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Muzzle Loading Pistols, rifles or shotguns is often seen a subject that takes years to learn and understand. Being a good shot with any firearm is all about safe practice, basic knowledge, experimentation with loads (within the proof limits) and lots of practice.  I want to try to give the newcomer  some basic understanding the process of what they need to know from the point of ignition to the shot, ball or bullet leaving the gun.

Percussion Caps. Most shooters will shoot with a firearm that uses a percussion cap to ignite the propellent. There are three common sizes of cap that fit on the various size nipples. They are No. 10 No. 11 and the large top hat cap that fits the large caliber rifle such as the P53 Enfield. These caps come in various makes and individual shooters will have their favorite makes but the sizes will all be the same. The number No. 10 and No. 11 caps at first glance look the same size so check which one you require for you firearm.

Propellent. This can be gun powder normally referred to as black powder or a substitute like Pyrodex or Triple 7. I personally like to use black powder as this is more in keeping with the history of what the original firearm was intended to use. Each  pistol, rifle or shotgun will have a maximum load of powder stamped on the barrel at proof. It is essential not to exceed this limit as this could result in either the gun being damaged or the user being killed!

Wads. When you are loading a shotgun wads are required to act as a piston placed over the powder. Normally this would be a 1/8 card wad followed by one or two 3/8 or 1/2 inch felt or fiber waxed wads, with another 1/16 card wad. on top. At the point of ignition the burning powder in the restricted confinement of the barrel generates gases, this builds up pressure and the wad is forced up the barrel pushing the shot in front of it, out of the muzzle.

Patches. Patches are normally used in single shot pistols or rifles. A patch is a circular piece of linen that is normally lubricated with a patch grease. Once you have put the powder charge in the firearm you place the patch on top of the muzzle and push the ball on to the patch. You will require a ball starter to get the ball to go down into the bore are it should be a tight fit. It is common for a patch to be about .010 thousandth of an inch and it will be the difference between the size of the ball and the diameter of the lands in the rifling or the barrel wall if it is a smooth bore. Again this needs to be measured to get the right thickness of patch.

Shot Charge. Shot is normally measured in ounces and if we take a 12 gauge shotgun the charges used are normally 1oz 1 1/4 oz or 1 1/2oz . For most hunting I uses No. 6 shot and for shooting at clays I use No. 7 1/2 Shot. This is however up to each shooter to find what produces the most consistence results and they are confident with. A shotgun does require an over shot wad normally of 1/16 card to hold the shot in place, otherwise once you move the gun to a horizontal position the shot would fall out.

Various Loads for Pistols If we look at three popular pistols in various calibers the .36 Colt Navy the .44 Remington 1858 revolver and a more modern pistol the .44 Old Army Ruger. It is important to remember that the test results were in the barrels of a clean pistol and the bore was cleaned after each shot. Fouling in the bore would increase the velocity due to the rise in pressure caused by the restriction of a dirt bore. The purpose of this chart is to illustration how increasing the powder charge increases the velocity.

Data for the chart below was made using a  second generation Colt Navy Cal .36 using CCI No. 11 percussion caps and a .375 inch soft lead ball average weight 80 grains.

Volume of Powder

Vel. in Fps

Eng. Ft/lb

Medium grain B.P.

 

 

10 grains

430

33

15 grains

729

94

20 grains

882

138

23 grains

910

147

Fine grain B.P.

 

 

10 grains

685

83

15 grains

876

136

20 grains

965

165

23 grains

972

168

Pyrodex P Powder

 

 

10 grains

440

34

15 grains

703

88

20 grains

800

114

24 grains

956

162

Data for the chart below was made using a  Reproduction Remington 1858 Cal .44 using CCI No. 11 percussion caps and a .541 inch soft lead ball average weight 138grains.

Volume of Powder

Vel. in Fps

Eng. Ft/lb

Medium grain B.P.

 

 

15

446

61

20

560

6

25

651

130

30

692

147

Fine grain B.P.

 

 

15

514

81

20

687

145

25

770

182

30

794

193

Pyrodex P Powder

 

 

15

510

80

20

702

151

25

766

180

30

779

186

It does take some time to set up for carrying out this type of testing and collecting the data The powder was weighed out for each charge but the balls were only taken out of a random selection of my own cast balls. The calculation was taken on the average weight of the balls.

If you wanted a more accurate set of data you would ensure all the balls were of the same weight and the pressure used to push the balls down was also controlled by loading the cylinder out of the frame in a jig.

As we only required this to illustrate the effect the difference in the powder charges and the types of powder make, it is close enough for that purpose. As you can appreciate there is always a slight variation as to how much pressure you would use in pushing down the ball on the powder charge. Also note the finer the black powder is, the faster velocity is recorded. This is because the finer the powder is, the faster it burns and the faster it burns, the quicker it builds up pressure and increases the velocity.

When shooting indoors many shooter reduce their powder charges to as little as 12 grains or less. It is important to be very careful when doing this, as if you under load your pistol too much, it can result in detonation and the barrel might burst or explode. To little velocity can result in the ball  rebounding from the target area and coming back towards the firing point.

Data for the chart below was made using a  New Old Army Ruger  Cal .44 using CCI No. 11 percussion caps and a .475 inch soft lead ball average weight 220 grains.

Volume of Powder

Vel. in Fps

Eng. Ft/lb

Medium grain B.P.

 

 

20

590

170

25

702

241

30

842

346

40

979

468

Fine grain B.P.

 

 

20

610

182

25

869

369

30

974

464

40

1038

526

Pyrodex P Powder

 

 

20

604

178

25

760

282

30

910

405

40

1045

534

Cautionary Note:- It is important to remember that when it is stated in the above charts we have used a certain amount of Pyrodex, it is not measured by weight in actual grains, it is measured by volume. Due to the light density of the powder if it were measured by weight the gun would be over loaded and create too high a pressure. Pyrodex is measured normally with a scoop measure, which is the  equivalent to a specific  number of grains.