Updated April 2014

Capt. Baylor firing full charge APP load, .45 Colt, Marlin Cowboy, 24" barel

Marlin Cowboy, .45 Colt, 30 gr. (weight) APP FFg, 200 gr. lrnfp, at Tin Star Ranch 2003±

The Black Powder categories in Cowboy Action Shooting have been exploding of late, partly due to the fact that SASS discovered spectators like it, and it plays well on TV, and partly due to the advent of Black Powder Substitutes, powders that load like BP (volume for volume) and smoke like BP (Some smoke more), but don't smell like sulfur and clean up easily, load easier, and don't face the same regulations.
A good source for information on using Real blackpowder in Cowboy Action Shooting is at Abilene's CAS Page. The article is Blackpowder (and substitute) Cartridge Loading for CAS. He also has an article on brass shotshells. Great guy to have on your posse, too.
Most people shoot smokeless powder in Cowboy Action Shooting. But there are three categories for Black Powder and Black Powder Substitutes:
Frontier Cartridge (sometimes called Black Powder Cartridge, even at major matches) requires black powder/substitutes in cartridge firing pistols, rifles, and a SxS shotgun or a lever-action shotgun. You may use both hands to shoot your pistols in Frontier Cartridge. You may fire cap and ball pistols in Frontier Cartridge.

Ruger New Vaquero firing Black Dawge Cartridge BP loads

Ruger New Vaquero, .357, firing Black Dawge .38 special black powder ammunition, Texas Historical Shootists Society

Major Ned Prentiss firing oriiginal Smith and Wesson #3, .44 S & W,Frontier Cartridge

Major Ned Prentiss, original Smith and Wesson #3, .44 S & W, 777 FFg, THSS

Frontier Cartridge Duelist has the same rules except you shoot duelist (one handed) with the pistols.


Rowdy Yates firing Cimarron Colt 1860 Army replica in Frontier Cartrdge at Winter Range '02


Frontiersman requires cap and ball pistols and the same rifle and shotgun as FC. Frontiersman requires shooting duelist (one handed) with the pistols.

Rowdy Yates, BP Guru and gunsmith, firing one of his percussion '60 Armies, this one with a short barrel, at Winter Range '02. He was national champion in '04

Reasons for BP Subs:

There are several reasons to use a black powder substitute rather than the "holy black." Local regulations might prohibit the sale of black powder, which is an explosive. They might require odious storage requirements for that reason. Pyrodex, which loads volume for volume the same as black powder (not weight for weight, as it is 20% lighter), for example, can be sold inside the city limits of Houston, but black powder cannot. Pyrodex is black powder which has been chemically altered to make it safer to store and ship. It shares many of black powder's problems and is hygroscopic to boot (meaning it draws moisture if left on a gun after firing).

American Pioneer Powder (and Jim Shockey's Gold by APP) and Hodgdon 777 are also easier to clean up after than wholly black and can be loaded in a progressive reloading machine (as can Pyrodex).

American Pioneer Powder's powders (which we'll call APP for brevity) and Hodgdon 777 can use cheap smokeless bullets.


Goex Cowboy Black Powder

Black powder cannot be loaded in a progressive reloading machine unless the machine is modified to accept a powder measure that is designed for black powder. Black powder is susceptible to explosions caused by static electricity. Having half a pound of FFg black powder blow up six inches in front of your face could ruin your whole day. Thus a plastic powder measure and/or one with ferrous metals will not work. Lyman, Cal-Graf, and Hogdon make brass and aluminum powder measures for use with black powder. (There are those who say the odds of setting off black powder with a spark are too long to make it a problem. As I don't know, I'll play it safe.) Black Dawge Cartridge Co. once made a powder measure conversion kit you could use in your Dillon 550 or 650 to reduce static electricity. Though the disclaimer sait it was only to be used with smokeless powder. Dillon sent a cease and desist order, and production was stopped. Dillon is adamant that their machines not be used with BP.

Black powder requires special bullet lubricants, and sometimes special bullets. Multi-groove, soft lead, flat based bullets with room for lots of black powder lube are ideal--and expensive. Powder Inc. sells Black Dawge BP-lubed .45 cal., 235 gr. bullets for $113.75/1,000. I buy cheap smokeless bullets for well under $50/1,000. (04-2014-all of those prices have gone up, of course. The differential is still there, though.)
Black powder cleanup is a frequent and sometimes odious process. Some guns won't shoot an entire cylinder without base pin binding. A good specialty gunsmith can cure that.
Black powder smells like the proverbial fires of hell because of the sulfur content. In addition to wives not liking their husbands to smell like sulfur, some people are allergic to sulfur and suffer blinding headaches when exposed to it in quantity.
But if you like the smoke and boom of black powder, and you can't/won't use "wholly" black, consider the substitutes. If you plan on using "wholly" black, keep reading. Most of the techniques are the same, and where they aren't, I'll try to cover BP too.



Pyrodex, the first black powder substitute Pyrodex is the original BP substitute. It is essentially BP modified so it can be shipped and not classified as an explosive. It smells like sulfur and requires the same techniques as BP with one fairly major exception: Hodgdon has okayed loading Pyrodex in progressive loading machines with normal powder measures. But Pyrodex is, if anything, more corrosive than BP. It requires the same cleaning techniques. Do not fail to clean up after a day's shooting. Pyrodex requires bullets with BP lube such as SPG. Don't try using Pyrodex with the techniques described for APP and 777.

American Pioneer Powder

This started life as Clean Shot. When the name change occurred, I did tests of remaining Clean Shot and new APP and could find no difference. But it has been improved considerably over the years. Look for it in the black bottle, like on the left. I found that current APP is not as hygroscopic as Clean Shot or early APP. I still treat it as if it's hygroscopic. Advantages of American Pioneer Powder:

1. Uses regular smokeless bullets. SPG lubed bullets offer no advantage

2. Can be loaded on your Dillon or Hornady or Lee or RCBS progressive.

3. No sulfur smell

4. Clean up is VERY easy.

5. Every time I've done a Ransom Rest accuracy test, one of APP' powders has always won.

Hodgdon 777
Hodgdon 777

This powder was designed for hunters trying to get more volume. It is really hot, 15% hotter than Goex 2F, for example.

It has all of the advantages of APP above. However, Hodgdon is adamant that it not be used with fillers or wads other than as specified in their website, which usually means one Wonder Wad. This makes for hot ammunition.

This is probably the most popular of the non-SPG substitutes, mostly because of availability. Most SASS members using it are loading it "out of book," meaning violating some of the severe loading restrictions Hodgdon puts on it. It is routinely downloaded using wads or fillers despite the restrictions.

Goex Pinnacle
Goex Pinnacle Black Powder Substitute

DISCONTINUED. Made for Goex by American Pioneer Powder, it shares the same specific gravity and general characteristics, but it's black, not grey. It is hotter than APP. Goex has no restrictions about wads or fillers. It has the advantages listed above.


Velocity Comparison:
Ruger Vaquero, 4-5/8" barrel
200 gr. Hunter's Supply Bullets (except Cowboy used 200 gr. Desperado Cowboy BP lubed bullets)            
Powder Gr. Vol. Hi Lo E.S. Avg. SD
Cowboy 34 742 731 11 737 4
Cowboy* 16 509 495 14 501 5
Pinnacle FFg 34 684 578 106 642 42
Pinnacle FFFg 34 694 577 117 637 46
Pinnacle FFg* 16 526 497 29 511 11
Pinnacle FFFg* 16 581 527 54 553 23
P3f, 1 cyl** 16 557 547 10 551 4
APP FFg 34 580 508 82 558 30
777 FFg 34 898 829 69 873 27
Marlin Cowboy, 24" barrel            
Same Bullets            
Powder Gr. Vol. Hi Lo e.s. Avg. SD
Cowboy 34 1142 1095 47 1115 16
Cowboy* 16 756 657 99 700 43
Pinnacle FFg 34 1056 931 125 982 63
Pinnacle FFFg 34 1165 1008 157 1114 64
Pinnacle FFg* 16 703 646 57 667 21
Pinnacle FFFg* 16 804 728 76 778 27
APP FFg 34 898 819 79 848 33
777 FFg 34 1282 1241 41 1256 17
* Black Dawge filler used to 1/8" of top of case.
**(P3f, 1cyl–Using only 1 cylinder, the results eliminated the variations caused by 6 different chambers in a revolver. The results, therefore, were more consistent.)

The substitutes do not weigh the same as BP. This is important. If the recipe calls for 30 gr. of powder, and you weigh out 30 gr. of any of the subs, it will overflow. Unlike smokeless powder, BP must be loaded until it fills the case less room for the bullet and a little compression, say 1/8". Substitutes are done the same way except APP, Pinnacle, and 777 all say to load to the base of the bullet with little or no compression. You can adjust your powder measure without using a scale, but I always use one to verify charges. Of course a scale is necessary for reduced loads (see next page.)
See: Captain Baylor's BP Conversion Sheet for useful conversions
Please Go to Page 2