Monday, September 13, 2021

Is Flite Always Controlled?

This is part III in a series of articles concerning a recent qualification where I noted some erratic behavior in the form of “flyers” from the Federal LE133 00 round with the FliteControl® wad system. (I define a flyer as one or more buckshot pellets that take a different trajectory than the one that the majority of the pellets in the load follow. From a home defense perspective, when these flyers fall outside of an acceptable target area at a given distance they pose a danger to innocent people who may be nearby.)

In that qualification I had one shot at 25 yards put all eight pellets in the center of the target and a second shot that put four of the eight pellets in the bottom of the target. I believe the other four pellets went into the target’s center. I suspect that the flyers I experienced are the result of FliteControl® wads that did not perform as advertised.

The difference between the FliteControl® wad system and the traditional wad is the way the wad releases the pellets as the buckshot exits the barrel. The traditional wad has forward facing petals that open when they exit the barrel. High speed videos show that often the petals on traditional wads open unevenly. This in turn causes the traditional wad to release the shot load unevenly and can disrupt the shot pattern.

Shot Separating from a Traditional Shotgun Wad

In contrast, the FliteControl® wad system has a set of petals six facing rearward and a set of three petals in the body of the wad facing forward. As the buckshot load in the FliteControl® wad leaves the barrel, the gas pressure from the powder forces the rearward facing petals to open. These petals then act as a sort of air-brake and begin to slow the wad. Simultaneously, the air pressure forces the forward facing petals to open to assist with the buckshot separating cleanly from the wad—ideally without producing flyers. 

Unfired versus Fired FliteControl® Shotgun Wad


Buckshot Separating from a FliteControl® Shotgun Wad

During the qualification I was able to recover the FliteControl® wads from fifteen Federal 8-pellet LE133 00 shells that I had fired through my Beretta 1301. Three of the wads had deformed when they struck the ground or target frame; however, twelve were fully intact.

I grouped the fired FliteControl® wads in roughly three different behaviors. Some wads evidenced little to no opening from either the rearward facing petals or the forward facing petals. Other wads showed the rearward facing petals opening partially and the forward facing petals opening very little. Some of the wads performed as designed with the rearward facing petals opening fully and the forward facing petals opening to varying degrees.

I fired all of these rounds in one sequence. I do not know if what I observed is a quality control issue or some other factor is causing the difference in wad performance; however, there clearly is a difference.

Patterning your particular gun with the ammunition you would like to use is a good idea. Patterning your load lets you know exactly where the gun shoots and at what range you may experience flyers or where the pattern is too large for acceptable home defense purposes. I now view the Federal 8-pellet LE133 #00 load as a 25 yard or closer load in my shotguns. That is not necessarily a problem, in an urban setting a justifiable shot beyond 15-20 yards is probably rare.

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Friday, September 3, 2021

Not Enough Oomph! Lightly Loaded Shotgun Shells

In a recent Sensible Self-defense shotgun match, one of the female competitors suddenly began having intermittent failures to eject with her Beretta 1301 Tactical shotgun. This caused her a great deal of frustration as your might imagine. As we were exploring the cause, I initially wondered if the shotgun might be dirty or if she was failing to exert enough resistance to the shotgun’s recoil.

She said her 1301 was essentially new and the she had only fired it during a recent Range Master shotgun class which typically is 200 rounds. She said she had not cleaned the shotgun since the class and that it had worked fine during the class so I didn’t think a dirty gun was the culprit.

I then looked at her stance and asked her to fire a few rounds. Some of the shells ejected, some did not. I asked what type of ammunition she was using and she stated she had switched to some Winchester AA target loads that she had just purchased at the range that morning. I initially didn’t think the AA loads were the problem because I have literally fired thousands of AA target loads through my Beretta 1301 without a hiccup.

As I continued to eliminate variables, I tested some of her AA target loads through my 1301 and immediately began experiencing intermittent failures to eject. I asked to see the ammunition box and learned something new—Winchester manufacturers a AA round they characterize as a “low recoil, low noise” target round. The specifications on the box stated that Winchester loads the round with 26 grams of shot and a “Min” dram equivalent. Given that I had no idea what the gram to ounce conversion was at the time and was equally clueless concerning what I presumed was the minimum dram load, I looked at the velocity. (See below for more information on the term dram equivalent).

The box indicated a velocity of 980 foot per second (fps) which was the lowest I had ever encountered in AA ammunition. We switched to a more common load of 1-1/8 ounce of shot and a 2-3/4 dram equivalent load at 1145 fps. She finished the match without any additional failures to eject.

Prior to that morning, a velocity of 1145 fps was the slowest Winchester AA round I had encountered and these functioned fine in my Beretta 1301. A little research demonstrated that 26 grams of shot was 0.917 ounces or almost 10% less that the typical “lightly” loaded 12 gauge target round with one ounce of shot—I’m guessing Winchester used a gram weight measure to hide this fact. I presume the min dram equivalent specification was the amount of powder needed to get .917 ounces of lead moving at 980 fps.

The Winchester low recoil, low noise AA loads would be pleasant to shoot in a pump or other manually operated shotgun without a doubt. However, very lightly loaded shotgun shells may not successfully function in gas operated or recoil operated semi-automatic shotguns. When you purchase shotgun ammunition for training, ensure that the shot weight is at least 1-1/8 ounce and the stated velocity is a minimum of 1100 fps if you plan to run them through a semi-automatic shotgun.

Trivia: The term “dram equivalent” is a holdover from the past when black power was the only powder available. At that time, black powder was measured in “drams” and 16 drams equaled one ounce of black powder. The dram equivalent is the amount of smokeless powder that would match the performance of a similar amount of black powder with a given load. A shotgunner in the black powder era would have known how a 3 dram load would have felt recoil-wise in their shotgun.

Manufacturers currently load modern shot shells with smokeless propellants and these powders weigh much less than black powder for a given volume; however we still use the dram equivalent measure. If my math is correct, a 2-3/4 dram equivalent would equal approximately 0.17 ounces of black powder while a 3-1/2 dram load would be almost 0.24 ounces. I have some Remington #000 buckshot loads that are 3-3/4 dram equivalents and you certainly notice the recoil when firing these loads.

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Thursday, August 26, 2021

Buckshot Flyers?

This is part II of a series of articles concerning buckshot loads for home defense (you can find part one here). This series resulted from a shotgun qualification I fired using the Federal 8-pellet LE133 00 buckshot load. For reference, a 00 buckshot pellet is .330 inches in diameter--almost the same size as a 9 mm bullet. 

In this qualification I noticed some erratic behavior in the form of “flyers” from the Federal 8-pellet LE133 00 buckshot load and its sister product the Speer 8-pellet LE 00 buckshot load (Federal manufacturers both). I define a flyer as one or more buckshot pellets that take a different trajectory than the one that the other pellets in the load follow. From a home defense perspective, when these flyers fall outside of an acceptable target area at a given distance they pose a danger to innocent people who may be nearby.

The typical buckshot load for military and police uses the traditional wad system and is normally loaded with nine 00 buckshot pellets when loaded in a 2 ¾ inch standard 12 gauge shell. This number allows three layers of three pellets per layer. Nationally known instructor Tom Givens and many others have noted a phenomenon of the “9th pellet flyer” with the standard 9-pellet load. For a given distance from the muzzle, typically eight pellets will be in the same general area with one pellet following a different trajectory.

Givens and others have expressed theories concerning this 9th pellet behavior. If you examine the way the nine pellet load is stacked within the shell you will notice a lot of pellet to pellet contact. This contact increases the likelihood of one or more pellets deforming and developing one or more flat spots somewhere on its surface when the shot load is fired. As the pellets exit the shotgun’s barrel, differential air pressure on the pellet’s deformed surface may cause the pellet to fly off at an unpredictable trajectory.

I say may cause the pellets to change trajectory. As I was researching this article I disassembled several Federal and Speer reduced recoil buckshot loads and noticed a flat spot on the pellets that likely resulted from Federal’s manufacturing process. The degree of deformation and the pellet’s hardness (plated or not for example) may make a difference.

In any event, shotgun shell manufacturers have added buffering material to cushion the buckshot pellets in an attempt to mitigate the flyer phenomenon with mixed results. Many shotshell manufacturers now load 8 pellet 00 buckshot loads to reduce recoil and change the way the pellets stack in the shell. Fewer pellets also allows the manufacturer to add more buffering material which equates to more cushion between pellets. In the picture below you can see a standard 9-pellet 00 buckshot load and a Federal 8-pellet 00 buckshot load. The 8-pellet load has room for significantly more buffering material.

The defender is responsible for every round fired in self-defense—with a buckshot load, you are responsible for every pellet. Even one pellet can kill as occurred in the example of Police Officer Gordon Silva on 20 January 1989 in San Jose, California during an exchange of gunfire between police and a suspect. After the firing ceased, police found Officer Silva approximately 60 yards from the shooting incident lying in the street. The coroner later determined that Officer Silva had been struck by a single shotgun pellet another officer had fired during the shootout with the subject. 

If you are using the shotgun to hunt deer or other game, this is not normally a serious problem. However, if you are using the load for self-defense, this 9th pellet flyer’s unpredictability can be a serious concern. 

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Tuesday, August 17, 2021

A Family of Pistols

Have you considered training, competing, and carrying within a family of pistols? I define a “family of pistols” as pistols that have similar grip angles, controls, sighting systems, etc. For example, Glock pistols, SIG P320’s and P365, 1911’s, and the Springfield XD series would all fall within the same family of pistols.

In 2013, a friend of mine and I set a goal of shooting Master in every IDPA Division. By the end of 2016 we achieved that goal within the divisions available at that time (six as of 2016—IDPA # A32998). Facing this challenge, we were generally practicing 1-3 times a week and firing an average of 200-300 rounds per practice session. We competed in the IDPA division that we were striving to master (no pun intended). As we achieved Master in each division, we moved on to the next. Through the course of our training, we developed a feel for the differences between the pistol types we were using in the different divisions and realized that staying within the same platform or family of pistols was extremely important for consistency.

For me this fact slammed home when I decided to experiment with a Glock 19 equipped with a Trijicon RMR while simultaneously training and competing with a Springfield XD 4-inch model with a match trigger and fiber optic sights. IDPA had no carry optic division at that time. Attempting to train with two different platforms set me back considerably as my brain tried to adjust to the differences between grip angle, sighting systems, slide and magazine release, etc. for the two different pistol families. Rather than progressing, my shooting actually began to suffer. I stopped using the Glock and concentrated on training with the XD.

We both routinely carried concealed and realized that our carry pistol and holster needed to match the IDPA Division we were working on or we were very likely to foul the draw if we had to present the pistol in a self-defense situation. We started carrying revolvers when we were working on the Revolver Division, Back Up Guns when training for that division—you get the idea.

After completing the IDPA master challenge and competing in the 2016 IDPA Nationals, I focused exclusively on improving self-defense skills and maintaining skill with my carry pistol for the next couple of years. I set up two essentially identical SIG P320 carry pistols with the same sighting system, holster, and trigger pulls. I trained and competed with one pistol and carried the other, rotating the pistols and carry ammunition every six months. I used the old carry ammunition to reconfirm the new carry pistol’s zero. I used my training pistol and my every day carry (EDC) holster in all of my practice, training, and competition.

The same concept applies to holster tilt, angle, positioning, and other characteristics. Ideally, the holster should be in the same place and approximately the same height on the belt for competition and carry. My EDC concealed carry holster rides higher on the belt and is not as fast as the typical competition holsters which generally sit 1-2 inches lower. I once discovered that after a period of training for competition that I often missed my draw with my EDC holster when my hand automatically went to where the competition holster would have been on my belt. This poses a challenge to those who wish to use appendix carry since many competitions do not permit appendix carry for liability reasons. Consistent and routine dry practice with your appendix carry rig is very important if you compete with a strong side holster.

Another option is to compete with and carry a holster that meets IDPA standards. For a number of years my EDC holster was the same IDPA-legal holster I used in competition. I eventually found this to be problematic because it protruded far enough out from my belt that I routinely bumped the pistol/holster into things. I stopped using the IDPA holster in favor of one that pulled the pistol closer to my body and solved this problem.

Choosing a pistol family and then sticking within that family for competition and carry will go a long way toward improving our shooting skills. I routinely see students and competitors practicing, training, and competing with multiple pistol families and holster positions. They will bring a SIG P320 X5 to a class, use a 1911-based fully tricked out race gun with optic in competition, and then carry a Smith and Wesson Shield in an inside the waistband holster. Several years ago I had a student attend multiple classes and he brought a different pistol family to every class. Needless to say, he never mastered any pistol and his shooting ability did not appreciably improve.

Regardless of your shooting goals and which method of carry you chose, consistent and regular dry practice with your ECD pistol family and holster will endure that it is where you expect it to be if you must draw it in an emergency. 

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