One second, the snow geese had been just three of thousands hovering over the North Dakota cornfield, suspiciously eyeballing the decoy spread from nearly half a football field above. An instant later, after a quick volley of shots, they were in the dirt.
The bleach-white birds were more than just the beginning of an awesome spring morning. They were part of the final development stage for the most advanced waterfowl shotshell to come along in a decade—a real-world test of redesigned Black Cloud.
There’s nothing average about the average snow goose on the central flyway. Millions of them trek up and down North America’s beltline each season, even after nearly two decades of relentless hunting pressure under the Light Goose Conservation Order, issued in 1999 to reduce the population and protect the species’ fragile Arctic nesting habitat.
The paranoid birds have now seen every decoy spread, heard every electric caller loop and have learned to pick out even the most brushed-in layout blinds along hundreds of miles of flyway. To make matters worse, their neurotic disposition is usually backed up by tens of thousands of wingmen who make up their gigantic flocks.
So despite the birds’ dizzying numbers, hunters have to work for every last shot—and the shots are usually long. Suicidal geese that commit, landing-gear down and pitch right into the dekes are rare exceptions to the rule—and mostly naïve juveniles who haven’t run the gauntlet before.
That’s why there was no better proving ground for Black Cloud and its all-new FLITECONTROL FLEX wad than that stretch of North Dakota prairie, where a crew of Federal Premium engineers who’d developed the ammunition crawled into layout blinds next to perhaps the team’s most critical judge, Chis Green, owner and operator of Migration X Outfitters. Each spring, the veteran guide chases snow geese from Nebraska through North Dakota, firing thousands of rounds in every imaginable set of conditions. If anyone would recognize a performance advantage, it would be him.
Long before the hunt, however, came years of development and testing to make Black Cloud even better. When the original was introduced in 2007, it completely changed the way waterfowl shotshells were supposed to perform. Its rear-opening FLITECONTROL wad, combined with a 60/40 percent mix of Premium steel and FLITESTOPPER pellets, formed a proven system that produced consistent patterns at any practical range and delivered a more potent knockout blow to any bird it hit. For a decade, the load and its variations, Black Cloud High Velocity and Close Range, have ruled the waterfowl world.
Despite the success, there had always been a place for improvement. Namely, although the FLITECONTROL wad produced superb patterns through standard chokes, the results were inconsistent through the array of ported chokes that have become popular among some of the most die-hard duck and goose hunters.
“Gas pressure coming from inside the barrel was needed to open that wad,” says Shotshell Product Engineering Manager Erik Carlson. “Ported chokes bleed off this pressure at the muzzle, and if there’s not enough left over to deploy the rear petals, the system doesn’t work.”
After many iterations, a solution appeared in the form of the new FLITECONTROL FLEX wad. Its design differs from the original in a few subtle, yet important, ways. First, engineers made its rear-deploying petals more flexible than those of the original wad. This allows them to deploy properly with the reduced pressure of ported chokes.
Federal Premium engineers also supported the underside of each petal with a reinforcing gusset, which gives the petal just enough backbone to stay open through enough of its flight, while maintaining the necessary flexibility.
Finally, the original wad’s window-like side flaps were replaced with straight slits running parallel to the shell. “The slits allow an even flow of air inside the wad, to equalize internal pressure,” says Carlson. “This balances the force propelling pellets down the barrel with the air pressure in front of them for consistent shot and wad separation.”
The moment of truth for the new system came soon after Green fired up his electronic caller and broke the silence of the cold March morning. As the sun peeked up, thousands of snows began to pour through the skies above the blinds. But as expected, the skittish flocks of pressured adult birds stayed high.
Minutes later, Green called the day’s first shot, his yell barely audible against the combined roar of honking snows and whistling wings. Three birds down.
As the morning wore on, snows continued to fill the gray skies, and the hunters alternated from shooting new Black Cloud fired through standard chokes, to shooting through a wide selection of ported chokes from Patternmaster, Kick’s and Indian Creek.
Regardless of the choke or shooter, the stack of white next to each hunter’s blind continued to grow at the same steady rate, and the team closed the day with enough geese to have to clean birds in front of truck headlights.
“It’s a night-and-day difference. All my guides are going to use this now.”—Chris Green, Migration X Outfitters
The performance was undeniable to the only guy there who literally makes his living shooting geese. “I can notice a big difference, and I’m happy to be able to shoot it through my favorite chokes now,” says Green. “Out to 30, 40 and even 50 yards, you can tell that pattern is holding together. It’s a night-and-day difference. All my guides are going to use this now.”
Considering all the time and testing that went into the development of the product, the results weren’t surprising. Despite hard shots at passing birds, new Black Cloud provided the same real-world performance though both standard and ported chokes. Wads recovered from the field around the blinds confirmed that the FLITECONTROL FLEX was opening as designed when fired through all of the chokes tested—including some of the most heavily ported waterfowl chokes on the market.
The success mirrors what the engineers had already learned through extensive analysis at Federal Premium’s Anoka, Minnesota plant. Those tests showed new Black Cloud reduces variation in pattern efficiency by as much as 36 percent in ported choke tubes and 41 percent in all other choke tubes with all shot sizes. Pattern performance is measured by total pellet count within a 30-inch circle at 40 yards.
“It’s one thing to test performance in a lab or in the highly controlled environment of our test alley, but when you actually use the product in a hunting situation, that’s what matters because it can reveal things controlled test don’t,” says Shotshell Engineer Adam Moser. “Data’s great, but it had to work here—and it did.”
New Black Cloud is available in 25 total 10-, 12- and 20-gauge loads, including High Velocity and Close Range offerings.