Adventures in Black Powder Reloading by
I shoot 45 Colt in my Marlin and Uberti 73, and
I wanted to try that Black Powder. How hard could it be? You don’t
even need to measure it, just be sure you have the cases full, right?
Loading up some of my standard rounds, the only
change being the cases were filled with FFg black powder rather that the
usual 5 grains of Tite Group, I was off to the range. To make a long and
painful story mercifully short, the barrel rifling fouled to the point
of inaccuracy within twenty shots and the action would become gritty and
stiff to operate in about ten shots. The extracted cases were blackened
and sooty inside and out. Was it that the 45 Colt cartridge was just not
something to be used with black powder? Well no, the 45 Colt cartridge
originally came out in black powder, it is just that it was a pistol cartridge.
The cartridge designed for use in a rifle, the 44-40, was different in
some subtle, but very important ways.
Never the less, I wanted to try black powder in
the 45 Colt rifles I had and started down the list of general accepted
Starting with the problem of barrel rifling fouling,
it was clear the texts weren’t kidding when they pointed out that when
black powder burns it leaves behind one half of it’s original weight in
ash. Ash that had to be taken seriously, kept soft and moved out of the
Black powder lube is a known item and can be concocted
or purchased. I baked my standard smokeless lubed bullets on a tray lined
with paper towels in the oven to remove the smokeless lube, judging that
less messy than boiling them in water. I tried the pan lube method and
that worked. In the end, I just used a standard smokeless lubed bullet
and a hard wax “cookie”, made by using an empty brass case as a “cookie”
cutter, between the bullet and the powder. This seemed the simplest solution
and gave me the triple benefits of, a reduced load of black powder, plenty
of lube, the use of a standard bullet.
Dealing with the fouling of the mechanisms of the
rifle was a more enduring and mysterious problem. Clearly the cases
were not sealing the chamber; gas and ash were getting back into the works.
The conventional wisdom here was to use, a tighter crimp and/or, a heavier
bullet, hoping the increased pressure would expand the brass and get a
better seal. Magnum primers and fffg powder were used looking for
better ignition and a faster and more complete burn. Of these changes,
the use of fffg powder was the only one adopted. I was having very little
I reconsidered the Starline brass cases I was using.
Nicely made, with a good sized extraction groove, tuff and long lasting,
perhaps it was their very strength that was working against me. Looking
at some 44-40 brass, it was defiantly thinner at the mouth; you could flex
it with your fingers.
I made up some test rounds on my press. The 44-40
brass went through the full length resize just fine, but it did look a
little odd expanded for the bullet and with case mouth belled. Bullet seated
and crimped, a completed round looked starved or slightly wasp waisted
between the bullet and base. By the second firing the cases were “fire
formed” to 45 colt exterior dimensions but with the thin, more flexible
44-40 brass. This cured my fouling problems. My black powder 44-40 brass
ejected cleaner than my 45 colt brass in smokeless from the same rifle.
I can now shoot an 8 stage match without swabbing
the bore or cleaning the action. Using the 45 colt brass for smokeless
and the 44-40 brass for black powder it is easy to tell them apart.
I enjoyed this little project. I didn’t come
up with any new ideas, and was helped with advise from experts I respect
and admire and was finally able to bring my own understanding in line with
the state of the art, of 150 years ago.