It's funny how an entire deer season finally boils down to the last few days. For more than a month, starting in Illinois then jumping across the Mississippi River into Missouri, I had hunted every possible season trying to get a really good whitetail buck in my sights. I'd filled 5 does tags and had managed to take a fair buck, shooting my favorite .50 caliber Knight Long Range Hunter stuffed with the new 300-grain polymer tipped Scorpion PT Gold from Harvester Muzzleloading and a new muzzleloader propellant that was different than any other I had ever shot and hunted with - a new powder from Western Powders that will be marketed as Blackhorn 209.
Several times on my last hunt of the season, a late muzzleloader season hunt in December, I had spotted a huge 6-pointer (no brow tines) that would still score between 150 and 160 B&C points, but like on earlier hunts, I just could not get the deer in range or in my sights. On the third morning of the hunt, I caught glimpse of a nice 8-pointer crossing a nearby ridge top. And when the winds began to top 25 m.p.h. on the third afternoon, I chose to cover a long and deep sandy draw that led from higher heavy bedding cover to a few river bottom hayfields - near where I had spotted the buck. That hunch paid off. Several hours before dark, more than a dozen does and a small buck eased past my makeshift ground blind 140 yards from the valley bottom. And then I spotted the buck slowly making its way down the draw.
The wide and tall whitetail took its time moving down the valley, stopping and feeding along the way. At one point, the deer stood and watched several does move up the side of the opposite slope, and looked as if it might follow. I took a quick laser rangefinder reading on a cedar bush near the buck - 182 yards. Using the 200 yard cross-bar reticle of the Leatherwood Hi-Lux Optics HPML scope, I held just below center-chest cavity and eased back on the trigger. The rifle belched extremely little smoke as it rocketed the 300-grain saboted bullet out of the muzzle at around 1,960 f.p.s., and an instant later the buck humped up as the sleek spire-point hit with a resounding wallop. Then, the deer just stood there.
Pulling a speed loader from my jacket pocket, I poured in another 110--grain charge of Blackhorn 209, slipped in another saboted bullet and easily pushed the projectile down the "dirty" bore. And with another of the Knight "Full Plastic Jacket" No. 209 primer carriers dropped into the action and the bolt closed behind it, I went for the same hold and eased back on the trigger again. The bullet drove home and the deer dropped where it stood. When I walked down to take a closer look at my buck, I was very pleased to find that the deadly accurate Green Mountain barrel of my Knight in-line rifle had put both bullets within 3 inches of each other. And a laser reading on the cedar tree where I had been sitting revealed that the shot had been 186 yards.
The author with his 2007 Blackhorn 209 buck, taken at 186
yards with a Knight Long Range Hunter and Harvester
Muzzleloading saboted Scorpion PT Gold bullets.
What really made this hunt, and especially these last two shots of the season, remarkable was that the rifle being used had been shot all month - to regularly check scope alignment after another several hundred mile run to another hunting spot, and to take 6 other deer. Not once had it been broken down and cleaned, even though more than 25 shots had been put through it since it was last cleaned a month earlier. Nor had the bore even been wiped once.
Now, keep in mind that my goal while hunting with the new Blackhorn 209 powder this past season was to truly test it to determine its finer qualities. What I discovered was the most user-friendly non-smokeless muzzleloading propellant I had ever poured through the muzzle of a front-loaded big game rifle.
After taking my buck, I simply slipped my factory-accurized version of the Knight DISC Extreme back into its case and headed out to enjoy the Christmas and New Year's holidays with family and friends. And on January 1, 2008, I pulled the rifle from the case and with little more effort than when removing the breech plug from a totally unfired, spotless rifle, the breech plug popped right out. While Western Arms has developed one of its "MONTANA-EXTREME" cleaning solvents for the new powder, I simply used what I had on hand - Hoppe's No. 9. Just two well-dampened patches had the bore spotless in about 60-seconds. Another five minutes or so was spent cleaning primer fouling from the bolt and receiver…and the rifle was ready to put away.
Through this past summer and fall, I had done a lot of shooting with Blackhorn 209, along with just about every other modern black powder substitute, to develop load data and fill in holes in the ballistics for a new book I was working on for Stoeger Publishing (the Complete Muzzleloader's Loading Manual). Early on, it became very evident that Western Powder's new muzzleloader propellant produced higher velocities (in equal amounts) than any other modern black powder substitute, plus it burnt a lot cleaner. In fact, on several occasions, I'd used the new powder to run 30 to 40 shots strings…without once wiping the bore. Even so, the powder continued to produce outstanding accuracy with modern saboted spire-point bullets like Harvester Muzzleloading's new Scorpion PT Gold and the Barnes all-copper Spit-Fire TMZ.
I also quickly realized that Blackhorn 209 was slow to ignite with specialized "Muzzleloading" No. 209 primers, like Winchester's Triple Seven Primer. This stuff prefers hotter standard strength primers such as the Winchester or Federal 209A primers. (A limited amount of shooting with the new Federal-Fusion 209 muzzleloader primers was very positive, but really did not offer any benefit over the lower cost standard strength No. 209 shot-shell primers.)
Surely, some of you are now saying to yourselves... "This stuff sounds too good to be true!"
And that was exactly what I found myself wondering as well as several engineers with General Dynamics, who developed the powder for Western Powders, fed me information on their progress for much of the past couple of years. Their reports of 2,000 plus f.p.s. velocities with some saboted bullets using just 100 grains (volume measurement) and being able to load and shoot (with accuracy) as many as 50 shots without wiping the bore did indeed sound too good to be true. But when I managed to get several pounds of the powder for testing well before Western Powders even announced that the powder would be available (this coming spring), it took just one trip to the range to convince me that the folks at General Dynamics' powder making facility in Valleyfield, Quebec, Canada had delivered on all of their claims.
Prior to shooting and hunting with Blackhorn 209, my favorite load for the .50 caliber Knight Long Range Hunter had been 110 grains of FFFg Triple Seven behind a saboted 260-grain Scorpion PT Gold. The load was good for right at 2,030 f.p.s., and the premium Green Mountain barrel of the rifle would consistently keep groups well under 1 1/2 inches - when I was doing everything as I should…especially wiping the bore between each and every shot. The same volume-measured amount of Blackhorn 209 ups velocity to 2,053 f.p.s. That in itself is not enough to make many shooters switch powders. However, I found that with loads of the new powder, I could continue to shoot sub 1 1/2 inch hundred yard groups WITHOUT wiping the bore between shots.
For me, the ease of cleaning has been a real bonus. Surely the idea of being able to clean your favorite tack-driving in-line rifle with just a couple of modern "non water based" solvent dampened patches has to have some appeal. Also, in the past I have occasionally experienced problems with getting a breech plug out after shooting 20 or so rounds with Triple Seven. With Blackhorn 209, it looks as if that headache could become a thing of the past.
But, as you may have already suspected, there is a slight down side to shooting Blackhorn 209, or so it may seem at first. And that is the cost. Compared to loading and shooting loose grain Triple Seven, the new powder is a bit more costly. Based on a $30 retail for a 10-ounce container, a 100-grain volume measured charge will set a shooter back right at 48-cents per shot. Based on a $24 retail for a 16-ounce container of loose grain Triple Seven, the same volume measured amount runs about 25-cents per shot. Triple Seven Pellets cost about 50-cents per shot for a 100-grain charge, 75-cents per shot for a 150-grain charge. And it takes the heftier three-pellet 150-grain charge to duplicate the velocity and energy produced by the 110-grain charge of Blackhorn 209 I used to harvest my buck this past season. (That amount of Blackhorn 209 costs right at 53-cents per shot.)
Western Powders will offer Blackhorn 209 in a 10-ounce
container, which will give 62 volume-measured 100-grain
equivalent charges. Actual weight of that volume amount
is just under 70 grains.
Where I see some savings with Blackhorn 209 is that it ignites best when using standard strength No. 209 shot-shell primers, which retail for 3-cents (or less) each. Triple Seven tends to perform best with a specialized "Muzzleloading" primer like Winchester's Triple Seven Primer that retails for about twice that amount. And the ease of cleaning really cuts back on the amount of cleaning patches and cleaning solvent needed to get a modern primer-ignited in-line rifle spotless.
What appeals to me most has been the fact that I do not have to make time to thoroughly clean my rifle at the end of the day just because I checked the sighting of the scope, or was lucky enough to down game that day. My abuse of the Knight DISC Extreme this past season was simply to see just how user-friendly this powder is to the hunter on the go. I always keep my rifles in top condition, but now feel good knowing that in a situation when I cannot get to cleaning immediately, or within a few days, my prized in-lines are safe from being lost to corrosion or a breech plug that is hopelessly frozen in place.
Blackhorn 209 makes its debut at the 2008 SHOT Show in Las Vegas, and should begin to show up on dealer's shelves this spring. Watch for more reports on the powder on the NORTH AMERICAN MUZZLELOADER HUNTING web magazine at www.hpmuzzleloading.com , where you can also find comparative loading data with this and other modern black powder substitutes.