What Powder Is the Only Kind That Should Be Used In a Muzzleloader?

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The muzzleloader hunting season is when many new muzzleloading rifle hunters begin harvesting prey using trusty, old-method firearms. With more game options and fewer hunters in the field, this early phase has the most excellent weather; it offers a chance to fill your entire season’s limit. But what powder is the only kind that you should use in a muzzleloader?

Black powder is the only variety of powder that you should load in a muzzleloader. Although synthetic alternatives exist, you should only use approved substitutes and never the new smokeless types. This propellant is easily ignitable, with a widespread reputation in the muzzleloading community.

Keep reading as I dissect the ins and outs of powder for muzzleloaders. We’ll talk about how to use and why only specific varieties are suitable for your firearm.

What’s a Muzzleloader Firearm?

With a muzzleloader hunting license, you’re entitled to one deer, rabbits, squirrels, quail, and migratory birds. Unlike modern firearms, you must load this rifle from the muzzle, which goes for each shot. There are no mechanical levers or bolts for load or reload, and designs include the inline and break action.

Your inline muzzleloader features a threaded breech plug at the end of a long tube on the shooter’s end. A nipple on this plug holds the primer, after which a hammer striker combination is the igniter or detonator of your powder charge. As the powder burns, gas pressure drives the propellant, often a ball, down the barrel and out the muzzle.

Many modern inline muzzleloaders use a 209 shotgun primer that doesn’t require a unique tool for capping or de-capping. Percussion caps are also used to make the powder explode. However, their breach plugs are different so that you can use 209 primers and Number Eleven caps interchangeably.

Break action muzzleloaders use a lever to pivot the barrel away from the stock, exposing the primer bay or recess. There are also falling block, trap door, plunger, and bolt action muzzleloader models.

What Is Black Powder, and Which Type Should Be Used in a Muzzleloader?

Are you starting as a muzzleloader shooter, or maybe the staggering options on offer for propellants are overwhelming? Contrary to years ago, this sector has come a long way in powder choices. It remains your choice of which brand is the best fit for your firearm.

Black powder is made from sulfur, charcoal, and potassium nitrate, also called saltpeter. This granular substance can be black, grey, or brown and ignites in a dense cloud of white smoke.

As the only powder that you should use in a muzzleloader firearm, black powder is available in four distinct granulations;

  • Fg is the coarsest grained black powder used mainly in cannons, ten or larger gauge shotguns, and rifled of .75 caliber or more.
  • FFg is medium-grained and typically used in shotguns of 20 to 12 gauge, muzzleloaders of .50 to .75 caliber, and pistols in .50 caliber and above.
  • FFFg is a fine-grained black powder that’s best used in pistols under .50 caliber, smaller shotguns, and rifles.
  • FFFFg is an extra fine-grained black powder used as a primer in flint-locking rifle flash pans.

The coarser the granulation of powder, the larger the caliber or gauge of your firearm. Unfortunately, the original substance is mainly inefficient and corrosive, not to mention messy. Actual black powder produces so much smoke because only about 50% of the loaded sample burns. Much of this is blown out of the muzzle as smoke, while other residues remain within your barrel.

Alternatives to Pure Black Powder for Use in a Muzzleloader

One of the ingredients of black powder for muzzleloader priming and firing is sulfur. That’s the reason a foul smell is emitted once you’ve fired your fire-stick, often confused with rotten eggs. The composition is also hygroscopic, meaning that it’ll absorb moisture that affects its ability to ignite when exposed. 

This charge is a sensitively combustive compound that can be highly hazardous when mishandled. As such, black powder is classified by the federal government as an explosive. There are strict regulations concerning the manufacture, transportation, and storage of this propellant, leading to