We were hunting geese and ducks over decoys spread over harvested rye fields and were shooting from layout blinds, with some of our shot being out to 40 yards—that’s “close range,” right? But I quickly noticed that one of my hunting companions was dropping ducks and geese at that range—using the Black Cloud FS Steel Close Range shells. I switched loads, and soon realized that “close range” in the shell’s name is misleading. Here are five things you need to know.
1. It achieves a full pattern within 20 to 30 yards. Sure, Black Cloud FS Steel Close Range does a fine job at 30 yards and in. Technically speaking, it was made for closer-range shooting over decoys, and in flooded timber when the greenheads suddenly parachute down right in front of you. Using a 100 percent FliteStopper payload, the shells achieve a full pattern within a very short distance. (Other Federal loads, like the standard Black Cloud, use a mix of FliteStopper and traditionally-shaped pellets.) Available only in 3-inch shells, the 12-gauge options are loaded with either #2 or #3 shot, the 20-gauge with #2 or #4 shot.
2. Its pellet shapes are designed to deliver tighter patterns through both ported and standard waterfowl chokes. Unlike traditional, round pellets, FliteStopper pellets are more elliptically-shaped, with a cutting ring around the circumference of the pellet. That ring creates a larger wound channel than traditional pellets, while Federal’s FliteControl Flex wad is designed to deliver tighter patterns through both ported and standard waterfowl chokes.
3. Its pattern holds together well at further distances. Using the Black Cloud FS Steel Close Range with #3 shot, I dropped at least four Canada geese—all around 40 yards—with a single shot, as well as a mallard hen flying from right to left, just beyond the dekes. I stepped off 45 yards retrieving her. A hunting companion told me he and friends were dropping crows with the same load at 50-plus yards just weeks before our Manitoba hunt. I wouldn’t take that far of a shot on a tough Canada goose, but was impressed to hear the pattern held together that far out.
4. It works and recoil is manageable. I used a Stoeger M3500 inertia-drive 12-gauge during my hunt. Stoeger’s workhorse semi-auto features a 28-inch barrel and a Realtree Max5 camo finish; I had it fitted with an Improved Cylinder choke tube. I ran through at least 100 shells of Black Cloud FS Steel Close Range and never had a failure to feed or extract. Recoil? It’s a 12-gauge, of course, but the kick was nowhere near objectionable.
5. It costs between $19-$25. Prices for a box of 25 Black Cloud FS Steel Close Range 12-gauge loads run from $22.50 to $25.00, and $19.00 to $22.50 for the 20 gauge options (shipping rates vary). See weight specs for specific loads at federalpremium.com.