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Black powder, real black powder—not those silly, non-stinky, modern imitations—was the original gunpowder. It has been with us for more than 1,000 years and has been manufactured by the company that would ultimately become GOEX (circa 1970) since 1802. In 2009 GOEX was purchased by the Hodgdon Powder Company, whose philosophy has been, “We were here today. We were here yesterday. We will be here tomorrow.” Well, for GOEX, it looks like tomorrow may never come.

On September 28, 2021, the Hodgdon Powder Company released the following statement

“Effective immediately, Hodgdon Powder Company, Inc. has made a decision to cease manufacturing operations at the company’s Camp Minden, Louisiana, site while evaluating strategic options for the black powder business. The business will wind down operations while an evaluation process on the future of the black powder business takes place.

What The GOEX Closure Means for Muzzloader Hunters

For those who enjoy shooting traditional muzzleloading rifles, particularly flintlocks, this is a big deal and bad news. For many years GOEX has been the major supplier of black powder. Ironically, those new to muzzleloaders and most who hunt with a modern in-line muzzleloading rifle may have never seen or used real black powder. Without question, modern black powder substitutes burn much cleaner but well-made black powder, like that GOEX has manufactured and distributed for so long, produces much more consistent velocities than any substitute and even modern smokeless powders. Yes, real black powder is nasty and because of the 10 percent sulfur content, it smells like rotten eggs when burned. But, if you want consistency from your smokepole, there’s no better propellent.

Traditional black powder rifle on a pelt with a powder horn.
Real black powder and rifles like this are what made America. Richard Mann

The two primary ingredients of modern smokeless powders are nitrocellulose and nitroglycerine. The current makeup of black powder consists of 75 percent saltpeter (KNO3 potassium nitrate), 15 percent softwood–often willow–charcoal, and 10 percent sulfur. The burn rate of black powder is controlled by graphite coatings and the size of each grain of powder. Granular size is indicated by Fg, FFg, FFFg, and FFFFg. The larger the grain (Fg), the slower the powder burns, and the smaller the grain (FFFFg) the faster the powder burns. Mass black powder production can be dangerous. Over the years there have been several explosions at the GOEX factory. Because of the danger, some processes are automated.

How Modern Black Powder Substitutes Compare to GOEX Black Powder

Black powder substitutes are similar to black powder but are chemically altered, much harder to ignite, and generally perform best when fired with a 209-style shotgun primer. The primary advantages offered by black powder substitutes are that they are non-corrosive, easier to clean, and do not smell like a fart from an egg-fed fat man.

Two traditional muzzeloader rifles on a white background.
Black powder is primarily used in traditional muzzleloaders like these, particularly FFFFg black powder, which is required in the pan of a flintlock rifle (bottom). Richard Mann

Given the fact that GOEX black powder is generally regarded as the best black powder currently made, its disappearance will be a terrible thing. Fortunately, there are a few other manufactures of black powder that are still in business. And, if you are of the resourceful, pioneering, or prepper nature, you can make your own black powder. Just be careful you don’t blow up your kitchen—actions like that tend to unsettle the neighbors and local authorities.