British BP vs. Nitro for BP vs. Nitro


Can anyone give me a good set of guidelines on how to separate the Black Powder from the Nitro for Black Powder and Nitro cartridges. I have been using the following rules, but I know they do not ALWAYS hold true.:

Black Powder–Paper Patched lead or Paper Patched Lead Express (with Copper Tube)

Nitro for Black Powder–Naked lead or Lead Express bullet.

Nitro–FMJ or Jacketed Soft Point.


Ron I would say your guidelines hold about as good as anything you are going to get on the subject. No doubt you will find exceptions because it was a very confusing time. Much of the ammunition was loaded in back sheds and not big factories so even the catalogs of day won’t be definitive.

My thoughts go immediately to the .303 which although a BP loading initially went straight into production with a FMJ bullet.So clearly they didn’t feel that jacketed bullets were unsuited to BP loads. My guess is that once jacketed bullets came on the scene the lead paper patched bullets would have died out rapidly through the belief that the jacketed bullets were a better option, irrespective of propellant. I can’t however offer any evidence to support this view.


Vince–Yes, I am aware of the B.P. .303 cartridges. I was thinking more about .40 caliber and larger, especially the .450’s, .500’s and .577’s.


There were some definitive differeances between the BP and Nitro for BP cartridges (Low pressure) with those for “Nitro” only. (Higher Pressures).

One differance was that most “Nitro” cases were slightly longer than those for BP or equivalent ( 3inch BP, 3,25inch Nitro.)

Also, some makers made proprietary cases with thicker or thinner rims.

The Bullet type is also instructive, as Lead and BP was subjected to fouling, so rifling design was generally different from Rifles for Jacketed Bullets ( not always).

BP and Nitro for BP were loaded to the same Proof ( pressure) levels, so that the cartridge could interchange in the older guns; Purely Nitro guns, as mentioned, had different cases, and possibly to prevent “accidental interchange” and a disaster.

Whilst a 3 inch BP or Nitro for BP could chamber in a 3,25 Nitro chamber, no harm would be done ( except for the fouling up of the rifle), but if one managed to squeeze a Cordite loaded Nitro express into an early BP rifle, all Hades could break loose.
( as would the rifle).

One must go by the headstamp, a set of calipers, and a good book on English Hunting cartridges, to finally differentiate between all the different types.

Doc AV
AV Ballistics.


Black powder is charcoal containing smoke powder.
Nitro is (I assume) nitrocellulose smokeless powder.
What is “nitro for black powder”?


When nitro powder was introduced all the guns that had gone before were made only for black powder. The implication being that they were not up to the pressures generated by the new powders. So cartridges loaded with nitro powders for these rifles were loaded only to replicate the pressures generated by black powder.

Some of the early nitro powders, often referred to as bulk powders, were specially formulated to replicate the burning characteristics and pressures of black powder but without the fouling and smoke. They were called bulk powders because they were bulked up with inert fillers so that volume for volume they were the same as BP. This was important because otherwise there would be a dangerous amount of free space left in those big old cases. (loading density) The term bulk is found most often in early shotgun cartridge powders but it applied to rifle powders as well.

I think Shultz was one of the commonest, as it hasn’t been made for years I don’t think its breaking forum rules to name it. It was a sort of “blackpowder equvilent” nitro powder.

However, a lot went straight over to a reduced charge of cordite with perhaps a filler wad to take up the space. You can never be sure because the term cordite was used, and still is occasionally used, by the British as a generic name for all smokeless powders.


Vince, always laugh at the dumb TV program writers when an actor says “I know a gun was fired by the Cordite smell”. They say that for gun shots, shell hits, bomb and IED explosions. Same as finding a shell casing. Always knew a cartridge case as a case and a sausage casing as a casing. Guess we could properly call a 1860’s era skin cartridge a casing :-) Find even modern military nomenclature use the word bullet for a cartridge. Would love to see a person wounded by a cartridge hand thrown 500 yards! Shows how much modern TV jargon influnces our language.

 P.S . have you seen the video of the Muslims placing the IED when it goes off?