June 16, 2023
My first shotgun at the ripe age of 10 was a 20-gauge Browning Citori that my father and grandfather pooled together to gift me. I love that shotgun and still pull it out of the safe from time to time, but I always dreamed of shooting a 12-gauge with the promise of more knock-down power and extending my effective range. Fast forward 23 years and I have had the pleasure of owning and shooting many 12-gauge scatterguns, yet my views have morphed. My once-revered 12-gauges rarely see daylight and my fascination with small bore shotguns increases each passing season. There are many reasons for this transition but by and large my love for small bore scatterguns is driven by their lack of recoil and technological advancements (and subsequent increased terminal performance) in modern shotshell loads. Federal’s new 28-gauge Black Cloud load is the quintessential example of this, legitimizing 28-gauge scatterguns as a bonafide waterfowl option even with steel.
Back in Black
Federal originally launched the Black Cloud line of non-toxic shotshells in 2007. Fast forward 16 years and Black Cloud ammunition has withstood the test of time, proving its worth day in and day out across every flyway in the country. Luckily my interest in small bores is shared by many and there has been an influx of new shotshell offerings for them in recent years. When I caught wind of Federal’s release of 28-gauge Black Cloud loads I could not wait to get my hands on some—and they have not disappointed.
The new 28-gauge Black Cloud loads are 3-inch shotshells packed with ¾ oz. of shot, available in #3 and #4 shot size. Like its bigger-bored counterparts, the 28-gauge Black Cloud loads feature a stacked payload comprised of 40 percent FLITESTOPPER pellets and 60 percent Premium steel pellets. Federal’s FLITESTOPPER pellets are spherical in shape with a raised cutting edge encircling the pellet. This design cuts through feathers and flesh to deliver maximum penetration and “creates significantly larger wound channels than standard round pellets, devastating game on impact,” said Dan Compton, Shotshell Product Director at Federal Premium.
Equally as important as the FLIGHTSTOPPER pellets, is the use of Federal’s renowned FLIGHTCONTROL FLEX wad to deliver consistent and reliable pattern densities. This is exponentially more critical when shooting small bore shotguns and needing to make the most of smaller payloads. The FLIGHTCONTROL FLEX wad utilizes rear-deploying break fins and side-mounted vents to “separate the payload from the wad at precisely the right moment to create the densest, most consistent patterns possible,” said Compton.
My own pattern testing shadowed the Black Cloud promise of increased pattern density with an average pattern density of 73% at 30-yards and 61% at 40 yards with #3s. My testing was done with a Benelli SBE3 28-gauge using a factory modified choke and shooting five shotshells into a 30-inch circle at each distance. I then counted the pellet holes and equated the percentage based on the total number of pellets in a payload. Out of curiosity, I cut several open to count pellets and the average payload yielded 41 FLITESTOPPER pellets (39%) and 64 steel pellets (61%).
All of this sounds fine and dandy, but is a dainty 28-gauge a logical option to pack to the blind? The answer is yes, as long as you stay within, and understand, its limitations. I had the opportunity to see these loads put to work in the flooded timber of the famed Bayou Meto near Stuttgart, Arkansas late last year. Granted, we were shooting mallards and wood ducks anywhere from 10 to 30 yards, but the 28-gauge Black Cloud loads consistently folded birds with very few requiring a follow-up shot. I also had the opportunity to use these loads closer to home on some fully plumed late-season mallards here in Idaho. One flock in particular yielded a double on greenheads with the second drake folding 50+ yards from the blind. That is outside of what I would consider its fully effective range, but it does prove that these loads still have the energy to knock birds out of the sky even at longer distances.