I have been familiar with Hodgdon producs since I began reloading in 1970 and I exclusively used their Pyrodex product in my muzzle loading rifles and pistols. As a percussion pistol shooter, I was very interested in learning from Mike how Hodgdon had entered the Cowboy shooting arena so early in the growth of the sport.
Part of Mike's duties at Hodgdon included scanning the various firearms publications and looking for trends. In late 1994 he noticed that Cowboy Action Shooting and cowboy guns were getting a large amount of coverage in both the large and small circulation magazines. He approached the Management Committee of Hodgdon and presented his research findings. Hodgdon management responded favorably to his request to attend the Phoenix Winter Range in February 1995 to take a first hand look at this emerging force in shooting.
Mike found about 150 to 200 shooters that year at Winter Range and it looked to him like a great deal of fun. By End of Trail, he was set to shoot and Hodgdon chose to be both a sponsor and a vendor. This began the long sponsorship relationship between Hodgdon and the SASS community.
Mike reports that the matches were more complex then than they are now. There was a great deal more action in the Cowboy Action Shooting. The matches were smaller and more intimate so it was easier to meet a large number of people.
Mike was awarded Regulator status within the sport, but he does not know what lead to the award. He can only assume it was the result of being able to travel throughout the country to promote both Hodgdon products and Cowboy Action Shooting in general. Cowboy shooting was in its infancy throughout most of the company and he promoted the sport with a great deal of vigor.
Mike personally developed the first reloading data manual exclusively for Cowboy shooting. He worked very hard to bring back the Frontiersman Category as it had died and been combined with Frontier Cartridge Category to make a single category for blackpowder shooters.
Mike held a visible position within the firearms and shooting industry, so he was able to convince other companies to get involved in CAS and to provide support to a number of the matches.
His influence is was not limited to the other companies in the firearms business. Along with his wife and son, he helped start CAS club in Kansas with a lot of assistance from three or four other people. His efforts added up and he considers himself to be fortunate enough to have those efforts recognized.
When it comes to working on guns, Mike admits he is only a parts changer. He is not a gunsmith and recognizes that he is good at what he does and that he should use the services of a specialists. Bill Oglesby, Joe West, Harvey Lane, and especially Lynn Ferguson have all done work for Mike and he recommends each of them for they have done excellent work for him.
Safety was Mike's prime concern for the loads he developed but there was special concern with CAS loads as they may well end up in older firearms. He used the SAAMI standards for pressure to establish max loads in the lower pressure cartridges like the 44-40, 45 Colt, and 44 Special cartridges while using the SASS maximum velocity rule as the limiting factor for the maximum loads in high pressure cartridges like the .357 magnum and .44 magnum cartridges.
In testing his Cowboy loads, Mike used calibrated and referenced test barrels in accordance with SAAMI standards for ballistic tests. All of his data was reviewed and validated by a second person in order to make certain he made no errors in his technology, technique, or his calculation. Cowboy shooters should feel assured that those loads are as safe as they can be.
There has been some recent concerns that firearms companies and suppliers are posting warnings based on advice from lawyers and not necessarily related to the safety of products. I asked Mike about the legal warnings often seen on CAS products. Mike indicated that warnings are always required by legal departments and insurance companies because we live in a society with complex laws and people who sue after being injured.
Mike warns that there is always that firearm or ammunition component that may well fail with higher than normal pressures. Hodgdon does its best to warn people of the potential problems if the product is not used properly. He explained that there can be significant differences between the dimensions and tolerances of both the firearms used and the components used.
Mike reports it is certainly possible to encounter a batch of bullets that would be at the extreme largest diameter that the manufacturer allows. Some batches of brass are harder than others. Some brands of brass have less capacity than others and deliver higher pressures. Some firearms have different chambers dimensions. Even metal defects do rarely occur. The manufacturer knows there are many variables that individually or collectively add up to create a problem. Hodgdon tries very hard to make its data as safe as possible.
This all adds up to suppliers being careful to properly test their products and to account for a variety of conditions the customer may use them in. I recently contacted Hodgdon about improperly using their 777 product only to learn it was safe under my specific conditions, but that I was exceeding the safe specifications if my ammo were to be placed in someone else's gun. I decided the responsible thing to do was to stop what I was doing to prevent setting someone else up for an accident.
Hodgdon recently energized the blackpowder Cowboy shooters with its new 777 product. The goal with Triple Seven was to make a product the modern deer hunter would use. Hodsgon's research told them the blackpowder hunters sought a cleaner powder that did not smell of sulfur, was less corrosive than blackpowder, and cleaned up easily.
Hodgdon did not intend 777 to be a great cowboy shooting powder. They knew it would be more energetic than powders sought by cowboy shooters, but they had to go after the largest possible market for the product. Many cowboy shooters, including myself, find the new powder to be ideal for smaller caliber or small case capacity cartridges like the .38 or .45 ACP cartridge conversion cylinders.
Ignition and burn characteristics of Triple Seven falls between blackpowder and Pyrodex as far as ignition temperature is concerned, but still qualifies as a flammable solid with regard to DOT transportation and NFPA storage requirements. While it is not formulated or intended for flintlock firearms, it will work as the main charge but the ignition is slower than blackpowder. Five or six grains of pan powder should be loaded ahead of the main charge to help ignite the Triple Seven main charge.
Mike denies any claim of being an expert when it comes to discussion the physics of air gaps between the Triple Seven charge and the projectile, but he has gained knowledge that has been passed down through the ages. The recommendation passed down from muzzleloaders also applies to cartridge guns: Do not allow an airspace between the projectile and the powder.
Mike did not know for certain that anyone can produce a pressure ring with certainty but he does know that the makers of the finest blackpowder cartridge rifles get guns back with rings in the chambers. In most cases, there was a wad on top of the powder and then an airspace. The wad became the bullet, the bullet became an obstruction, and the pressure wave slams into the base of the stationary bullet before the bullet can move. This creates a pressure focus at the base of the bullet that causes the barrel to bulge or fail. From time to time, a situation arises where a wad was not used but the chamber was ringed. He wishes he could provide a more scientific explanation but he is not certain a good explanation exists.
I briefly asked about this when I had access to a physicist who specialized in explosives and was told that a pressure ring acts much like a randomly generated shape charge, which makes it very dangerous as it might not appear often enough to be discovered in testing. This is the reason I choose to not deviate from Hodgdon's recommended usage of Triple Seven by not completely filling the case.
Mike wanted to convey to shooters that when they have any doubt about the use of Hodgdon products, they should call or email for clarification. Hodgdon wants to assist shooters in making the best choices and insuring they have the best possible chances for success. Hodgdon's first priority is to answer customer questions to the detriment of anything else. That means that the owners and President/CEO answer Tech calls whenever it is needed. The team at Hodgdon stop everything else they might be doing to speak to the users of their product because they are their most important consideration. Mike's job is not Customer Service, but the much more simple description of Customer Satisfaction.
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