Other than accompanying my dad to the range and again on a very frigid muzzle-loader hunt one December (before I was old enough to hunt on my own), I didn't really have any exposure to black powder rifles. And besides my dad used Pyrodex so that wasn't a real black powder experience... according to the purists I knew.
Black powder was just a footnote in my hunter safety class. My first interaction with 'real' black powder was when I took my model rockets to my Grandfather's farm. Yup, that’s Badger Ridge. We were having trouble getting consistent ignition on the rockets via the standard “solar igniters”. My Grandfather told me to hold on; he’d be back. He left me and the rest of the family in the hay field with all the gear I hauled up. He came back with a tin of FFG Goex, filled the rocket nozzle with it, inserted the solar igniter and sealed it with some scotch tape. My problems with consistent ignition on my model rockets was solved with a bit of Grandpa's extra smokey oomph! Too bad my mom wouldn't let me do that anywhere else but at Badger Ridge. My Grandpa also was known to have saltpeter and blasting cap solutions to stubborn stumps.
(But as usual I digress, and am forced to put in some sort of disclaimer: Badger Ridge does not recommend nor condone the use of flammable firearms propellants for purposes out side of the legal purpose they were designed for. Always follow the manufacture's instructions and all safe practices... OK I feel better now.)
Before I shot my first muzzle-loader I had put thousands upon thousands of smokeless rounds down range. Albeit most were .22LR via my participation as a small bore competitor; I did my share of shooting service rifle as well. All those rifles got cleaned regularly with standard gun cleaning products. So when I found out I had to use soap, water, and stuff that smelled like wintergreen to clean and protect my muzzle-loader I had a bit of an adjustment to make. But I did it; I made up a special muzzle loader tool kit with all the necessities so that I could grab it and be certain I had what I needed to take care of my 700MLS.
I smelled the stink of Pyrodex with my dad, and a similar but weaker stink when I first started muzzle loading on my own with Triple Seven. I never got nostalgic about the stink and non petroleum based cleaners I put to work on cleaning my rifle. To me shooting should smell like nitro cellulose (smokeless powder). So while I never got nostalgic on the stink, I will admit I thought about rubbing bore butter on to 'freshen' myself after a few days of hunting.
I honestly found it difficult to clean with soap and water at the more rustic hunt camps. It down right sucked to get all wet when it was so cold outside. I knew my breech loaders didn't need the urgent clean up, and could be made good with a few patches of Shooters choice or Hoppe's and bit of oil. That all changed, and things got back to normal once I discovered Blackhorn 209.
Black powder chemistry doesn't do well when burning in the presence of petroleum oils and greases. I always thought about the incompatibility of anti-seize and black powder; so I worked to keep the two separate but they were always in close proximity on my breech plugs.
But Blackhorn 209, uses the same chemistry (nitrocellulose) as smokeless powder. Hoppe's # 9, Shooters Choice, Break-Free CLP, Mobil1, or whatever your favorite bore cleaner and oils work just fine with it. Also it's residue is not inherently corrosive, or at least no more than normal smokeless powder. So I don't have the same sense of urgency in cleaning that muzzle loader. Remember though, the residue is hygroscopic... or in other words it attracts water from the air. And water on a metal promotes corrosion. So you do want to clean your rifle, just not quite as urgently!
Those other powders foul and leave deposits that are not only corrosive, but gummy messes. Though I do have to acknowledge that my experience with Triple Seven confirmed it was better than what I had seen with others who used black powder or Pyrodex. But Blackhorn 209 blows them all away. No more fouling than what I've seen in my smokeless guns. Never any trouble pulling my breech plug, though I still use a bit of anti-seize on it. No swabbing between shots at the range. No changes to accuracy as the rifle fouls itself into a constricted mess (Triple Seven was an improvement here too).
About the only thing you still shouldn't do is leave your muzzle-loader charged for a while or go a long time with out cleaning (see the picture for a breech plug that was in a rifle that was fired multiple times and then left charged for about 8 months). The 416 stainless steel plug in the picture came out just fine with no trouble, but it had some surface pitting. It was cleaned and scrubbed with steel wool before the pic below was taken. Any other powder would have wrecked that rifle and froze the plug in the breech.
In modern inline muzzle loaders it can be used volumetrically the same as black powder. A by volume charge of Blackhorn 209 will give you more velocity (all other things being equal) than black powder or other substitute. Though I think it is important to note that the BH209 load data stops at 120 Gr, (see the picture of the back of the bottle). So I stop working up loads at 120 Gr. Even in my muzzle-loader is rated for 150 Grains (the 700 MLS "Magnums" were rated for 150 grains of black powder by Remington). I figure discretion and safety rule, so I don't go over 120 grains. You can read more about that on the BH209 site (they recommend a max of 120 gr by volume).
But BH209 gives more velocity for the same volume of powder. I don’t fully understand all the physics of powders burning and pushing projectiles, but I understand more velocity equals more energy and a flatter trajectory. I don’t think you have can too much of either of those.
I need to make it clear. I don’t have stock in Western Powders (the makers of Blackhorn 209) nor am I getting any money from them. I just love the product.
But in everything in life there are trade offs. The first trade off for Blackhorn 209 is its price. Outside of finding it on sale, you’ll almost certainly pay more for a container of it than any other black powder substitute. Also the jug that is about the same physical size as a 1 lb jug will only have 10 oz (by weight) in it. But seeing 100 grains by volume of Blackhorn 209 weighs only 70 grains one could do some math to get volumetric equivalents and find that 10 oz by weight is roughly equal to buying 14.3 oz of black powder, so still more expensive but less significantly when one looks at it volumetrically.
One last drawback is that some state's rules for black powder hunting don’t allow black powder substitutes or may have wording that cause people to worry that Blackhorn 209’s ‘nitro cellulose chemistry’ would put them in jeopardy of violating the law.
For instance in Michigan, where I frequently hunt, muzzle-loaders are not allowed to be charged with smokeless powder for hunting. But the regulations say that “Black Powder Substitutes” are allowed. One look at the Blackhorn 209 label shows that it’s "High Performance Muzzle-loading Propellant". No where on it is it called "smokeless propellant." Thus, it is a black powder substitute with the same combustion classifications as other black powder substitutes. So to me, Michigan regulations are clear; BH209 is allowed. I use it without concern in Virginia as well.
Some other states are not as clear. I've read that folks who have written their state's regulatory agencies for clarification, get obtuse, bureaucratic, indefinite replies. So beware and research the rules in your state.
Nevada has stated its not allowed there; though I think their logic is faulty. BH209 is chemically nitro cellulose (so is smokeless powder) but BH209's low pressure performance, design for volumetric equivalence to black powder, and combustible status ("Propellant Solid") is the same as black powder. Smokeless powder has to be labeled 'smokeless powder' so that you don't use it in your black powder gun and blow it up. I think anyone who reloads would get the difference and recall every can of smokeless powder being labeled "smokeless powder". And once you figure in BH209 is safe in black powder cartridges for those old black powder only breech loaders, how could BH209 be anything but black powder substitute? The law should care about performance not chemistry. So I don't get the hang up.
The last trade off is ignition. Like I said BH209 is harder to set off (and thus safer) than black powder and its other substitutes. So, you need a real honest to goodness 209 shot shell primer to ignite Blackhorn 209. Those “Black powder” 209 primers are really primers with less ‘oomph’ as black powder and its stinky substitutes need less ignition heat to set them off. So you can get away with using a lower powered primer with them. But not with Blackhorn 209; it has to be a real full power, designed for a shot-shell, 209 primer. (I understand that guys using brass cases to feed their ‘Remington 700 Ultimate’ type breech plugs use magnum rifle primes as well, but that is outside the scope of this Badger's Den).
So to use BH209 in your 700ML/MLS like I do, click here to get one of our sealed breech Remington 700 ML/MLS 209 modification kits.
Want to know more about Blackhorn 209? Visit the web site!
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