Hodgdon's triple seven -- the non-corrosive (almost) muzzleloader powder: A close look at a new high-performance BP substitute.
Lives Up To Its Claims
Sometimes manufacturer's claims are overblown. However, I can say after purposely firing multiple consecutive shots without swabbing the bore (under test conditions) that hot water slicked the rifle up to brand new in a few short minutes. The effort required to remove Triple Seven fouling was little more than I lavish on my favorite smokeless powder cartridge guns. Hodgdon points out that it's the lack of sulfur that makes cleanup so easy. That's true, in part, but not the entire story. The powder's special formulation also plays a role.
Easy after-shooting maintenance brings more and more shooters into the fascinating world of muzzleloading. However, cleanup is only one criterion of a viable muzzleloader propellant. In the past, I've tried a few promising propellants that provided easy cleaning, but the rest of the story was poor energy yield resulting in low velocity, plus high standard deviations for potentially large groups. Another negative feature was impaired shelf life, the powder changing its pyrotechnic nature even when stored properly. Triple Seven has shown none of these drawbacks. Velocity for Triple Seven FFg, the granulation tested, proved to yield high energy. The new powder also shows good stability.
Again under test conditions only, in the name of discovery, Triple Seven was placed in the freezer for three days then baked in direct sunlight for three more. No changes in velocity or standard deviation resulted from this torture.
Volume Vs. Weight
Named for the 777th formulation, which finally worked as its inventor Dean Barrett intended, Triple Seven is loaded just like black powder -- by volume, not by weight. Cartridge fans can use a powder/bullet scale or powder measure if they wish, but they must first establish the correct charge weight by use of a volumetric powder measure.
For example, a .45-70 Navy Arms Remington Rolling Block was tested using 60 grains volume FFg Triple Seven. A 60 grain charge by weight would spill over the walls of the case like 12 ounces of water in an 8 ounce glass. Here is the correct procedure for weighing Triple Seven. The example is for a 60 grain volume charge. Set an adjustable volume muzzle loader's powder measure at 60 grains. Pour Triple Seven into the measure to slightly overfull. Tap the barrel of the measure to settle the powder. Rotate the swing-out funnel in place to strike off excess powder kernels. Place this volumetric charge on a powder/bullet scale. This 60 grain charge by volume of Triple Seven FFg was found to weigh 42.0 grains.
Hereafter, 42.0 grains weight Triple Seven FFg can be prepared on a scale or with a powder measure. Special black powder compatible measures from Lyman or Hornady are safe with Triple Seven. Warning: Standard powder measures designed for use with smokeless powder must never be used to meter out black powder or any black powder substitute. Conventional powder measures may conceivably set off the powder in the body of the measure by developing a static charge or through internal friction.
Compared With Pyrodex
Triple Seven is not a derivative of Hodgdon's popular Pyrodex. It is less dense than black powder, but more dense than Pyrodex RS. With a volumetric powder measure set at 100 grains, GOEX FFg produced 100 grains by weight. The same setting produced 71.0 grains weight for Pyrodex RS and 76.0 grains weight for Triple Seven FFg.
Two rifles were chronographed, a Markesbery .54 caliber Outer-Line muzzleloader and a .45-70 Navy Arms Remington Rolling Block with 30 inch Badger barrel installed by Morrison Precision of Hereford, Ariz. The .45-70 Government load was built with Star Line brass. Federal's hot 215 primer was selected and produced flawless ignition with Triple Seven. The cast bullet selected is from a custom Hoch mold, a flat nose which averages 417 grains weight. Lube: one part toilet bowl ring, two parts salt free lard, two parts beeswax. A single-over-powder card wad rested on powder charges that were compressed with a custom-made tool. Shooting procedure included the use of a blow tube, with three deep breaths exhaled down bore after each shot.
Not Just For Muzzleloaders
Three different powders were tested in the .45-70. A 60 grain volume charge (42.0 grains by weight) of Triple Seven produced an average muzzle velocity of 1,327 fps with a standard deviation of 8 feet per second. A proven accurate GOEX load of 63.0 grains weight developed 1,155 fps with 24 fps standard deviation. Swiss FFFg at 63.6 grains weight developed 1,363 fps.
Ignition with Triple Seven was perfect in the Markesbery .54 caliber, which was not set up with its special small rifle primer ignition system. A normal nipple with RWS No. 11 percussion caps produced 100 percent ignition without a hint of a hangfire from first to last shot, which included 54 firings.
Further proof of Triple Seven's highenergy yield was demonstrated by comparing Pyrodex RS at 1,675 feet per second with a Hornady 240 grain sabotedbullet and 100 grains volume measure, while Triple Seven FFg gave 1,800 fps with the same charge and bullet. My testing also included the heavyweight Parker Productions 580 grain lead bullet fired from the Markesbery .54 caliber muzzleloader. A charge of 120 grains volume (not weight) Triple Seven FFg delivered 1,475 fps and over 2,800 foot-pounds muzzle energy. For reference, substituting an equivalent charge of GOEX FFg developed 1,400 fps.
Flintlocks can digest Triple Seven, but Hodgdon recommends delivering five grains volume of FFFFg black powder down bore prior to introducing the main charge of Triple Seven, which must be reduced by five grains to compensate for the black powder priming charge. As always, there is to be no air space between the powder and the projectile or shot charge in the bore. That condition is called a short-start and has been known to split barrels and cause other mischief. The bullet or shot should be seated firmly upon the powder charge in the breech, but not rammed down with undue force.
Cartridges should be loaded to 100 percent density, meaning no air space between bullet and powder in the case. A single thin wad up to .030 inch (thirtythousandths) thickness between powder and bullet base is all right in the cartridge. But filler materials with reduced charges are not allowable.
Both the Markesbery .54 caliber muzzleloader and Navy Arms .45-70 cleaned up like prom-bound high school lads. Continuous shots without swabbing (for test purposes only) included a total of 6,480 grains volume Triple Seven FFg in the Markesbery .54 caliber muzzleloader. A dab of Orange Stuff, a new lube from Old Western Scrounger, was applied to the base of all conical bullets in shooting the Markesbery. The muzzleloader was not cleaned, purposely, for several days after shooting. The entire process of returning the rifle to a bright bore took only a few passes with a water-soaked bristle brush plus a few cleaning patches.
The .45-70 rifle's bore brightened with even less effort because it was properly cleaned soon after shooting. Solvents are acceptable and a shooter need not abandon a favorite cleaning method with Triple Seven. Water alone works, but I do recommend the application of a good preservative as a final touch before closeting guns.
The Bottom Line
As this is written, Triple Seven in either FFg or FFFg granulations lightens the wallet by $23 a pound. But each pound gives 25 percent more shots than black powder since Triple Seven is about 25 percent less dense. Pelletizing Triple Seven will make it even more appealing, because the Pyrodex Pellet already has a strong following among hunters. When hunting in lodges I make informal surveys of sportsmen to see what rifles, bullets and powders are most popular. The last time I checked, Pyrodex Pellets won the day. Triple Seven pellets may be the ultimate propellant for modern muzzle loading hunters, offering a bit higher velocities while demanding nothing more than a few moments of after-shooting attention to return the firearm to super clean -- not only the bore, but locks and actions as well.
There's no way this new propellant can fail in the marketplace. It will not replace Pyrodex or black powder for everyday shooting due to cost, but it will find its way into hunting camps everywhere front stuffers are carried in the hunting field.
RELATED ARTICLE: Helpful Hints with TRIPLE SEVEN
Hodgdon Powder Company offers helpful hints for the shooter using Triple Seven powder. The first is dealing with inaccuracy with the patched round ball. Hodgdon recommends checking patches. This is easy to do. Patches normally end up not far downrange. Torn patches may indicate sharp rifling lands. Blown patches (holes) result from gas blow-by in the rifling grooves. Hodgdon recommends reducing the charge until patches are no longer damaged. This, however, results in an under-load, and is not necessarily ideal.
For example, a 230 grain patched lead round ball in a .54 caliber muzzleloader can achieve close to 2,000 fps with a maximum allowable powder charge. Why reduce that by cutting back a normal and acceptable big game charge? A better way is introducing a couple thin leaves of hornet nesting material on top of the powder charge before seating the patched ball. This step results in a buffer between powder and patch. I have yet to find a burned-out patch when using hornet nesting leaves. Note: this is not mud dauber nesting material, but hornet nest.
Hodgdon has good advice for shooters of sabots. Again, the idea is to search downrange, picking up spent sabots. If they are torn or show signs of damage, switch to magnum type sabots. These are made to withstand the ravages of heavier powder charges.
Bore leading is not much of a problem with muzzleloaders or black powder cartridge guns, but Hodgdon recommends that if leading does appear when using Triple Seven powder, lubing the base of lead projectiles can help. There seems to be an accuracy advantage in placing lube on the base only, rather than the shank of lead bullets.
Hodgdon recommends tapping the side of the barrel to settle a charge of Triple Seven in the breech area of the bore. This is worthwhile advice. While it may or may not promote good ignition, having the full charge settled into the breech is always desirable.
Below (left): Triple Seven is not just for muzzleladers. Ron Cox prepares to light off a round in the author's custom Navy Arms roller. (middle): This Markesbery .54 caliber performed splendidly with Triple Seven FFg granulation. (right): Triple Seven will be available in FFg and FFFg granulations.