Confused about the different types of 209 primers? Your muzzle loader not going off when you want? Blackhorn209 giving you trouble with reliable ignition? I think we have some answers to what works and how we got here.
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For this installment I'd like to discuss the different types of 209 primers you can use in your muzzle loader and how we got to the point where you have to understand what is compatible with what in order to have a reliable shooter. I'll also be adding this to our FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions).
Q: Why do you recommend I don't use muzzle loader primers in my muzzle loader? Why did the "muzzle loader 209 primer" I tried with Blackhorn209 fail but the standard or magnum 209 primer worked? Why does Western Powders (makers of Blackhorn209) say to use magnum primers, but you say I can use standard primers or magnum primers, but not "inline muzzle loading" 209 primers? Why does the primer say it's non corrosive, but you say I need to clean my muzzle loader soon after shooting because it will corrode? I've got a stainless muzzle loader, do I really need to clean it after shooting?
A: These are all Good questions with seemingly contradictory information.
If you want the short answer, and you have a Remington 700 ML/MLS or a Ruger 77/50, the short answer is: buy our conversion kit, use full powered standard or magnum 209 shotgun primers and pair them with Sabots and Blackhorn209. Clean your muzzle loader thoroughly after shooting.
The short answer also can be summarized as: not all muzzle loader and gun cleaning stuff is compatible with all other muzzle loader and gun cleaning stuff. Read and follow each item's directions. Our kits seal the breech, so they are compatible with any muzzle loader powder, this helps simplify much of the compatibility issues.
If you want the long answer, please keep reading:
The long answer is, well... long:
First lets talk about primers in general and then some history of modern muzzle loader and black powder substitute development. Then BlackHorn209 muzzle loader powder.
Yes: modern primers (and percussion caps) have been non-corrosive for years. Corrosive primers formerly used fulminates, like mercury fulminate: their residues are corrosive, but for quite some time most western countries have used other non corrosive stuff (like lead styphnate). The Eastern Block countries were slower to adopt non-corrosive primers, which is why you are likely to run into old ammo from them that has corrosive primers. So today primers are still labeled corrosive or non-corrosive... FYI corrosive primers that use Mercury Fulminate attack brass and make it brittle. You want to avoid trying to reload any brass fired with corrosive primers... especially if it has had the residue on it for a while.
Regardless of the primer/cap, Black Powder and most substitutes produce corrosive residue (aka fouling). In the unique case of Blackhorn209 it's fouling is not corrosive, but it is hygroscopic (which coats the bore with water that promotes corrosion). So you need to clean any muzzle loader using Black Powder or a substitute soon after firing. Some manufacturers responded to this by offering coatings, like cerakote, nickle, etc... others use stainless steel to protect the gun from the corrosive fouling. Regardless of steel or treatments that may slow the corrosion, cleaning after shooting is still required to protect the metal from the effects of these residues. Also breech plugs and their components (along with bolts in leaky breech setups) can be fused into the rifle by the fouling and its resulting corrosion if not properly protected before firing and properly cleaned after firing.
Further complicating things is that Black Powder and most of its substitutes' fouling builds with each shot, and tend to be sticky. This fouling will bind and cement stuff together, like breech plugs into barrels. Blackhorn209 is the exception here. It has no more fouling on the 500th shot than after the first, and its fouling is not sticky nor does it tend to lock stuff together. See the breech plug above... it corroded but didn't get stuck in the rifle after being neglected. But I'll get into Blackhorn later.
Crud rings became a problem when the venerable standard 209 primer's with so much more priming compound than percussion caps were introduced to muzzle loading. The crud ring forms near the breech (with Black Powder and all its substitutes... except Blackhorn209). It's caused by the organic residue of Black Powder (and its first substitutes) mixing with the inorganic residue of the priming compound.
The reduced powered inline muzzle loader 209's (Remington "Kleanbore", Winchester "777", CCI Inline muzzleloader, etc) were created to combat the "crud ring." The standard shotgun shell is loaded with smokeless powder and smokeless needs a bunch of priming compound to get it burning reliably. So standard 209's are pretty darn hot. With "muzzleloader" 209's, the basic idea is to introduce less inorganic priming compounds because Black Powder and most of its substitutes are reliably ignited by lower charges than a typical shotgun 209 produced. Reducing the inorganic contaminates makes less of a crud ring and makes it easier to clean the crud ring (when cleaning between shots). So that makes these "muzzle loader" primers hotter than a percussion/musket cap, but cooler than a standard 209 primer.
However, the logic runs a bit circular when looked at retroactively... guns were designed to use 209s in order to leverage their hotter ignition and hence become more reliable (and of course they were marketed as such and the industry made money). Then more black powder substitutes that were easily ignited, but had organic chemistry were introduced (777 etc, they were marketed as better than Black Powder and the market made money). But the guns became harder to reload/clean because of the crud ring... so the manufactures created "Inline Muzzle loader 209" primer's that aren't as hot but works well enough to ignite most powders and reduce the crud ring (and are marketed as cleaner, but not as less powerful... and the industry makes money). This frequently confuses folks new to the sport... intuition says use the primers labeled 'muzzle loader' in your muzzle loader. Also a general desire to always have the most powerful stuff would mean folks wouldn't buy the "muzzle loader" primer if they knew it was less powerful: So who would label their primers as less powerful? Folk would want to get the more powerful standard or magnum primer and use that wouldn't they?
So thats starts some confusion and varying advice on what to use in your muzzle loader. We hope to make it clear what to use and why... so keep reading to find out the rest of the story!
Some folks stuck with the more powerful standard primers,,, and occasionally found that if they were shooting easy loading projectiles (aka obturating projectiles that don't seal well or lodge tightly in the barrel until deformed by powder combustion: power belts, bore lock MZ, minie balls, etc), that they lost accuracy with the magnum or standard 209 primers, but when they tried the muzzleloader primers the same loose bullets and powders grouped well. They reasoned they were un-compacting the powder charge before it got fully burning with the more powerful primers. There's so many factors, who knows what the cause is, but the remedy seemed to be using the low powered primer when that rare case arose where full powered primers would not shoot accurately. This also reduced the crud ring.
Still, I always suggest folks try standard or magnum primers first. If they can't get a good group, --and they are not using BlackHorn209--, then try the primer with the name of the powder they are using or another muzzleloader specific primer (ie try full powered primers first; if you are shooting 777 and it won't group, try the Winchester 777 primer... or any other low powered muzzleloader 209 primer). Getting a difficult to clean/load situation from a crud ring? Switch to reduced powered primers.
Why do I suggest that you try magnum or standard 209's before "muzzleloader" 209s? First, the muzzle loader specific 209's have always been about double the price of standard 209's. I assume that is because they just don't make as many. Second, if you can get it to work with more heat, then that seems better to me as more heat will compensate for other issues when you are in less than ideal situations... like its raining or snowing on a hunt and a big buck appears in front of you.
Of course if they are using our kit to seal the breech, I always suggest they stay away from obturating projectiles and use sabots with Blackhorn209 and full powered or magnum primers.. Our kits work with all 209's, and all black powder/substitutes. The real question is whether the propellent you chose is compatible with the projectile you choose. Blackhorn is not compatible with obturating projectiles and is not compatible with weaker "muzzle loader" primers.
After reduced power "Muzzle loader 209's" came out Western Powders introduced BlackHorn209 (which is nitrocellulose based) and needs at least a standard 209. Nitrocellulose is inorganic and cleans up with solvents that also dissolve priming compound residue... so no more soap and water/Windex, no more crud ring, no more fouling in the barrel that builds up with each shot (though you can still get priming compound built up and blocking a breach plug's flash channel... you may need to pull and clean the priming compound residue from your breech plug every 10 or 20 shots or so).
So now-a-days we have "muzzle loader" primers that are not hot enough to set off nitrocellulose powders (like typical shotgun shells use). And now we have a great powder called BlackHorn209 that has a good bit of nitro cellulose in it and needs standard or magnum 209's to go "bang". However the intuition of some folks is to use the stuff labeled the same as the purpose... got a muzzleloader, so you use "muzzleloader" 209's... right? Definitely wrong when using BlackHorn209.
Why bother with BlackHorn 209? Its just a better solution! First, it makes a lot less smoke... you shoot an animal, you have a ton less smoke to look through and watch it run off/fall over dead. Also, because it doesn't build sticky fouling: It doesn't require cleaning until the end of a day, and it cleans with standard gun cleaning stuff like Hoppies etc. Standard gun cleaning stuff was made to clean up priming compound residue and nitrocellulose fouling, copper fouling, lead fouling, plastic fouling etc, but these modern cleaners do not work as well with Black Powder fouling (along with most of its substitutes).
BlackHorn209 performs better. It tends to be more temperature stable than BP and its substitutes... ie it doesn't swing as high or low as they do with large temperature swings... (not saying it isn't affected by temperature... just saying it doesn't swing as much). And is generally regarded safer as its harder to detonate than black powder. Just look at its MSDS if you want the specifics. If you were to chrony 300gr projectiles with equal volumes of BlackHorn209 against any other Black Powder or substitute, you'll find BlackHorn209 has an edge in velocity. All of this is why I use and recommend BlackHorn209 with sabots. But you have to use standard or magnum primers with BlackHorn209.
This further gets hard for the novice as most stores typically stock muzzleloader only things in the muzzleloader section, but if they have a reloading section that is where they put the standard or magnum 209 primers. Then guys who just want to shoot, hear that BH209 is better, or see a new thing on the shelf, and buy some along with the 'Muzzleloader" primers in the same muzzleloader section. Then try to shoot it in a leaky breech or with a projectile that isn't sealed setup... (remember nitrocellulose needs to be sealed/fully contained to burn properly, the simple answer is sabots... and yes there are other more experimental ways to seal a projectile that I won't address).
Because the gun is leaky... and/or they didn't clean the flash channel and burnt primer compound is clogging the breech plug, and/or the breech plug wasn't made to shoot blackhorn209, and/or the weaker muzzle loader primer is used... and/or the projectile isn't sealed (like Bore lock MZ's or powerbelts in some rifles)... Blackhorn209 bloopers, misfires, or hang fires, and folks get upset and blame the powder... when they should be blaming themselves for not reading/following the instructions on the bottle of BH209, and/or walking over to the reloading section and grabbing full powered primers. Or googling it and finding a thread here where I explain how to get it to work in an old muzzle loader built before BlackHorn209 was on the scene (like having us retrofit a vent liner into your old breech plug)... or...
Then you get to today: where some of us make a living helping folks through the mess and getting them to simple effective sealed breech solutions. As most of the mistakes have been made, and most of the answers are in the product's instructions, or posted/explained/sold here.
If you have a Remington 700 ML/MLS or Ruger 77/50 and you want to seal the breech, or shoot BlackHorn209 we have your solution.
As for Western Powders (now owned by Hodgon Powder Company) recommending magnum primers for use with BlackHorn209... all I can do is wager a guess. (I don't work there nor can I speak for them). I --think-- its a combination of: that is what they tested, and tested, and tested. Factored against: if you want it to reliably go off for the best customer experience, have them get the primer with the most priming compound that may correct for a user error (like not fully sealing the breech or projectile, not fully removing oils and contaminates, not cleaning well, etc). Also if hunting in extreme cold, I do recommend magnums myself. Though I must admit, I've never myself seen an issue setting off Blackhorn209 with standard primers that were sealed into our kits when using sabots, but I don't get a lot of negative temperatures to test in.
I hope this has helped you. We specialize in sealing up the Remington 700ML (produced from 1995-2005) and the Ruger 77/50. We also sell many items for the Savage 10 ML muzzle loaders, and modify breech plugs from other guns to get them working more reliably with BlackHorn209. Feel free to call and ask questions; we are here to help.
Perhaps on another installment we'll discuss how all the 209 primers vary in dimension depending on the company producing them! (important for sealing up 209's into the breech!)
Also don't forget that all breech designs are not equal. Leaky breeches not only cover the shooter, the gun's internals, and any optics in that same nasty fouling, but are hard to maintain and not as reliable as sealed breech systems. Keep reading through the Badger's Den for answers and explanations on leaky breeches, why and how we seal them up.
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