. But the plastic hopper can still generate and hold a charge, as can any other plastic parts on the measure. Using a 3M static field meter, I have measured the static on a Lee auto-disk powder measure hopper, generated by a single swipe of the hand across the plastic, at 1 kilovolt. 5 kilovolts was measured on the red plastic hopper of a Load-All shotshell loader. Does this mean that they are dangerous to use with BP? Again, neither I nor anyone I know can say for sure, but the fact that there are considerable static fields present is a fact. In my opinion, small plastic items like funnels and dippers are not capable of generating any sort of significant charge. Lyman and Hornady measures designed for BP have metal hoppers. As mentioned previously, Black Dawge Cartridge Co. does a modification to Dillon measures which adds a grounding terminal, and replaces the powder hopper and the sliding charge bar with metal items. And they now have a BP conversion for MEC shotshell loaders.
The most likely source of static in most situations is the human involved. We are constantly in motion, and constantly generating static. Many factors are involved, such as our clothing and footwear, and the type of surface on which we are standing and/or sitting (and of course, humidity). When a person is charged, there will be a discharge (spark) every time a grounded item, or even a sizable metal item, is touched. Remember the spark when you touched a doorknob? That doorknob wasn't grounded, but it was large enough to accept or give up the electrons required to equalize charges when you touched it. So you want to minimize the charging that occurs on yourself, and provide a safe path of discharge for the charging that does occur. You can wear a grounded wrist strap, as designed for electronics handling, although this is likely to get in the way. You can also wear conductive shoes or shoe straps and stand on a grounded floor mat. Now, practically speaking, if you wear leather-soled shoes and stand on concrete, you will be grounded fairly well. Avoid wearing nylon or other synthetic clothing. This can generate a large charge just from moving your arms.
We talk about grounding everything conductive, but what we are actually doing is equalizing voltage potentials. We are bringing everything to ground potential. What if there is no ground point available? If you connect all conductive items together, including yourself, then you are just as safe from static as if everything was grounded. Discharges or sparks occur when conductive items of different potentials contact each other. While plastic or synthetic items are usually the source of static, they generally don't spark themselves. But any ungrounded conductive item which is within that item's static field will be charged up as long as it remains in that field, and that charge will discharge when another conductive item of different potential in touched.
By the way, wrist strap ground cords and most heel straps contain a one-megohm resistor. The purpose of this resistor has nothing to do with slowing down a static discharge, but is simply a safety device to minimize current should the user come in contact with high voltage (like 110 VAC). A grounded person will usually have no charge on them, but can still cause a spark if they touch another positively or negatively charged item. That is another reason you want to tie everything conductive together to equalize potentials. And that is why it is a good idea to touch all the metal items present before handling powder. Touching the metal powder can with one hand while touching the press with the other hand will equalize charges before you open the powder. Oh yeah, I've heard that Elephant powder and maybe Swiss now comes in plastic cans. And Pyrodex has always come in plastic cans. It is possible to manufacture plastics that are permanently conductive (the electronics industry uses quite a bit of these materials), so it is possible that these cans are mildly conductive (dissipative). I no longer have access to the measuring equipment needed to find out.
Would it be smart to use a grounded metal table top on your workbench? Actually, no. This would make it more likely for a spark to occur when a charged item (like a person walking up to it) touches the metal. Ideally, a dissipative ground mat on the table would be the safest. Most of the items in the electronic industry that are made safe for static are commonly called "conductive" but in reality they are "dissipative". This means that they have a very high resistance, but not high enough to be classified as an insulator. The idea is that a dissipative material will bleed off a static charge slowly (usually less than a second, but this is extremely slow compared to the nanoseconds for a spark which occurs). Dissipative materials have too high of a resistance to be measured with an ordinary ohmmeter or multimeter. It takes a special instrument called a megohmeter. Again, from a practical standpoint, a wooden bench top is a good choice because wood is a good non-charging material which tends to be dissipative naturally because of the moisture in it.
If you are really interested in minimizing static, then you should be aware of the Tribo-Electric series. See:http://www.amasci.com/emotor/tribo.txt . This is a chart that groups common materials in order of their tendency to gain or lose electrons when they come in contact and then separate (friction) from other materials. A material that tends to lose electrons will become positively charged. A material that gains (steals) electrons from other materials will become negatively charged. Items in the middle of the chart tend to be fairly neutral and non-charging. The further apart any materials are on the chart, then the higher a charge will be generated when those two items come in contact with each other (again, think of friction). For example, you will notice that human hands are at one end of the chart, and teflon is at the other end. Therefore, hands touching teflon will tend to generate a high charge, so you should avoid handling teflon items at the reloading bench. I would suggest that a set of teflon dippers would be a bad idea.
The average reloader, having read this far, is probably worn out and still confused about static. If you take no special grounding precautions at your loading bench, but simply use some common sense, loading with dippers, in moderate humidity, you will be just fine. And what if you decide to load with your regular automatic measure with plastic hopper? Well, if the humidity is moderate to high, and you take a few precautions and treat your plastic items to render them safer, then you MAY be okay, but of course you are absolutely on your own! And if you reload in a very dry environment, my recommendation would be to be as conservative as possible.
I believe the makers of CleaNshot have claimed it to be safe in an automatic powder measure, but the other substitutes are not according to their makers. (Update: some of the makers have stated that it is okay to load their sub powders on progressive presses). How much of this is lawyer-speak? I don't know.
One other possible concern to throw into the mix here is that the same folks that say BP (or subs) can be set off with static will say that it can be set off by shearing of the grains in a powder measure. Again, nobody has heard of this happening, and some folks have even pounded on some grains with a hammer on an anvil with no kablooey. Is it something to worry about? I can't say. (Update 2007: See the above story about the fellow in Arizona, who thinks his Pyrodex blow-up may have been grain shearing rather than static. Also, Driftwood Johnson has reported an incident (third hand, but supposedly reliable) about a fellow whose can of BP exploded in his hand when he unscrewed the lid. This sounds pretty bizarre but the most likely explanation would seem to be grains shearing that were in the threads of the cap).
Smoking (as in Cigarettes). It should go without saying that you should never smoke anywhere close to BP (or even smokeless powder). If there are any smokers in your household, warn them to stay away from the loading area. And if you are a cap'n'ball guy, watch out for smokers getting close when you are loading your guns. There was one incident at EOT 2002 where an accident in a vendor tent caused a pard to lose some digits from one hand. The person was working on a new stage prop that was supposed to be a "Nitro Box" and it had a small charge of BP in it. Details are sketchy, but several reports indicated that a cigar was involved in this serious accident.
My Loads. Okay, I'm going to tell you what I am currently shooting. This is not intended to be a suggestion for what you should load, but just to give you some idea of the variety involved. I have not done a lot of load tweaking for accuracy. I'm shooting CAS matches every weekend, so who has time to go shoot at paper? I can usually hit the long-range bonus targets if I take my time, so the accuracy of the various loads is "acceptable for CAS" as they say.
I mostly use Federal primers. Standard primers for CleaNshot/CleaRshot, magnum (usually, not always) for BP. All powder charges listed are weights, not volume. BP was previously Goex, currently using Elephant. Bullets are mostly standard hardcast bullets, mostly from Houston Cartridge Co. (and they get them from Lone Star Bullet Co.), with the hard lube melted out. The powder amounts may vary as much as 0.5 grains plus or minus with no noticeable difference. Most of my loads have the powder compressed between 1/16" and 1/8" by the bullet, except for the ones with grits filler, which probably are compressed closer to 1/4" since the grits will compress more than the powder. I believe that compressed grits are similar to a vegetable fibre wad.
32-20 Pistol - 13.7gr FFFg CleaNshot, unlubed 115gr RNFP. I don't use this very often as this 1st gen SAA has a very rough and pitted bore and leads very quickly but it's a fun round.
.38 Spcl Pistol - 20gr FFFg BP, unlubed 158gr RNFP (1.3cc dipper is good for this). - I previously used the same amount of FFFg CleaRshot, but those rounds were under-powered and caused some primer backing out, not enough to tie up the gun but made it a little harder to unload the empties, and another pard had similar loads jam his gun with the backed-out primers.
.357 Rifle - 15.5gr FFFg CleaNshot, unlubed 158gr RNFP. Tried this load one time on paper at 100 yards. Got a 4" group, 1.5" low, from sitting position with elbows supported on table, in a '73 carbine with standard sights. More recently I have been trying some ammo with real BP, using 20 grains (about 1.45cc) of Goex Cowboy BP with a 158gr RNFP, BP-lubed, from Parson's Pills. I also have a supply of Black Dawge unlubed bullets that I will be sizing/lubing to try with BP.
44-40 Pistol & Rifle - first I was loading 25gr (2.2cc dipper) FFFg CleaNshot with a 200gr unlubed RNFP. More recently I have been loading the same volume of Goex Cowboy BP with a 205gr Black Dawge 2-lube groove bullet, sized to .430 and lubed with my own lube. I have to use Winchester or Starline brass in order for the .430-sized bullets to chamber properly in my Cimarron 1873 carbine and Model P revolvers.
.44 Spcl Pistol - 20gr FFFg CleaRshot, 0.5cc dipper of grits filler, 200gr unlubed RNFP. These loads are nice and I shot a lot of them but there is a slight bit of primer backing out. So now I use 23gr and no filler.
.44 Spcl Rifle - 18gr FFFg CleaNshot, no filler, unlubed 240gr RNFP or SWC. (SWC's feed okay in my '66). Also tried 12.1gr of 777 (about 15gr volume, which is reduced from Hodgdon's recommendation of 20gr) with a .35" length of either 3/8" or 1/2" caulk backer rod filler.
44 Spcl Pistol & Rifle - I intend to start loading the 205gr Black Dawge bullet that I have been trying in 44-40 in the .44 Spcl as well, with Goex Cowboy BP. (Update: these loads got the action very dirty in the rifle. 205gr bullet just isnít big enough to give good sealing of the chamber with the straight-walled brass. 240gr bullets seal better, although even those let a lot of fouling get back into the carrier area).
.45LC Pistol - 27gr CleaRshot, .015" card wad, no filler, unlubed 200gr RNFP seated 0.1" deeper than normal, crimped over ogive (1.48" OAL). Primers back out slightly with this load. They shoot fine in my Colts but hang up in my Vaquero. So I have increased the charge to 31.5gr and crimp the bullet in the crimp groove (1.58" OAL).
.45LC Pistol - 24gr FFFg BP, 1.0cc grits filler, unlubed 200gr RNFP.
.45LC Rifle - 24gr FFg BP, 0.7cc grits filler, panlubed 250gr RNFP.
.45ACP - 17gr FFFg BP, unlubed 230gr LRN. These are for the ACP cylinder of a convertible Vaquero.
12GA Ė I started by using what many shooters use, a 4.3cc dipper (about 65gr) of powder and 1 oz of shot with a Winchester AA red wad in AA or STS hulls. Now I use approximately 59gr by weight of FFg or Cowboy BP (4.3cc dipper, about 1/8" less than full, I just eyeball it), Winchester red wad, 1 1/8 oz # 6 shot in STS hulls. In brass hulls, same load with Circle Fly overshot card sealed with sodium silicate (waterglass) or Elmers wood glue. I get better patterns in my TTN 1878 Hammer gun and Baikal no choke (cylinder bore) coach gun by using the plastic wads compared to fiber wads. Loading with slightly less powder and slightly more shot than the traditional "square load" (equal volumes of BP and shot) gets me a little better pattern and more shot on the target. I do load a few brass shells with fiber wads instead of plastic to give me a wider pattern for the occasional clay bird. You can read my article on loading all-brass hulls here:http://www.davidscottharper.com/shoot/BrassShotshell.doc (this article is rather dated now that Magtech shells which use large pistol primers are available and cheap) and here is a collection of SASS Wire posts listing some other folks' 12 Ga. BP loads: http://www.davidscottharper.com/shoot/BP12GA.htm
You will notice that the .44 and .45 rifle ammo uses a bigger bullet than the pistol ammo. That is to provide a better chamber seal due to the higher pressure, as well as a flatter trajectory for long shots. The heavier bullets take up more room inside the case so there is less room for powder. Bigger bullets do give more recoil but this is a minor issue in rifles. If necessary, the pistol ammo shoots okay in the rifle and vice versa. As I mentioned before, I squeeze some Crisco into the front of the cylinder over a couple of the bullets in my pistol loads, so that I don't need to use any BP lube in the bullets. The lighter 205gr bullets work fine in the 44-40 rifle, though, since the brass is thinner and expands very well to seal the chamber.
I use a Lee Load-All for the shotshells, except for the powder which is dipped by hand. The .44 Specials are mostly loaded on a Dillon Square Deal B, and the rest are loaded on a Lee 4-hole Turret with Lee dies. I use Lee factory crimp dies for .45LC and .45ACP and 32-20, but not .38/.357 where I just use the Lee seat/crimp combo die.
Loading Blanks. This is not a part of CAS, but is related. BP blanks are fun for making noise or for entertaining folks with fake gunfights or reenactments. They are easy to make but you must keep a few things in mind. Primers will usually back out in blanks (with no bullet, a blank is the "ultimate" light load) and will tie up revolvers. The primer flash hole must be drilled out. 9/64" is suggested as the largest that a large primer hole should be drilled out, otherwise the anvil of the primer may go through the flash hole and become a projectile. This is for larger cases that use large pistol primers. I have no experience with .32/.38/.357 blanks, so I don't know how much the flash hole may need to be drilled out on those. These cases that have the primer flash holes enlarged out must be marked so that they are never used for loading live ammo.
The amount of powder you use is up to you, but of course you will get more bang and smoke and flame with more powder. Since there is no bullet, there is no recoil, so you don't have to worry about that (ever notice in the movies that those guns hardly ever have any recoil). In a .45LC case, I like to use a Lee 2.2cc dipper of FFFg Elephant which is around 35gr volume or 38gr weight. The powder should be compressed for best results. I use a fired .357 case for compression, as the rim of the .357 is a pretty good fit inside a .45LC case. A wooden dowel could be used. I can't compress it much by hand, but they shoot fine. Then some sort of wad must be used to hold the powder in place. It is very important to use a wad material that will not have a potential for becoming a projectile and causing injury. One of the most common wad materials is green florists foam, the type that is designed to hold water and is easily crushed. Slice off a section of foam about 1/2" thick from the block. Then push this section of foam down over the mouth of the charged brass case, pushing the foam down over the powder with your thumb. Then use your compression device (dowel, etc.) to compress this foam as much as possible. The foam does not need to come all the way to the mouth of the case. Voila! You have a blank. These will hold up pretty well, but if you are going to carry them upside down in a cartridge belt and subject them to a lot of activity, it may be possible for the ingredients to fall out. Another wad material that I've heard about is the foam from the top of an egg carton. These can be cut out from the carton using a fired, unsized case for a punch, and then pushed down over the powder. Both of these wad materials should burn up along with the powder so that there is no "ejecta" coming out of the barrel that could cause injury. Regardless of how you make your blanks, you should test them by shooting at paper at close range (six to ten feet) to be sure that there is no problem with ejecta. And then double or triple that distance between participants in any "shootout". And even at that distance, you should follow the procedures used by reenactors and do not aim directly at another person, but rather aim low or to the side.
You can also order a star-crimp die for making blanks, which "crushes" the mouth of the case inward in a star pattern. This will hold the powder inside without the use of a wad, so they are very safe. However, these dies are expensive and the brass can only be used once. Some reenactor groups will give the spent star-crimped shells to kids in the audience for souvenirs. When I was a kid, at the West Texas Fair I saw Clu Gulager, who was playing Billy the Kid on TV at the time, and I got one of his spent star-crimped .45's.
I have seen mentioned by one pard that blanks made with BP substitutes will project unburned particles of powder. He didn't mention which substitute, however I would find this very easy to believe with CleaNshot due to the chunkiness of the powder. I did make up some blanks once with CleaRshot and didn't notice this problem, but those blanks were extremely wimpy. YMMV. Again, test any blanks against paper at short distances.
Shotgun blanks are easy to make. The primer hole does not need to be drilled out. Just take any plastic hull and cut off the crimp if you want to use florist foam for wad material, just like in pistol ammo. I've used up to 100gr of powder for a really big boom. Again, recoil is not an issue so put as much powder in there as you want! You can also use a regular hull, charged with BP, then stuff a few sheets of bathroom tissue over the powder, compress, and then give it a regular star crimp on your shotshell press. These are good noisemakers but they shoot a bunch of confetti out of the barrels so won't really look right for gunfights.
BP and Gamers. Since this is my article, I get to say whatever I want, and so I will make a few comments about gamers. "Gamer" often has negative connotations, but it needn't. A Gamer is not the same thing as a cheater. The Gamer is just very interested in winning and will do everything they can towards that goal.. If they do so within the rules, then I mostly don't think there is any problem. The top smokless shooters almost all use fairly light .38 loads. They have to in order to remain competitive with the other top shooters. That doesn't bother me a bit, and I love watching those top shooters.
I do not put people who shoot less than full-house BP loads into the Gamer category. A full case of BP in a large caliber is pretty dang heavy load. I like shooting heavy loads occasionally, but for me and many others, shooting moderate loads is more enjoyable for a variety of reasons. Easier on the arms and hands, easier on the targets, easier on the guns. Note that I said "moderate". My somewhat reduced .44 and .45 BP loads are still generally as powerful as anything anybody on my posse is shooting, unless there is a "full BP load" shooter on the same posse! People sometimes ask me if I'm shooting "magnums" when I shoot my full-house .38 Spcl pistol loads.
What does irk me is shooters who shoot mouse-fart loads in the BP class for the purpose of winning. You know, guys who shoot mouse-fart loads in Traditional category but keep getting beat, so they switch to BP since there is less competition shooting those types of loads and they have a better chance of winning a trophy at the big matches. Black Dawge Cartridge Co. sells a BP load in a cut down .38 case that is even shorter than a .38 Long Colt case. When I first heard about this load I figured it was a real gamer load, but it actually is pretty hot for its size, with a 140gr bullet. But there are some folks who will take .38's and .32's and use fillers and light bullets to make superlight BP loads with minimal recoil and minimal smoke. Fortunately there aren't very many of them.
Cowboy Action Shooting is many things to many people. Light loads is just a part of the game for some of the really fast guys. Fast smokeless shooters are impressive. Loud, smokey shooters are also impressive! The BP categories help to provide a balance to the game, and are certainly more authentic. A really fast guy shooting really wimpy BP loads just doesn't seem to fit into the spirit of the category. Just my opinion.
Of course, some folks would call me a gamer because I often shoot with two hands in Frontier Cartridge category. Well, it is allowed by the rules and I shoot a lot better that way, which enhances my enjoyment of the sport. Everybody is entitled to their own opinions. But for the most part, I say that as long as someone is playing within the rules, live and let live. I am going to have fun shooting my way and I hope everyone else has fun shooting theirs. Having said that, I will say that anyone who is cutting corners in any way, whether it is mousefart loads, exaggerated starting position, gamer-looking leather, etc., should expect to be razzed by their posse members from time to time with the "gamer" word. It is generally all in fun. Recently I was shooting at a club where the duelist shooters would make comments like "that gun of his is so heavy that it takes two hands to hold it up" while I was shooting a stage. They were saying it in good humor and I laughed along with them.
More Resources. There is a lot of info out there on loading and shooting BP. Mike Venturino has a couple of great books, "Shooting Sixguns of the Old West" and "Shooting Leverguns of the Old West" (available through SASS). Great info on BP, although he doesn't cover the subs.
Shoot Magazine has published a book on loading and shooting BP.
Some of the following links were already mentioned above, but here they are again.
SASS pard Doc Shapiro wrote a book called "BP Loading for CAS". I've heard good things about it, but it is now out of print. If you ask around you might find a used one. (Update: Doc has very kindly posted this book for free online on his website as a .PDF file. Go tohttp://www.jspublications.net/tips.html and then click on "Docís Blackpowder Loading Book" )
Black Dawge Cartridge Co. sells ammo loaded with real BP, as well as components, they are very good at offering advice to reloaders. Their website ishttp://www.stewartdawge.com UPDATE: Black Dawge has sold their ammo and bullet business to Goex. www.powderinc.com is one company that carries the Goex ammo. The Black Dawge website will no longer sell these products, but still has info about shooting BP.
Parson's Pills by Parson de la Croix are reasonably priced BP-lubed bullets. Call 601-833-3835 or firstname.lastname@example.org
This article you are reading does not cover Cap'n'Ball shooting, but for those interested here is an article by Hellgate on troubleshooting cap'n'ball revolvers:http://davidscottharper.com/shoot/CnB_info.htm
Cap'n Baylor's web articles on loading CleaNshot/American Pioneer Powder (and other BP subsitutes) cartridges:http://www.curtrich.com/bpsubsdummies.html and another on shooting Ruger Old Army cap'n'ball pistols with CleaNshot: http://www.curtrich.com/frontiersmen.html
And here is an article on the web that talks about traditional BP shotshell loading:http://www.tbullock.com/bpsg.html
Circle Fly wads for cartridge and shotshell can be found athttp://www.circlefly.com
American Pioneer Powder (new name for CleaNshot):http://www.americanpioneerpowder.com
Goex CleaRshot:http://www.goexpowder.com/clear_shot.html (update: this is no longer online)
Goex Black Powder:http://www.goexpowder.com
Elephant and Swiss Black Powder:http://www.elephantblackpowder.com
An online source for beeswax:http://www.texasdrone.com
My article on loading all brass BP shotshells:http://www.davidscottharper.com/shoot/BrassShotshell.doc Ė note that this article is now somewhat dated as Magtech brass shells are now available and cheap.
Collection of SASS Wire posts on various BP shotshell recipes:http://www.davidscottharper.com/shoot/BP12GA.htm
"The Shootin Iron" website has several articles by Steve Osborne on BP reloading:http://www.off-road.com/4x4web/si/si.html (Iím not sure if this URL is still good, might have to google it)
I hope this has been of some benefit. Smoke em up!
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