Opinion by Randy Wakeman
the vast majority of states in this country, nitrocellulose based
smokeless powder is a legal propellant in muzzleloaders designed
for its use. Any state that investigates the matter honestly and
forthrightly will quickly come to the realization that if they allow
Pyrodex, American Pioneer, Triple Se7en, or flammable pellets or
sticks they are already allowing smokeless propellants as classified
by the United States Department of Transportation (Class 1.3 hazardous
Only marketing tactics
can suggest that Pyrodex, Triple Se7en, American Pioneer, and other
synthetic replacements are something OTHER than smokeless powder. Pyrodex
was long ago marketed as a "smokeless propellant for muzzleloaders"
right on every bottle. It was then, and it is now. Additionally, the
toxicity of Pyrodex is also documented. Part of the raw materials that
goes into its manufacture are the bags of "dicyanamide". The
large bright red warning labels on all sides of the bags say "avoid
heat or flame, when heated to decomposition emits highly toxic fumes
The latest trend in muzzleloading marketing is "sulfurless blackpowder
replacements." Those include BlackMag3, American Pioneer, and Hodgdon's
Triple Se7en. They have absolutely nothing chemically in common with
blackpowder, they are not at all similar in performance, and they are
also not equivalent in weight. They are provably, clearly, not
blackpowder equivalents chemically, by velocity, weight, residue, or
by any rational basis. All are used as reloading powders for modern
cartridges and shotshells in addition to muzzleloading use. Their "fuel
base" can be ascorbic acid, gluconic acid salts, and a variety
of additives to burn hotter, cleaner, and more efficiently than blackpowder.
It is bizarre to
suggest that these, the most recent propellants used in muzzleloading
are in any way "primitive" compared to nitrocellulose based
Accurate Arms 5744 that has been around for a lot longer-- and is cleaner,
safer to handle use, and store than any of these "OTHER" far
newer sulfurless propellants. Obviously, you need to load your muzzleloader
in accordance with the respective gun manufacturer's rules-- with any
of these propellants. To think that for one Mexican minute that gluconic
acid salts could possibly be ethically given legislative preference
over a recommended nitrocellulose based propellant seems like a sick
joke of some sort. Maybe some one had a bad experience with Ping-Pong
balls (nitrocellulose) or film (nitrocellulose) as a child?
Muzzleloading is more popular than ever, and there is only one reason
these silly attitudes while dwindling, still persist.
If anyone has any
doubt about the purpose of Triple Seven, here's a direct quote from
the Hodgdon website that makes it quite clear:
If I use equal volumes of blackpowder and Triple Seven, will there be
a difference in performance?
Triple Seven is a high energy propellant designed to provide the highest
velocity possible out of modern muzzleloading rifles. Triple Seven will
provide the shooter with higher velocity, flatter trajectory and more
down range energy when compared to all other muzzleloading propellants.
See Loading Notes for more information."
That should end
the "blackpowder equivalent theory," in the words of Hodgdon
Powder Company: "HIGHEST VELOCITY POSSIBLE."
When compared to "ALL OTHER MUZZLELOADING PROPELLANTS".
It is right on the Hodgdon Triple Se7en "FAQ" page. Folks
might get a little confused at the reports that "Triple Se7en is
hopped up with a little Nitro." Well, that is the case according
to the United State's most respected forensic lab dealing with bomb
residue identification. The lab analyzed Triple Se7en, and found what
other chemists already had suspected: sodium dinitrobenzoate sulfonate.
To ship sodium dinitrobenzoate sulfonate as a dry powder you must ship
it as an explosive. It is sensitive to impact and friction. Made into
a paste with water, 20% water, it can then ship as a flammable solid--
see the D.O.T. for details. It is well-documented that the "dinitros"
are used in low explosives while "trinitros" are employed
in high explosives. Likely you have already guessed the most well-known
of these, "TNT"-- or, trinitrotoluene.
It is all money
and marketing, for a substance in a bottle labeled as a "muzzleloading
propellant" can bring $25 or $30 a pound. Well more than double
what Accurate Arms 5744 can be had for (and similar propellants),
and you get double the amount of shots from a common propellant like
5744. Here's an eye-opener: Triple Se7en pellets can cost upwards of
$25 a box of 100 pellets. For the popular "3 pellet loads,"
that is seventy-five cents (or more) per shot. You can find Accurate
Arms 5744 for $17 a pound. That is good for over 160 shots-- less than
eleven cents a shot. This is one sweet deal for pellet sellers-- they
can get 700% more cash out of your pocket with every shot in a special
"muzzleloading propellant" labeled box with every shot. If
you guessing that pellets are cheap to make, you are guessing correctly.
And, if you are guessing that most of that extra seventy cents a shot
or more that it costs you is spelled "profit"-- I believe
you are on the right track again. That prints a lot of "blackpowder
replacement" or "the muzzleloading propellant" labels.
It is good marketing, it is smart business, it is the American way.
But, if you like to shoot, if you enjoy practice, and you shoot a lot--
well, pellet burning can empty your wallet faster than a Park Avenue
buy tags, they don't use "recommended" equipment, and
they aren't all that concerned about seasons or safety. Buicks take
more deer than muzzleloading hunters in my area. The slaughter of complete
deer herds from chronic wasting disease problems, the piles of deer
taken for crop damage reasons across this country, and the insurance
companies that beg for more deer to be killed because of all the deer
/ car collisions are just daily reality in many places.
doesn't take savvy Game Departments long to understand that there are
better things to do than worry about whether a tax-paying hunter is
burning a pile of synthetic pellets to fill his tag, or shoots cleaner,
safer, more economical nitrocellulose based propellants to accomplish
the same goal, at the same ranges. I'm proud that my home state of Illinois
has clearly, concisely changed their regulations this year, effective
6/24/2005 to read:
Only black powder or a "black powder substitute" such as Pyrodex
may be used. Modern smokeless powders (nitrocellulose-based) are an
approved blackpowder substitute only in muzzleloading firearms that
are specifically designed for their use.
It was only a year
and a half or so ago that neighboring state Indiana had a public discussion
of moving to outlaw smokeless powder, the results being recorded at
. The peculiar motivation for that little stunt would read a bit like
a novel, but it was figuratively and literally shot down in a hurry.
The link is placed here so those who wish to can read the document in
its entirety, and in context. I find Indiana particularly significant,
as that is where the modern muzzleloading era in the United States was
born, in 1939. One of the more reasoned comments from this little discussion
is quoted here:
I am writing
regarding the proposed ban on the use of smokeless powder muzzleloaders
for deer hunting here in Indiana. I am a graduate of Purdue, an honors
graduate of the Indiana Law Enforcement Academy, a Lieutenant on the
Madison County Sheriff's Dept., a certified firearms instructor, and
a SWAT member/trainer. I am telling you this because I want you to know
that I am educated and very familiar with firearms. I have also been
hunting since I was 13 years old, about 22 years. I feel that I am qualified
to speak about this issue because I have hunted deer with a muzzleloader
for years, and a smokeless muzzleloader since 2000. I also am in a profession
where I have had the opportunity to investigate hunting "accidents."
muzzleloader, with the load I hunt with is 40 grains of 5744 with a
250 grain bullet that kills deer very swiftly, and humanely. My best
friend shoots 150 grains of triple 7 and the same bullet. Both of our
muzzleloaders are sighted in up to 150 yards. Could mine shoot 200,
probably. Could his shoot 200, probably. I hunt strictly with my muzzleloader
because I value the accuracy and the ability to harvest a deer humanely
and limit the number of wounded animals, but what if I hunted with a
legal handgun. Lets say I'm shooting a 7mm Magi. in a bull barrel pistol
on November 15, 2003, when thousands and thousands of hunters are in
the Indiana woods. It is perfectly legal to shoot this pistol utilizing
a center-fire rifle cartridge and there is no talk of banning it, that
I can see, and no reason to either. I am sure the IDNR would not allow
the weapon to be used, especially during the most heavily hunted portion
of the Indiana deer season if it was dangerous or had excessive range.
the proposed ban becomes the rule, I will be unable to hunt with my
smokeless rifle, the safest production muzzleloader made. Many of the
smokeless powder weapons are only used by hunters during the muzzleloader
season, when relatively few hunters are in the woods, because they use
an auto-loading shotgun or handgun during firearms season. Which brings
me to my next point, excess projectile range contributes to nearly no
hunting accidents. I have never investigated a hunting "accident"
that occurred because of excess range. Yes, hunting "accidents"
occur but they are usually from negligent handling of a firearm. The
victim is usually the hunter himself dropping a weapon or pulling a
weapon into a tree when it fires due to negligence. Another frequent
type of hunting "accident" is when a hunter mistakenly shoots
another hunter moving through the woods. These accidents could be long
range, but usually aren't. As you probably know, an archer shot another
archer in the leg here in Indiana about three weeks ago.
causes "accidents", and it's not range of projectile, it is
I enjoy muzzleloading, modern muzzleloading. I have nothing against
primitive type muzzleloaders, I love to go to Friendship and watch the
competitors, but I don't have knowledge to shoot those rifles, and quite
frankly, don't want to clean up black powder rifles, that is the main
reason I went to smokeless. The sport of muzzleloading is evolving rapidly.
To single out smokeless powder when "black powder substitutes"
as they are loosely referred to are competing directly with smokeless
and can perform as well, or nearly as well. Five years ago there was
pyrodex, now there are many "black powder substitutes" legal
in Indiana. Who decides which of these substitutes are legal? If the
industry calls them a "black powder substitute" is that good
enough? There will be more of these substitutes to come, will they all
be legal as long as they smoke, even when they outperform smokeless?
All of these forms
of gunpowder burn, producing a subsonic deflagration wave rather than
the supersonic detonation wave that high explosives can produce. This
reduces peak pressures in a gun, but makes it less mining or blasting
applications. However, black powder was, for a few centuries, the only
blasting agent available.
has meant black powder, but modern references mean smokeless powder
when referring to small arms propellants, as it is so common. Sulfurless
blackpowder substitutes, a bit sadly, are typically defined only by
those who sell the stuff. The huge advantage of propellant such as Accurate
Arms has is that it is non-hygroscopic and non-corrosive. Blackpowder
fouling exhibits both of these poor properties
really isn't much mysterious about nitrocellulose lower smoke muzzleloading
in a rifle designed for it, whether you are shooting a Savage 10ML-II,
an SMI model, or a New Ultra Light Arms frontloader. The reason most
people choose the smokeless is that is doesn't stink, it isn't messy,
it is economical, it does not corrode your equipment, you can see what
you are shooting at, and you don't have to clean your gun every time
you shoot it. It is just plain more fun.
the by now hoary so-called modern vs. traditional debate, Tony Knight
summed things up well, in a recent interview published in the American
I respect someone's choice to stay traditional, but the average hunter
wants to use the most modern equipment that's easy to use. He does not
have a lot of time to practice, so I think we are just following the
path that the compound bow set some 30 years ago. I think we all ought
to get together: I respect the man who wants to be traditional, but
he should also respect me for wanting to be modern. What sets us [all
muzzleloaders] apart, is the fact that we have one shot and we are handloaders
in the field. We are handicapped with one shot when it comes to comparing
us with general firearms. Even an archer can shoot several arrows before
we can get a second shot ready to go. It's for that reason we have a
separate season. Bless the hearts of those traditionalists because they
started the [special muzzleloading] seasons, but now it's expanded,
and to do this you have to welcome everyone. We are following the same
course that compound bows did.You would be hard-pressed to find a hunting
household in this nation that does not have a compound bow in it. I
think the same thing for muzzleloading-- if we want it to grow, we have
to accept everything."
July, 2005 by Randy Wakeman