By John Taffin
Hodgdon’s Pyrodex powder goes back to the mid-1970’s when R.E. Hodgdon was informed by Warren Center of Thompson/Center of a fellow who had come up with a synthetic black powder. One of the primary reasons that was a good idea can be seen on the shelves in today’s large sporting goods stores. It’s easy to find large quantities of Pyrodex, however rarely, if ever, do these stores carry black powder. Black powder is classified as an explosive requiring strict safety rules for handling and storing. Pyrodex comes under the same regulations as smokeless powder, greatly simplifying things.
Hodgdon met with Dan Pawlak (the inventor) in 1975 and by January 1976 the Pyrodex Corporation was formed with Pawlak as president. This was followed by the introduction of the new powder at the NRA show that year. Tragedy struck one year later as a fire went through the plant killing Pawlak and three of his co-workers. Hodgdon was convinced Pyrodex was a fantastic product and purchased majority interest in the company and a new plant was opened in April 1979 on an abandoned B-29 air base in Kansas. I have been using Pyrodex ever since.
Taffin uses a lot of Pyrodex for loading .45 Colt, .44-40, .38-40, .45 S&W and .44 Russian.
Load By Volume
Originally Pyrodex was intended to be a substitute for black powder in muzzleloading rifles, and this Pyrodex is labeled Pyrodex RS. Pyrodex P is the equivalent of Triple-F or FFFg black powder. It’s my most used powder both in cap-n-ball and cartridge sixguns when black powder loads are used. Pyrodex is cleaner burning than black powder and results in less fouling whether using percussion or cartridge firing sixguns, however it cannot be approached the same as smokeless.
It’s loaded by volume, not by weight. If the loading table calls for 40 grains of black powder then you use a 40-gr. powder measure for the same amount by volume of Pyrodex. This is critical!
Pyrodex P may be cleaner burning, however guns used with Pyrodex must be cleaned the same as if using black powder. The same is true of fired cartridge cases. Pyrodex P can be used in any sixgun, antique, modern, or replica. It gives the same emotional feeling as shooting black powder and is especially handy for use in sixguns originally chambered for black powder. Such sixguns as pre-1900 Colt Single Actions, S&W Model #3 Russians, New Model #3’s, S&W Top-Break Double Actions, and my latest acquisition, a .455 Webley Mark I, are all perfect candidates for cartridges loaded with Pyrodex P.
Taffin’s Pair & A Spare Smith & Wesson .44
Russians see a lot of Pyrodex loads.
This 1st Generation Colt Frontier Sixshooter uses loads assembled with Pyrodex or Triple 7.
Let’s look at some typical loads. All muzzle velocities were recorded in 71/2″ barrels and all were fired in either Colt Single Actions or replicas. In .45 Colt, using a 250-grain cast bullet, 37.5 grains by volume of Pyrodex P results in a very potent 987 fps and a 5-shot, 50 ft. group of 7/8″. Dropping down to 30 grains results in an easier shooting 835 fps and a group of 11/8″. Pyrodex and older sixguns do not have to take a backseat to any modern firearms.
The second most popular Colt Single Action Army cartridge was the .44-40, or .44 WCF for Winchester Centerfire. Using 25.0 grains of Pyrodex P gives a muzzle velocity with the 200-gr. cast bullet of 875 fps and a group of 11/4″. Moving up to 35 grains results in 1,000 fps however, the group size doubles.
The third most popular Colt chambering was the .38-40 or .38 WCF. Using the Lyman #40188 cast bullet and 35.0 grains of Pyrodex P results in 1,120 fps (compare that to the “modern” .40 S&W!) and a group of 11/8″. The third member of the Winchester Centerfire cartridges was the .32-20 and this was the fourth most popular chambering in the Colt Single Action. With 20 grains of Pyrodex P under a 115 grain cast bullet the muzzle velocity is just under 900 fps and groups its five shots in 1″.
As shooters we are blessed to have so many modern cartridge and sixgun combinations available. However, sometimes we just need to relax, step back in history, and connect with shooters from more than a century ago. Pyrodex P loads can do that for us.
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