Friday, September 24, 2021

Buckshot or Bullshot?

As I was conducting research for a series of articles on buckshot ammunition, I was surprised to discover that most of the #00 buckshot loads I encountered were not actually loaded with #00 buck. Has this always been the case and no one told me?

I initially noticed what seemed to be a size difference in the pellets when I cut apart buckshot loads from two manufacturers for some pictures -- even though both were supposed to be #00 buckshot loads (a standard #00 pellet is 0.330 inches in diameter). At first I thought it was the color difference playing visual tricks; however, when I measured the pellet sizes from each shell, the pellets in the shell shown on the left in the picture were larger than the standard diameter of a #00 pellet and the pellets in the shell on the right were smaller.

Once I discovered the discrepancy, I acquired as many factory 12 gauge #00 buckshot loads that I could put my hands on and a bag of #00 nickel plated buckshot pellets from Ballistic Products, Inc. I cut five shells open from each manufacturer and measured the diameter and weight of all the pellets in each shell. I then averaged the diameter measurement and the weight for all pellets from each manufacturer including 45 pellets I randomly selected from the bag of Ballistic Products #00 buckshot pellets.

The #00 buckshot loads from all U.S. manufacturers (except one) had an average measurement of just over .320 inches or the diameter of #0 buckshot. Remington was the exception due to what I suspect is an issue of “roundness.” The Remington pellets were almost oblong with some measurements over .33 inches and others well under .32 inches. I averaged the Remington measurements to the best of my ability.  I discuss this in more detail below.

All of the Fiocchi “00” buckshot rounds were loaded with #1 buckshot. The Tornado #00 was the only round actually loaded with #00 buckshot. Tornado is a brand name from the M90 Ammunition Factory in Croatia. The Ballistic Products buckshot and the Sterling and the Luce #00 buckshot shells all had pellets larger than #00 buckshot. Sterling and Luce are brands that appear to be loaded in Turkey. The table below details the average size for each manufacturer’s pellets.

* Update: I received some Hornady TAP Light Magnum #00 loads, some Nobel Sport #00 Law Enforcement 12-pellet shells, and some Tunet (made in France) #00 Law Enforcement 9-pellet shells.  The TAP pellet's average diameter is 0.318, the  Nobel Sport #00 pellet's average diameter is 0.328, and the Tunet #00 Law Enforcement pellet's average diameter is 0.325.

The weight averages for the pellets that each manufacturer loaded tracks with the normal weight for the specific buckshot sizes with some exceptions. In other words, the Fiocchi #1 buckshot pellets weighed an average of 41.0 grains which is close to the standard #1 buckshot weight of 40 grains. Federal, Speer, and Hornady pellets weighed in the 48 grain range that was close to the #0 standard weight of 48.3 grains. The table below details the average weights for each manufacturer’s pellets.

* Update: The Hornady TAP Light Magnum #00 pellet's average weight is 48.8 grains. The Nobel Sport #00 Law Enforcement 12-pellet shell pellet's average weight is 58.5 and the Tunet #00 Law Enforcement 9-pellet average weight is 57.3 grains.

As you can see, Remington, Winchester, Nobel Sport, and Tunet were the exceptions when it comes to pellet weight. This is where “roundness” seemed to enter the picture for the Remington buckshot loads. As I measured the Remington pellet’s diameter, I noticed that they were far from perfectly round and this may account for the weight of the Remington pellets.

From a roundness perspective, pellets from Ballistic Products Inc, Federal, Speer, and Hornady as well as the pellets from foreign manufacturers were all very close to spherical and their weight range reflected this consistency. I am guessing that the lead alloy in the Winchester, Nobel Sport, and Tunet pellets might play a role in accounting for the above standard weight.

Does the target object to the size or weight of the pellet hitting it? Probably not. However, I do find it interesting that many manufacturers are not loading the #00 pellet size that they are advertising. If you think about it, a pellet that weighs 5 grains less than the norm per pellet saves a pound of lead for every 1400 buckshot pellets produced.** This is a significant amount of lead when we consider the hundreds of thousands of buckshot pellets that manufacturers produce.

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**There are 7,000 grains to a pound.

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.) Part l  and Part II

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 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 you 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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