Pellets Vs. Powder

Open any hunting magazine, internet article, or manufacturer propaganda and you can be lead to believe that pellets are the wave of the future. CONVENIENCE! CONSISTENCY! SPEED! say the manufacturers and the media whores that peddle their product. What they don’t tell you are the facts.

1. Pellets are EXPENSIVE!

A box of Pyrodex pellets runs about $27. Each box contains 100 x  50 grain pellets. If you are shooting a 100 grain equivalent load then you get 50 shots per box. If you’re shooting a “magnum” load, that’s 33 shots per box.

So just for the propellant you’re looking at $0.54 a shot for a 100 grain load, $0.82 for a 150 grain load.

Compare that to Pyrodex powder, which sells for about $27 A POUND. There are approximately 7000 grains of powder in a 1 pound canister – give or a take a few grains since the canister is measured by weight but you measure out your powder by volume. That will give you 70 shots per canister with a 100 grain load, 46 shots with a 150 grain load.

This breaks down to a cost of  $0.39 per shot for a 100 grain load, $0.59 per shot for a 150 grain load.

The cost difference: 

100 grains powder vs. pellets: $0.15

150 grains powder vs. pellets: $0.23

If you shoot 200 rounds per year….pellets will cost you an additional $30 (which is a canister of powder) if you’re shooting 100 grains of powder. $46 a year for 150 grain charges.

What can you get for $46?

a) 3 packs of TC Shockwave 200 grain bullets or,

b) 1 full canister of Pyrodex (almost 2) or,

c) About 950 2.5″ cotton patches or,

d) 2 liters of Southern Comfort

If you don’t care about the cost savings, let’s go to the bar and you can pay.

2. Pellets are INACCURATE!

Pellets have proven to be more inaccurate than loose powder when comparing volume to volume loose vs. pellets. “What does the propellant have to do with accuracy? Isn’t that the gun and the bullet’s job?” you may ask.  While the gun and the bullet play major roles in accuracy, the propellant is just as important for one main reason: CONSISTENCY. If your propellant delivers the bullet out of the muzzle at a consistent velocity each and every time then you have solved one factor of the accuracy equation. Pellets just don’t produce consistent velocities…and here is why:

The Crush Factor – When you seat your bullet more times than not you will crush or crack one or both (or all) pellets. Those cracks and crushed bits will cause the pellets to burn differently each time, resulting in different velocities each time the weapon is fired. Think of it this way. If you split a piece of paper down the middle, how does it ignite compared to a whole piece of paper lit at the same position? Now cut another slit in it. How does that burn compared to the paper with one slit? Since you cannot predict how the pellets will crack that unknown factor will always exist.

Waste Barrel Real Estate – If you have used pellets before you notice you don’t have to use a ramrod to get them down the barrel. They are a smaller diameter than a .50 caliber barrel.  When you throw two pellets down the barrel there is space around the pellet. Since they don’t land perfectly centered each time that space could be all on one side, 30% on one side / 70% the other, or a million other variations. Put three pellets in and you end up with a Jenga tower in your barrel. All that unused space takes away from the amount of rifling your projectile will encounter as it leaves the barrel. It is a long standing truth that a longer barrel will give you better velocity and better accuracy.  So the more use-able barrel you have the better.  Also, as the pellets ignite the gases will fill the un-used space first and then push the projectile forward. With powder there is no wasted power. It all goes forward.

See the illustration below. The image on the left shows two pellets stacked, perfectly centered, with no breakage. The middle image shows two pellets stacked, perfectly centered, with breakage. The third image shows what your barrel looks like with powder.  Powder will look the same each an every time (as long as you measure correctly). Pellets are a crap shoot.

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Soak up moisture like a sponge – According to Federal Cartridge Company, un-fired Triple 7 pellets can absorb up to 30% moisture in humid conditions. One cause is the boxes they come in are not air-tight which gives pellets a limited shelf life. As the moisture content increases velocity decreases and the probability of failed ignition increases. If pellets were easier to ignite in the first place, why would they have to place a small amount of black powder at the base of the pellet? This alone is cause for concern. If you saw my experiment with Blackhorn 209 and Triple 7, having a combo propellant may help ignition but it didn’t do anything for accuracy.

3. Pellets Assume One-Size-Fits-All

With pellets you have two options:

2 Pellets or 3 Pellets

Not bad if you are a mindless drone. However, most muzzleloaders have a load that will bring out the best in that rifle.

With powder you have a multitude of combinations. This is important if you are working up a load for a youngster or anyone shy of recoil as you can use a lighter load that still performs adequately.

In working up a load many people will start at 80 grains but you can go as low as 70 grains when shooting Blackhorn 209 and go all the way up to 150 grains (120 for Blackhorn 209). Usually somewhere in the middle is the sweet spot. Part of the enjoyment of a muzzleloader is finding that sweet spot.  So get a bunch of speed loaders (I have about 30 of them), load them up with 3 charges of the following (for Pyrodex or Triple 7):

  • 80 grains
  • 90 grains
  • 100 grains
  • 110 grains
  • 120 grains
  • 130 grains

You should see your groups get better or worse. If they are getting better, keep going. If they get worse, go backward. The charge that gives you your tightest group is your winner. You can further fine-tune your charge by trying intermediate charges by (+) or (-) 5 grains.

I have found that my guns shoot best with 110 grains of Triple 7 and a 200 grain TC Shockwave. This produces sub-1″ groups at 100 yards.

Still undecided? Read more about the pellet / powder battle below:

Article by Randy Wakeman: