Gunpowder is at least 1000 years old. it’s the oldest explosive known to humans, and it’s not like the formula of 75% potassium nitrate, 15% charcoal, and 10% sulfur remains some sort of closely-guarded state secret. There are some hardy souls who still make their own gunpowder at home. You might know one of them without realizing it, especially if you have a buddy nicknamed “Stumpy” or “Lefty.” Most of black powder enthusiasts do the safe thing: they buy gunpowder or a black powder substitute (e.g., Triple Seven, Pyrodex or Jim Shockey’s Gold) at the store. These days, that’s easier said than done . . .

First, the good news: the ATF does not regulate guns that load from the muzzle and that use black powder. The Gunwalker folks don’t subject the black powder guns to the Byzantine labyrinth (or is that labyrinthine Byzantium?) of federal firearms rules, regulations, and laws.

Now the bad news: after the terror attacks of 9-11, the regulations concerning black powder sales changed. Americans could no longer be trusted with explosives, even before they bought them. Uncle Sam considered anyone who bought gunpowder a potential terrorist. Anyone who sold it was guilty of supplying a terrorist. At least potentially.

The result: paperwork. Lots and lots of paperwork.

I used to buy my gunpowder at John’s Guns in Fort Smith, Arkansas. John’s quit carrying real, actual black powder. He told me the new regulations made it too much of a hassle and far too expensive for both him and most of his former customers.

I didn’t worry too much at the time. Another local store still sold it to me–although I noticed that they began keeping their one-pound cans of the stuff inside the store safe. I also had to fill out a release statement upon purchase. An employee had to escort me from the counter to the parking lot.

All part of the new regulations and requirements, they said.

But I had enough real black powder stashed back to shoot and shoot and shoot and shoot some more, which I did, through my cap-and-ball revolvers, my replica Civil War rifled musket and my Queen Anne flintlock pistol.

Then RF dropped the Thompson Center Fire Storm on me. I was totally out of FFFFg powder for pan priming, almost out of FFg for loading the rifle’s chamber, and down to my last five .50 caliber round balls. So I called all the gun stores, pawn shops, and outdoor retailers within a 20-mile radius to scrounge up more smoke pole supplies.

All my calls were in vain. Nobody sold black powder any more. There was not one grain of real, actual, Holy Black to be found. Anywhere.

It was the same sad tale. Government regs had made gunpowder sales so expensive and inconvenient that they’d simply given it up. The deal breaker: anyone selling black powder in any amount, no matter how small, must now obtain a “Federal explosives license.”

I was disappointed but not surprised. Post-911 regs had pretty much outlawed the best model rocket engines a few years ago. If model rocket engines were smothered by new government regulations, black powder for guns was doomed.

Desperate, I started searching the Internet. Several megabytes later I discovered that one black powder outlet remained in the state of Arkansas. Powder Inc., over in Clarksville.

A phone call later, I was doing the happy dance. I’d finally located a source of man’s oldest ballistic chemicals. I would be able to make the Fire Storm flintlock go BOOM.

My happy dance quickly ended when I asked how much shipping would be for a pair of one-pound cans of powder, FFFFg and FFg. “Oh, about $40 or so,” said the voice on the other end. Hazmat fees. Government Regs. Again. Still.

Forty bucks? Forty American dollars to ship two pounds of powder 61 lousy miles across I-40 to Fort Smith? I quickly did gasoline math in my head. Even at a little over 120 miles round trip, I would come out at least $20 ahead if I just sucked it up and made the two-hour, round trip journey myself. “Can I just drive over and buy it in person?” I asked.

Which is exactly what I ended up doing. So when my review of the Thompson Fire Storm finally appears on TTAG, know that I went the extra 120 miles to bring it to you. And take a moment to wonder what road American is driving down these days.

Recommended For You

9 Responses to Black Powder Blues

  1. Most folks who shoot the real thing get together a group at the local gun club range and place a 25 lb order with one of the major sellers such as
    http://mainepowderhouse.com/
    they will let you get a mixed order of that size and will drop the shipping costs for a 25 or 50 lb order (there is a max of 50 lb per order) check your local fire laws though you may need to get an approved powder “safe” to keep your personal supply such as this one
    http://mainepowderhouse.com/powder-storage-safe/
    and some local laws may place a limit on how much you can store at home with out major permitting hassle; in my area it is 50 lbs of black an no limit I know of for smokeless

    Our local fire marshal gives a talk once a year at our gun club requesting that those of us that reload ammo or shoot black powder give their local fire chief a simple drawing show where Powder and ammo and things like welding gas are stored in our homes for the safety of firefighters:
    I use a old freezer I got from the take it or leave it section at the local dump and keep it in the same area of my barn as my supply of gasoline and propane and MAPP gas,

    • Oh I should mention that I have no connection with the vendor other than as a happy customer

      I shoot SASS Cowboy action shooting in the Frontier Cartridge category and so each shoot burns up about 20 rounds of .45 Colt ( 35 gr of ff per cartridge ) and 4 to 8 rounds of 12g a at 3 drams of ff of each stage and 6 to 12 stages per match and side matches at major shoots add in practice ammo and you can use 25lbs a year easy even it you do not hunt. I also shoot a lot of .45-90 paper patched ammo in my Winchester 1885 for BPCR and ty t do a long range (out to 1000 yards) shoot with it once a year

  2. I generally don’t have a problem getting knock-off black in a tin can (or plastic can as is mostly the case). I just walk into my local Gander Mnt. and ask for a couple of pounds from the clerk behind the counter. I get the security concerns, we have progressed a long way from when you could order an explosive license out of the back of a comic book. I guess I just haven’t notice it in my area. I can usually find FFG or FFFG at one of the big box sporting goods stores that dot the landscape around Houston. Now if only Cabella’s would build a Houston location to compete with Bass Pro……but if they did I wouldn’t have an excuse to visit my recitatives outside of Austin. I guess score one for the Corporate big box sporting goods stores.

  3. Hi Roy,

    When you do your tests I would be very interested to hear what kind of success/performance you can get out of this gun using black powder substitutes as propellant with real FFFFg priming. I am curious about the performance of both loose powders and pellets (which the manufacturer claims will work in this rifle). Another point of great interest would be how FFFg black powder substitutes work (or don’t work) for priming this particular lock (wonder if the manufacturer took this “modern traditional” issue into account when designing the rifle? If you could prime effectively with FFFg or FFFFg substitute that would be a very cool “feature” of this rifle!)

    Excited,
    -D

  4. Don, I have both real black powder and substitute powder in possession.

    And I do have plans along the very lines you suggest.

  5. Selling Black powder (BP) has required an ATF Explosives Dealer’s license since the law was passed in the early 1970’s. A black powder shooter can legally acquire BP if used for sporting purposes in antique muzzle loading firearms or replicas thereof. Shipping is a problem since it requires a HazMat permit from US DOT, but an individual may acquire and transport small quantities of BP if used or intended to be used for authorized purposes. Any other use of BP requires the individual or company to be licensed and provide storage as well as keeping required records. In addition there may be State and/or local license/permit requirements.

  6. Our liberty as Americans was won by men who bootlegged powder ,and Liquor, and smuggled guns. It will be men like this that win it again !

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *