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Federal's Powerful Shotgun Ammo for Duty and Defense

Here is what you need to know about defensive and duty shotgun ammo.

Federal's Powerful Shotgun Ammo for Duty and Defense

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I’ve been a police officer and a firearms instructor for a long time, and shotgun ammunition is as misunderstood by law enforcement (LE) today as it was 20 years ago. Before I even get into the points about duty shotgun ammo, I want to make some points about the duty shotgun itself. There is no tool available to the modern police officer that can stop a fight with the suddenness of a 12-gauge shotgun. I have used rifles, pistols and shotguns in combat and at close range, and nothing remotely touches the shotgun’s devastation on soft tissue. That effectiveness, however, comes at a price. Recoil is prohibitive, and most off-the-rack shotguns don’t fit the shooter very well, which slows down both the ability to shoot quickly and also the ability to effectively manipulate the gun in the fight. While neither of these are really the fault of the gun, they are realities that need to be dealt with through training if the officer and the department truly want to maximize the effectiveness of the shotgun. That being said, let’s get on to the ammo.

No Birds Here

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As long as there is a need for different loads for different missions, the shotgun isn’t going anywhere.

While the standard load for LE remains a variant of the 2¾-inch 00 Buck load, there has been an idea that’s been thrown around by some departments as a way to combat the recoil of duty loads. That particular dropping from the good idea fairy is the use of birdshot as a duty load, and it’s a horrible idea. Facts and science are important whenever we talk about self-defense, and simple physics dictates that birdshot is a poor choice. The pellets have too little mass and are travelling too slowly, roughly 1,200 feet per second (fps), to maintain enough energy to penetrate the human skeleton once you get past about 5 yards. Furthermore, birdshot loadings are designed to separate quickly so that they can be more effective for taking down small, thin-skinned, fast-moving animals like rabbits and birds. As the distance from the target increases, the mass of pellets separates while simultaneously decelerating. That means that as soon as the pellets start to move apart and acting individually rather than a mass, you’re relying on a piece of lead that weighs less than 1 grain to penetrate deeply enough to compromise a human body.

The science just doesn’t add up here. It also goes contrary to the collective experience of every police instructor in America. I worked in the firearms unit of a large police agency for a long time, and if birdshot was effective, it would be issued to officers because not only does it have less recoil, it is significantly less expensive than tactical-grade Buckshot. As someone who is intimately familiar with the purchasing side of a large police department’s firearms budget, I can tell you unequivocally that departments would jump all over birdshot if it was close in performance to Buckshot just based on price. Every article I’ve seen that advocates for the use of birdshot in a self-defense situation relies on pseudo-science (i.e., “We shot through drywall.”) or on some urban legend (“My buddy told me.”) rather than actual science and facts.

The Good Stuff

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Federal Tactical 9 Pellet (left), and Federal’s nontoxic slug.

Now that we’ve gotten some of the myths out of the way, let’s move on to the good news. There is some really good shotgun ammunition out there, and Federal Premium is leading the way with several loadings. The market leader is still the dependable Federal LE132-00, which is the ubiquitous LE-loaded 00 Buckshot load. With a payload of nine 54-grain pellets moving at 1,145 fps, the load hits hard and penetrates deep. The patented Flight Control shot cup keeps the pellets together longer than many of the comparable loads on the market. It is not uncommon to keep all the pellets on a torso-sized target beyond 30 yards if the shooter is up to it.

This is so important, because out to about 10 to 12 yards, the pellets hit as a single mass, providing a dramatic entry wound before they move through the torso on their individual paths. It’s also important because as the good guy, you are responsible for every projectile that leaves your gun, so the last thing you want is a shot load that separates too quickly, allowing some of the projectiles to miss their intended target. While the Federal load has made the most headway into the LE and self-defense market, the Hornady Critical Defense load has performed well in all of the testing that I’ve conducted with it. I’ve found that the Versatite wad holds the eight-pellet load together nearly as well as the Federal Flite Control, and the projectiles are moving out at about 1,600 fps. If you work in a more rural environment where some of your predators have four legs, Hornady’s load is definitely worth looking at.

Environmental Frangibles

As environmental concerns become a bigger issue at shooting ranges where more and more are requiring nontoxic ammunition and with more trainers setting up training at close distance, there is a need for better training ammo, and Federal has come through in a big way with their new 00 Buck and 325-grain slug nontoxic frangible offerings. Both are manufactured with Federal’s lead-free Catalyst primer. While they don’t specify what their projectiles are made of, they both appear to be made of sintered copper to me. I recently had the chance to shoot a couple hundred of the new rounds and they work as advertised. The Buck load was impacting right where the tactical loads were, and the slugs were maintaining A-zone hits out to 50 yards (range limitations stopped me from shooting farther). After checking out function and accuracy, I worked my way up to some steel targets starting at 10 yards and going all the way up to 2 yards. Even at 2 yards, there was no frag or splash from the targets, even with the slugs. While these loadings might not be for everybody, they are definitely going to help out some folks that are dealing with environmental or distance-related training issues.

federal-duty-shotgun-lineup-04
Federal’s Mini Shell with 15 pellet 4-Buck (left). Federal Mini Shell 1-ounce slug (right).

I understand that cost plays an important role in the selection of any given duty round. I would caution against trying to go cheap with shotgun ammunition, as there are several unique factors that come into play. The first one is that unlike pistol and rifle ammo, shotgun ammo gets loaded, unloaded and downloaded all the time. This adds up to extra handling and associated wear and tear on those rounds. If you go cheap, the rounds will start to fall apart within a short period of time. The second factor is that shotgun ammo spends lots of time loaded in the shotgun, which is riding in a rack. This means that the ammo is subject to lots of vibration, which will eventually start to migrate the grex (the little white plastic powder) out of the shell. That material is there to keep the shot from deforming. If the shot is deformed, it will not fly true. If it does not fly true, it may cause you to miss. That is obviously not good. Good ammo will hold together longer and save you money in the long run. Don’t go cheap with shotgun ammo. Experts have been predicting the end of the law-enforcement shotgun for a long time. That time might be coming, but as these great loads prove, it’s not happening today. Choose a good gun, choose good ammo and train as often as possible.

federal-duty-shotgun-lineup-05
From 7 yards out, birdshot (top left) separated quickly. Compare that to the hard-hitting Tactical 9 and 23/4 4-Buck load in the second and third photos. Photos 4 and 5 show how guns differ and why users should pattern their shotguns.



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