Working Up Roundball Loads
Depending on what the rifle is used for, I usually like to work up two prb (patched round ball) loads. Many shooters believe there are (at least) two “sweet spots” for every rifle. One is the main (deer, let’s say) load and a lighter practice/target load. Both should exhibit fine accuracy and fulfill the requirements expected by the muzzy shooter. This may very well be the case.
This approach makes a lot of sense as there is no advantage to burning more of costly powder than necessary. With a gun that is shot only occasionally and is reserved strictly for big game, only one load (heavy) is needed. But say a rifle is used for deer, small game, plinking, targets, etc, a lighter load is useful, especially if the owner shoots the gun a lot and doesn’t want to put up with the tiring effects of the recoil of a heavy load.
I happen to own a couple of small caliber rifles that I call my “small game” rifles. Here, there is no need for more than one load and that would be the most accurate load I can find. I don’t need power in a little rifle; I need accuracy. I shoot the little guns a lot. they require only small amounts of powder and lead. Recoil is not a factor.
A lot of squirrels have fallen to my little .32 Crockett percussion. The best load I’ve come up with so far is a .311 ball cast with a Lee mold. The powder charge is a modest 30 grains of Goex 3f and a .015″ ticking patch lubed with Hoppes #9 Plus Black Powder lube/solvent. I always use an over powder wad, as well. An over powder (op) wad not only helps seal the gases behind the ball, it protects the the patch from the burning powder and keeps the patch lube from contaminating the charge. That same powder charge is also the most accurate load in my TVM .36 flint SMR. The same patch, lube and op wad goes in the bore but in this case the ball is a cast .350. .32 velocity with this load is between 1700 and 1800 fps with the .36 SMR churning out some 1600 to 1700 fps. These loads can be reduced with only a very slight loss in accuracy and I sometimes use the reduced load. A .311 ball cast of pure lead weighs a nominal 46 grains, the .350 about 66 grains.
It’s a generally recommended practice with any caliber to start building your load by using one grain of powder for each number in the caliber. For instance, you might start off with 50 grains in a .50 caliber, 45 grains in a .45 and so on. This formula does not hold up with calibers under .40. Often this starting load is a good target load as well. Another “trick” I discovered long ago was to use the previously mentioned op wad. Our ancestors used wasp nest-still one of the best-leather disks, pieces of patching material, etc. All these still work well. I punch out felt wads of the appropriate caliber and use them in the field. Felt strips are inexpensive and only require a punch (which can be easily made by the hobbiest) to create hundreds at a time. Card wads, punched from cereal boxes or other stiff card stock do as well as anything. However the cheapest, easiest to get and use is toilet paper. One roll lasts for months and costs next to nothing. Simply tear off a piece of the soft paper and make a bore size wad and seat it on the powder. There is no fire danger as the paper is blasted to dust outside the muzzle. If the paper is wadded into a firm ball, it may simply hold together and will be found stuck to the patch on the ground in front of the muzzle. Either way it will work as well as the more sophisticated materials. I use paper almost exclusively at the range/practice but in the woods I resort to the felt wads or something similar.
Care should always be taken to insure the prb is seated ON the powder or wad with no air space between them. If this is not done the ball will act as a bore obstruction and “ring” the barrel or worse. Black powder is a powerful propellant.
Seating pressure. Since I hunt and prefer to travel light, I require a load that seats easily but at the same time is snug in the bore. By snug I mean that it will take a short starter to get it in the muzzle yet seat down on the powder with modest ramrod force. At the range harder seating is acceptable though I avoid these hard to seat combinations, period.
What about powder selection? The brand is up to the shooter. So is the granulation, up to a point. Four f (4f) is used for flint lock prime only. Never put 4f down the bore. 2f or 3f? Word on the street says 3f for calibers up to .45 and 2f for .50 and above. However I and many others use 3f for everything, even fowlers. As far as I’m concerned 3f is a sort of “default” granulation. I like having just one powder around and it takes less 3f to get the same velocity as 2f. Some find one or the other gives better accuracy in a particular gun but others, like me, really can’t shoot well enough with open sights to tell much difference. Just as long as you’re using “real” black, you’re okay.
I probably should say a word or two about lubes. Rule #1: never use anything for a lube that causes steel to rust. Many otherwise usable oils and greases contain salt or other corrosive substances. Rule #2: never use a lube as a rust preventative. Some are advertised for this purpose; don’t believe it! I have used at one time or another spit, Crisco, Bore Butter, Vaseline, Beeswax, water, DGW’s Black Solve, Hoppes #9 plus BP lube and others I’ve forgotten. Now, I use Hoppes #9 and Black solve almost exclusively. 98% of my shooting is with Hoppes #9 with Black Solve taking the other 2%. When I hunt my first load of the day is lubed with Crisco/Bore Butter. If I don’t fire a shot that day, the load is safe to leave in the bore until I take the gun out again. This means safe from rust not safe in any other sense. A wet lube will either dry out and/or rust where the patch contacts the bore. Unless I intend to fire the gun after a while, I never use a “wet” lube. First shot grease, all reloads Hoppes #9.