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Handloading Beyond The Basics
Rifle Magazine
February - March 1999
Volume 34, Number 1
ISSN: 0017-7393
Number 197
On the cover...
The Winchester Model 1873 .38 WCF rifle with a ful
Rifle Magazine
Rifle Magazine Wolfe Publishing Company
Rifle Magazine Featured Articles
Table of Contents
Product Tests
What's New
Rifle Magazine
Product Tests
Clean Shot - A Black-Powder Substitute
Al Miller


According to its manufacturers, Clean Shot was designed to be a cleaner-burning replica black powder. It contains no sulfur or nitrocellulose. Consequently, they insist, it isn't necessary to clean between shots or strings as is so often the case when shooting some black powders. Moreover, cleaning up after a range session with Clean Shot isn't supposed to be the lengthy, messy chore we face after sending a series of black-powder loads downrange. Company literature also points out that the Department of Transportation classifies Clean Shot as a "flammable solid in limited quantities." That's why it can be shipped by most common carriers.

On the other hand, its producers admit Clean Shot can be overloaded and create dangerous pressures - probably the reason it isn't recommended for Damascus-barreled guns. Moisture, even high humidity, can ruin Clean Shot, and it has a definite shelf life, i.e., it will deteriorate in time.

Still, its makers claim Clean Shot can be loaded on a volume-for-volume basis and "will give approximately the same velocity and pressure as black powder when used in this manner." Unfortunately, neither the brand nor granulation of the black powder they referred to were specified. That leaves the validity of that statement open to question. Certainly, none of my field experiments verified it.

Colored a pale gray, Clean Shot is produced in one grade only. Its granules are approximately the same size as those of GOEX Fg or CTG-grade Pyrodex. Charge for charge, however, Clean Shot generates higher velocities and greater pressures than either Ð at least, it did in the guns used in my range tests.

Pilot loads consisted of 70 (measured) grains of Clean Shot behind some 350-grain, silver-hardened cast flatnoses supplied by the Oregon Trail Bullet Company (Box 529, Baker City OR 97814). They were a logical choice because they had proved to be extremely accurate in several different rifles.

For a test arm, a Ruger No. 1 chambered in .45-70 was selected. Equipped with a 4x Simmons scope, it is capable of minute-of-angle (MOA) accuracy when fed a proper diet and fired from a suitable rest. It also boasts a very strong action Ð always a plus when experimenting with new and unfamiliar powders.

Past experience with replica black powders had taught that ignition and combustion problems were usually a threat. As a result, Remington Magnum Large Rifle primers were seated in the Winchester hulls. That, as it turned out, was not one of my better ideas.

The instant the sear let go, it was obvious the load was much hotter than expected. A five-shot string averaged 1,728 fps (clocked 15 feet from the muzzle) with the extreme velocity spread an eyebrow-raising 197 fps! Accuracy, not surprisingly, was nonexistent. Extraction was normal, though, and none of the cases showed any signs of over-expansion. There were no flattened primers either. That might have been due to their stout construction.

For the second test, a .45-70 Dixie Arms rolling block was lifted from the rack. Fitted with a tang sight, it will group good loads into 2.0 to 2.5 inches at 100 yards from a solid rest.

This time, the loads featured the same Oregon Trail bullets in front of 60.0 (measured) grains of Clean Shot. Instead of magnum primers, Federal Large Rifle primers were employed.

Velocities, chronographed 10 feet from the muzzle of the 26-inch barrel, averaged 1,294 fps. The extreme velocity spread was only 10 fps and five-shot strings grouped 3 inches at 100 yards. Not bad for a scratch load, iron sights and over-the-hill eyes.

Although the reduced powder charge can be given partial credit for that load's improved performance, the greatest contributor to reasonable pressures, velocities and accuracy were the standard primers. That was confirmed by the range results turned in by a .40-70 and a .50-70.

It was deja vu all over again with the Italian-made .50-70 Sharps carbine. A caseful of Clean Shot plus Remington Magnum Large Rifle primers behind 450-grain cast bullets registered 1,394 fps on the Oehler chronograph. Distance from the muzzle of the 22-inch barrel to the midway point was 15 feet. Extreme velocity spread was an acceptable 41 fps, but recoil was painfully severe. That's not an exaggeration but the best description that comes to mind.

Every time the hammer dropped, the carbine became completely unruly and impossible to control on the rest. As a result, practically every shot fired missed the 100-yard target by a considerable margin.
After all that, it was amazing to discover that none of the cases were the slightest bit swollen. No extra effort was required to pop them free of the chamber. If there's a good explanation for such a seeming contradiction, it hasn't occurred to me yet.

That was the last of my supply of 450-grain slugs (Lyman mould 515141), so a batch of 535 grainers (Lee mould 515-500-F) was picked for the next load.

Backed by casefuls of Clean Shot and ignited by Federal Large Rifle primers, five-shot strings averaged 1,143 fps 10 feet from the muzzle of the 22-inch barrel. The extreme velocity spread was only 10 fps! Best of all, 50-yard groups ran from 11Ú4 to 11Ú2 inches, despite the wind's huffing and puffing.

Suspicious of that unusually low velocity spread, another box of test loads was put together: same bullets, same powder charge, same brand and type of primers. Over the Oehler chronograph, velocities averaged 1,149 fps and the extreme velocity spread amounted to 19 fps. Accuracy was the same. That kind of consistency is impressive, no matter what kind of powder is employed.

In the C. Sharps Arms .40-70, 362-grain cast bullets backed by 65.0 grains of Clean Shot and Remington Magnum Large Rifle primers averaged 1,652 fps from the 26-inch barrel - a heckuva lot of velocity from a charge that size. To boot the extreme velocity spread was only 6 fps. That's not a misprint - 6 fps.

Primers exhibited no evidence of excessive pressures and cases flipped free with no hesitation. Odd.
Reducing the powder charge 10 grains and switching to Federal Large Rifle primers sent the same bullets over the traps at 1,242 fps. For some reason, the extreme velocity spread jumped to 139 fps.

Ten grains of Clean Shot wouldn't have made a 400+ fps difference between those loads. Credit - or blame - for most of those extra feet per second have to be due to the magnum primers.

So the moral of the tale is obvious: Don't pair magnum primers with Clean Shot!

Further, don't tap the case to settle Clean Shot so that more can be crammed in a hull. That usually boosts velocities and might raise pressures to higher-than-desirable levels. To discover how Clean Shot would work in a handgun, a Ruger Blackhawk chambered for the .45 Colt cartridge was added to the test-arm lineup.

On the first trip to the range, the big Colt cases were filled with 35.0 grains of Clean Shot and capped with Hornady 230-grain jacketed hollowpoints. Having learned my lesson, standard Remington Large Pistol primers were seated. Velocities, 6 feet from the muzzle of the 4 5/8-inch barrel, averaged 809 fps. Velocity spread was a disappointing 121 fps. Ejection was normal, and five-shot groups averaged 2 1/2 inches at 25 yards.

As everyone knows, the round's original load called for 40 grains of black powder beneath a 255-grain lead bullet. Cases were balloonheaded in those days, of course. A modern, solid-headed hull's volume is slightly less, but it seemed to me the difference would be too small to be critical. If Clean Shot was as inefficient as black powder, a rise in pressure, if there was any, probably wouldn't amount to much. As a result of that rationale, the second .45 test load saw 250-grain Winchester swaged alloy flatnoses backed by a measured 40.0 grains of Clean Shot. Remington Large Pistol primers were employed again.

When the hammer fell, the Ruger reared back, muzzle whipping skyward. Its recoil resembled that of a maximum load in a .44 Special of the same weight. It wasn't as powerful as a .44 Magnum's kick, but it was certainly a lot livelier than any .45 Colt load I ever fired before.

Thankfully, the Ruger is blessed with strength to spare. After four more rounds zipped over the Oehler's screens, velocities were averaged: 1,145 fps! Despite all that extra piz-zazz, ejection seemed normal, and none of the primers hinted of high pressure levels. Some things are beyond all understanding.

Thanks to the Ruger's heft and fit of its grip, that load wasn't particularly unpleasant to shoot. In light of the other test load results, though, it was becoming obvious that when Clean Shot pressures begin to rise, there's nothing gradual about it. All that's needed is an extra grain or two and the pressure curve tries to go vertical.

On the credit side, there was no fouling buildup in any of the test arms. One of the advantages offered by the single-shot rifles was the ease with which the bores could be eyeballed after every shot. If there was any change in the amount or degree of fouling present in any of the rifles' barrels during the range tests, my eyes couldn't detect it. None of the test arms' bores required cleaning during the tests - including the Ruger .45 and the Lyman muzzleloader.

Each load gave plenty of smoke. Admittedly, judging the amount of smoke kicked out by a given powder charge is not an exact science. Still, it seemed to me that Clean Shot gave the same amount of pale gray smoke a comparable charge of black or Pyrodex would have. In any event, each load created enough smoke to obliterate my view of the target completely.

Another point worth reiterating is that extraction and ejection of brass cartridge cases was always easy, even when some of the loads were obviously hotter than expected. Some of those loads flattened primers slightly, but none of the cartridge cases showed any hint of over-expansion. None were swollen. All could be freed from their chambers without asking any extra effort from me. Why the extra muzzle speeds weren't accompanied by greater evidence of higher pressures continues to puzzle me.

To find out how Clean Shot would work in a muzzleloader, a .50-caliber, percussion version of the Great Plains Hunter was borrowed from Lyman. The Hunter differs from the standard Great Plains model in that its 32-inch octagonal barrel is rifled with one turn in 32 inches. That twist accommodates modern projectiles better than the one-turn-in-60 inches of the standard version.

As usual, the first step was to learn what kind of velocities to expect. Starting loads featured 240-grain, .44-caliber bonded-core, jacketed softnoses protected by plastic sabots. They were manufactured by Northern Precision (329 South James Street, Carthage NY 13619). In addition to chronographing them, a number were fired offhand at a target 50 yards away. Although my score was nothing to brag about, thanks in part to the wind, every one of those .44 softpoints would have slammed through a deer's heart-lung area. Unfortunately, I forgot to count my shots. When the time came to bench the rifle, none of the Northern Precision .44s were left.

Although it was impossible to examine much of the Hunter's bore after each shot, particular attention was paid to the resistance offered by the sabot-clad .44s while they were being seated. If there was any change at all, it was too slight to detect. Visible fouling around the muzzle didn't increase after the first shot either. Even so, after the last .44 hissed downrange, it seemed like a good idea to take the Hunter home and clean it.

Having swabbed out my share of muzzleloader bores in my day, I was prepared for the usual grungy chore. To my surprise, all it took were a few passes with some patches soaked in soapy water followed by a few more dampened by clear tapwater, then three dry patches and voila - a clean, dry bore!

Although the operation wasn't clocked, a conservative guess would peg the total time and effort expended cleaning the Hunter as half that normally needed when shooting one of the black or replica powders.

Another plus, as far as my wife was concerned, was the propellant's grimy residue wound up on the patches instead of my shirt, pants and hands. No two ways about it, Clean Shot simply doesn't foul like black powder or any of the replicas.

The next range session saw the Hunter loaded with swaged alloy bullets from Hornady and Remington. Hornady's slugs were 410-grain hollowbased flatnoses. Remington's weighed 385 grains and were flatbased as well as flatnosed. Both makes, so their boxes stated, were "pre-lubed." How, I wondered, do prelubed bullets differ from lubed bullets? Some advertising execs were probably paid big bucks to gin up that term, meaningless though it may be. (Sour grapes on my part, maybe - but I hate to see the language abused.)

To continue: Two loads were chosen. One backed Remington's 385 grainers with 80 grains of Clean Shot; the other consisted of 70 grains behind the slightly heavier Hornadys. Three-shot strings fired over the Oehler chronograph, 15 feet from the Hunter's muzzle, averaged 1,280 fps for the Remington slugs and 1,182 fps for the beefier Hornadys.

For the accuracy tests, the rifle was equipped with Lyman's Model 57GPR receiver sight. Offering quarter-minute windage and elevation adjustments plus a quick-release slide, this modern edition of the old firm's peep sight looked a little out of place on the Hunter's traditional profile, but it sure took a lot of the guesswork out of sighting in and aiming.

Accuracy with both bullets was excellent with the Hornadys exhibiting a slight edge over the Remingtons. Perhaps the Hornady's extra bearing surface deserves the credit, but whatever the reason, at 50 yards, most of the holes chopped out by the 410 grainers touched one another. Although the Remington missiles grouped well, they didn't cluster quite as closely.

As luck would have it, the same quartering wind that has plagued this area for most of the past two months was blowing that day too - gusting from 15 to 35 mph, according to the Weather Bureau. To try and compensate, targets were brought back to 50 yards, and I attempted to hold fire until the wind flags drooped. All too often, though, the wind was quicker on the draw. As a result, almost every target fired that day was decorated with an uncalled flyer or two.

Regardless, it wasn't difficult to tell that Lyman's Hunter and those swaged bullets were inherently accurate. No five-shot string's extreme spreads exceeded 3 inches, despite the many windy surprises. Eighty percent of those slugs clustered well under 2 inches - and don't forget, those powder charges were selected arbitrarily. No attempt was made to develop anything resembling match loads.

To sum up: Clean Shot shows lots of promise. It lived up to most of its maker's claims.

One that didn't concerned loading Clean Shot on a volume-for-volume basis with black powder. That didn't work out. From my experience so far, it looks as though it's best to reduce charges at least 10 percent below those recommended for FFFg, then work up slowly, no more than two grains at a time, until signs of excessive pressure appear or accuracy deteriorates.

Magnum primers represent another no-no when loading centerfire cartridges. Why they should act like goat glands when mated with Clean Shot is beyond my ken, but the JATO-like boost in velocities and pressures that occurred every time they were employed wasn't just coincidental!

Judging from its performance in the test arms, Clean Shot appears to perform like FFFg or P-grade Pyrodex most of the time. If too much is loaded, however, it seems to burn quicker than either and pressures build faster too.

It's greatest single advantage over black powder and other replica powders is that its fouling is comparatively light, and it doesn't accumulate, no matter how many shots are fired. That characteristic alone should appeal to Black Powder Metallic Silhouette and cowboy action competitors.

Then too, cleaning bores and chambers after a lengthy session with Clean Shot is a snap compared to the effort normally demanded by shootin' irons fouled by black or Pyrodex. Brass cases used to fire Clean Shot don't discolor or require polishing after cleaning either - another plus.

With time and use, Clean Shot shooters will probably uncover a fly or two in the ointment that weren't revealed during my tests. Nothing is perfect. Even if this newest propellant turns out to have an unexpected flaw or two, it will be surprising if any are truly significant.

The powder is manufactured by Clean Shot Technologies, Inc., 21218 St. Andrew's Boulevard, Suite 504, Boca Raton FL 33433. Anyone who'd like to try some Clean Shot can write to them and ask for the location of the nearest source or request their favorite dealer to order some for them.
Blackhorn Powder
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