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Federal Black Cloud Waterfowl Shells

July 12, 2012
Bill Waugaman , Ohio Valley Outdoors

In the early 1970's, it was determined that waterfowl was being poisoned by lead shot they were ingesting through normal eating habits. As a test, steel shot was made available for the first time in 1974 to waterfowl hunters in New Jersey; in fact the shells were orange and marked 'experimental'. In 1991, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service passed a law banning lead shot for waterfowl. Ammunition manufacturers began getting creative to enhance the performance of steel shot or developed shot from other 'heavy' materials such as bismuth and tungsten.

----- Federal Black Cloud Waterfowl Shells

Federal/ATK went the route of improving performance with their Black Cloud waterfowl shells through two of the componentsthe shot and the wad.

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Federal FliteStopper Shot and typical round steel shot

The FliteStopper (FS) shot is steel shot with a .019" 'cutting edge' ring around the circumference. FliteStopper shot is minutely heavier than round steel shot of the same size because of the 'cutting edge'. This ring is designed to increase the impact shock and trauma over typical round steel shot. FS shot is painted black to differentiate it from the premium steel shot. During R&D, Federal found that FS shot flies different than their Premium steel. By putting the FS Steel in the bottom of the wad, this produced the best pattern. They also found that a 60/40 mix of round steel shot to FS shot worked best. In cutting apart some Black Cloud shells, the average shot counts were: 3" BBB (73 = 43 Steel/30 FS), 3.5" BB (106 = 66 Steel/40 FS) and 3" #2 (153 = 96 Steel/57 FS).

The FliteConrol (FC) wad is designed to maximize performance in the Black Cloud shells. It has been designed to open up at the back as it leaves the barrel, relying on muzzle pressure to do this. This reminds me of how a jet slows down when landingthe base of the wad spreads out like an air brake. Since the ignition of powder is tough on wads and shot, it is designed to withstand the ignition and then open reliably every time. Unlike typical wads that open from the front, the FliteControl wad pulls off from the back (this keeps the shot column together more effectively) improving the pattern. There are three 'windows' that come out from the sides to allow air into the wad which helps the shot in separating from the wad. I believe the patterning results from my testing are primarily the result of the FliteStopper wads.

I tested 3 different Black Cloud shells in a Mossberg 935 and a Remington 870 Magnum Express, both using a modified choke at 40 yards. For comparison, similar shells (same length and shot size) from different manufacturers were fired; the load weight and velocities varied between manufacturers making exact comparisons not possible. Observations were based by taking the average number of shot holes in a 30" diameter circle from a series of targets.

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In general, the average number of shot holes in the 30" circle was similar for the same shot sizes between different brands. However, the Black Cloud had less variation in the number of holes in the test area and the pattern distribution* was better. For example, comparing BB shot from Federal Black Cloud 3.5" to Remington NitroSteel 3.5" using the Mossberg 935

Black Cloud 1- oz. (106 count) 76 shot holes average (68% of load); variance of 15 (70 to 85); 14% distribution loss

NitroSteel 1-9/16 oz. (110 count) 72 shot holes average (65% of load); variance of 22 (61 to 83); 16% distribution loss

While the numbers may not seem significantly different, a couple bb's here and a couple percent there can stack the odds more in your favor. So, what's the advantage of using Black Cloud shells over other brands?

-- consistency of pattern (less chance for a miss even with a well aimed shot)

-- the FliteStopper shot has a more traumatic impact than round steel shot (more 'knock down' power)

-- the cost for Black Cloud shells is very comparable to other steel shot shells and noticeably less than 'heavy shot' shells

Keep in mind that it only takes one BB to make a difference between a miss and a hit with a shotgun.

** Note -- The above results cannot be assumed as expected performance for other shotguns and chokes. It's always best to pattern your own shotgun using different chokes and shells to determine which combination works best for your specific needs.


* pattern distribution - To evaluate how evenly the shot holes were distributed on a target (instead of just a visual observation that can be subjective), I measured the 3 largest circular areas on each target void of any shot holes inside the 30" test pattern (the 'how did I miss that bird???' areas) and compared this to the overall area. The lower this number, the better the pattern is distributed.


First Published December 2011



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