A few years ago, a buddy of mine absolutely crushed a scorching pintail at over 40 yards. When our guide took the bird from the Lab's mouth, he uttered just two words, "Black Cloud." The trophy sprig had been pulverized by Federal's lethal load, and here's why: Steel shot is made by snipping off precise lengths of steel wire, then formed into round pellets with a punch press, which leaves a circumferential line around the pellet that most ammo makers grind off.
But, Federal skipped this step, proclaiming it to be a ninja-like slicing blade that caused more damage to game, and called it the Flightstopper. With the exception of Close Range, Black Cloud's shot column is made up of 40 percent Flightstopper and 60 percent conventional steel pellets.
How do these Flightstopper pellets fly with that little ring around them, you ask? Well, Federal's Flightcontrol wad is made to hold shot in the shot cup longer — between 20 and 30 yards. At that point, three U-shaped cuts on the rear half of the wad open, combined with a slitted skirt at the rear, to slow the wad and suck it off the shot column. This creates a more compact cloud of steel when the wad strips off, essentially causing the shot string to be shorter and more even.
The public's response was so great after the initial launch of Black Cloud's 2¾- and 3-inch, 12-gauge loads, Federal soon released a 3½-inch for 10 and 12, and 3-inch, 20-gauge offering. More specific applications have followed, like Close Range, Snow Goose and High-Velocity.
The Close Range load packs 100 percent Flightstopper shot. Because of its slightly irregular form, these pellets catch the wind more than perfectly round pellets, spreading faster. The advantage is the resulting patterns are better distributed across the 30-inch circle, allowing the shooter a larger margin for error at shorter distances.
Since Black Cloud FS is so popular, how to properly choke it is always a hot topic. I turned to three manufacturers, Jimmy MÃ¼ller (MÃ¼ller Chokes), Rob Roberts (Rob Roberts Custom Gun Works) and Scott Carlson (Carlson's Choke Tubes).
MÃ¼ller's chokes are popular with top sporting clays shooters and duck hunters. Roberts runs a custom gun works that specializes in slicking up shotguns and makes Mojo's new chokes.
MÃ¼ller said of Black Cloud, "Our decoy choke works well out to 35 yards, our passing to 50. I really like No. 3s (for ducks)."
Roberts said, "Black Cloud Close Range is awesome for hunting timber, and I would recommend Mojo's short range with No. 3s or 4s for shots up to 35 yards. For open water, I'd use a Mojo long range with BBs or 2s. I personally shoot a Mojo mid-range for everything." Roberts said 3-inch Black Cloud will out-pattern 3½-inch at 40 yards. More on that in a minute.
"I have shot and patterned a lot of Black Cloud, and I like No. 2s for geese and 4s for ducks," Carlson said. "This stuff has better knock-down power than most of what I have seen in the field. There are some loads that might pattern better, but do not deliver the knock down."
Back to Roberts's comment regarding 3½-inch, 12-gauge shells: At one time it was believed this extra-long shell would send the 10-bore packing, but not so fast. The 3½-inch, 12-gauge packs 1½ ounces of shot and the 10 has 1…, but the 10 is feeding this shot column through a wider barrel on a heavier shotgun.
The extra quarter-ounce of pellets thicken the pattern at long range, but after lengthy testing, both shells run out of lethal velocity — 600 fps — right after 50 yards, and the good old 3-inch has plenty of pellets at that range to kill a duck or goose, provided you hit it.