Handloading Black Powder Cartridges
Loading black powder cartridges is easier than you might think, read on to find out how.
Gone are the days when you could easily buy black powder paper cartridges, and it’s a shame as black powder shotguns are cheap and excellent fun to shoot. Fortunately, handloading black powder shotgun cartridges is straightforward and easy, and doesn’t require a great deal of equipment or know how. There’s also something so satisfying about using traditional roll crimped black powder paper cartridges in old guns. Unlike shooting muzzle loaders, shooting black powder cartridges isn't really any more difficult than shooting regular nitro cartridges, so there's no reason not to give it a go!
Black Powder Cartridge Loading Equipment
There’s a couple of different ways you can load black powder cartridges, but this is the method I find easiest. This is the equipment you’ll need to load 12g black powder cartridges:
Choosing a Black Powder Cartridge Load
Choosing a powder and shot load for black powder cartridges is a fairly simple affair. As with loading any black powder gun, the powder must be measured by volume. For this, a powder and shot measure is used. A good starting load for a black powder shotgun is known as a ‘square load’. This is simply, the same volume of powder and shot. This makes loading easy and simple, as you only need one tool. Using No.6 shot will yield a load of about 28g.
The Right Wads, Powder and Cases for Black Powder Cartridges
There’s some argument to using lubricated wads in black powder cartridges. Lubricated wads will soften the fouling and make cleaning easier, but the lubricant can also seep into the powder, reducing or deadening the charge. Shot also has the tendency to stick to the soft wad, reducing the effective load. This can be obviated by using an overshot card under and over the wad, and cartridges loaded this way should always be used as soon as possible. I therefore prefer to use regular fibre wads, I’ve never noticed the increased fouling to cause any problems, and it’s easier just to run a cleaning rod through quickly every 10 shots or so if it concerns you.
Black powder shotgun cartridges are also fairly easy going as regards which grade of powder. I prefer Henry Krank Medium, it does the job with a good velocity, and I’ve never had a problem with it. Medium is preferable over fine or coarse, as fine is a little too quick, and coarse can be a little too slow. There’s also our range of Swiss and Zloty Stok powders which are an excellent choice and best suited for competition shooting.
Paper cartridges are the best and traditional choice. Plastic cartridges can be used, and can be loaded using the same method described below (the Load All will star crimp plastic cases), but they’re not well suited to black powder. Black powder burns rather hot, and can burn through plastic cases, damaging them far quicker than paper cases.
Getting started loading black powder cartridges
The first time you load, you won’t need to prime the cases, as they come pre primed. For future loadings, depriming and priming is easily done on the Lee Load All machine. The first thing that must be done is to charge the case. Take the powder measure, set it to the desired volume, scoop your powder and scrape it off level. Using the funnel, charge the cartridge, visually inspecting each cartridge to ensure each is loaded correctly.
Next, using the Load All machine, load the fibre wad into the cartridge. The machine will provide a consistent and proper force to each wad, ensuring the powder is equally compressed and seated. The next step is to load the shot. This can be done either on the load all machine, with bushings from 7/1oz to 1 7/8oz shot, or using the same scoop as was used for the powder. After the shot is loaded, pop an overshot card on top. Next, the case must be crimped. Insert the cartridge into the roll over crimping machine, securing it with the handle. Apply force to the handle at the base of the case, and turn the crank to crimp the cartridge.
You will have to apply a fair bit of force to get a good crimp, particularly on new cases. Make sure that your cases are crimped to the proper length, for old English shotguns, this is generally around 2 ½’’, though always check the markings on your gun to determine chamber length, and never use longer cartridges than the gun can take. That’s pretty much it. Using this method, you’ll get consistent, high quality black powder shotgun cartridges every time. You'll get about 5 or 6 uses out of each cartridge before the paper crimp has become too frayed to use effectively, you might only get 2 or 3 uses out of plastic cases. If they're looking a bit worse for wear, just throw them out and buy some others.
Storage and use
There’s no reason to store shotgun cartridges any differently to any others, and they should last indefinitely providing they aren’t stored in high humidity environments. If using lubricated cushion wads rather than fibre wads, some recommend storing them in the fridge to harden the lubricant, but I wouldn’t do this, shotgun cartridges still must be stored securely, and next to the milk isn’t an appropriate place.
How to buy
Everything in this article can be purchased online, see the links above which will take you direct to the product on our website. All items can be sent direct to your door. Please call 0113 256 9163 or email [email protected] to discuss powder delivery.