Black Powder (& Substitutes)

for Dummies,

page 3

Light Loads continued:
3. Filler (in this case, Black Dawge Filler*).
Using filler in a Dillon XL650 using 2 powder measures

Using Black Dawge Filler and loading efficiently requires a few changes to your XL650:

Station 1, no change

Station 2, no change

Station 3, replace powder check die with RCBS Lock-Out die

Station 4, another Dillon powder measure. Since there's no way to hook up another safety rod, I just used rubber bands to make sure it closed each time. If you can find one of the springs that came on the powder measure originally, that will work. Ace Hardware sells a spring that works.

Station 5, Lee Seating/crimping die. This die isn't as forgiving of an over-belled case mouth. Adjust die #2 to just flare the case mouth a bit, just enough to get the bullet in reliably.

Black Dawge Filler between 1/8" and 1/16" from top of case
Here, shown large for detail, you can see the Black Dawge filler is between 1/16" and 1/8" from the top. When the bullet is seated, the filler will compress more than the powder. There will be no danger of mixing filler and powder because of the compression, and the round will be very consistent.

Now the cases have been advanced, and a bullet needs to be put into the case at station 5. If you've been using a XL650 for several years, you'll probably try to insert it in station 4. You'll get over it.

*Black Dawge Filler is ground corn cob with fines and dust removed. It is very consistent in size and inert. It was developed for Black Dawge Cartridge Co. "Reduced Recoil" loads. It is available from Powder Inc. When unable to get it I have used corn cob tumbling media and crushed walnut hull tumbling media.



Larsen E. Pettifogger came up with what I consider an easier way, and it allows separate seating and crimping dies.

1. The Lee Pro Auto-Disk Powder Measure comes with parts to use on a Lee press or as a stand alone for use on other presses. Set it up with the big return spring so it operates automatically.


2. You must use a Lee powder funnel and expander. This one is for a .45.


3. Lee makes an extension that fits into the top of the powder funnel to raise the powder measure.


4. This is what the riser looks like. The machined sleeve fits inside the riser and sits on top of the expander.


5. All the parts screwed together.


6. The powder funnel/riser assembly screwed into a Dillon 650.


7. The powder measure screwed to the top of the funnel/riser assembly. Plenty of clearance for the Dillon powder measure. Now all you have to do is adjust both measures to throw the quantity of BP and filler desired and you are ready to load. It may take a little time and trial and effort getting the proper powder hole in the Lee measure, but once set it won't change and thousands of rounds can be effortlessly loaded. This is the setup I use to load .45 Colt for use in R & D Conversion cylinders for practice with my Ruger Old Armies. I'm using walnut polishing media,which is what Larsen uses. Cornmeal proved to be too light and gave inconsistent volumes. I asked Larsen what he did for a powder check die, and he said that because you're filling the case with a measured amount of filler, if you didn't get the correct amount of powder in, the level will be visibly lower. I found this to be true and caught every undercharge at station 4.


I can't quite duplicate the percussion load of a 144 gr. round ball and 25 gr. APP 3f. So 200 gr. LRNFP are used for availability and cost--160s cost more. This load feels pretty close. I use 13 gr./weight of APP 3f, or about 17 gr. volume. That leaves an air space. I fill the space with filler. If you don't put in any filler, the gun won't blow up, but the loads will be inconsistent. For this load I used the 1.56 hole in the disk. Note the filler is about 1/8" from the top of the case. If you use filler, it must be compressed or it will migrate into the powder if there is air space.


You will spill filler. Clean frequently with compressed air.


To eliminate powder spilling, as soon as you start pulling up on the handle...


...put your finger on the round coming out of station 3 and keep it there until the case stops at station 4.


Insert the bullet at station 4


If you shoot one of the smaller cartridges, .38 Special of one of the .32s, you should not have to do this. A .38 Special filled with APP FFFg to the base of the bullet is a very mild shooting load that smokes realistically. Reducing the powder charge significantly on a .38 Special or less is not appropriate except for people with handicaps. Reducing the powder charge on a strongly recoiling .45 to make shooting more comfortable and to make up a little for the superiority of small calibers is reasonable. It costs less than a new set of expensive guns in .38 or .32. Loading .38s with the standard Dillon setup and 15-17 gr. of powder is a snap, and you can make volume production loads easily. If you want them mild, use APP FFFg. If you want them hot, use 777 FFg.

A .38 Special with 5 grains of 777 and a lot of filler will smoke less, but eliminating smoke is certainly against the spirit of the Black Powder categories. If your rounds don't smoke, you shouldn't shoot them in BP categories. Current rules require that rounds smoke as much or more than a 1 cc./15 gr. black powder load. If you load 15 gr. volume of any of the substitutes they will smoke at least as much as 1 cc./15 gr. Goex FF, the standard used to produce "smoke standard" loads.

Black Powder Smoke Standard Ammunition Test

Location; Founders Ranch
Date: 8/22/2011
Ammo Maker, Operator: Captain George Baylor
Judges: Shirley Shooter, Shaky Shooter
Conditions: 75-80°F, 0-5 mph wind, humid, just after rain
Procedure: Load Smoke Standard and test round alternately in Ruger NM Vaquero, 4-3/4" barrel, .38 Spcl.
Judges did not know which round was smoke standard, and which was test.
Fire rounds alternately. Judges were told to choose which round smoked more, or if they were the same.
Test was repeated until consensus developed.
One Judge stood approximately 6 feet behind shooter, the other 5 ft. to left of shooter and 6 ft. to rear


Shotgun Reloading
Until I started shooting Frontier Cartridge class I didn't reload shotguns. I didn't shoot enough shotguns to justify the time and effort. But black powsder loads, when you can find them, are quite expensive. First I bought a Lee Load All and loaded with black powder or Pyrodex. But I'd worn it out in a few months, and it was excruciatingly slow. The capper was a squib load at Range War. I was dipping black powder or Pyrodex, and obviously I failed to one time.

MEC 9000G

So I bought a MEC 9000G progressive loader. I could easily load 100 or more rounds in an hour. I'm not a fan because of the @#$! primer feed. Primers have to drop down a tube, land upright in a hole, and be transported to the next station when the machine advances. The primer feed mechanism gets out of adjustment enough, depending on a cheap little chain for adjustment, that it's a problem. If no primer gets into the shell, powder does and fouls the whole thing. So you have to watch 3 things for every round, the wad, don't forget it, the hull, don't forget it, and the primer. With practice you'll get the hang of it, but you'll waste powder and hulls till you do. Having compressed air to blow the powder and occasionally shot out of the machine helps.

Wad in place, fresh hull in station 1

Wad in place, fresh hull in station one.

The MEC uses powder bushings. This is a negative. This unit came with three, none of which were okay for black powder. The shot bar was a 1-1/8 oz. Adjustable shot bars and powder bushings are available from aftermarket sources, but I had already set up using MEC bars and bushings. One of the larger powder bushings (39A) will throw 50 gr. VOLUME equivalent. American Pioneer Powder weighs less than BP, so 41 gr.± by WEIGHT equals 50 gr. by VOLUME. See below for suggested loads. All will knock down knock downs if you hit them.
You have a lot of things to do at once with a Mec 9000
Handle down, watch for the primer falling into place right side up. If there's no primer in that hull at station 2 (left as we're viewing it, to the right of the primer feed), then we're about to have a mess, because there is now powder in it.

American Pioneer Powder in left, Shot in right

American Pioneer Powder in the left. #7-1/2 shot in the right.

I used red Winchester wads (WAA12R) and AA hulls back when I used the MEC. The red wads hold 1-1/8 to 1-1/4 oz. nominally. #7 is the largest allowed at several ranges. Shown is #7-1/2 shot. The wad cup is full, and the MEC makes virtually perfect crimps when everything is adjusted just right, a condition that's not easy to attain or maintain. Most plastic wads are not suitable for black powder as they take up too much space in the case. These are just right for 50-65 grain loads. (More loads below).
Empty powder back into original container for the night

Empty the powder back into the original container when you're done for the night and clean up around the loader. I don't leave any hulls in the machine, either, to prevent moisture contamination of the powder in a half-finished round. Spilled powder and shot are vacuumed up.

Other than always emptying the powder when you're through for the night and re-sealing it in its original container, it's pretty much like loading smokeless powder, no special grease wads needed, and FFg meters well enough for a shotgun.

Dillon SL900
Dillon SL900, if not the finest shotgun loading press on the market, it's in the top few
Proof you get what you pay for. The Dillon SL900 costs a little over 2X what the MEC did (counting all those bushings and such), but it's about 10 times better. It came adjusted for AA hulls, and I've never adjusted anything but powder and shot. The standard powder measure will handle about 55 gr. If you like bigger charges, you'll need the magnum rifle powder measure. The primer feed is much better than the troublesome MEC. It's still the weakest point just because it's dealing with 100 primers at a time. If you're going to have a malfunction, that's where it'll be. But they're rare. It won't drop powder or shot if there's no case under it! The hull feeder works flawlessly if you select round, clean, good hulls and don't put in more than it calls for. The shot feeder is much superior. Operation is low effort, and results are high speed if you pay attention. 2014 update: I've been using the SL900 for over 10 years now. It's been rebuilt once by Dillon, and it's had remarkably few problems. Dillon support, as expected, has been excellent. If you have a SL900 and it isn't working perfectly, don't keep fighting it. Call them. Parts will arrive in a few days.


(This was my recipe 10-12 years ago,but...)

APP FFFg (or Goex FFg or FFFg) 777

50-65 gr. FFg (volume, 42-55 gr. weight APP, see chart)

Red AA Winchester hulls

Red WAA12R Winchester wad (or Claybuster equivalent–Winchester WAA12R now discontinued, use Claybuster copy)

1-1/8 oz. shot, 7-1/2 to 9 to taste.

39 gr. FFg (volume, 34 gr. weight FFg)


Red AA Winchester hulls

Orange WT12 Winchester wads (or Claybuster equivalent)

1-1/8 oz. 7-1/2 to 9 shot.


I've talked to many top shooters, and these loads are close to what they use. No one is using a lot of powder. A lot of powder will blow a hole in your pattern, and the knockdowns will stay up. Black Dawge Ammunition used 65 gr., and that's the highest I know of. Red River Drifter's recipe is 55 gr./1-1/8 oz. except he uses wholly black.

Pattern your load at CAS distances.

2011 Update

I have discovered that several successful shooters are using lighter loads than listed above. World Champion Spur Roberts told me I was using too much powder. He was using 36 oz. Goex Cowboy and 1-1/8 oz. shot. This gives a good tight pattern for CAS knockdowns. Hence I lightened my loads some time ago. This is what I came up with to match it. It has worked for knockdowns at EOT and Winter Range for several years. I've never had a problem knocking targets down with it if I hit them.

When I pattern these in my 23" open cylinder SKBs they make about 12" just above the bead at 10 yards.

CAUTION: The load below will not switch barrels on a stock SKB shotgun which switches barrels by inertia, and BP is more of a shove than a punch compared to smokeless. My SKBs were tuned by Johnny Meadows and still needed 50 gr. loads. However now he converts the guns to mechanical switching. This load will work with all mechanical single trigger shotguns.

Goex FFg or FFFg, APP FFFg,

40 gr. volume. See conversion chart for weights of substitutes

Remington Figure 8S wads are first choice for use in the SL900 because the petals are connected at the top, making it less likely that the wad ram will catch one and fold it in. Winchester white and orange (WT12) wads and Claybuster copies (CB011b 12) work as well otherwise. If the SL900 is perfectly adjusted, the Winchester or Claybuster wads won't catch on the ram.

Remington STS (Gold or Green) hulls are my first choice for falling out of the shotgun. Remington Gun Club work almost as well and can be found in the trash at some ranges. Peters Blue hulls are good, but I haven't seen any in a year or so. Gun Club and Peters have steel bases instead of brass.

1-1/8 oz. shot (500 gr. is close enough if you're using a Dillon, which has an adjustable shot bar)

Note that Winchester primers are slightly bigger in diameter than Federal and Remington, making them very hard to seat consistently in Remington hulls. Remington, Federal, and CCI primers all seat easily in Remington hulls.

777 FFg has about 15% more powder than Goex. If you want the same power from 777 loads, 25 gr. weight

Production from a good day with the Dillon SL900 using Remington STS Nitro hulls, APP 3F, Remington Figure 8S wads, and 1-1/8 oz shot



I did some calculating based on local retail prices April 2014

Your mileage may vary. I did not use the lowest price APP was available during the Winter Range sale ($15.75/lb) because that required a 4 case (48 bottles) order. The Goex price was the lowest available. Plug in your local prices and charge weights for your cost figures. Or maybe you don't want to know.

Brass Clean up

Spent Brass bottle

BP and BP subs are hard on brass. Corrosion starts upon firing, and the way to stop it is to get the brass into something to prevent corrosion. BP and BP subs are basic, so a mildly acidic solution is suggested, such as vinegar and water. The Clean Shot people used to say 50/50. I've tried that but had just as good luck with 90% water/10% vinegar. I've also managed successfully with 90% water/10% Ballistol, 90% water 10% Commercial Windex with Vinegar. The Vinegar/water solution is the official answer from American Pioneer Powder.


When I get home I rinse the brass thoroughly in clear water and shake it out on colander to dry. After it's thoroughly dry I tumble it clean just like smokeless. If you're in a hurry (and single) you can put the cookie tin in the oven to dry it out. Then tumble.

I have no evidence that discoloration hurts the brass.

Gun Cleaning:
After much study and experimentation, I have devised the perfect solution for black powder substitute cleaning and have made it available at the nominal charge of $10/liter. It is very economical as it is diluted in water 1 part in 10 of water. Go here to order Captain Baylor's Magic BP Cleaning Elixir.
Alternately, if you don't have that:

If you're at home and have running water handy, try it. If not (like at a match) my guns are cleaned with a glass cleaner without ammonia and preferably with vinegar. I spray the guns down and run a bore snake through them with lubricant of choice sprayed on the last few inches of the bore snake. A cleaning brush and Windex/Vinegar does the frame. Then I wipe them down with lubricant of choice and put them away. Complete disassembly is rare, especially on the pistols. I used to shoot a Marlin, It needed it more often. I would remove the bolt if I was cleaning the Marlin at home and clean from the chamber end. Once I discovered Bore Snakes this got easier. Now I shoot Taylor' Winchester '73 replicas that have brass carriers. They are susceptible to black tarnishing, but no worse than shooting smokeless. It used to bother me, and I would. when it turned black, disassemble the carrier and use brass cleaning items such as Brasso. Zep All Purpose Cleaner, used full strength, would get off black discoloration. It would also take off bluing. Cowboys and Indians Store make a lightweight carrier out of anodized aluminum that eliminates this problem. I'm not a fan of aluminum carriers, and a little tarnish on the carrier no longer bothers me. I only detail strip the rifles about once a year, and I deal with it then.


The shotgun is the hardest to clean. Plastic wads will melt and coat the bores after hard usage.

To avoid this I spray lubricant down the barrel before putting the gun away to take home.

When I clean the guns first I take the barrel off the shotgun and spray them with Windex with Vinegar and lay the barrel down flat. Then I'll clean one revolver and spray the barrels again and turn them over 180°. Then I'll clean the other revolver. Then I'll start a Bore Snake at the chamber end and spray Windex/Vinegar down the bore from the muzzle. Usually then one pass of the Bore Snake will clean the barrel. If it doesn't, then soak it some more and try another pass.

Ordinarily that will come off with either a good brush or a Bore Snake run through several times. (Once is usually enough 90% of the time.) I just spray Windex/Vinegar down the bore and run the Bore Snake until it's clean. As an alternative to the Bore Snake, take a half paper towel, saturate it with your cleaning solution, wad it up, and shove it through the barrel using a dowel. Usually once per barrel is enough.

The rest of the gun is cleaned like the revolvers and rifle. When done I make sure every gun has a nice exterior coat of Break Free CLP before being put away. (I got rust using Ballistol/Water--on the outside, not caused by the powder). I have changed external protection to Hornady One Shot Cleaner/Lubricant because it is a dry film, and I got tired of slippery guns.


I've used Ballistol, Break Free CLP, Hornady One Shot Cleaner/Lubricant, and Rem Oil. American Pioneer Powder, 777 and Pinnacle aren't as finicky as the wholly black. If your lubricant works, continue to use it. If you get fouling, it's either your bullet lube or your lubricant. Switch accordingly.

Talk to 2 different shooters, whether they use wholly black or substitutes, and you will get 2 different cleaning methods. Talk to 10 and you'll get 12. The variations in methods and cleaning supplies and lubricants is staggering. It all seems to work. I don't think the exact method is critical.

Now you, too, can annoy your posse with smoke and noise, fascinate onlookers, and make inane comments about how black powder is more righteous than smokeless. In other words, you can have a lot of fun.

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Captain Baylor's Ranger Camp