Myth: Blackhorn 209 Will Not Ignite in an Electra

There’s a lot of information on the Internet about Blackhorn 209 not firing in an Electra. I’m going to (sort of) dispel that myth.

Today I tried an experiment. Blackhorn 209 has a high igniting temperature – so high that the spark that will ignite everything else won’t ignite Blackhorn 209, or so goes the theory.

So I hit the range with the following speed loaders:

  • 6 speed loaders loaded with 10 grains of FFFG 777
  • 3 speed loaders loaded with 80 grains of Blackhorn 209
  • 3 speed loaders loaded with 90 grains of Blackhorn 209
  • 3 speed loaders loaded with 100 grains of FFG 777
  • No primers, because it’s electronic!

Weather was overcast with the wind 10mph in my face.

I was shooting at 50 yards from a lead sled and ran a wet patch followed by a dry patch after every shot.

For the first group (middle diamond), I did the following:

  1. Load 10 grains of FFFG 777
  2. Load 80 grains of Blackhorn 209
  3. Seat Hornady SST 250 bullet (red sabot)
  4. Wet patch, turn over, run it through again
  5. Dry patch
  6. Repeat steps 1-5

Doing this Blackhorn 209 successfully fired every time.

For the second group (lower left circle), I did the following:

  1. Load 10 grains of FFFG 777
  2. Load 90 grains of Blackhorn 209
  3. Seat Hornady SST 250 bullet (red sabot)
  4. Wet patch, turn over, run it through again
  5. Dry patch
  6. Repeat steps 1-5

Doing this Blackhorn 209 successfully fired every time.

For the third group (lower right circle) I did the following:

  1. Load 100 grains of FFG 777
  2. Seat Hornady SST 250 bullet (red sabot)
  3. Wet patch, turn over, run it through again
  4. Dry patch
  5. Repeat steps 1-4

By far the straight up 777 was the best group, putting two bullets in the same hole. However, I now know I CAN use Blackhorn 209 in the Electra (with a little help from our friends at Hodgdon)

Keep in mind I never had amazing accuracy from the Hornady’s out of this gun. The TC 200 Shockwaves have given me the best groups so far but more experimentation is needed, both on the bullet side and on the powder side.

Next time out I’m going to execute the following test on the Electra:

Using 260 grain Harvester Scorpion PT Gold

  • 70 grains of Blackhorn 209 (just to make sure the myth isn’t a myth)
  • 5 grains of FFFG 777 and 80 grains of Blackhorn 209
  • 5 grains of FFFG 777 and 90 grains of Blackhorn 209
  • 5 grains of FFFG 777 and 100 grains of Blackhorn 209
  • 90 grains FFG 777
  • 100 grains FFG 777
  • 110 grains FFG 777

And compare to my baseline load:

  • 110 grains of FFG 777 and TC 200 grain Shockwaves

This and future groups and loads will be available on the Muzzy Bio page.

Accessories!

As you get started in muzzleloading you’ll need to get plenty of accessories. Unlike shooting a centerfire rifle muzzleloaders require a lot of  “stuff” to do it right. But all that stuff is what makes it so much fun! If you’re going out to buy your first muzzy the “what to buy” can be daunting. Do you listen to the pimple-faced kid behind the counter that’s never smelled that sweet smell of sulfer before? Heck no! Here’s your list to help you avoid buying junk you don’t need and to get you started off on the right foot.

Powder Measure ($10-$15) – A powder measure is necessary for measuring out the grains of powder. Most go in 10 grain increments up to 150 grains. The better ones have a funnel that doubles as a leveling device. Do NOT compact the powder. Just like measuring flour.

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Flask ($10-$20)- A flask is an intermediary device between the powder jug and the powder measure. It has a spout so you can control the amount of powder going into the measure.

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Powder Funnel ($4)- A powder funnel goes on the end of the powder jug so you don’t spill the powder going into the flask.

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Speed Loaders ($0.88 – $8)- Speed loaders allow you to pre-measure several powder charges prior to hitting the range or the field. It’s best to measure them at home that way you don’t waste valuable range time measuring powder. I generally go to the range with 15-20 pre-measured speed loaders, depending on what I plan to accomplish. I found a great deal on .45 cal speed loaders at Cabela’s – $0.88 for a pack of 3. Regular price is $5.99 for a 3 pack. While I shoot a .50 I only use them for powder and a .45 speed loader holds 150 grains of powder. Score!

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Range Rod ($15-$45) – The ramrods that come with a muzzy typically suck. They’re short and don’t have handles. They are basically meant for field use. Using a range rod to at least clean the barrel makes life much easier as they have a decent handle and are much longer. You can use the rod from your cleaning kit for this if you choose. There are some high quality range rods out there, including some with a handle that spins so it follows the rifling. You get what you pay for so be mindful of your purchase.

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Muzzleloader Cleaning Kit ($30) – I like this kit from Cabelas. It contains all the essentials: Cleaning rod, breech plug lube, a few patches, a .50 cal wire brush, .45 cal wire brush, and cleaning jags.

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Spin Jag ($18) – A spin jag attaches to the end of your ramrod and twists with the bullet or patch as it is pushed down the barrel. This allows the sabot to have the rifling cut into it so it follows the same path out, resulting in a more accurate bullet. And since you’re not pushing against the rifling but with it, it makes for easier loading.

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Tool Box ($14 – $20) – You’re going to need some place to put all your supplies. A possibles bag is only good enough for out in the field. When you hit the range, you need a tool box big enough to handle everything. Try to find one deep enough to hold a jug of powder and compartments for bullets, allen wrenches, jags, etc. I have a 23″ Stanley I picked up at Wal-Mart for $16.00.

2.5″ Round Cotton Patches ($12 for 250) – The touch, the feel of cotton. Nothing beats it for soaking up propellant residue. Go down the black powder aisle of a sporting goods store and most have 2″ patches. Those are far too small for a .50 cal rifle. Find some good 2.5″ round cotton patches.

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Ballistol ($14) – Ballistol is a great all purpose cleaner / lubricant.  For a cleaning solution, mix 50% Ballistol with 50% water and soak your patches in it.

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Palm Saver / Bullet Starter  ($5 – $30) – A good foundation is the start of a good home. Same goes for loading bullets. You need to start your bullet properly in order to get the best accuracy. In order to reduce and consolidate my tools, I prefer the Traditions 4-in-1 Loader. It’s a speed loader, bullet starter, palm saver, and a bullet holder all in one. 4 -in-1 loaders come from several manufacturers, they all serve the same purpose. Or you can get one specifically meant as a palm saver / bullet starter like the SpinJag starter (shown below). Thompson, CVA, Knight, Cabela’s and others also make bullet starters. Be sure you get one that can accommodate the type of bullet you’re using.

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Breech Plug Grease ($5) – The little tube of breech plug grease that comes in the cleaning kit will probably last 1-2 seasons. But it’s messy. Pick up the CVA Breech Plus Anti-Seize Grease Stick.

Breech Plug Cleaner ($9)- If you are shooting 777 or Pyrodex, you definitely need some breech plug cleaner. Thompson Center makes a good one. It comes with a basket that you put the breech plug in, dunk it in the solution, and VOILA! A clean plug.

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2 x Zip-Lock Containers – (about 2.5″ – 3″ in diameter and 3″ deep) ($10 for a 12 pack) – I use these containers for the following purpose:

1. One container for dry patches – to keep them clean, dry, and organized.

2. One container for wet patches – get them just damp with a mixture of Ballistol and water.

This is a big help in managing your time at the range and not making a mess of things.

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Allen Wrenches – Seems like everything on a muzzy uses an allen wrench. Keep extras in your box for your buddies and you’ll be a hero.

Drill Bits – The drill bits are used to clean out the flash hole and primer seat of the breech plug. Each breech plug has a different sized hole so you’ll have to do some checking to find the right size.

Priming Tool (if needed) – If your breech plug requires the use of a priming tool your rifle should have came with one. If not, this should be in your arsenal.

Possibles Bag – This will be what you carry out into the field. A small container of patches, some bullets, speed loaders,  primers, breech plug wrench and allen wrenches are all you really need.

Optional

Chronograph – If you really want to get down and dirty on velocity. A chronograph will help you in determining the maximum effective range of your powder / bullet combination.

Digital Caliper – Digital calipers are nice for measuring groups, bullets, barrels, etc. They can be picked up for as little as $15.

Lead Sled – A lead sled is must for discovering the true ability of your muzzleloader. There are a lot of variables in shooting and having a solid rest will help narrow those variables. If you’re shooting 100 grains or higher a lead sled will tame the kick and help you focus on trigger pull.

NOT NEEDED:

Pellets – While not an accessory, I just want to make sure you never buy these. Unless there is a zombie apocalypse and the only gun you have is a muzzleloader and some pellets, there is never a good reason to buy pellets. I will have a post in the near future explaining why.

Bore Butter – Unless you are loading a patch and a round ball, bore butter is useless. Muzzleloaders do not need to be ‘conditioned’ like a cast iron pot. You also shouldn’t be putting bore butter on a sabot. It may make it easier to load but that means it comes out easier, increasing the slippage and not catching the rifling. For storage, clean the rifle and run an oiled patch down the bore. Shooting a round with a barrel lubed in bore butter causes the second and preceding shots to be different. You want consistency. Always shoot with a clean barrel.

Scale – Black powder is measured in volume, not by weight. This being there are different densities between the different types and all load data is based on volume. Weighing your powder does not make you more consistent.

Bullet / Patch Puller – If you need to remove a bullet, pull the breech plug and push it through. Using a bullet puller will wreck the tip of your bullet. If you use the bullet puller 5 times, you’ve already doubled your cost of the puller because you’ve ruined 5 bullets. I’ve never had a patch get stuck on me so I don’t see a need to have a tool for a < 1% scenario.

If you haven’t purchased your gun yet, hold tight. The 2012 Muzzy Round-Up is just around the corner to help you make your decision.

Modern Muzzleloader History

To know where to go with in-lines means knowing what they are and where they’ve been. Muzzleloaders have been around since the 1500’s, but it wasn’t until as recent as the 1980’s when the advances in design and technology have propelled their adoption rate and into the mainstream hunter’s closet.

What is an in-line muzzleloader?
I’ll categorize muzzleloaders into two groups: Primitive and In-Line. When you think of primitive, think of Davy Crockett, round balls, and pie-plate groups at 50 yards.

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When you think of In-Line, think of a modern-looking rifle, saboted bullets, and sub 1-inch groups at 100 yards.

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Primitive muzzleloaders include flintlocks and caplocks, also known as sidelocks. Again, we won’t be covering those types of rifles. In-line muzzleloaders get their name because the ignition is “IN-LINE” with the powder. Much like a rifle cartridge, minus the cartridge. The main advantages to this design are:

  • Faster ignition (ie. lock time)
  • More reliable ignition
  • Weather resistance

There are several types of in-line muzzleloaders that have come and gone over the years but the concept remains the same… put the fire behind the powder and go BOOM.

The types of actions can be broken down into four types that dominate the market: Bolt Action, Plunger, Break Action, and Drop Action. Break Action muzzys are at this time the most popular style on the market with a growing number of drop actions cropping up in the marketplace.

Bolt Action – Designed after a traditional bolt action rifle, these in-lines are designed to have an opening at the top of the action so a primer can be inserted into the breech plug. With the bolt closed it is fairly weather-proof. When the bolt is released, the primer will have to be removed manually in most cases.

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Plunger Style Action  – These designs are necessary in some parts of the US where stringent muzzleloader laws require an open breech system like that on the CVA Buckhorn. They are very simple in that the nipple sits in the breech with a percussion cap on it and the spring-loaded plunger is controlled by the trigger. Trigger pulled, plunger flies forward, percussion cap ignites.

Break Action – Break actions have become popular in the past 10 years. Think of that Harrington & Richardson single shot you had as a kid. Same concept only most are released using the trigger guard. With the action open, the shooter inserts a primer into the breech plug and closes the barrel to the action. The advantages of the break action are easier access to the primer / breech plug, nearly weather-proof, and less blow back on the scope. Russell Lynch, of Lynch Outdoors and Max Muzzleloader, took a loaded CVA Accura and dunked it in a pool, pulled it out and fired it. I’d say that’s pretty darn weather-proof compared to the flint-locks sending sparks to a pan of black powder.

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Drop Action – Drop actions are cool in the fact the action drops down at the press of a button. Hit the button, put the primer in, slide the action back up and you’re in business. Drop actions are typically shorter in overall length but have longer barrels, equaling higher velocities and tack driver performance and have reduced blow back over plunger and bolt action types making them easier to clean. Drop actions are gaining in popularity due to these benefits.

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The History

The original inline design was conceptualized as far back as 1808. Jean Samuel Pauley patented a system in which the cock of the sidelock was replaced by a cylindrical hammer driven by a coil spring. His system was then expanded upon by Johann Nicolaus von Dreyse who developed the Dreyse Needle gun that was adopted by the German military in 1871.

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Luck have it, metal cartridges started becoming widespread in the 1860’s, which sent muzzleloader innovation back to the stone age for about 100 years.

Fast forward to the 1960’s….
The 60’s and 70’s were the era of reproduction sidelocks with companies like Navy Arms, CVA, and Thompson Center delivering the goods to participants in the every growing Rendezvous events across the country.

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Rendezvous and frontier reenactments gave muzzleloading the shot in the arm it needed and reinvigorated the sport.

1969

History came full circle in 1969 when 10-Ring Precision out of San Antonio, Texas created the pull-cock in-line. Improving on the 1808 Pauley design, the pull-cock featured  a safety on the pull-cock shaft, coil spring, modern Timney style trigger, and wide cutout for access to the nipple. Manufacturers for years to come would utilize the same design principals as the pull-cock. 10-Ring Precision used a modern rifle stock on the pull-cock which resulted in a low adoption rate by traditionalists – who were the majority of the market at the time. The pull-cock design is even found on rifles today, such as the Crickett .22’s that many kids start out with.

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1970

In 1970 Harrington and Richardson came out with the first break-action muzzleloader coined the “Huntsman”.  Another muzzy ahead of it’s time, the Huntsman was marketed as a 12 gauge muzzleloading shotgun with .45 and .58 caliber versions following in 1971. It was designed to use no. 11 percussion caps but many converted them to use musket caps and later, 209 primers. The breech plug on the earlier models was a push-in style breech plug secured by a neoprene o-ring. Closing the breech was the only thing preventing the breech plug from putting a breech plug-sized hole in the shooter’s head. To remove it the shooter would shove the breech plug out using the ramrod.  Later versions included threaded breech plugs.

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1974

In 1974, Pennsylvania held its first “muzzleloader only” deer season. The cost was $3.25 and 65 deer were taken over three days. Although late in the season, it provided muzzy hunters the opportunity to hunt less pressured deer. Since then most states have instituted muzzleloader only hunts.

1975

Up until 1975 the propellant of choice was straight up black powder, mainly because that’s pretty much all there was.  Black powder works well, but it has some disadvantages.

  1. It’s highly explosive, making it a pain in the ass to ship resulting in an expensive hobby and a volatile substance to have around the house.
  2. It eats barrels due to its fouling and corrosive nature.
  3. It soaks up water like a sponge which limits its shelf-life and causes inconsistent velocities – resulting in inconsistent groups.

Daniel Pawlak and Michael Levenson set out to change all of that. In 1975 they unveiled Pyrodex.  Pyrodex was the first black powder substitute. By volume it is as powerful as black powder but by weight it is 30% more powerful, which means it’s 30% more dense equaling more shots per volume.  While it duplicates black powder in the chemical composition of charcoal, sulfer, and potassium nitrate, it has other ingredients that cause it to foul less. It also can be shipped as a smokeless powder which brings down the cost and increasing distribution. Pyrodex also requires a higher temperatures to ignite, making it safer.

Ironically, Dan Pawlak was killed in a factory explosion in 1977.

1979

Michigan Arms introduces the “Wolverine”. The Wolverine made muzzy history with a hammer with an annular cutout for the trigger sear and a firing chamber to accelerate combustion.

1985 – 1987

By 1985 about 1 million Americans were active in muzzleloading.

That year the grandfather of modern muzzleloading, Tony Knight, developed the MK-85. [singlepic id=3 w=320 h=240 float=right] The MK-85 was the first mass produced in-line muzzleloader to hit the market. Featuring a 1:48 inch twist and no. 11 percussion cap ignition  it was still a round baller’s rifle but it greatly reduced the learning curve for loading, firing, and cleaning a muzzleloader. The firing mechanism and breech were removable, making for easy clean up.

In 1987 Knight began selling rifles with 1:32 inch twists. He found they resulted in better accuracy using something foreign to muzzys – a saboted bullet.

In 1988 those twists in the MK-85 got more aggressive, moving to a 1:28 inch twist.  1:28 inch twist barrels are today’s industry standard.

1990’s

On September 20th, 1990, Henry Ball, a machinist, was shooting his sidelock when the lock failed and sent a screw through his arm up to his elbow. He had to have surgery to have it removed. At that point he became dedicated to making a safe and reliable muzzleloader. He’ll work on prototypes for the next 9 years.

Thompson / Center and CVA were the two largest competitors to Knight at this time, although they still marketed largely to the reproduction crowd. TC first dove into the in-line market with the TC Scout – differentiating itself from Knight by using a hammer action instead of the plunger style used in the MK-85. CVA introduced the Blazer, also with a hammer-style action.

Seeing the success of the Knight line of rifles, major gun manufacturers like Remington, Ruger, and Winchester jumped on the muzzy bandwagon. Most of them were re-hashed versions of their bolt action rifles that failed to capture the hearts of the modern muzzleloader.

One day in the early 90’s several chemists from Hodgdon were sitting at the bar wondering how they can get consumers to pay triple the price for Pyrodex. A eureka moment occurred when they thought of compressing the powder into pellets! In 1996 Pyrodex pellets were born; igniting a firestorm of inconsistent velocities and overpriced loads for years to come! Pellets became very popular for beginning and experienced shooters alike due to their convenience, but their disadvantages far outweigh their advantages. More to come on that topic.

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In the late 90’s TC released the Encore, an interchangeable barrel rifle that found its way into muzzleloading’s virtual hall-of-fame. The Encore was never designed as a muzzleloader. First and foremost, it was a rifle designed for the .300 Win. Mag and 7mm crowd. It had a strong break-action frame, quality trigger (due to it’s rifle-shooting target market) and high-quality barrels. It also was one of the first to use 209 primers which have become a muzzy staple.

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Remember our friend Henry Ball? His prototyping resulted in a smokeless muzzleloader and produced them on a small scale. He presented his prototype to Knight, Weatherby, Remington, and Ruger. All passed on his idea. Then at the 1999 SHOT Show Toby Bridges presented Henry’s smoke(less) pole to Ron Coburn, President of Savage Arms. Ron was so enamored with the idea that he sent a short-action Savage to Henry to perform his modifications. After testing, and testing, and more testing, a star was born – the Savage ML. 1900 were produced in February of 2000.

The Savage ML was the first muzzleloader to shoot both black powder (and substitutes) and smokeless powder. With a sealed action and barrel and action tested to 129,000 PSI (most black powder rifles are tested to 25,000 PSI), the Savage ML was the safest and strongest muzzleloader to hit the market, as well as being the cheapest to shoot (43 grains of smokeless vs. 100 grains of 777 makes a pound of powder go a lot further).

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2002 

TC unveils the Omega – a short (overall) long-barreled drop action front-stuffer. Increased velocities and accuracy help drive the drop-action market.

Hodgdon (the makers of Pyrodex) created Triple Seven (777, Triple 7, or Triple Se7en). Triple Seven did not have the chemical make up of black powder. Instead of a wood-carbon 777 uses a sugar-based carbon as the fuel. Being less dense per volume than black powder it left behind 50% less fouling. It is also more energetic, resulting in higher velocities by volume than black powder or Pyrodex. “Cleans up with water!” claims made for easier clean up.

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2007

CVA introduces the Electra – featuring a sealed breech with an electronic ignition powered by a 9v battery.   So radical, sales were poor despite amazing accuracy and few reported problems. If you peruse the forums there were slews of people talking about how it would short out and fire without pulling the trigger. All those claims came out of fear and not based on any evidence. Remington created an electronic ignition rifle called the EtronX three years earlier that was met with similar criticism. I guess the shooting masses just aren’t ready for batteries in their guns…that is until the storm troopers start out-shooting them at the range with their lasers.

While the Electra didn’t take the industry by storm it did open people’s eyes to the issue of 209 primer deflection and its side affect of diminished accuracy.

Click here to see the video of the Electra in action.

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2008

Blackhorn 209 hits the market.  Blackhorn 209 set the muzzleloading world on its ear by delivering on these promises:

  • Higher velocities by volume compared to black powder or other substitutes
  • Very low fouling – reports of 30+ shots without swabbing between shots (however, I do not recommend this).
  • Resistance to humidity and temperatures result in consistent velocities and unlimited shelf life.
  • Uniform size means uniform accuracy down to the last grain in the bottle. Other substitutes have deviations in the size of the grains causing you to shoot powder closer to FFFG out of a FFG bottle as you get near the bottom.
  • Doesn’t crush. This also relates to accuracy. When you seat your bullet on 777 you’ll get a crush factor – meaning some of the granules will smash under the pressure. Unless you can measure the torque when you ram the bullet down the throat of your muzzy you’ll have some inconsistencies in the crush-rate. Blackhorn doesn’t crush – push the bullet down and it hits a brick wall.
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In Closing…
This is by no means a comprehensive list of in-line history; the contributors to the sport are numerous and the models of muzzys developed over the past 30 years would require a book to cover. In the past decade alone the number of models of muzzleloaders on the market has given the consumer a plethora of options to choose from. Entry level guns can be found for as little as $125 or you can get a custom job for as much as $3600. Since Tony Knight created the first Mk-85 in 1985, over 3 million people have picked up muzzleloading as a sport and it’s popularity continues to grow.

Muzzy University – The Purpose

Muzzleloading’s roots go back to the inception of black powder with everything from firearms to cannons utilizing it as a propellant. Over time muzzleloading has gone from the ONLY way to fight a war or take game to now being an option in the every growing arena of weaponry and its technological advancements have grown at a greater trajectory than modern smokeless firearms over the past 30 years. The purpose of this blog is to dive into the details of modern muzzleloading; that being the in-line muzzleloader. We’ll cover everything from the butt-to-muzzle, bench-to-backstop, stand-to-exit hole.  Myths and misconceptions, prejudices, and outright dangerous and bad information abound in the muzzleloading world – both in online forums, gun shops, and published articles. My goal is to dispel those myths and provide you with accurate, correct, and safe information. Additionally, this is Muzzy University so newcomers to the sport can easily beat the learning curve that so many of us spent countless hours reading, researching, and just plain failing through trial and error to overcome. Throughout these articles you’ll be better prepared to unlock the potential of your modern in-line as well as save you time, money, and SANITY! Hopefully you’ll find this blog both entertaining AND informative.

Welcome to Muzzy University!

Class is now in session…