....January 2005 ~~~~ Editor:  Cliff Hanger ~~~~
Gunpowder by Rowdy Yates

Many Cowboy Shooters are drawn by the mystique of shooting Black Powder or one of it’s many substitutes but there is such a variety of Powders to choose from that it is difficult to make a decision of which one to use and how to get started.

Hopefully we can make that decision a bit easier with some background and pertinent information.

In this neck of the woods there are several types of powders that are available. 

The regular black powder would include Goex, Swiss and Shutzen. For Cowboy shooting any one of these will get you started in the game.

Goex has recently provided a new powder called “Cowboy” and so far I am very impressed with it. This powder is recommended for cartridges and front stuffers in amounts less than 40 grains and for shooting the stages in a CAS match this powder provides a clean burn and good power in both the pistol caliber cartridges and in the shotgun. Of course more powder is used in the shotgun but I’m very satisfied with the results. My choice for cap and ball is usually fffg Goex but I’m switching to Cowboy.

The use of any of the regular Black Powders will require a soft lube such as Lyman Black Powder Gold, SPG, or Javalina. There are also many home recipes that may be the fodder for an article for another day.

In general the more lube the better so you will need a bullet design that carries as much as possible.

Hodgden has recently provided a powder called “Triple 7” which has good performance and does not require the use of special lubricants. This powder was developed primarily for the front stuffers used in hunting but in the smaller cowboy calibers (38, 357 etc.) works very well. For the larger CAS calibers (.45 Colt, 44WCF etc.) make sure you go with the ffg granulation.

Another BP substitute is American Pioneer Powder. This powder gives adequate performance and also provides a unique benefit in that no lube of any kind is needed in either cartridges or Cap And Ball use.

APP works well in all aspects of CAS including the larger capacity cartridges of the Plainsman event. (38-55, 45-70 etc.) This powder is probably the least hassle of all and is likely the powder of choice for those looking to put out as little effort as possible and still participating in the Black Powder categories and events.

While this literary tid bit doesn’t even scratch the surface it should be enough to get you started into what some have termed the dark arts.

Rowdy Yates

Wads by Old Scout

Wads; card, plastic, grease, wax, felt, cork, etc.

   The most important single facet of the lead bullet, when searching for accuracy , is the base. The slightest imperfection of the bullet base will have a very pronounced effect on just where that bullet goes on it's trip down range!

The lead bullet, in plain base form, is soft and easily damaged. Upon firing, the very high breach pressure will drive unburned powder grains into the bullet base, distorting its shape. Combustion gases may also leak past the base of the bullet causing some melting or “gas cutting” of the bullet. The latter condition is common to production rifles with poorly designed throats, and may lead to poor accuracy as well as leading.

   Throughout the history of the black powder cartridge rifle it has been common practice to place a disk of some material between the powder charge and the bullet base. In days of old, disks of cardboard, felt and cork , called wads were often used. The term “Wad” may stem from the days of the muzzle loading shotgun, where wads of any handy material were placed between the powder and shot.

   In any event, the use of a wad under the bullet serves to protect the bullet base, and sense most materials will expand some due to breach pressure, helping to seal the throat   reducing gas cutting. The wad, which should be a tight fit in the cartridge case, will also help prevent migration of the bullet lube into the powder charge.

   Black Powder shooters tend to be “do it yourself” folks, and many of us make our own wads. Figure 1 shows the method used most often. The good ole hole Punch & hammer method. Keep the punch sharp by stoning the edge, drive it against a block of wood, and a good supply of wads can be produced with moderate effort. For those that would prefer a more modern approach, figure 2 shows a wad punch that is mount on a reloading press. This device will effortlessly produce wads from most any material you feed it!

   For bullet base protection the wads may be of most any heavy card material. The most commonly used is tablet backing. Some shooters use milk carton. I find this a little thinner than I like, but many shooters use it to good advantage. I like to see wad material range from .025” to .060” thickness. The plastic covers that come on Coffee cans also see some use as wad material. This plastic is called LDPE ( low density poly-ethylene) and is softer than card stock. The LDPE wads expand more during firing than do the card wads, and may be of value in loose throated rifles.

   So far we have talked only of protecting the bullet base, but wads have other uses. One such use is to provide additional lubrication and/or cleaning action. Lube wads take the form of felt soaked in bullet lube, or actual sheets of bullet lube. For many years I purchased old felt hats from Thrift Stores, soaked them in melted lube, and made wads of them. Another approach used by some is to form actual bullet lube into sheets and cut wads of that. I obtain a soft wax ( called Dental Wax ) in 1/16” thick sheets, which I use to good advantage in some arms. 

Figure 1

Figure 2
   When working with the soft wax, or grease wads, and also the greased felt wads, it is necessary to place a good tight card wad on the powder, then the “greasy stuff” and then a thin card wad over the gooey stuff. That last wad is there to prevent the grease wad from sticking to the bullet base. Everything must separate from the bullet at the muzzle. Any wad that sticks to the bullet, even for a few feet, will cause a flier. In the case of the true grease wad, the top card is not necessary. The grease should be squeezed out onto the bore, with nothing left at the muzzle.

   I know of shooters who purchase a deck of playing cards and turn it all into wads. Then place one on either side of their lube wads. I found a supply of hard card material that is .009” thick, and makes excellent wads for use with my wax or greased felt wads ( one on either side ). For my “standard” wad I use a material that looks like tablet backing but is .045” thick. This is the separator used in wine cases. Being a Wino by nature, I have a good supply of this material! 

   I will take up primer wads and shotgun wads another time.

Old Scout

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