Triple-7: That Old Black Magic… Sort of.

Recently I became re-acquainted with black powder ( https://tinkertalksguns.wordpress.com/2019/04/26/the-lure-of-the-holy-)black/ .) I had a very limited supply and quickly ran out, so I asked after some more at Pinto’s. Nope; they only had black powder substitutes, Pyrodex and Triple-7. It seems that as black powder is classified as an explosive there are some hassles involved in keeping it on-hand and selling it- hurdles that local gun shops have elected not to deal with. (Because of its classification as an explosive Washington State residents are only allowed to possess five pounds of it.) The nearest place that does sell it would require a two-hour round trip.

I looked into ordering it online, but hazardous material shipping rendered the price unattractive. I used Pyrodex a lot when I was shooting cap-and-ball revolvers in the early 80’s, and I was not impressed with either its performance or cleaning, After some research I decided to try my hand with Triple-7.

This powder consistently produces higher velocities than Black Powder volume-for-volume. I’ve seen some people worried that it generates higher pressures than BP, even insisting that it has to in order to get higher velocity. Someone needs to do some studying…

BP is a low explosive; maximum pressure occurs in the chamber and drops off rapidly as the bullet travels down the barrel. Triple-7 is a very fast burning powder; maximum pressure still occurs in the chamber, but it falls off much more slowly than BP as the bullet travels down the barrel. In other words it has a longer pressure-curve. It doesn’t push harder, it pushes hard longer. In a typical muzzle loader this creates an average of 17% more velocity than BP without an increase in peak pressure.

Naturally in shorter-barrelled weapons this effect is less pronounced. The manufacturer recommends loading metallic cartridges almost exactly as you would BP, but with less compression. Typically one compresses BP in a cartridge about 0.10″. Triple-7 recommends loading with very little compression but no air-space under the bullet.

Following this recommendation I loaded .44 Colt, .450 Adams and .44-55 Walker with FFFg Triple-7 and tried them at the range. Without a chronograph you can only tell so much, but recoil can be informative.
Starting with .44-55 Walker I loaded 200 gr..451- heel-base SWCs over a charge of 55 gr. of Triple-7 (measured by volume.) Extrapolating from published data and considering Thumper’s 3-1/2″ barrel the math suggests that, all things being equal (and they never are,) I should be getting 1200+ fps for approx. 640 ft./lbs. of energy at the muzzle. Recoil of the 3-1/2 lb. gun is similar to an L-frame .357 Magnum, so I find this believable. I really need a chronograph…

I found this load to be quite accurate at close range; longer range testing will have to wait, owing to my limited supply of brass… which I am working to fix!

‘Thumper’ with its 44-55 Walker ammunition

For .450 Adams I loaded 200gr. LRN-FP bullets over a charge of 8.0gr. of Triple-7 (13gr. by volume.) No idea of the velocity, but wow! My best previous load was the same bullet over 4.0gr. of Trail Boss, which recoiled like a .38 target wadcutter. The new load had significantly more muzzle-blast and recoil. After firing it in a .45 Colt and one of my modern conversions I tried it in the Webley RIC. Quite a difference from the Trail Boss load. It was like shooting .38 Spc.+P in an air-weight J-frame; at least bordering on unpleasant. I can finally understand why some people complained of the recoil of these guns. I won’t be putting a lot of these rounds through my antiques.

My Model 1883 Royal Irish Constabulary. A bit of a handful with the Triple-7 loads…

I loaded the .44 Colt with the same bullets as the .44-55 over 28gr (by volume) of Triple-7 showed significantly more recoil that the same round loaded with 6.5gr. of Trail Boss, but not notably unpleasant in the guns I was shooting it out of.

My Custom 1858 ‘Brasser.’ The .44 Colt loads performed quite well in this gun.

It was a very informative range session. Clean-up was similarly informative. The guns were dirtier than if I had been using smokeless powder but not nearly as dirty as BP or Pyrodex. I cleaned the guns by cleaning them. I used Hoppe’s #9 on the bores and Break Free CLP for the rest. Not much more effort than normal, just that the cleaning patches were dirtier and I used more of them.

Brass was a bit of a different story; the Triple-7 left it far dirtier than smokeless powders. As an experiment I put the brass from my test session in a gallon zip-lock bag with hot water and a few tablespoons of Barkeeper’s Friend cleanser. I shook the back vigorously for a minute or two, then let the brass soak for about a 1/2 hour, then dumped it into a colander and rinsed thoroughly with hot water and put it in a 200 degree oven to dry. This produced acceptably clean brass. Not pretty, mind you, but at least not all gooped up. Next time I’ll follow the suggestion of a buddy and try boiling the brass and see how that works out.

I’m pretty pleased with how the Triple-7 has worked out so far. I’ll continue to report on how it goes with this propellant. Finally getting .44-55 suitably dialed-in has led to some interesting thoughts- like ‘wouldn’t it be great to have a single-shot carbine chambered for this round?’ I’ll be playing around with that idea…

Michael Tinker Pearce, 20 May 2019

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My First Pistol Match in Over Thirty Years!

Load-out for my first ASI match: Detonics Mk.1 Combat Master .45, Holster, pouch with two extra magazines, hearing protection and 100 rounds of ammunition. My shooting glasses are shown because they are my regular glasses.

Mike Harris recently made me aware of Action Shooting International , a shooting league that holds move-and-shoot matches. It was interesting because the courses of fire are made to be suitable to anyone that can hit a target, and matches are designed to be fun and educational rather than competitive. Yes, stages are scored and technically it is a competitive sport, but scores are more for tracking your own progress. There are no ‘classes’ of shooters, no prizes- the idea is to have fun, socialize, learn where you need to improve and to track your progress.

Some thirty years back I shot USPSA/IPSC matches, but by the end of the 1980’s I had stopped, for a variety of reasons. Most of these come back to money; the cost of ammo, the cost of a competitive gun etc. But there was a part of me that didn’t relish the hyper-competitive atmosphere and the ever-increasing gamesmanship employed to be competitive. ASI, with it’s more laid-back attitude, was appealing to me. I decided to give it a try.

According to their website you need a handgun of 9mm caliber or larger (.380 ACP counts,) and I certainly had a variety of options available. I decided to go with one of my carry-guns, a Detonics Mk.1 Combat Master .45. I had a holster but needed a mag-pouch. I whipped one up Friday, so there wasn’t really any time to practice with it before the match- which certainly showed in my performance! I didn’t make things easier on myself by making a ‘match’ style high-profile pouch- this one is meant for concealment and works quite well for that.

The Match was due to start at 10AM and I showed up at Renton Fish and Game at about 9:15. My pal Pat Hillyer was due to meet me there early to settle any issues or questions since this was my first match. You can show up with a loaded gun, but you cannot carry one around the match for safety reasons. No problem- just find a range officer and tell them you need to unload and they’ll walk you over to a shooting bay to do so.

Next was filling out the waiver and paying the range fee. Helpful to know that they only take cash for the $20 range fee- or you can walk over to the rifle range when they open at 10 AM to use a card. After that there was a new-shooter’s briefing, which was basic gun-handling safety and range commands. Then you sign up for a squad; they started with a squad at each of the six stages, and you simply rotate through the stages from there. Pat put me on a squad with him and some other people he knew, so I was set. At 10AM there was a Shooter’s Briefing and then we dispersed to our stages.

Given the dual goals of ASI- to be self-defense applicable and to be accessible to anyone that wants to participate- targets were pretty close and the courses of fire were set up to include not more than one reload. Some stages had a mandatory reload, some didn’t. In six stages I went through 53 rounds of ammunition, and one of those was optional. It took about 2-1/2 hours to cycle through the six stages.

Engaging hostage targets around a barricade.

The atmosphere was very laid-back and everyone was super-friendly and helpful. There was none of the tension of a ‘serious’ league match. There were people shooting that, from their gear and they way they performed, were obviously IDPA competitors. At the opposite end of the scale there was a fellow who had bought his first pistol three weeks before, and this was the third time he’d shot it. About 70-80 people showed up for the match, which elicited some surprised comments from the range officers.

So, how did I do? I honestly have no idea; I haven’t bothered to look up the results. I did discover some areas I need work on- picking up the front sight quickly and magazine changes were the stand-outs. It also reinforced my dislike of three-dot sight systems; I found the ones on my gun rather imprecise and slow to pick up. Also the gun is less ‘grippy’ than I would have preferred. I learned eventually to relax, have fun and go for it; I was overly cautious on many of the stages, and on the last one I said, ‘What the hell- I’m going to smoke this one!” And I did- except for loading the wrong magazine, which meant the gun went dry unexpectedly. This resulted in some befuddlement and a very slow magazine change (about 8 seconds. Ouch!)

One-handed double-tap around a barricade…
…and a two-handed double-tap for the last target

The upshot of it all is that I had a great time with a great bunch of people, learned some things I needed to know and had fun. The best part is that the bar for entry into this form of competition is so low- basically hearing and eye protection, a gun with a reload and a couple of boxes of ammunition, These folks will be happy to guide you through things and help any way they can. I would heartily recommend this to anyone that shoots and wants to expand their skills but is intimidated by the seriousness and intense competition of some other venues like IDPA. If you can hit a target you can have fun at one of these matches, and you’ll have the opportunity to shoot in ways that normal range-time doesn’t allow.

My experience did inspire me to make two changes to my gun- first off, no more three-dot sights. I filled and painted over the white dot on the front sight.

The other modification- I used contact cement to affix a strip of 120-grit emery cloth to the front-strap of the grip. Simple, but it makes a huge difference.

I will definitely be attending ASI matches regularly. For the moment I will be relying on the Detonics, but there’s a revolver match coming up later this year, and at some point (after I am set up to reload the ammo) I very much want to shoot a match with my Mauser C96 ‘Broomhandle.’ Just for the hell of it, and why not? It’s all in good fun anyway.

If you are interested in trying this yourself follow the link above to find a match in your area. You won’t regret it!

Michael Tinker Pearce, 14 May 2019

What do You Think is Going to Happen?

Sig P238 Legion with custom Desert Ironwood grips- Linda’s favorite.

This is the question my wife asked me the other day. She was getting ready to go to a nearby park to walk Lilly, and I told her I’d like her to take one of her pistols.

“Why?” she asked. “What do you think is going to happen?”

“I don’t think anything is going to happen,” I replied. “If I did I’d be asking you to not go.”

It’s not the first time the question has been asked, and my answer has always pretty much been the same. I carry a pistol for self-defense. The chances I will ever need it are, let’s face it, pretty slim. There are well over 200,000,000 adults living in the USA, but only 300 civilian self-defense shootings a year. Of course this doesn’t count incidents where a gun is deployed that do not result in a shooting, but even if you do include those the odds of needing to use your gun are not high.

I don’t carry a gun because I think something is going to happen. If I thought something was going to happen I wouldn’t go. If I thought I would need a gun and for some unimaginable reason I went anyway I’d take a rifle, thanks very much.

So if I don’t expect anything to happen why carry a gun? Simple- for the same reason I have car insurance even though I don’t expect to get into an accident. For the same reason I have home-owners insurance even though I don’t expect my home to be damaged. For the same reason I have AAA even though I don’t expect my car to break down. For the same reason I take my cell-phone even if I am just going round the block to the convenience store. I do all these things because life has taught me that unexpected things happen. When these unexpected events occur I want the right tools on-hand to deal with the situation as best I can.

Today’s ‘pocket-dump.’ Wallet, handgun with reload, wristwatch, pocket-knife, lighter, pen, flashlight, cell phone and keys. I should add a pocketable first-aid kit, given how often I cut myself in the shop…

It’s axiomatic that it is better to have a thing and not need it than it is to need a thing and not have it. That’s really all of the justification you need.

To be clear- I carry a handgun for self-defense, or the defense of other innocents when there is absolutely no other option. I do not carry it to be a hero and I am not looking for trouble, or a reason to use it. In fact I go out of my way to avoid any situation where I might need it. I live on a pretty safe block, I am aware of my environment. I know my neighbors and my neighborhood. But despite our best intentions and efforts sometimes ‘excrement occurs’ and we have to deal with it, ready or not.

I doubt I will ever need my gun; in fact I earnestly hope that I will not. I would happily live out my days without ever shooting another human being. But if I ever really, really need to I’ll have a gun to do it with.

Michael Tinker Pearce, 4 May 2019

PS: May the 4th be with you!