Choosing an Accurate Black Powder:

CHOOSING BLACK POWDERS, By Dick Trenk, (Jan 2004)

The following report is meant to be a guide to both new and experienced BP shooters. There is no intention to discredit any powder mfr. or seller but solely to provide shooters with some badly needed information to help them purchase BP.

How to evaluate a powder:

Many will say that they seem to get good accuracy or group size at some short distance like 100 yards or so. Others will only praise a powder if it gives minute of angle groups at certain distances. Others like a powder which is middle of the road and perhaps burns with less fouling. You can set you own standards for whatever you feel separates powders from one another.

In reading the few responses posted by some shooters I see no mention of the chronograph being used to reveal if a powder is capable of producing a small extreme spread in a LONG STRING of shots. I am talking 10 shot string as a min. amount of shots. As an example, if you fired 10 shots and the high/low speeds was between say 1150 fps and 1165 fps giving an ES of 15 fps, this tells me two things.

1. You load your ammo pretty damn well and must be a careful loader using the proper methods and materials with all aspects of loading.

2. You have a powder which is capable of minute of angle accuracy for a long string of shots. (your rifle may not be a MoA gun).

Many powders can produce a seemingly good group but when going for score on a paper target these same powders seem to make an unexpected flier outside the normal group size even though your aiming was consistently good. It is unclear why this really happens but powder is a likely culprit, along with other factors.

If you chrono your well-made loads and found 10 shots ran from 1150 fps to say 1180 fps (or higher) this is a powder (or loading method) which is not going to win many matches against people using better powder or better bench work. Good grade BP should always be able to produce single digit extreme spread muzzle velocity figures.

Swiss Brand of the correct grain size has established itself as the best BP in the world market...so far. It costs much more, but then the best of anything usually costs more. Not everyone needs such accurate powder.

To hit a deer at say 100 yards, most average powders will get that job done just fine. To fire a great score on a paper target, or knock down turkeys and rams in silhouette, is going to require the best powder as well as best loading and shooting skills. Many advanced BP shooters know how to work up a load for their particular gun using a mediocre rated powder, and they obtain MoA accuracy and win matches with that powder...but it does take lots of time developing such a load and starting with the better class of powders gives you a better chance to end up with a MoA load.

Powder mfrs. have to obtain high quality charcoal, sulphur, and nitrate materials. Sometimes they simply cannot get what they want at an affordable price. Also, the grinding and milling process machinery varies in different powder mfrs. plants and this also affects the final quality of powder coming out the door. As a result, black powder cans are marked with “Lot numbers” which tell the date and sometimes even the work shift which finished that powder.

Below, I am giving what information I have obtained from various reliable sources and you can use this information when deciding what BP to purchase.

Once you determine a certain powder (and date lot) which satisfies you, I suggest buying at least a case quantity in order to have several years supply. When you run out, the next purchase will not be that old lot and you can expect to have to start the load development work all over again.

Swiss Brand of any date is known to be the very best for high velocity and low ES variations. One of the main reasons for this powder being so good is their use of “Alder” wood to make their charcoal. Even so, when you buy the next case of powder there will be a small variation from the former lot. With Swiss, this may be so small as not to require any change in your load process.

Goex made after Sept. 2002 (FFFg) and Goex made after October 2002 (FFg and Ctg Grade)are found to be very accurate powders capable of MoA accuracy. They do not equal the speed of Swiss but that speed is NOT usually needed in match competition or even hunting with heavy bullets.

Prior Goex is not considered too good unless you found some original Moosic, PA powder which was all very good. Elephant powders from lot 25/99 onwards are considered very accurate and almost as fast as the Goex of 2002 months, but faster and better than Goex of the prior years (ex. Moosic).

In 2005 Goex introduced a new line of powders call "Goex Express." These powders have a higher retail price because Goex gives the ingredients additional milling time.

Compared to the standard Goex powders, the Express powder has a little more muzzle velocity and an improvement in the amount and type of barrel fouling produced. Many shooters will obtain better accuracy in a long match string when using the Express powder.

KIK was first imported by GOEX in May 2000 and packed in tin cans and was very erratic. A new batch from approx. June 2003 was imported by another company (not GOEX) has proved to be a better powder but not in the most accurate class. This powder will be found in tin cans but without the GOEX name on the label. Best to buy a pound and test before committing to a case purchase.

WANO was a powder which proved very poor in the original 1992 importation. A lot of that original powder remains unsold and likely to appear on the market at times. However, they have a new blend of WANO which came in 1999 via the Luna Corp. and which has proved to be only a fair powder below Swiss quality and lots of that is seen on the market as well.

Finally in March of 2003, WANO started shipments of their really improved powders. This later WANO does have charcoal made from the Alder tree wood. Reports are that this is giving good accuracy at moderate speeds. The Graf and Sons Schuetzen brand offered since March of 2003 powder is the new WANO. The same Schuetzen named powder is also offered with that name via several online dealers such as Schuetzen Powder Co. of Arlington TX at: www.schuetzenpowder.com

Any other BP brands are of suspect quality and accuracy and if they were really turning in good results they would be well publicized on message boards. The Chinese powder sometimes seen bearing the “Dragon” name or some other name, seems to be little more than fireworks powders and not of use in serious target work but perhaps good enough for close range shooting.

Unfortunately the HazMat shipping fees make it impractical to buy one pound for testing so unless you gang up with several shooters you have to buy in 25 lb. case lots to justify the HazMat cost plus shipping costs. Best to buy at a gun show or visit dealers in person after phoning to see what they have.

BP substitutes are considered poor compared to a "good" BP. Pyrodex works reasonably well but is not match grade. The 777 is almost as fast as Swiss but again, cannot produce reliable MV without lots of variations, making it non-match grade but good for hunting loads. Both have a bad potential for corrosiveness if not cleaned properly and fairly quickly after shooting. Also, both are difficult to ignite with percussion caps or flintlock systems. These two Hodgdon powders are better suited to use in modern made “in-line” muzzle loaders where powerful musket caps are used.

Other substitutes are in general a pure waste of money, with poor accuracy, high corrosiveness and short storage life...etc. All these remarks are subject to revisions and corrections. It is what I know and have picked up over the years and it is what I advise our customers who ask. While my remarks may offend some people I think the newbies need to hear these comments and then at least be aware of some of the opinions and facts which are shared on these many BPCR boards.