Trail Bossing The Frontier Cartridges

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Approximately 10 years ago Hodgdon introduced Trail Boss powder, originally designed for use by Cowboy Action Shooters who were walking on the edge by trying to come up with lighter and lighter loads using conventional powders. The argument still goes as to whether really light loads using conventional powders can cause detonation. However, there’s no argument about the fact it is easy to double-charge a case with such powders as Bullseye.

Trail Boss changed all that. At the time Hodgdon said of Trail Boss: “It is based on a whole new technology which allows very high loading density, good flow through powder measures, stability in severe temperature variation and most importantly, additional safety to the handloader.”

High loading density means it fills out the case without leaving a lot of airspace. This results in consistent performance and I’m sure also adds to accuracy. Neither spherical nor extruded, Trail Boss is unlike any other powder, looking like flattened miniature “O’s”. It’s so light and fluffy the first time I tried to pour some from the container into the powder measure I overshot, resulting in powder all over the loading bench.

It is a simple matter to come up with maximum loads using Trail Boss. The maximum load is simply enough powder in the case to come up to the base of the bullet without compression. I simply measure the portion of the bullet inside the case and then set the powder measure to throw enough powder to come up to this level. Even with such a full capacity loading muzzle velocities are very mild.

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Easy Shooting

Here in the middle of my eighth decade I still keep heavy loads on hand for all my appropriate sixguns, however they are reserved for serious situations. There was a time I actually shot these loads for fun — now they are only used for hunting or necessary testing. My enjoyment now comes from pleasant shooting loads, and the fact many of my sixguns are even older than I am makes Trail Boss a number one choice for everyday use when anything more powerful is not needed.

Many of the sixguns I use for pleasure shooting, or even to be carried for self-defense while roaming sagebrush, foothills, forest or mountains, are older Colt Single Actions, many of which go back to the period from the beginning of the smokeless powder era around 1900 to the time of WWI. They will handle heavier loads, but I see no reason to stress them unnecessarily.

One of these sixguns is an example of the first Perfect Packin’ Pistol, a 1st Generation 43/4″ Colt Single Action Army. About 90 percent of the finish is gone, however the barrel and cylinder are excellent. It has been totally tuned and smoothed by Eddie Janis of Peacemaker Specialists, and it wears old fleur-de-lis checkered ivory stocks. It’s a sixgun I hope not only goes to one of my grandsons someday but also is passed on to one of his grandsons.

Using the RCBS #45-255FN cast bullet and loading 6.5 grains of Trail Boss — which brings it right up to the bottom of the bullet — results in a muzzle velocity of 750 fps. This is a very pleasant shooting, though still powerful load, and groups five shots into 11/4″ at 20 yards. I also have an old pre-RCBS Lachmiller #45-255LC mold which drops a bullet virtually identical to the original .45 Colt bullet. The same powder charge results in the same accuracy and a muzzle velocity of 780 fps.

I also like to run .45 S&W/Schofield loads in this old Colt. The original .45 Schofield load used a 230-gr. bullet and for this work I substitute the Oregon Trail 230 round-nose .45 ACP bullet. With 5.0 grains of Trail Boss the muzzle velocity is right at 700 fps with a group for five shots at 20 yards of 11/4″. Just perfect.

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These Colt Single Actions are used with user-friendly Trail Boss loads. From top right
clockwise: 1st Generation .38-40, .45 Colt and .44-40, 3rd Generation .44-40, 2nd
Generation .45 Colt and 3rd Generation .38-40.

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Trail Boss gives great accuracy. Check out these .44 Russian loads.
(left ) S&W Triple-Lock, (Right) Colt New Service Flat-Top Target

Two Great Classics

Switching to two great Winchester Centerfire cartridges, .44 WCF and .38 WCF, in a 43/4″ Colt Single Action also gives pleasant shooting, accurate loads. For the .44-40 in another 1st Generation Colt Single Action, the same 6.5 grains of Trail Boss under the Oregon Trail 200-gr. RNFP results in about 750 fps and similar accuracy.

The .38-40, using the Oregon Trail 100-gr. RNP and 6.0 grains of Trail Boss, results in 815 fps and 1″ accuracy. I also like to use Trail Boss in the .44 Russian with the 200-gr. RNFP bullet over 3.5 grains of Trail Boss, giving right at 675 fps in a 71/2″ Colt New Service Target and a 61/2″ S&W Triple-Lock, along with 11/2″ groups.
The .44 Special did not come along until 1907, well after the frontier period, however it also gives excellent results with the 240-gr. RNFP bullet over 5.7 grains of Trail Boss, giving 800 fps muzzle velocity and 1″ groups in my Colt New Service Target.

I spent a lot of time over the past 40-plus years shooting heavy loads, and my hands and wrists show the results. Trail Boss loads are both pleasant and relaxing — and definitely unstressful.

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By John Taffin

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