At the 2008 SHOT show I met the representatives of the Western Powders company and after talking about our favorite subject, reloading, they indicated that they would send me a sample of their new Blackhorn 209 powder. They carry many other powders including AA 5744 which is one of my all time favorites to load old guns.
Recently I was given a sample of a new muzzleloading propellant to test out. According to the label it is meant for modern muzzleloaders using a 209 shotgun primer, hence its name. One thing I found out right off, is its low density as the kernels are hollow. It comes in a conventional 1 pound can but contains only 10 ounces of powder. You could say it is the black powder equivalent of Trail Boss. The powder is black and looks like an extruded powder such as 4895. However the kernels are hollow which makes it less dense. They also carry the AA line of powders which I count among my favorites. They can be contacted at www.blackhorn209.com  or call 406-234-0422.
Blackhorn 209 muzzleloader powder by Western Powders
Blackhorn 209 powder, note the holes
Since I do a lot of obsolete cartridge firearms, I decided to load in some of my rifles chambered for the oldies. I loaded it the same as I do black powder or a substitute meaning that the loads are slightly compressed. There is no information regarding loading this powder in cartridge firearms so I am on my own. Right away I found that you can't put as much of the 209 in a case as other black powder and the various substitutes that I have worked with. For instance in a 38-55 case 30 grains is about all that will fit where I can put 40 grains of the others in the same case. Anyway I loaded some with a 245 grain cast bullet and chronographed. In spite of the lesser amount powder I obtained some pretty impressive velocities in the 1500 fps range. I know that the chronograph is working fine because the recoil felt like 1500 and I did some other loads with known velocities.
That may not be scientific but if you are familiar with a certain gun you can tell the difference between 1200 and 1500 feet per second. I ran two loads one with standard primers and the second with a magnum brand. There was a little difference but it wasn't enough to worry about. All the loads I shot so far were consistent, indicating good ignition. I used some in the 45-70 with a 300 grain bullet, and like the 38-55 it produced good velocities with a lesser amount of powder then the black powder and its substitutes. For now I am going to treat it like the other powders I am using, such as Clean Shot and various Pyrodex and black powders. That means that I will not allow any loads with airspace, because like the others it may be a danger. However the lab informs me that they have shot loads that didn't fill up the case and obtained decent results though the velocities were low.
Shooting the 45-120 with a 535 grain at 1700 was an experience that I don't care to repeat very often. It definitely rattled the teeth. The Gras was also somewhat frisky but like the 45-120 loads were very consistent. The 43 Spanish also did well with this powder. All in all I find that this powder produces higher velocities then black powder or any other substitute I have tried, especially in the larger rifle rounds with less powder. I hope to use the French Gras on a buffalo with 209 as the propellant. I have no doubt that it will deliver the goods. It is a very worthwhile addition for anyone that shoots black powder type firearms. My shelf will always have it around for black powder type of rifles. The one area where 209 shows its stuff is in rifles, especially cartridges the size of the 30-30 and larger. While it works ok in smaller rifles such as the 25-20, there is no advantage to using it there, unless you just like it. It does burn cleanly even in the smaller numbers. If I worked in their advertising department, I would talk about its qualities in large black powder rifles, as that is where it shines.
Blackhorn 209 is excellent with large rifle cartridges
Another observation is this powder smokes, but not a much as some of the others, though its quite a bit. It burns clean, not leaving much residue in the gun or case. I have found very little residue in the cases, and the outside is very clean with the exception of a couple of the smaller rounds. The cases have soot from low pressure loads in such calibers as the 9.4 Dutch. With black powder or Cleanshot there is a lot of residue in the cases, which must be cleaned out prior to reloading. Sizing the case usually helps with that. If you don't tumble it first the black powder and Cleanshot adhere to the case walls and sizing will knock it off. The barrel is clean, as it is advertised as being non corrosive. It isn't particularly pleasant to inhale.
I tried 25 grains in a 44-40 case as a blank, but the powder didn't make much noise and due to weak loads jammed the gun. Other then large rifle cases it probably isn't suitable for blanks. I haven't experimented much in that area and won't as there are better blank powders.
Shotguns are another area that I am currently working on, and there seems to be some potential there. After quite a bit of experimenting I have concluded that it isn't particularly well suited to a shotgun. I managed to shoot a 1 oz slug out at about 1100 feet per second which would be ok for home defense but too slow for big game hunting. Using a 1 & 1/8 oz of shot ahead of 72 grains worked fairly well, but it takes some effort to make that happen. It will take a bird at close to moderate ranges, but due to the expense, I don't see any reason to use it instead of black powder. Just as a note, it did cycle a Benelli 3" magnum shotgun. There were no jams or stovepipes.
Shooter shooting Benelli with 209 powder
In the larger handguns such as the 44-40 and 45 Colt it produces good accuracy, and the velocity is in the ball park of black powder. It burns cleanly and is consistent. Accuracy is good with all the loads that I have tried, which is pretty considerable. In small handguns there is nothing to recommend it. It didn't impress me in the 32-20. I did try in it my 45 auto and it cycled the action, though the velocities were lower then normal. The only problem is it is very expensive, and there are limited outlets. If you like it and are willing to pay the price, then it might be for you, though in complete honesty you can get by with something else for handguns.
These 44 & 45 calibers work well with 209
Even this Llama 45 shot well with 209, functioning was perfect
The good and bad on Blackhorn 209
For the good news it is clean burning and consistent, even in small guns where the velocity is low. It meters well through most powder measures, though if you have a small orifice you might want to watch for bridging. In cartridge rifles it is head and shoulders above black powder or any substitute, if velocity is desired. It is also accurate and consistent. I have chronographed rifles from 25-20's to the 45-120, so I have some experience in this area. In such rifles as the 11 mm's and the 45-120 the loads produced are really potent. In fact with the 45-120 and a 535 grain bullet, it will rattle your teeth and bruise your shoulder while producing a velocity of 1700 fps. For big game hunting it will do the job.
Even after an extended shooting session, the barrel is clean, as are the cases. Accuracy equals or beats anything on the market. It produces safe pressures in black powder arms. It is very expensive, but since you use from 30 to 40% less then the other powders, that will help with the costs to an extent. The lab was kind enough to send me quite a bit of data showing velocities and pressures of various guns. The pressures shown are safe in black powder guns, while their velocity data was within the ball park of my own. They use a universal receiver while I tested mine with regular guns.
The bad news is it is very expensive. It retails for about $30 per 10 oz can, as compared to $15 to $20 for 16 oz of its competitors. I was told that it is due to the holes, it is difficult to manufacture and raises the production costs. At this time we are stuck with the prices, unless they can figure out a way to make it cheaper. It is hard to ignite and isn't suitable for caplock type of muzzleloaders. There is no reason to use it in a shotgun because of the price and difficulty to ignite. It was originally designed for the inline muzzleloaders and I have heard both good and bad about it. Since the inlines use the 209 shotgun primer, that is where the powder got its name. The bad has to do with ignition problems, but my feeling is if the slug is in tight it should work ok. I have an inline which I recently received and will be doing my own testing and draw my own conclusions. I am going to use CCI 209 magnum primers to enhance ignition. At a later date I will give a full and impartial report on 209 and other suitable propellants. Anyone who is familiar with reloading realizes that there is no one powder that can do everything. At this time there are about 175 types of powders for loading handguns, shotguns and rifles. There is a little overlap, nothing covers it all. While it is a quality product it would be unfair to expect 209 to be the first to do everything.
Bob Shell has been around guns all of his life and enjoys handloading and hunting especially with obsolete guns. Life member of the NRA & NAHC, he also belongs to POMA & OWAA which are outdoor writer associations. Bob has written for various publications, as well as two books and is working on a third. He has an ammo business specializing in hard to find ammo www.obsoleteammo.com .