June 21, 2017
By John Taylor
Black Cloud shotshells from Federal have always been bird killers. But using them came with a few caveats, i.e. no ported chokes and it burned on the dirty side. Those days are a distant memory thanks to the folks at Federal Premium, who announced a much-improved next generation of Black Cloud shotshells at SHOT Show.
WILDFOWL editors had the good fortune to shoot the new shell, called Flex, from fall to spring, zapping mallards, honkers and snows in Manitoba, North Dakota, Colorado and Arkansas. It performed like black death, dropping birds both in the decoys and also past 60 yards with exceptional knockdown power on a trip south for white geese.
Made up of Flitestopper pellets, which retain the parting line from stamping along with normal steel shot, Black Cloud Flex contains a new style Flitecontrol wad compatible with any choke. The original payloads did not perform consistently out of ported chokes because the gasses escaped too quickly, keeping the rear petals of the old wads closed. In a non-ported choke, those petals were forced open by the expelled gas for optimal pattern density.
Erik Carlson, Federal's product engineering manager, says the new wad has an additional stiff vane running down each segment of the skirt that ensures deployment regardless of whether shot through a ported or non-ported tube.
Unlike the original Flitecontrol wad that had scoop-like openings on the sides of the shot cup to further slow the wad at time of separation, Flex has longitudinal slits that allows the pressure built up from the resistance of the air within the shot cup to dissipate.
Although I much prefer BBs for large Canada geese, Federal had only No. 2s ready for testing. They proved lethal as I shot a two-goose limit with them at my Eastern Shore lease.
However, on the patterning range some strange things happened with Carlson's Cremator mid-range tubes (ported and non) and Remington's Versa Max. The ported tube gave a constriction of .0185 and the non-ported tube .0175; both between light-modified and modified choke. Shooting at 40 yards, the non-ported tube turned in an average of 59 percent, right on for a modified choke. The ported tube average dropped a tad to 55 percent.
There were two patterns that were surprisingly thin thru the ported choke, possibly a result of shooting early-stage test loads or just a random occurrence, because the reports I received from my editors, who actually tested the loads at Federal's Anoka plant beforehand, were all exemplary.
My best guess is a phenomenon known as "slinging" (below) occurred and was the culprit for the thin patterns.
Remember, shotguns sometimes do strange things. For instance, on a September extermination in Minnesota, associate editor Joe Genzel and crow man Todd Gifford, pulverized winged vermin beyond 40 yards with Stevens auto-loaders, ported Patternmaster chokes and first generation Black Cloud Close Range.
You wouldn't think that combination of gun, choke and ammo would add up to killer patterns and a bunch of dead birds, but it did. And I had no issues shooting those two late-season Maryland honkers with BC Flex.
With the new load, Federal engineered a hotter catalyst lead-free primer, ensuring excellent and uniform ignition of the propellant. Re-loaders often found Federal primers were hotter than others, so this one must be a real sizzler. Coupled with this is the fact that these loads burn as clean as any I have ever shot.
I took the barrel off the VersaMax when I finished shooting nearly two boxes of shells, and it was strikingly clean with no detectable amount of unburned propellant; the bore was almost shiny. So now you won't have to stay on top of cleaning your gun as much this season...as if you were going to anyway.
Shotshells that use shot-retaining wads like Flitecontrol have one characteristic that sometimes rears its ugly head, ballistic engineers have told me. They work hard to perfect every bit of a shell, but sometimes at 1,450 fps, the shot leaves the muzzle at 988.6 mph, and any slight drag or failure of the skirt vanes to equally deploy, can cause hanging up on a burr on the choke or other factor. This allegedly can cause the wad and shot to yaw, or oscillate in any direction, slinging the shot widely across the bird or target. It's a good reminder to always take the time to pattern your gun. Any given choke and load combination can vary gun to gun no matter how great the technology; be sure to find out which is best for yours.