Are Pellets for Dummies?

Well, the straight answer is a bit of "yes and no." There are considerations when attempting to use pellets, and relying on pellets for consistent performance that the savvy frontloader should be aware of. As explored in other articles, there are pellets that in my opinion are totally unacceptable in performance levels to bet an animal's life on.

Goex Pinnacle "E-Z Loads" are tapered, larger than bore size sticks as are the sticks from "American Pioneer" that are marketed as "Sticks." Also sold as "Jim Shockey's Gold Sticks," all three of these substandard products are made by the same smarmy company, so they stick it to the customer regardless of the name on the bottle that pokes you in the eye.

There are severe problems with the "sticks." Poorly formed, all three have visible chunks missing out of them. As American Pioneer / Shockey's Gold "company" was found to have violated Hodgdon's cylindrical pellet patent under the "Cleanshot" pellets they sold, the "sticks" are tapered-and are larger than the bores of most muzzleloaders. Well, that helped American Pioneer / Shockey's skim around the patent. In the process, the already erratic velocities just got worse. The sticks tend to shave off a bit of themselves when you try to load them, adding random parts of themselves outside the muzzle or on the ground where they serve only as waste. As the most inconsistent muzzleloading propellant available today, it seems that Shockey's Gold / American Pioneer may be for dummies in all forms: the shaveomatic stick form just makes a really bad product even worse.

From a cost per shot perspective, pellets make little sense. Triple Se7en Magnum pellets, in this area, go for $25 or so a box of fifty-- a dollar a shot. If you read the fine print on the Triple Se7en Magnum pellet box, you'll find the weight is 4.5 ounces. At a sale price of about $90 per pound, it isn't hard to understand why Hodgdon loves to sell them. There is a built in product shelf-life issue with pellets; the little plastic packet of pellets is poorly sealed; I hesitate to call it sealed at all.

Unfired Triple Se7en pellets, according to Federal Ammo information acquired during the development of their Fusion primers, discovered that unfired Triple Se7en pellets in humid environments can quickly absorb up to 30% moisture resulting in decaying velocities as the water content increases. As the poorly packaged T7 pellets suck water, their ignition becomes harder and harder in concert. Bloopers, misfires, and smoldering pellets limping out the barrel are what you may find with water-laden T7 pellets. This has only been made worse by weak, gimmicky primers designed to fight the nasty "Triple Se7en Crud Ring." It is a known issue with the Remington primers and even the weak "Triple Se7en" primers. With small bore rifle and pistol primers, misfires are a probability if not a certainty. The hotter flame front of the Federal Fusion 209 primers (also sold as CCI muzzleloading primers) was designed to at least give ignition with T7 pellets in rugged hunting conditions where the Remington and Winchester Triple Se7en branded primers have become failboat ignition attempts. It is not the primer alone, of course, but the efficiency of the breechplug that combine to give reliable ignition. Of late, the Knight breechplugs gave become filthier and less efficient, invariably splashing primer crud outside the breechplug. Currently, the Thompson interrupted thread breechplugs and the Savage 10ML-II breechplugs give the most reliable ignition with pellets, and about everything else.

Though dirty, and more corrosive than the still corrosive Triple Se7en pellets, Pyrodex pellets are easier to ignite and more reliable with borderline ignition systems. No pellet attempt allows the muzzleloading enthusiast to properly work up a load. Two 50 grain equivalent "preformed" charges tend to be more accurate than three pellets, as a generality. They are useable, but hardly the best of breed.

In the zeal to sell $90 per pound "powders," efficiency, accuracy, and shelf life have all been compromised. Reliability has as well, which is really no option on a hunt. There are quantifiable reasons for all these issues that may real their ugly heads contingent on individual rifle brand and type.

Where some opt to hold their noses and waste money on pellets, there are some recorded severe problems with three pellet loads, particularly Triple Se7en loads. Fracturing and crushing of pellets is a common occurrence, resulting in huge pressure variations and wild accuracy fluctuations. Let's take a look:

Warning: The above graph depicts 150 grain volumetric loading pressure traces measured under laboratory conditions via radial transducers. These loadings that MAY be in excess of manufacturer's recommendations. The highest pressure load combinations depicted here are recommended and touted by many: Knight Rifles, Hornady, Thompson, and others. I obviously do not suggest their use, for equally obvious reasons.

It should become apparent that the average peak pressures generated by 3 ea. 50 grain volume Triple Se7en pellets may be erratic, and perhaps dangerously high. A normal tamping of the sabot and powder (pellet column) can easily generate 40,000 PSI or more. With substantially crushed pellets, the pressures are way, way out of whack as compared to loose powder loads. A propellant so very sensitive to standard loading practices is one to stay away from, in my opinion, for the obvious reasons. A 10,000 PSI jump based on seating a sabot is more than trivial.

This should call into question the peculiar notion that a pellet is a "preformed 50 grain volumetric blackpowder equivalent." Nothing could be further from the truth: it is one of the most infamous whopperdoodles that can be found in muzzleloading today.

True blackpowder in laboratory tests does not begin to breech even 15,000 PSI MAP with reference loads. Yet, the "blackpowder equivalent" in Triple Se7en loads creates more than DOUBLE the peak pressure in the best case scenario, soaring past 275% of the blackpowder reference pressures if the pellets are tamped with the same projectile-to nearly 40,000 PSI. A load that develops more than double the maximum average peak pressure is no "equivalent." In fact, a double pressure load would be characterized as reckless, if not insane, by most reloading manuals. Somehow, this type of nutball "equivalency" gets a free pass in muzzleloading. It shouldn't. Does anyone think that double the pressure "blackpowder equivalent loads" just might help poorly made CVA branded trashcan muzzleloaders fly apart in your hands?

Note that the Triple Se7en FFg loose powder is far more predictable, as is Blackhorn 209 that gives better velocities with lower peak pressure than T7 FFg. The companies that direct you to take "three pellets and call me in the morning" had better have product that is appropriate for 40,000 PSI MAP service levels. In my opinion, many do not.

So, yes, the case is made that pellets can indeed be for dummies, based on cost per shot, crud rings, radically high pressures in 150 grain "preformed charge" configurations, and in the cases of Shockey's / American Pioneer-it is just bad, unsuitable propellant made worse.

Loose powder in not only provided in containers that are less prone to contamination: they are intrinsically more predictable, more reliable, more accurate as well as more economical. Let's just say that loose powder is what savvy muzzleloaders use-- for all the right reasons.


Copyright 2008 by Randy Wakeman. All Rights Reserved.

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