The following article is an abridged version of what will be in the Cowboy Chronicle in September. Usually I don't print articles submitted to the CC here. It should first be seen in the CC. I'm making an exception because APP is officially releasing Premium Grade now, and I think potential consumers would like to know what it is and does it do what the advertising says it does.
American Pioneer Powder Premium Grade
American Pioneer Powder makes black powder substitutes in Colorado (www.americanpioneerpowder.com, 888-756-7693). Their products are very popular in SASS black powder circles. Factory sponsored online specials around Winter Range and End Of Trail have confirmed that with larger than expected sales. It is easier to use in several respects than wholly black and doesn’t have the sales, shipping, storage, and safety restrictions of black. Black powder is an explosive. APP is a propellant.
They have been improving their product continually for years. When I started using APP’s predecessor, Clean Shot, in 2000 it was very hygroscopic in unfired form. It would “clump” if left alone in a humid environment. Dillon powder measures would clog up. It was also light grey, and grain for grain it wasn’t as powerful as comparable black powders. I started doing Ransom Rest/Chronograph testing in 2005, and APP produced the tightest group. Over the years APP changed and improved. Results in my tests always showed improvements over previous production. It’s less hygroscopic. I can leave APP in my powder measure without worries. A couple of years ago I did a test comparison for the Cowboy Chronicle, and, again, APP won the most accurate category, but I noted the Standard Deviation was higher than wholly black. Standard Deviation measures the amount of variation from the average. In long range, that’s a big deal. A really good black powder, properly loaded, will produce round after round at almost the same velocity, enabling hits on 1,000-yard targets and Matthew Quigley to get a job in Australia.
Designed for Cowboy Action Shooting
Brett at APP called me to discuss the S. D. results. He told me then they were working on a powder with more consistent velocity and thus more intrinsic accuracy for Cowboy Action Shooters. They were producing a powder with extra processing designed for hunters called Super Powder. It was hotter than APP as well as more accurate. But they could make powder with the extra processing with the same velocity as APP but with greater accuracy for Cowboy Action Shooting. In CAS competition we are trying to duplicate black powder loads, not to get as much velocity as possible for hunting.
It took a while, but just before End Of Trail this year the first shipment of American Pioneer Powder Premium Grade arrived.
Before doing the range testing I made up enough of my normal match loads using Premium Grade to shoot some local matches. I liked the results so much I shot End Of Trail with Premium Grade.
Some things I noted before range testing. The Dillon XL650’s shell plate didn’t get as dusty as it did with APP produced a few years ago. Regular APP has improved in this respect, too. Regular APP is black. Premium is dark grey. They’re easy to tell apart. After EOT I prepared to do range testing using a couple of industry standard tools.
The Ransom Rest is a machine rest that, properly mounted and used, will result in the gun being tested shooting from exactly the same position every shot. If a gun writer talks about accuracy of a handgun and doesn’t use a Ransom Rest, odds are the accuracy will suffer because of eventual fatigue in even the best of shooters. Of course I believe any gun writer who says he was able to shoot 5 shot groups on 20 loads as accurately as a machine. I’m gullible.
Oehler 35P Printing Chronograph
A chronograph measures velocity of each shot. I use an Oehler 35P Printing Chronograph. I use a 4 ft. base for the screens, which gives greater accuracy than most consumer chronographs with shorter measuring points, and the 35P has a third “Proof” screen in the middle. It computes velocities using the first and third screen, and also the first and second screen for “proof.” If the velocities aren’t very close to each other, it won’t print anything. This minimizes false readings.
For the range test I used my match load of 105 gr. LTC bullet, 11 gr. 3F powder, new Starline Brass, and Federal Match small pistol primers. I had some in regular 3F and some Premium Grade 3F. Additionally I made up 160 gr. bullet loads using each of APP’s powders using Ringer 158 gr. LRNFP bullets. I’m calling them 160 gr. because that’s what they actually weigh. Softer lead will result in heavier bullets. Softer bullets are what we want in CAS for several reasons. These bullets used a lube compatible with black powder and smokeless. I could use the same bullet with APP and wholly black. APP works best with smokeless lubes. Wholly black needs black powder lube and lots of it. A test of Ringer bullets for black powder use in desert climates is in the works. (ringerbullets.com, 270-331-2386)
The powder measure was left the same for all of the APP/160 gr. loads. The weight of some powders varied because of the density of the powders, but the VOLUME was the same. .38 Special loads made with 0.7 cc. of APP 3F have passed smoke standard tests. That is 9 gr. weight or 11 gr. volume. I load 11 gr. (weight) as a cushion to guarantee all loads will exceed the smoke standard comfortably.
Comparison Black Powder Load
My black powder for comparison was Goex Cartridge. It’s one of their most accurate powders, but it is no longer in production. It was the most accurate black powder I had in stock.
I also made 125 gr. bullet loads using Ringer 125 gr. LTC bullets and a slightly compressed charge of powder,17.5 gr. Goex Cartridge and 13.8 gr. APP 3F and APP Premium 3F. Both charges were the same VOLUME.
Tex arranged for me to use the Founders Ranch range, where I was cheerfully greeted by the new Range Manager, Michelle Duvaney (Cajun Dawge). She was exceptionally helpful.
Reading the Chart
The high and low velocities are listed, but the average is of 5 shots. E.S. is the spread between high and low. S.D. is Standard Deviation.
The Power Factor–(Average Velocity x bullet wt.)/1000–is there to facilitate comparison with smokeless ammunition. The smokeless categories have a minimum powder factor of 60. Black powder categories (and Plainsman) have a smoke standard but no power factor.
All loads were loaded using production oriented loading techniques on a Dillon XL650, The Dillon powder measure was used, which, with APP, results in small variations in weight (±0.2 gr.).
The targets were Ruger 100 yard rifle targets set up at 45 ft. (15 yds.) from the muzzle.
APP Premium Grade did, indeed, have the lowest standard deviation in the test. The 160 gr./11 gr. 3F load, at 18 was the overall winner. Goex Ctg./160 gr./15 gr. was 19. The 2F Premium Grade/160 gr./11 gr. load was 27. In 125 gr. loads the APP Premium Grade was 25 to the Goex CTG load at 30. I chose Goex CTG because of its known low S. D., and Premium Grade beat it in both loads. The 105 gr. APP Premium Grade 3F was 46, marginally better than APP 3F.
All of the groups were quite good. The APP 3F/160 gr. load won overall with a ¾” group, and its 125 gr. group was 1.5. Its 105 gr. load was, in comparison, less impressive at 3-1/4”. Premium Grade had 1-1/8” groups in 160 and 105 and 2-1/4” in 125. Premium 2F beat APP 2F and Jim Shockey’s Gold 2F and 3F. Do remember the average pistol target in SASS is 7 yards, and this test was at 15. But when they throw in 6” “hostage” targets on one stage it helps if you know your bullets will land within 1” or so of your point of aim, assuming you do your part. Or in other terms, any misses are your fault, not your ammunition.
In the past I have been recommending APP 3F for all main match guns including shotgun because of clogging of the Dillon powder measure with 2F a few years back. All of these powders worked quite well, no clogging, and very consistent loads. 3F is still best for .38s, but the .44s and .45s might benefit from 2F.
The chronograph shows Premium Grade has about the same power as APP in the same grade. Jim Shockey’s Gold is marginally hotter. They were all slightly hotter than Goex CTG.
So, what will I use? It looks to me like all of the APP products perform at least as well as a really good BP for main match guns, and APP Premium Grade outperformed Goex Cartridge. My first choice is Premium Grade 3F in main match pistols and rifles. I’ll continue to use APP 3F in the shotgun because it costs less. That’s the combination I used at EOT and shot it clean. In case of shortages, any of the APP powders will work.
Disclaimer: Your mileage may vary. If you don’t know what you’re doing when reloading and screw up, it’s your fault.