45-90 Black Powder Load

45-90, or should I say 45-2 4/10 inch: Any hunter of the "Old West" would fully understand "45-2 4/10", but could be a little baffled by the term "45-90". For a start I always thought that the description referred to the calibre and the fact you could get 90 grains of powder in it. So what do you think the first thing I did when I got my rolling block? Yep 90 grains of Swiss, but with about 80 grains in the case and 10 grains on the floor. I am not going to dwell on this in detail as you could write a small book on the subject. Let's just say that Sharps, Winchester and Remington all use different descriptions, and introduced a huge range of calibres, some survive today most do not. Today to save confusion the calibres have been standardised, 45-70, 45-90, 45-100 40-50 and so on.

 My John Bodine Pedersoli

Now please remember, I am relatively new to this kind of shooting, and have nothing but respect for those who have been doing it for years. This is a brief account if you like, of what has worked for me, and that is it. 


I have used a number of different manufacturer's brass, and can say for me that it was all much the same. I have however had a batch of 50 ready for the bin after only four reloads, as an imperfection in the brass appeared on all of the brass in the exact same spot. They were heading for case separation. I have had however good results with Starline brass. Case prep is most important, trim cases and clean the flash-hole, and for me, bevel the flash-hole to help with better powder ignition and a cleaner burn.

 45-90 with 500 grain Bullet & Empty case showing the difference in size when compared to a 45-70


Some shooters favour a hot magnum primer such as Federal 215 Large Rifle, but I have had the same results with Federal 155 Large Pistol Magnum & 210 standard rifle. I settled on Sellier & Bellot LR. They were easier to get, and performed as well as Feds but were a few pounds cheaper per 1000.


Swiss No 4 1 ½ Fg every time. A lovely powder with uniform granules, shinny and consistent plus it has a clean burn

Swiss No 4 & My Lyman Drop Tube 


I use a pre-cut vegetable fibre wad by John Walters. This is mainly for convenience, but found no difference when punching them out with a stamp from waxed milk cartons. I did however stop using the pre-lubed felt wads. They were a little too thick, and did cause some strange shots. I discovered that though the lube feels quite dry on the felt, under pressure in the case, and ammo left for a week in the safe, the finished ammo could suffer migrating lube in to the powder, hence the possible "flyer". I solved this initially by using the dry felt option, but then that still meant the addition of a waxed "cookie" if an additional "grease cookie" was used.


I use SPG Black Powder Lube. I get it in a stick for my Lyman Lube Sizer, but they also do it in tubs. It is nice and soft, and coats the barrel nicely softening fouling and helping accuracy. I have tried other lubes, Orange Magic for instance. I though "Hay it's only lube how much difference can it make"? Fouling was hard, accuracy was off, and when I went digging in the sand to examine the fired bullets, it was clear that the harder higher velocity lubes like Orange Magic were still to be found on the bullet, and not where it should be in the barrel. Orange Magic is an excellent lube for other applications, but in my view not this one.

use an additional "grease cookie" between the bullet base and the fibre wad. I have experimented with different mixes, but use a high pure bee's wax content (supplied by my sister, Claire) who keeps bees.


The budget 405g bullet is a good choice if you do not want to cast, as it can be bought it large quantities. However I have found that the "Tim Hannam" bullet works better in nitro than black and the wax lube on the bullet serves no real purpose, and should be removed and re-lubed. Get an old large pan, not your partners best or you will be in deep doo, and boil them up, cream off the wax that floats to the surface, cool, dry, re-lube and serve.

500 grain RN Lyman & Tim Hannam 405 grain RNFP Budget Bullet

I have tried all sorts, 500g gas check RNFP, 375g RNFP, 405g RNFP hollow base, Postell 535g, 450g RNFP and the original 500g RN. The Postell was good, and I thought that with the better ballistic coefficient, it would out perform the lot. But no, for 100 metres, I found that the 500g RN had better groups though I am sure that the Postell would come in to its' own at longer ranges.

I use a Lyman Mould and pour 4% tin for a slightly harder bullet, but not too hard, as the pressures with black powder are quite a bit lower than nitro, and bullet will not obdurate fully in the barrel if too hard.


Starline Brass


70 Grains By Weight Swiss No 4 1 ½ Fg* 

John Walters .060 Vegetable Fibre Wad

Grease Cookie, High Bees Wax Content

Lyman Moulded Bullet, 500 Grain RN


10 Shots For Group, 100 m Top Shot a Fouler

This has worked for me, but I have not given all my secretes away. Seating, neck tension, powder compression and the like, that is down to you to experiment, and in any case it would be a books worth.

For more information, and help with your re-loading these titles are excellent:

Loading The Black Powder Rifle Cartridge by Paul A. Matthews

Shooting Buffalo Rifles of the Old West by Mike Venturino

SPG Lubricants BP Cartridge Reloading Primer by Mike Venturing & Steve Garbe


* I use "By Weight rather than "By Volume" just my preference.