Muzzleloading: How To Get Started – Part 2

How To Choose Powder and Bullets For Your Muzzleloader

By Ed Hall

muzzleloader powder and bulletsThere are three propellant options: real black powder, replica black powder and replica black powder formed into pellets. Real black powder is very hygroscopic; it readily absorbs moisture, and is messy to work with. The residue from real black powder is extremely corrosive, so much so that fired guns, left with any amount of ambient moisture, will be damaged in a weekend and ruined in a couple of weeks. Also important is that real black powder is considered an explosive for shipping and storage. I don’t wear buckskins, and I don’t shoot black powder.

Loose replica black powder must be carefully measured for each shot, but the pelletized version is much easier to deal with and is the common choice among muzzleloaders today.


Pellets of replica black powder are much easier to use than loose black powder.

Hodgdon pelletized replica black powder is such that two pellets propel a typical 250-grain bullet just a bit faster than a .44 Magnum rifle, with a muzzle velocity of 1,785 ft/s, according to Hodgdon. Driving a controlled expansion fat bullet at that velocity is a most lethal prescription out to, say, 150 yards.

Hodgdon is one of our major smokeless powder companies and their black powder replica “Triple Seven” outsells all of its competition combined. The Hodgdon predecessor was Pyrodex, and it is still available, similarly packaged and sitting alongside 777 on the shelves. I advise against its use because the dark end is a bit of real black powder to better ensure ignition – – and it leaves the same highly corrosive residue. If your gun shop has only Pyrodex left on the shelf, find another gun shop.

Triple Seven pellets, if they take a soaking, will fail to fire, but they are so non-hygroscopic that the container they come in is not sealed against moisture. There is a new pellet on the market called ‘White Hots’ made by IMR, but then, IMR is owned by Hodgdon. Cleanup with 777 and White Hots is with just plain water.

One 777 pellet is the equivalent power of 50 grains of black powder, (although they weigh considerably less). A standard deer hunting load is 100 grains, or two pellets. It is possible to find pellets having less than 50 grain equivalent, if you wanted, say an 80 grain load using a 50 and a 30 grain pellet.

Hodgdon recommends against the common practice of using three 777 pellets for more velocity, and instead recommends two of their 777 Magnum Pellets, upping the muzzle velocity to 2,010 ft/s. Using a 150-yard zero, you’ll be about two inches high at 100, and six inches low at 200 yards.

Choosing The Muzzleloader Bullet

Almost nobody hunts deer with a traditional patched round ball anymore. They do get the job done at modest ranges and are seemingly faster, but they are a bit light and ballistically poorly shaped and lose their punch very quickly.

The cloth patch has transitioned to a plastic cup having a gas seal at the bottom. It has been named the French word for shoe, sah-BOW, though most folks say SAY-bow.


Muzzleloader sabots from Barnes and Traditions.

The better bullet itself took a bit longer, as early saboted bullets were merely jacketed handgun bullets driven faster than they were designed for. Only in the past dozen years or so have dedicated muzzleloader saboted bullets been available, having proper construction for muzzleloader velocities and pointed tips to slice through the air. (A few states have special bullet requirements.)

Today there are typically two bullet weights available, 250 and 300 grains. In my humble opinion, the 250-grain is for deer and the 300 is for elk, but if you want to better ensure an exit wound on your deer, choose the 300. I use Traditions Smackdown bullets made by Hornady.

Legally-Loaded Muzzleloaders?

Check local laws, but generally a muzzleloader is considered legally unloaded when the primer, the cap, or in the case of a flintlock, the priming powder, is absent. A charge and bullet in the barrel doesn’t make it loaded, so you need not fire your rifle at the end of the day if you must transport your rifle in a vehicle.

In wet weather I put a small piece of rubber where the primer goes for overnight storage.   I always store and hunt with my muzzleloader with a strip of electrical tape over the muzzle.  I tape the muzzle of all my guns to keep out moisture and bits of bark when I lean it against a tree. It also reminds me that I have a charge in my muzzleloader.

Next post: Cleaning Your Muzzleloader

Anyone have success hunting with a muzzleoader so far?  Leave a comment here:

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