Which Primer Is Best For Igniting BlackHorn 209?

October 1, 2011

Several years ago, while duck hunting in Stuttgart, AR, I was in the world famous hunting store, Mack’s Prairie Wings.  While looking around at the muzzleloading stuff (as I always find myself doing), I noticed a can of powder with a good looking logo called Blackhorn 209 that I’d never seen before, which is owned by Western Powders.  To be honest, I almost put it back on the shelf because I thought it was a little pricey, but after reading the label and looking it over, I decided to take it back to South Carolina for a little test drive on the M.A.X. rifle range.  As it turned out, it’s probably been the best thirty bucks I’ve spent in muzzleloading, for more reasons than it’s just being a great powder.

And that’s how I got started with BlackHorn 209.

One of the very first things I noticed about BlackHorn 209 Powder was that the can said NOT to use a primer that was made for, or sold as, a 209 primer to be used with muzzleloading powders.  Really?  The market has primers that are marked specifically for muzzleloaders and are a somewhat reduced-powered version of their full strength counter-parts used in shotgun shells.  But Western Powder said don’t use them.  Intrigued, I began my testing as always: per the manufacturers specifications.

What I discovered is that BlackHorn, by its very nature, has what I will call a higher flash point than other brands.  It needs more fire to ignite it, so the full strength cousins are not only what is needed, but required, to insure the consistent and reliable ignition of BlackHorn 209.

After spending several years working with BlackHorn 209, and shooting I don’t how many pounds of the stuff (thanks to Doug Phair for making it affordable) I’ve taken the issues of having the proper primers for a muzzleloader to even higher levels, no matter what brand of powder.  I owe my ability to be able to do that to the 30 years (give or take a few months) I’ve spent rolling my own rifle and pistol ammo.  So for those of you who have never reloaded center fire, here’s a little insight about primers.

Primers, as they apply in the world of center fire cartridges, are just as an important of a component of the load as the bullet or powder.  This little explosive-filled component can be the difference in a cartridge going off or not, and can be a big player in deciding how accurate a load will be.  But realistically, if we’ve chosen a primer that was recommended in a reloading manual, the load will go off, so it’s then just a matter of deciding whether or not they are contributing to the accuracy of a load or not.  Well I can tell you:  they do in some cases.  Just changing to a different brand of primer can make a good load into a great load.  I’ve found this just as true in our world of muzzleloading as it is with center fire cartridges.

With that said, when I started really working with BlackHorn 209, and I mean a lot, I had two requirements for a primer to meet:  1) reliable ignition and  2) accurate loads.

Over the past two years, I’ve really stepped up my research with primers and how they relate to accuracy.  The first thing I did was went to the 209 shotgun primer experts, that being the guys that use more of them we do:  shotgun shooters and reloaders.

What I learned from this group was invaluable.

  1. One of the most important things I learned was that primers manufactured in Europe are just a few thousandth’s larger in diameter than those made in the US in fact.  They are so tight in the primer pocket of a U.S. shot shell, that once loaded and fired in one, these shooters will no longer load a U.S. made primer in that shell again.  It makes the primer pocket too lose to properly hold a U.S. primer.  Important to know.
  2. The second thing I learned from this group was that they, just like us, need a reliable primer.  If you see a brand mentioned here, you can trust them as being reliable.
  3. And third thing I found was that they want primers at a decent price (but I took this point with a grain of salt as some of these guys shoot 100,000+ rounds a year, so I can see where cost may be a little different issue for them).

After all my studying on the subject, the next thing I did was to buy a bunch of primers and test and shoot them.  (and yes, you can test a primer without actually shooting it in a load, check out my article:  209 Primers and Modern Muzzleloading (http://www.maxmuzzleloaderblog.com/2010/11/209-primers-modern-muzzleloading.html).    I’ve bought brands of primers that I didn’t even know existed, like Rio, Cheddite and Nobel and many that we are all familiar with such as Remington, Winchester, Federal and CCI.  To date, I have 13 different brands or types of 209 primers in my office, and I have an opinion about every single one.

What I learned from the shot gunners was great stuff and it lead me to really like some of European primers for muzzleloading because of their larger diameter.  This helps with a huge problem we muzzleloaders have called “blow back”.  A tighter fitting primer in the primer pocket of our breech plug keeps the fire going forward where we need it; it fills that pocket up and blocks the fire and gas from coming around the primer and blowing out to the rear, thus reducing blow back.  (Now I’ve got to point out that the size of our primer pocket and the head space of our rifle comes into play here as well.  As a rule however, a Thompson Center rifle is built with far better tolerances than any other rifle on the market, and you will have far less blow back and ignition problems with them as a well.)

The other trait of the foreign-made primers I really like is their ability to produce a lot of fire; a must for the reliable ignition of BlackHorn 209.

Primers from the European market that I like the best are the RIO G600 and they are very highly thought of with the shot gunners.  The Rio G600 is probably the most consistent primer I’ve used for muzzleloading, I really like them with what I call a Magnum load (110 or 120 grains of BH 209).  Another good European primers is the Chiddett.  Although I haven’t used it in any of my published loads, it’s a great primer and even has a water proof seal that looks like red fingernail polish on the fire end.  Neither of these primers are going to be easily found in every gun shop you may visit, but you can most likely find them where I did, at a local sporting clays range.

The primer I have published in a LOT of my loads, which is also recommended by the folks at BlackHorn is the CCI 209M.  This is a great primer that won’t let you down.  More than half of my published BlackHorn loads were shot using the CCI 209M.  Another good BH 209 Primer is Federal’s 209A.  Again, I’ve used it a lot, it’s a great primer for BH 209, but to date I haven’t published any loads using it.

You’ll notice I’ve left out some big name primers:  Winchesters T-7, Winchester ML or Remington’s ML primers …  Reason being, BlackHorn told us on the can, right up front, not to bother with muzzleloader-specific primers, so I didn’t (saved me some time).

These are some of the things that I’ve learned about primers during my extensive testing of all things muzzleloader, and the ones I recommended with BH 209.  Just keep in mind when using my loads however, each load worked with the primer I listed in the data.  If you find a load you like, stick with it and that means using all of the exact same components, with no substitutions of bullet, powder or primer.

And on that note, I will leave you with this thought:  the best primer in the world cannot defeat a dirty rifle or poorly designed breech plug.  If you want to know what I’m talking about, visit my blog at www.maxmuzzleloaderblog.com.

At M.A.X., it all boils down to accuracy for performance whether on the range or against game.

At the beginning of this article I said that trying out BlackHorn 209 was the best thirty bucks I’ve spent in muzzleloading; well it’s the people that make the BlackHorn 209 wheel roll.  They are great folks that are extremely knowledgeable about their product and how it compares to other brands (something money can’t buy and is getting harder to come by these days!). Not to mention that they have certainly become good friends to me and M.A.X.

Blog post by Russell Lynch.