It is not big news that hunting across the country over the past couple of years, hunters have been witness to lots of nasty weather. In some cases, even the milder months brought temperatures, winds, and general misery that have not been seen across the country for years.
When the field turns to frozen tundra, often it is time to put your trust in some extra hard-hitting and well-designed bad weather loads. In this case a shotshell load that will hang together when cutting high crossing winds, or burn fast and hard when temperatures drop into the "I-should-have-stayed-home" range.
I can remember when a 10-gauge 3.5" magnum sounded like a little boy's pop gun as the temperature dropped to minus 20, but big Canadas were hauling tail south, and a good decoy spread or blocking passing point allowed a sharp shooter to quickly bring home the winter meat. Today that has changed a good bit because of all the research, development, and hard work the industry has put into the modern non-toxic shotshell.
Fast forward to modern times, and we see companies like Federal ATK building the Black Cloud 12- or 20-gauge round that can take the weather and return some outstanding results downrange. I know everyone won't agree with me, but rest assured mates I have put a lot of time into testing almost all the current product in the field.
My conclusion is this: Federal Black Cloud is, by way of a very unique delivery system (sabot), a load that won't shut the door on you when you need it most.
Just this fall two different hunts proved this. The first event was a goose hunt in some deadly cold weather that made most guns give off a dull thud at the shot versus the loud crack of a fast-moving load. The weather was just about bad enough to allow spent shot to fall from the down feathers of big gray geese while never reaching the skin.
Haven't seen that? Then you have not hunted Arctic-cold conditions, or perhaps haven't checked your birds closely. Cold air drops performance levels fast and you can take that to the bank.
Hunting along the Missouri breaks always seems to produce some days that no load should be counted on to perform. The time I observed the most beyond-belief performance of the Federal shotshells happened when we were right in the midst of a major freeze out of the polar vortex from Canada. Our trio of shooters dusted full limits of Canada geese in under 20 minutes, flat covering three approaching flocks.
There was no doubt in my mind the 3-inch, 1¼-ounce No. 2 steel loads shot over decoys inside 40 yards were flat out pure death on everything that came into range.
On another occasion — this time over big stock tanks hunting ducks — again three of us set up at first light on the very last day of South Dakota's waterfowl season. Gloriously, we had about the only open water left in the state, always a killer setup. We simply pounded both puddle and diver ducks, making a quick morning out of a possibly very ugly deep-freeze day.
Temperatures and winds in this case were cutting down our blocks from left to right with a wind chill temperature of about negative 20. We broke shore ice to set decoys and broke it again to retrieve the same blocks. However the 3-inch, No. 4s churned out positive results and we lost nothing to the fox or marsh rats.
That was a day you would normally not have caught me dead with such a small shot size in my ammo vest.
As of this review I am taking leave of WILDFOWL. I am moving on down the road while to be sure not going away from what I love, and that is burning powder, learning all I can along the way, and telling tales where and to whom I can. I believe that I did make a difference to some hunters' outings over the years and also directed a few ideas toward the industry.
For the most part I did not develop a cure for cancer, or fend off world hunger, but I think I did give waterfowl hunters some tools to become better at their craft. To be sure I am grateful for all the outstanding times I had making up WILDFOWL material. Few get the chance to experience what I have over these many years, both in the field and on the range.
The readers of WILDFOWL for the past almost 20 years have been nothing but great. Over that time, I pulled in a few letters that didn't agree with me, but never a hate letter or anything of that nature. Therefore I am here to say thank you. I also have to say that in the event you want more of my ramblings on down the road check out my upcoming Gun Digest Book Of Modern Shotguns, and you will go away from that read knowing more about a scatter gun and ammunition then you ever thought possible.
That material was drawn from years of ballistics work through publications like this one, and other shotgun-based writing projects. In the mean time, good shooting, stay safe, and see some of you down the line in a half-frozen back water swamp someplace. That is if God's willing, and the river don't rise.