Black powder firearms have a very faithful following in the hunting world and I fully understand the addiction that these hunters feel for their chosen firearms. However, black powder, pyrodex, it's variants and percussion caps present different problems when it comes to travelling, and as responsible citizens, we owe a huge responsibility to the general public to respect and deal correctly with these problems and dangers.
A great deal has been written on this subject, but the more I research it, the more I discover that a large part of what's written is no more than opinion and urban myth rather than proven fact and I feel a lot of this opinion is, quite frankly, liable to create unnecessary danger to the travelling public and in this post 9/11 society in which we live, put individual freedoms at risk.
At the bottom of this article is a list of links and I encourage the reader to check those and also to do his or her own research on the subject. If you find something that proves me wrong please feel free to contact me and let me know. If there is definite proof that I'm wrong, Id like to know about it and will be happy to amend this article if necessary.
First, let's look at the regulations that dictate what may and may not be put aboard a commercial passenger aircraft. In the 1960s the Air Navigation Order, Carriage of Dangerous Act was created that laid down a set of standards in this regard and this set of standards has been adopted worldwide. When individual countries adopted these standards, they usually inserted the name of their country in brackets in the title. By adopting the same set of standards the countries ensured it was considerably easier for the airlines to comply with safe carriage of dangerous goods.
In the intervening years and especially since 9/11, many countries have also authorised a variety of Governmental bodies, acts and decrees etc to have a say in what can and what cannot be put aboard a commercial aircraft and this has made things yet more complicated. The USA for example has what is probably the most complicated set of rules anywhere in the world in this regard. Not only do passengers and shippers have to comply with the Air Navigation Order, they now also have to comply with the Carriage of Dangerous Goods Act, DOT, Research and Special Programs Administration, Patriot Act, Safe Explosives Act, Aviation and Transportation Security Act, TSA security regulations, plus various executive orders. Added to which they also have to comply with all the regulations of all the countries to which they fly to. Remember that even if a material is banned from travel on a commercial passenger aircraft by just one of these agencies, it can't travel.
So, now lets look at the materials we are discussing. Black powder, pyrodex, it's variants and percussion caps all fall into the classification of 'Class 1.1 explosives' (see links below). Most organisations classify them in the sub-category of low explosives although the UN and a few other organisations classify them as high explosives. In either case, those classifications are banned from travel on commercial passenger aircraft.
It should be noted that some people claim that there are certain exemptions that allow hunters to take these materials on flights as checked baggage if they load the powder into metallic cases. Despite extensive research, I have been unable to find a single shred of written evidence of this and so I am forced to surmise that this exemption is no more than urban legend.
Let us move on now to why these materials are not permitted on the aforementioned commercial passenger aircraft. The appropriate aircraft holds are designed to be able to contain fire for an appreciable amount of time. If a fire starts in an (in flight) aircraft hold, it will either contain the fire until it burns itself out of oxygen or built in extinguishers (usually CO2) extinguish it. These same design features will also usually ensure that the fire remains in control for long enough to permit the flight crew to land the aircraft at their nearest emergency alternate airport.
However, black powder presents different dangers in this scenario, because it doesn't burn like smokeless powder, it explodes, and although aircraft holds are designed to contain a fire, they're not, and cannot be designed to contain an explosion. Therefore, when the black powder explodes, there is a very good chance the explosion will breach the external skin of the fuselage and (possibly) catastrophically affect the flying ability of the aircraft. Therefore, it is absolutely essential that black powder, pyrodex, it's variants and percussion caps not be taken onto any commercial passenger aircraft.
Penalties for the carriage of hazardous materials aboard an aircraft, in your luggage or on your person are extremely severe and can include 5 years imprisonment and fines of up to US$250K. One obviously needs to consider that there is also the possibility of being prosecuted under anti-terrorism laws which are even more severe!
Should you want to use a black powder firearm of whatever type when you hunt in Africa, you need to either make arrangements to either obtain it in the country of your destination or ship it (after due consultation) from home by surface travel to your outfitter.
If you doubt my stance on this and are convinced that you can take black powder on a flight, I can't stop you, but I strongly urge you to consult the appropriate airline department and tell them you want to take black powder in whatever container(s) you want to use and that it is a class 1.1 explosive as part of your checked baggage and ask them to confirm in writing that this is permitted. If, or more likely when, they tell you it is not permitted, make sure you have time to explore the other two alternatives I've mentioned.
Should you decide to ship these materials by surface mail, you need to consider exactly how you are going to pack it. I recently found a muzzle loading site where the author (who should have known considerably better) very calmly told how he packed a shipment of black powder and pyrodex along with a whole bunch of percussion caps into a nice metal box to save himself a few dollars. Stop and think about that for a minute...what he actually created was a very effective bomb. What was worse was that he took it aboard a commercial flight as checked baggage. Had there been a fire in the hold or even had something heavy fallen onto his nice tidy metal box, his stupidity just might have ended in a very large hole in the ground. If you absolutely must ship it, I suggest you ship the powder separate from the percussion caps in correct hazmat containers and properly labelled. Sure it is an expensive way to do it, but it is a heck of a lot cheaper than the alternatives.
I hope all you black powder aficionados and muzzle stuffers don't think I'm trying to rain on your parade or make life difficult for you to hunt the way you want to hunt. I'm truly not. What I am trying to do is to ensure that no aircraft are put in danger and that you guys don't unknowingly break the law and then face stringent punishment. Remember that ignorance is no excuse in the eyes of the law.