Today's Muzzleloader Alaska Alaska Department of Fish & Game

Hello, hunter! Alaska's online muzzleloader hunter course has moved. Click here to go to the latest version of the Today's Muzzleloader Hunter in Alaska course—the official muzzleloader safety course of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

The following course material is for reference only. Please go to the new course to complete your Alaska Muzzleloader certification.

Understanding the Black Powder Load

Conventional firearms fire a cartridge, which simplifies loading and shooting considerably. In the muzzleloader, however, the projectile is loaded along with an easy-to-light, slow-burning black powder or its approved substitute. When the muzzleloader is fired, the propellant is ignited and the expanding gases force the projectile from the gun.

Black Powder

Black powder’s basic makeup has changed very little since it was first used around 1200 A.D. to charge cannons. Made of potassium nitrate (saltpeter), sulfur, and charcoal, black powder or its approved substitute is extremely dangerous if mishandled. Use care when handling, storing, loading, or transporting black powder.

During combustion, about half of the powder is converted to gas and about half remains a solid residue in the bore of the firearm. The residue, known as fouling, will corrode a firearm. Always clean your muzzleloader at the end of the day.

fouling: Corrosive residue left on the internal surfaces of a muzzleloading firearm after firing

Smokeless powders

Smokeless powders

  • Granulation: Black powder is produced in different sizes or granulations as indicated by the number of F’s on the container’s label, with Fg being the coarsest and FFFFg being the finest. The size of black powder you use depends on your firearm and the manufacturer’s recommendations.
    • Fg: Coarse grain typically used in cannons, muskets, rifles larger than .75 caliber, and shotguns that are 10-gauge or larger.
    • FFg: Medium grain typically used in larger rifles between .50 and .75 caliber, 20-gauge to 12-gauge shotguns, and pistols larger than .50 caliber.
    • FFFg: Fine grain typically used in smaller rifles and pistols under .50 caliber and smaller shotguns.
    • FFFFg: Extra-fine grain used as a priming powder in the pans of flintlocks. Never use FFFFg black powder as the primary powder charge in a rifle, pistol, or shotgun.
  • Substitutes: Two of the many black powder substitutes are Pyrodex and Triple Seven. Both are available in granulated and pellet form. Use Pyrodex in volume equal to black powder; but when using Triple Seven, reduce your loads by 15%.
    • Pyrodex offers three different granulated black powder substitutes. Pyrodex P (for pistols) is the same size as FFFg black powder; RS (for rifles/shotguns) and Select (a variation of RS) are like FFg powder.
    • Granulated Triple Seven comes in FFg and FFFg sizes.
    • Loading procedures with substitutes may vary. Be sure to get loading instructions from a qualified gunsmith and your owner’s manual. Substitutes are not recommended for use in flintlock priming pans because they may not ignite from sparks as easily.
  • Black Powder Substitute Pellets: Propellant pellets contain a standard volume of black powder substitute. These pellets can be loaded behind conical bullets to replace the standard black powder. Pellets improve loading speed, firing speed, and shot consistency, and also eliminate wasted powder. These benefits make pellets popular with many shooters. Do not mix pellets with granulated powder. Pellets are designed to be used only in in-line muzzleloaders.
  • Smokeless Powders: Don’t use modern-day smokeless powders in a muzzleloading firearm unless the firearm is designed specifically for its use. Smokeless powders create extremely high pressures and can cause serious injury. Always follow the manufacturers’ recommendations for the powder and your firearm. Whenever you’re in doubt, use black powder or a conventional substitute.
  • Storage: To protect against moisture, heat, sparks, and static electricity, store black powder and substitutes in their original containers with the size plainly labeled. Keep the container tightly sealed. Do not store powders in glass containers because glass can produce static electricity.
  • Measuring: Before loading a black powder product into a firearm, always measure it by volume and not by weight. Never load black powder directly from the container into the barrel. Use an approved plastic or brass powder measure only.
Safety Tip
Store and Handle Powder Safely
  • Don't smoke near black powder or its substitutes.
  • Never store powder near an open flame.
  • Always follow the manufacturer's recommendations for use, handling, storage, and transportation of black powder and approved substitutes.

Interesting Black Powder Facts

  • The term “black powder” was coined in the late 1800s to distinguish it from smokeless powder.
  • Black powder is classified by the Department of Transportation as an explosive and is heavily regulated. As a result, many vendors no longer carry it.
  • Black powder substitutes are classified as propellants.
  • When loaded into a firearm, both black powder and its substitutes are propellants for the projectile.
  • Black powder and black powder substitutes produce lower pressures than smokeless powder.
Safety Tip Do not mix granulated powder with powder pellets.
Alaska Department of
Fish & Game
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