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Blackhorn 209, Finally a Solution to Black Powder Fouling
By Reece Talley
I am a California Hunter Education and NRA Muzzle loading Instructor. I’m also a member of the Quail and Upland Wildlife Federation, Santa Clarita Chapter. Since 2008, QUWF has sponsored a Youth Shooting Sports Camp up at Camp Three Falls in the Lockwood Valley west of Gorman California. This week-long camp is for pre-teens and teens, ages 11 through 15. The camp is situated in a valley at the end of high desert plateau about 85 miles north of Los Angeles. Camp is held in June when the temperatures average 88-95 degrees peak each day with humidity in the low teens, oft times even less. Together with my partner, fellow Hunter Education instructor Jim Overman, we run the two-day Black Powder section of the camp curriculum. The campers get to shoot all kinds of muzzleloaders, from flint locks to modern inlines and everything in between. Over the two-day session, we will burn through several pounds of powder and literally hundreds of lead balls and conicals. The challenge has always been for Jim and me to keep up with the loading of the firearms. Complicating this task are the afore mentioned weather conditions. Heat, especially dry heat, makes multiple shots with a muzzleloader a challenge to say the least. Usually we must wipe every other shot if we are to avoid sticking a ball, even a saboted ball, in the barrel. This of course slows loading down to a snail’s pace. So, what to do?
We have used multiple firearms, wild lube concoctions and of course, various BP substitutes. All have come up short in one way or another. Pyrodex was the first sub to be tried. I’ve used it off and on since before it’s inventor, Dan Pawlak was killed in a powder mill accident. It’s cheap enough but it does foul, and it does promote rust so other than its relative ease of purchase and storage, it offers no advantage over real BP in our case.
The next substitute we tried was Triple 7. T7 was very promising in the beginning. It fouled, but much less than BP or Pyrodex. However, the crud ring it built up after three or so shots proved its undoing. If we didn’t swab the bore, it was very possible to fail to completely seat the projectile against the powder charge. We are careful to mark our loading rods, so it never happened to us. However, it was an issue to be watchful for. In the end, T7 did not offer enough improvement over BP to warrant further use. It is also unsuited for side-lock guns and percussion revolvers because it takes a number 209 primer to light it reliably. I also don’t like the way it fouls brass cartridge cases when used in cartridges like the 32-20 and 45-90.
In our search, we also tried Shocky’s Gold and a few other “sugar” powders. None however, gave us either the velocity or freedom from fouling we were looking for. At one point, Alliant Black MZ showed a lot of initial promise. It lights easily with a #11 cap making it suitable for side locks and cap and ball revolvers. It also is very corrosion resistant but…it does foul the bore and we did have to swab after 6 or so shots. At $30 a pound locally, it isn’t cheap either. Nailing the coffin shut is the fact that in small capacity cartridges like the 32-20, you can’t get enough in the case to generate velocities equal to those you obtain with real BP so the search continued.
Finally, we found Blackhorn 209. Here we have a powder that doesn’t clump, doesn’t loose strength in storage like Pyrodex does and it doesn’t build up fouling in the bore or leave the dreaded “crud ring”. Even better, it is decidedly more energetic than either true black powder or any of the other substitutes. As far as fouling goes, it is a godsend. We found that even after 30 or 40 shots, bullets still loaded with relative ease. There was none of that nasty vertical stringing either. Shots were very consistent from the very first to the last; if you held in the black, that’s where the shot hit. We also found that BH209 works well in cartridge guns too. I bring a 32-20 revolver and a 32-20 lever action Browning to camp for the kids to try. It not only works perfectly in the firearms, but it’s easy to load on my Hornady Lock-N-Load progressive. No special powder hoppers are required and standard pistol primers and bullet lube work perfectly. Velocities are equal to or greater than those obtained with true black powder. Clean up requires the use of a solvent like Hoppe’s 9, Ed’s Red or Blackhorn 209 solvent. The latter is especially effective. As to its corrosiveness, well, here it can’t be beat. After putting over 400 rounds through my Thompson Center Impact last June, I forgot to clean the bore. When I remembered it, it was over a month later. I expected the bore to be ruined but surprisingly, not even a hint of corrosion was evident. This seemed impossible to me so, I decided to give it a test and see what would happen if I waited even longer. Ultimately, I left the gun uncleaned for eleven full months. I just stored it in the safe without even an oily patch run down the bore. Finally, I could wait no more. I pulled the breech plug and ran a BH209 solvent soaked patch down the bore. It did not go easily, and I figured I’d just roached a perfectly good barrel. I wetted a second patch and this one slid through like it was coated in KY jelly! I then ran a third patch through and it too went “slicker’n snot” as they say. I followed with a clean dry patch and the cleaning part was done. A careful inspection showed no pitting, no staining and absolutely no sign of damage whatsoever. The breech plug got a brushing with 209 solvent and a ran a welding pip through the flash hole to get any crud remaining there. A little oil down the bore and I was done. Now imagine trying that experiment with Pyrodex of heaven forbid, real black powder? It would not have turned out so well!
So, with all of this, you might think BH209 solved all our problems, right? Well, no. You see it does require a 209 primer to ignite. That means we can’t use it in sidelocks or percussion revolvers. Interestingly, I do have a Pedersoli side by side 50 cal ML that I converted to 209 primer ignition and it works perfectly with BH209. Figuring I was on to something, I tried converting a Zouave musket and an Enfield 2 band rifle to 209 ignition but neither gun would light BH 209. I scratched my head over that one for awhile and then I came up with the answer. In the double rifle, the nipples are in a straight line with the powder chambers. Thus, the flame is full force when it hits the powder. In the muskets, it has to make a 90 degree turn and when it arrives at the charge, it just isn’t hot enough to ignite the charge, even with extra hot 209 primers.
Being the inquisitive type, I decided to try using a duplex load with a small 10 grain charge of BP on the bottom and a 50 grain charge of BH209 on top. It worked perfectly. I shot this many, many times and fouling never built up much beyond the first shot. However, clean up was awful. BH209 solvent removed some of the fouling but, I had to use water to get at the rest. This is where things got ugly. The water mixed with the remaining BH209 fouling and created a gooey sludge. It took a lot and I mean A LOT of elbow grease, patches, brush scrubbing and switching back and forth between BH209 solvent and Gunzilla solvent to get the bore clean. My advice, don’t try it.
Some other draw backs are that it is so “fluffy” for lack of a better term, that it hates to flow out of a standard powder horn. My solution was to buy 100 of those little load tubes off “the bay” and preload charges at home using a scoop and a funnel. Another downside is the price; it’s not cheap. Cabela’s and Midway have it for $36 for a ten-ounce container. Now some may argue that since it’s about 10% more energetic you will use 10% less making it cheaper. Really? That means that what you have is actually an eleven-ounce container, not much of a real savings. To me however, and I’ll bet you will agree, the ease of loading, the pleasant smell, the ease of clean up and the fact that it is not classified as an explosive as BP is, all off-set the disadvantages.
So, for Shooting Camp 2018, Blackhorn 209 will once again, be a significant player. The inline guns and the double rifle are by far the favorite of the campers and for this usage, BH209 is perfect. Thanks to the generous donation of powder and solvent by the folks at Western Powder, we should be in good shape for this year’s camp.
In closing I’d like to again emphasize that BH209 is so efficient in cartridge firearms that my 32-20 velocities and the velocities I get in my 45-90 Sharps are quite a bit above those obtained with either BP or T7. Clean up in a vibratory cleaner with Dillion case polish has been problem free and it does not tarnish or corrode the cases! This is an excellent powder and a real asset to the shooting community. I recommend you ML shooters give it a try. You will not be disappointed.