Read on to learn about the advantages and disadvantages of some of the most popular brands of black powder and black powder substitutes.
If you’re just getting started on learning how to hunt with a muzzleloader, the staggering number of propellants choices can be overwhelming. The muzzleloader industry has come a long way and there are many more powder choices out there than there were just a few years ago. Here is a brief overview of some of the best brands of black powder and black powder substitutes currently available on the market today to help you get started in picking the best powder for your muzzleloader before hitting the woods.
Before I get started I want to make two disclaimers.
First, not every muzzleloader can safely shoot every type of black powder substitute out there. So, before using any of these propellants in your muzzleloader, make sure you read the manual to see what type of propellant, in what granulation, and in what volume the manufacturer recommends. Using the correct propellant will both help you stay safe as well as maximize the accuracy and reliability of your muzzleloader.
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True Black Powder
For many hunters, especially the traditionalists, true black powder is really the only thing they’ll consider using in a muzzleloader. Produced by blending sulfur, potassium nitrate, and charcoal, shooters and hunters have successfully used black powder for centuries. Of all the propellants safe to use in muzzleloaders, black powder is also the easiest to ignite, which makes it the most popular propellant used in flintlock and caplock muzzleloaders.
Unfortunately, black powder is dirty, inefficient, and corrosive. Ever wonder why black powder produces so much smoke when ignited? It’s because only approximately 50% of the black powder you load actually burns, the rest gets blown out the muzzle as smoke or left in the barrel as residue. Since so little of the powder actually burns, it does not produce nearly as much energy for a given amount of propellant as smokeless powder or some of the more modern black powder substitutes.
Black powder is also classified as an explosive and can be incredibly dangerous when handled improperly. For this reason, the government imposes strict regulations on the transportation and storage of black powder. This can make it difficult to find commercially because few retailers are willing to deal with the safety requirements associated with stocking it.
Goex and Swiss Black Powder are the two most popular brands of black powder currently available on the market. Both brands have very good reputations in the muzzleloading community. Of the two, Goex is typically easier to find in the United States, but Swiss Black Power is commonly regarded as a slightly better propellant and is also easier to find overseas.
Black powder is produced in several different grades of increasing grain size (coarseness): FFFFg, FFFg FFg, and Fg. Smaller grain size powder is easier to ignite and burns faster. FFFg and FFg are the two most common grades in use today.
Generally speaking, FFFg powder is best suited for muzzleloading rifles and pistols smaller than .45 caliber. FFg powder generally works best in muzzleloading rifles and shotguns .45 caliber and larger. FFFFg is most commonly used to prime flintlocks. Fg powder is typically used in muzzleloaders larger than .62 caliber.
Black Powder Substitutes
Due to the previously described disadvantages of black powder, many hunters prefer to use some sort of black powder substitute instead.
Since black powder substitutes are typically classified as smokeless propellents (instead of explosives), they are not subject to the same stringent rules and regulations regarding their transportation or storage as black powder. For this reason, they are also easier to find commercially than true black powder.
On the plus side, generally speaking, black powder substitutes are also less dirty and slightly more powerful than black powder. Some of the black powder substitutes are also available in pellet form, which really speeds up the loading process. On the other hand, they are more difficult to ignite than black powder.
Hunters using 209 primers should have few ignition problems, but those using musket or #11 caps may experience hangfires or misfires with some of the black powder substitutes out there. One note of caution when dealing with powder substitutes though: virtually every black powder substitute is less dense than black powder (the exact amount varies depending on the brand), which means it is essential that you measure it by volume not by mass when loading your muzzleloader. Otherwise, you could end up loading your muzzleloader with a dangerous amount of propellent.
Pyrodex was the first (and most popular) black powder substitute specifically developed for muzzleloader hunters. Just like true black powder, it’s dirty, corrosive, and really smoky. It also roughly simulates the performance true black powder. Like all black powder substitutes, it is much easier to find commercially than true black powder.
On the other hand, Pryodex is more difficult to ignite than black powder. That being said, it is probably the easiest black powder substitute to ignite, so it’s a good choice for hunters who want to use a black powder substitute in a sidelock muzzleloader or certain inline muzzleloaders with a musket or #11 cap.
Pyrodex P is roughly equivilent to FFFg black powder and is designed for use in muzzleloading rifles and pistols smaller than .45 caliber. Pyrodex RS is very close in size to FFg black powder and is best used in rifles and shotguns .45 caliber and larger.
Pyrodex Select is a newer variant of Pryodex designed for more consistent performance. Though it’s a little more coarse, Pyrodex Select is similar in granulation size to Pyrodex RS (so it will work great in most muzzleloading rifles and shotguns .45 caliber and larger). At the same time, it’s also cleaner burning and more accurate than either Pyrodex P or Pyrodex RS.
Pryodex is also available in 50 grain pellets for faster loading.
Also referred to as “Triple Seven” or “777”, Hodgdon’s Triple Se7en is another very popular black powder substitute among muzzleloader hunters today.
A relative newcomer to the party, Triple Se7en is a more consistent, little more powerful, burns a little cleaner, and is slightly less corrosive than both black powder and Pyrodex. For these reasons, it seems to be slowly edging out Pryodex as the most popular black powder substitute currently in use.
It’s available as loose powder in both FFg and FFFg granulations. Just like Pyrodex and true black powder, 777 FFg powder generally works best in muzzleloading rifles .45 caliber and larger while FFFg is ideal for muzzleloaders smaller than .45 caliber and especially for .31, .36, and .44 caliber revolvers.
Triple Seven is also manufactured in 30 grain, 50 grain, and 60 grain pellets for easy loading. Hodgdon also recently started producing a line of 33 grain Fire Star 777 pellets. Just like the name suggests, instead of a cylindrical shape like a typical pellet, this propellent is formed in the shape of a star. Hodgdon claims that these pellets produce higher velocities with less fouling than traditional 777 pellets.
I tested out how they stacked up against several other different types of black powder substitutes in 2018. In short, this is a really good muzzleloader propellant and the overall performance of the 777 FireStar pellets matched up well with Hodgon’s claims. They also produced some of the most consistent velocities out of all the loads I tested.
Like Pyrodex, Triple Se7en is very common commercially and just about any good sized sporting goods store carries it.
Unfortunately, Triple Se7en is also more difficult to ignite than both true black powder and Pyrodex and the pre-formed pellets are even more difficult to ignite than loose Triple Se7en. Hunters using 209 primers should have no issues at all with ignition, but I don’t recommend it for use in sidelock muzzleloaders. That being said, I’ve gotten good results with it in inline muzzleloaders using a musket cap though. Triple Se7en is actually my preferred propellent for my CVA Wolf and CVA Optima Northwest muzzleloaders and it’s worked very well for me during the years I’ve been hunting with them.
Of all the black powder substitutes on this list, Blackhorn 209 is the newest kid on the block, but it may well be the best one in current production.
Why? Blackhorn 209 produces some of the highest velocities out of all available black powder substitutes. Additionally, it’s very consistent in performance, which really aids accuracy. It’s also non-corrosive and is by far the cleanest burning black powder substitute. In fact, unlike most competitors, Blackhorn 209 burns clean enough that it’s not necessary to swab the bore between shots.
For more details on the performance of Blackhorn 209, read my article:
Though it’s not quite as commonly available as Pyrodex or Triple Se7en, it’s still pretty common and is much easier to obtain than true black powder.
As you would guess from the name though, Blackhorn 209 is designed for use with 209 primers (specifically Federal 209A and CCI 209M primers). So, I don’t recommend using this powder with musket or #11 caps or you’ll probably have ignition problems. It also tends to work best with certain primers and breech plugs, so check to see if the manufacturer of your muzzleloader makes a specific “Blackhorn” breech plug (CVA does here and here).
All that being said, this is some outstanding powder and is a great choice for those that hunt with inline muzzleloaders.
While this post covers choosing the right muzzleloader propellant, that’s only part of the equation when hunting with a muzzleloader. For more detailed information on choosing the right bullets, scope, and muzzleloader, check out these other articles: