The Black Powder Cartridge rifle for this discussion is any single shot rifle of medium to large caliber made before 1900. Rolling blocks, falling blocks, trap door actions are some examples. The great Sharps Buffalo rifles come to mind when one thinks of this area of shooting. Examples of some calibers are the: 38-55, 40-70, 44-77, 45-70 Govt., 45-90, 45-110, 50-70, 50-90. and many others.

Many who are new to Black Powder Cartridge do not know where to start, what to do. I will attempt here to make the new reloader understand some new words and new methods as they relate to BPCR.

Frequently asked questions:

What's a drop tube? A drop tube is a simple device used to fill the cartridge case with powder. It is a tube anywhere from 2 -3 ft. in length 1/4- 3/8" diameter attached vertically to a stand. The brass cartridge case is placed under the bottom end on the stand. The tube is adjusted so that it is just inside the case mouth. The black powder is then poured slowly into a funnel on the top end of the tube. The powder flutters down inside the tube, filling the case. This method does two things, it settles the powder in case evenly, and it removes the air contained in the powder charge allowing more powder to put into the case.

How is black powder measured? A black powder measure uses water weight by volume. An example of this: 20 grains of water weight, weighed on a powder scale...the volume it creates, poured into a brass cylinder is marked 20 grains for measuring black powder. Black powder is measured this way by volume. However, some shooters like to take this volume measurement and weigh it on a powder scale. Some feel it is a more accurate way of weighing consistently. Take a volume charge whatever it may be, and weigh several, then use the average for the weight.

What if I use too much powder? Black Powder is a slow burning propellant. it is doubtful you can get too much in the cartridge case. The bullet will leave the barrel before the powder has a chance to burn. The unburned powder will be pushed out of the barrel onto the ground. Actually one thing needs mentioned here, you never want to have an air space or void inside the cartridge. This condition could cause the chamber to ring, or develop too much pressure. Using a large powder charge to fill the case to point of the base of the bullet is what is desirable. (including wad/lube disk)

What is compression? After the case has been filled with powder the cartridge case is placed into a loading press and with a compression plug the powder charge is compressed. Usually 1/8 - 1/4" compression is used. Some shooters like a little more, some shooters use no compression at all. it all depends on what your rifle likes with that particular load. Compressing the powder charge is safe. It will not blow up in your face. Care should be given as too much compression will bulge the cartridge case, and it will not chamber.

What is a wad? A wad or disk is usually used over the powder charge. This wad can vary in thickness and material. Some use cardboard, plastic, wax paper, or any combination of materials.

What is a grease cookie? A grease cookie or lube disk, as they were called, is a disk of bullet lube especially used with black powder. This disk or cookie provides an agent to help control fouling. As the cartridge is fired the heat melts this disk and it coats the barrel with it's qualities. As the black powder residue mixes with this lube, it softens the fouling. Fouling of the bore will affect accuracy, and it must be controlled as shooting progresses.

What bullets should I use? Most if not all Black Powder rifle shooting is done with cast lead bullets. These bullets can be of many different designs and weights. Again, the particular gun and powder charge, and bullet all combine together to create a cartridge that will provide the best accuracy.
Many shooters cast their own, however, commercial made bullets of good quality can be bought. It should be noted here that pure lead is too soft to be used in a cartridge rifle. They obdurate too much too fast. An alloy such as tin is used to add a little hardness. The amount of alloy added to the lead is represented by a number indicating the ratio used, ie: 20:1, 30:1 and so on. Ready made commercial bullets usually have this stamped on the box. 20:1 is pretty much standard.

So how does this all work? Very simple, remember the buffalo hunter loaded his own ammunition by the camp fire with hand tools, and was very successful at what he did. First use a clean dry case designed to be used by the rifle that will fire it. Prime the case with a standard rifle primer, some like magnum rifle primers, some like large pistol primes, any will work. Place the case in the drop tube. Take your powder charge and pour slowly, but consistently the powder down the tube. Remove the case with the charge and put into the loading press. Using a compression plug, compress the charge. Next, place a wad of your choosing on top of the powder. Now you may put a lube disk of your favorite bullet lube into the case. Some like to use another wad of wax paper over the lube disk so the lube disk won't stick to the base of the bullet.

How should I seat the bullet? Assuming you belled the case mouth just ever so slightly, just enough to get the bullet into the case, you can either by hand push the bullet down on top of the powder/wad combination. You may also put it into the loading press and use the bullet seater to seat the bullet. Do not at this point use the bullet to compress the powder charge as the bullet may deform, or bulge the case. you will most likely see a little lube from the disk squirt out the top of the case. This is all you can go. If you seat any more you will push lube down into the powder charge and perhaps contaminate the powder. Some trial and error will take place at this point. getting the right amount of powder, compression, lube/wad, bullet seat depth will take practice.

To crimp or not to crimp? As we are shooting a single shot, we have no loads in the gun that will be affected by recoil. A crimp is not usually necessary unless the loaded cartridges are to be carried in a belt or are going to be subjected to shock that would cause them to be vibrated apart. Again, it may come down to personal preference. I like a little tension on the bullet at the neck, around 2-3 thousands. If you should use a crimp, a tapered crimp is more desired over a rolled crimp.

This complicated, Right? Not at all, the actual loading of the cartridges is pretty straight forward and simple. Keeping track of the variables can be a challenge, as there are many, many different bullet designs, primers to use, different lubes, and varying powder charges. A lot of experimentation is needed to find the right combination to achieve an accurate loading.

So how is a guy to remember all these variables? That's an easy one! Simple, Get the Black Powder Cartridge Reload Target Recorder! Designed by a black Powder cartridge shooter for fellow shooters. This easy to use records keeping notebook will track all the variables and range work need to develop an accurate bullet/powder/ case combination. see it right here. click here

Maximum lengths 45/70 Govt. 1874 Sharps,Pedersoli. Note: All shown are force seated into the lands

Maximum cartridge Lengths for given bullet designs, left to right:

Lyman 457-124, 405 grn. 2.800

Hoch style fn ,405 grn. 2.800

Hoch style fn, 500 grn. 2.967

Paul Jones mini groove , 532 grn. 3.390

Lyman Postell 157-132, 535 grn. 3.140

Paul Mathews taper ,490 grn. 3.271