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Thread: How much powder is too much?

  1. #1

    Default How much powder is too much?

    With all of the new “Magnum” muzzle loaders that are out their now, and all touting to handle loads up to 150 grains, at what point do you say uncle? My favorite front stuffer is a White model super 91 that I have up dated with 97 ramrod holder and fiber line sights. This muzzy just loves to digest the 460 grain No Excuse conical bullets.

    A few years back I decided to give Knight a try and ordered a 26 inch stainless steel “Bighorn” in 50 caliber. My hunting buddy had bought one and was getting some phenomenal result with his muzzy using sabots and 260 grain Hornaday pistol bullets. I have never had good luck with sabot and pistol bullets but I decided to give it a try.

    His best load was shooting a respectable group with 120 grains of black powder. When I loaded mine up with the same load, I had horrible results. My target of choice is a pizza box with a three inch orange dot at sixty yards. After several shots I could see that this load was going no where fast and tried several different load and bullet combinations. The best grouping was with a Cape Buffalo 480 grain & sabot and 90 grains of black powder fff. I tried some “Powerbelts” and had marginal results with these bullets also. It just was not happening for me at those increased powder charges.

    On another shooting session in the snow we started shooting our muzzies with our favorite loads, and I noticed that my buddies Knight “Bighorn” was leaving smoldering unburned powder all over the snow.... I asked him what was up with that and he told me that he had changed nothing in his regime. As I would shoot with my loads, we would find nothing on the snow, however my loads were less than 100 grains. From that shooting session we learned that black powder and substitutes can and do reach a point of diminishing returns. We found that on average that anything over 110 grains of powder was leaving un burned powder on the snow. We gained about 5 grains with fff powders over other sizes but it was not significant to make a big difference to us.

    For awhile we thought that pellets where the answer to increased charges, because we never seen the unburned powder residual on the snow. On one cold shoot we walked up to the target and found a 1/4 unburnt Pyrodex pellet was stuck in the bottom part of the box. From that point on I am convinced that somewhere around 110 to 115 grains of powder are the magic numbers to say that you are just blowing smoke out the tailpipe.

    Disclaimers to my observations are that in no way can I tell you that our test were scientifically controlled and that we have not tested at all temperatures, with all powders and substitutes or ignition systems and barrel lengths. With that said I will still say that in my humble opinion, in the vast majority of muzzle loaders, if you are using more than 115 grains of powder or equivalents, you are just producing nothing more than extra smoke.....

    Bigmnt

  2. #2

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    Interesting read, Bigmnt!

    I've always respected the manufacturer's recommendations on max loads safety-wise, but within that limit there always seems to be something better waiting. Unburned powder is a better measure of max for me, and it usually starts to appear way below recommended max. Lots of variables contribute to when it starts to appear.

    I've got a Knight "carbine," an older short-barreled 54 that I've tested quite a bit. Due to the shorter barrel it starts leaving unburned powder long before I get to "max." I haven't chronied loads with it recently so I don't remember the numbers, but there was virtually no gain in velocity for adding powder after the unburned stuff started to appear, but the recoil sure went up. In general terms my own max is somewhere around 100 grains of powder with that short barrel.

    That rifle only likes heavier bullets in sabots, with the 300 grain Speer being best of the pistol bullets. Lighter bullets really open up the groups. Heavy conicals without sabots work well, provided I put a lubed felt wad between bullet and powder. BTW- That 300 grain Speer will keep all shots touching at 50 yards and hover between 1.5 and 2" at 100 yards when I do my part. Light lead conicals like the Lee 300 grain REAL won't do 6" at 100 yards, while the 380 grain REAL will cut that in half. Move up over 400 grains with any lead conical and groups improve even more. Surprisingly, that same rifle will touch PRB's together at 50 yards w/ 50 grains of FFF or Pyro P. Nice small game load. Heavy PRB loads don't fare well enough for big game hunting.

    I mentioned variables. With heavier bullets, it takes more powder to start getting unburned, I'm guessing due to the increased resistance and slowed dwell time of the bullet. As you would expect, I can go quite a bit higher before getting unburned using my sidelocks with their longer barrels. The manufacturers may list lower maxes, but they generally do burn everything at their max. I actually chrony a lot more velocity from my 54 Lyman GPR (32" barrel) than I can with that short Knight. Same with a 50 cal GPR and my 26" Knight 50. I'm guessing that in spite of actions rated for more pressure, the inlines need that extra pressure and unburned powder to overcome their shorter barrels.

    There's a new generation of Powerbelts around called Platinum, and for good reason. If you're shooting the older ones, look carefully at the edges of the holes in a target on any fliers. It's going to be ragged with "daisy petals" of paper sticking back into the hole. That's cuzz the bullet didn't turn loose of the plastic skirt. One in three do that on average with any of the 54 cals, usually moving as much as 6 or 8 inches out of the group at 100 yards. 50 cals aren't so bad, but they still turn up once in 5 or 6 shots in both my 50's. It only seems to get worse as charges go up, too.

    There's another problem with the older ones too, especially the pure lead ones. My brother-in-law got into a huge fracas with the Powerbelt folks over eratic accuracy, and ended up being friends and doing testing on their range and independently. Turns out with max charges especially, the old style bullets would sometimes deform (set back) on firing causing enough changes for the bullets to drag more and shoot lots low at 100 yards, as they explained it.

    All that has added up to the new Platinum line. Haven't tried them myself yet, having been too burned by the originals. Once I shoot up what I have of those (at stumps and rocks, not flesh), I might try the Platinums. I gotta say though, that one single flier will make me distrust them. That's as much of a second chance they're going to get, after I felt so ripped off by the old ones.

    I've compared pellets and loose powder quite a bit. In my experience when using #11 caps pellets are fine out of a new box, but misfires go up rapidly as the box ages- in as little as a week. Musket caps help but aren't completely reliable, and misfires are almost non-existant with 209's. For me that confirms that the pellets age and that anything less that a 209 might not ignite them well.

    I get much better accuracy with all primers when using loose powder, as well as more reliable ignition when using #11's or musket caps. When my current stock of 50 and 54 cal pellets expires, I probably won't replace it.

  3. #3

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    For a 50 cal. don't use more than 100 grains with a cap, if using a 209 primer you can shoot upto 150 grains. The 209 will add 100+ feet/sec by itself, its way more firepower than a cap and that helps ignite the load.
    my .02 worth
    Frank
    Alaska Wildrose Charters and Cabins
    www.wildroselodge.com

  4. #4
    Member alaska bush man's Avatar
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    Thumbs up Load

    Some good advice from others.

    For me I have a Knight MK 85 predator in 50 cal and shoot loose 777 2F at 90 grains by volume. I use the great 300 gr Barnes Expander.....and 209 primers sweet little rifle. I try to keep all my shots 100 yards or less.

    Never had any luck with the powerbelts........the reliable 300gr hornady XTP Mag .452 in the MMP sabot is another good load.
    Alaska

  5. #5
    Member #1duck's Avatar
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    If you're seeing residule powder etc.. left on the snow its a pretty good sign that your using to much powder even if your shooting under the manufacturers maximum load. The barrel might be able to handle that much powder but it isnt all getting burnt up. This will probably affect accuracy also because its not burning the same amount of powder with every shot.

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    Any of you guys shoot the Hornady Great Plains bullets in their .50 cals on any big game, especially bears? I'm going to be using these bullets in my Cabelas Hawkens .50 carbine this spring for black bears over bait. I'd love to whack a black bear and moose with this setup this year.
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  7. #7

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    I haven't shot game other than deer with them in 50, but they're the most accurate connicals in my two and in most of my friends' guns. My full version of the Cabelas hawken is a standout with them.

    I have whacked an elk as well as several deer with the 54 cal version. Based on what I saw with that elk especially, as well as the various deer, I'd have no qualms about performance on black bears.

    All that is based upon my assumption that your rifle will really like the bullet. Here's an accuracy tip that you might really appreciate:

    Put a lubricated felt wad between the bullet and your powder. I use the commercial ones pretreated with Wonderlube. They're cheap, and man, do they tighten up your groups.

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    BrownBear,

    I'll give that a shot! Thanks for the tip. At what powder charge were you seeing your best accuracy?

  9. #9
    Member alaska bush man's Avatar
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    Thumbs up Matt

    The 2F Select Loose use 110 grains and the 54 cal Barnes 325 gr Expander.............and CCI Mag Primers or 100grains of the new 2F 777.......all loads by volume in the MK 85 in 45 cal........do not lube the bore with sabots......clean between shots with Windex.

    With the No:11 Flame Flower nipple use Loose powder not pellets.
    Alaska

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    Jeff,

    Thanks a lot! Cool deal. You been shooting that .338 much? What bullets you shooting in it now?

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    Smile For what it's worth. . .

    When I was a kid (I'm 66), a neighbor gave me a 1845 (?), .69 caliber Springfield in good condition except that the last foot or so of the barrel was bent. My dad, a tool-maker, took it to the shop, cut the barrel off to about 28" and cleaned it up. I took it to my grandfather to learn how to shoot it.

    Grandpa, who used to hunt seals on the ice in Newfoundland with a muzzle loader as a boy, had me cut the ramrod off so that when dropped down an empty barrel, it was flush with the end of the barrel. He instructed me to put in the powder, a wad of oakum, and then whatever projectile.

    According to grandpa, in order to determine the right load, one would load one-finger of shot—the ramrod protrudes one finger-width above the barrel—and shoot the gun over fresh snow or white paper. If there's no residue, load two fingers of powder and shoot again, repeating the process with additional "fingers" of ramrod above the barrel until you see unburned powder on the snow or paper.

    At that point, you've reached the maximum load for the gun. . . more powder is simply pushed out the barrel unburned. According to grandpa, black powder burns progressively as the rear portion of the charge ignites and begins pushing the load forward.

    I used the gun for years as a shotgun but did buy an old adjustable powder flask to make loading easier. Still have it. . .

  12. #12

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    Cool Marcus! I'ts great to have guns with such a history. Have you shot it recently? Might be kind of a hoot to take it out for snowshoes, grouse or ptarmigan. I've got my granddad's 12 gauge double (nothing fancy, just a poor man's Stevens). He passed it on to my dad, who passed it on to me. I'm cleaning it up to pass on to my daughter for eventual use by my granddaughter. Sure feels good to hunt with that thing once in a while.

    I use the "shortened ramrod" principle by taking a turn of masking tape around a ramrod any time I need to mark it. In my case it's a guard against forgetting the powder or failing to seat a load deep enough. If the tape's not showing, something isn't right. If it's not down flush against the muzzle, I've got other problems. Once I settle down to a standard load for a gun, the tape is replaced with a small scratch in the same place.

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    I'm not sure I've met anyone that has experienced max accuracy at max rated powder charges. When I first started with my inline (TC Black Diamond) I was all fired up to use it in shotgun country for whitetails to get that 100 to 150 range dialed in instead of the paltry 75 my slug gun dealt. I thought the 150 was the way to get the trajectory but in the end, between my flinch (god that thing whupped) and poor combustion, I sprayed lead all over the place. I used 777 pellets and dropped back to 100 grains instead of 150 and instantly had 2" at 100 and around 4" at 150. That was way better than expected so I've stayed there. I normally shoot sabots with hand cast pistol bullets but am looking for a meaner round for potential moose hunting....suggestions?

    Oh, and I tried the powerbelts too.....bad ju ju. Speer's threw well though.

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