Black Canyon Powder Preliminary Test Data—7-8-94

Copyright, C. E. Harris, 1994, All Rights Reserved

Bulk density was determined experimentally by trickling various bulk propellants into a graduated 50 cc plastic cylinder with screw cap. Each propellent type was settled by tapping the cylinder with a pencil until the propellent was completely settled and the cylinder was uniformly filled to its full capacity and covered. For each trial, the full cylinder was weighed on an Ohaus laboratory balance, the container tare weight subtracted and the net contents divided by the volume of the measuring cylinder to the determine bulk density in grams per cubic centimeter. The following experimental results were obtained:

Propellant Type

Bulk Density

Tap water, control as
calibration check


Black Canyon Powder


Elephant Brand 2F, Black


Elephant Brand 3F, Black


Elephant Brand 4F, Black


Hodgdon Pyrodex, Select


Hodgdon Pyrodex, RS


Hodgdon Pyrodex, P


Due to the coarse granulation of the Black Canyon Powder, which has an average particle size of about 2 mm, and a maximum particle size of approximately 3 mm, the opening in a Hodgdon pour spout was enlarged with a 3/8" drill to permit easy dispensing of the propellant. Initial firing tests were conducted using a Ruger Old Army revolver. The chambers were filled to overflowing then the excess Black Canyon Powder struck off by turning the cylinder, so the barrel shank would level the charge, which averaged 35 grains by weight. An Ox-Yoke wad was thumbed over each chamber to prevent spillage and fully seated to heavily compress the powder to the full stroke of the loading lever.

A six-shot series of 143-gr., .457 round balls appeared to give erratic recoil and report, producing a 6-shot group over 4" at 25 yards. One shot produced a noticeable hang fire and gave a velocity of only 536 f.p.s. The highest velocity of that series was 683 f.p.s. for an extreme spread of 147 f.p.s. and a standard deviation of 63 f.p.s. Because there was one obvious hang fire, substandard accuracy and lower than "normal" velocity, another trial was attempted with a heavier bullet, to see if this would provide more efficient combustion of the propellant.

The second series of Black Canyon was fired with the same charge technique, but substituting the Saeco #131 200-gr. semi-wadcutter, cast of pure lead. Similar results were obtained, with one hang fire producing 466 f.p.s., a high velocity of 671 f.p.s., an extreme spread of 205 f.p.s., average velocity of 597 f.p.s. and a standard deviation of 71 f.p.s. The group was better with the wadcutters, being slightly over 3" or about double what is expected with the Old Army with an optimum target load.

Two control series was fired with the Old Army using my normal charge of 35 grs. (bulk measure) of Elephant 3F black. The .457 round balls produced a normal 2" group, with a velocity of 781 f.p.s. and a standard deviation of 15 f.p.s. Substituting the Saeco #131 with the same charge gave 721 f.p.s., a standard deviation of 18 f.p.s. and a 1-1/2" group. Based on this admittedly brief trial, I determined that this granulation of Black Canyon Powder is not suitable for use in revolvers.

Next, the Black Canyon Powder was tried in a Thompson-Center .50 cal. New Englander rifle firing 370-gr. cast T/C Maxi-Balls. The bullets were lubricated with my standard mixture of 1 part paraffin to 1 part anhydrous lanolin to 2 parts of Crisco. An adjustable MSM tube measure was opened to its maximum setting of 120 grains, black powder bulk measurement. This measured an average charge of 92 grs. of Black Canyon powder by weight. To ensure adequate compression of the charge, the ramrod was given ten sharp "whacks" with a light, 2-1/2 oz. rawhide mallet. When loading Pyrodex or black powder I usually give the ramrod only one or two lighter "whacks" to be sure the bullet is rammed fully home to my index mark.

The very first shot fired from a clean barrel using the Black Canyon Powder toppled a hunter pistol metallic silhouette ram at 100 meters, from a standing position using the normal hold for my hunting load with black powder using the same bullet. Being pleased with this result, I knocked down four out of five 100 meter rams with the first five shots.

Eleven consecutive shots were fired on the same target at 50 yards which struck in a 2" group, making one ragged hole which was all in the ten and X rings of an NRA 25-yd. timed and rapid-fire pistol repair center. The point of impact and grouping appears for all intents and purposes as identical to my normal load. The lowest velocity was 1075 f.p.s. which had a slight, barely perceptible hesitation in ignition, about like a well tuned flintlock, but not what you would call a "hang fire." The highest velocity was 1225 f.p.s., the extreme spread 150 f.p.s. and the standard deviation 52 f.p.s.

The general performance of this .50-caliber Maxi Ball load is quite good for a target or plinking load, but the velocity is lower than I expect with my normal black powder or Pyrodex charges, and the velocities are less uniform. For your information I have included baseline data for my T/CD .50 Cal. rifle using other powders in the table below:

T/C New Englander .50 cal., 48" twist. T/C 370-gr. Maxi Ball Bullets lubed 1 part paraffin, 1 part anhydrous lanolin, 2 parts Crisco. Cleaned with 4 ozs. Murphy's Oil Soap to 1 gal. water, plus 1 quart ethanol and dried with patches prior to start, and between each powder type.




120 bulk
Black Canyon

1169 fps.
52 Sd

10 shots in 2" @ 50 yds.
easy loading, almost no fouling,
wiped "clean" with one patch.

100 bulk
Eleph. 2F

1358 fps.
41 Sd

2-1/2" group, first shot in clean
bore struck high, caking after 3rd
shot, last two loaded "hard"

100 RS

1488 fps.
21 Sd

2" group, with 4 shots touching
easy loading, but more fouling than
with Black Canyon.

100 Select

1403 fps.
19 Sd

2" group, loose, but round

80 Select

1279 fps.
16 Sd

2" group, three clover-leafed

Previous baseline data of my "best loads" for reference

60, 3F

1135 fps.
45 Sd

5x5-shots avg. 1.92" @ 50 yds.
fired continuously without cleaning

80, 3F

1345 fps.
29 Sd

5x5-shots avg. 2.12" @ 50 yds.
fired continuously without cleaning

80 P

1422 fps.
27 Sd

5x5 shots avg. 1.78" @ 50 yds.
fired continuously without cleaning

Remarks: I tried only a few shots with 92 grains of Black Canyon and patched .495" round balls in the .50, and got noticeable hangfires, so I didn't shoot any more. The biggest problem I see with this powder is that the granulation is so coarse, people are going to have a difficult time pouring and measuring it. The standard Pyrodex pour spout doesn't work well unless the hole in the spout is enlarged to 3/8". Also, this stuff doesn't go through any of my mechanical measures worth a hoot.

I think they should consider making a graduated, adjustable measure similar to the one sold by Mountain State Muzzle Loading Supply, but of larger diameter, using 9/16" or 5/8" tubing, with a striker plate and funnel attachment.

I would strongly recommend a finer granulation, if this can be done to give satisfactory ballistic performance. The current granulation should be recommended for conical bullets only. I would rename it Black Canyon—RIFLE—CONICAL.

Another, finer granulation should be made available, suitable for roundball rifles of .40 cal. or larger, or heavy loads in revolvers. This should have a maximum particle size of about 1.5 mm, similar to Pyrodex Select. I would call this one Black Canyon—RIFLE—BALL

If technically possible, a third, still finer granulation having a maximum particle size of 1 mm, similar to Pyrodex RS, should be made for use as flintlock priming powder, or for use in small-bore rifles with round balls up to .40 cal., and for target loads in revolvers. I would call this Black Canyon—PISTOL—PRIMING

I intend to fire a series of groups in the .50 with Maxi Balls to get some better accuracy comparisons with the other powders. I will also try the same 92 grain charge in my .45 T/C Hawken with 48" twist, as it likes heavy charges with Maxi Balls and slow powders. I generally use 100 grs. of Pyrodex Select in this gun for a hunting load.

I may also try some velocities and patterning in my 12-ga., T/C shotgun if I get energetic before fall.

I will keep you posted of future results. I will be sending a copy of this data to Joe Carney, and will CC the folks at Legend also.

In Home Mix We Trust, Regards, Ed