Crushing Clays Since The Early Days

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box of HOA shells opened on a shelf at an outdoor range

Federal Cartridge Corp. got its start making shotshells. The commercial line was curtailed during World War II as it helped with the war effort, but after the war, Federal dove back into commercial manufacturing with a vengeance. In the 1960s, we introduced several new shotshell products that caught the attention of target and competition shooters and revolutionized the industry.

In 1964, Federal introduced the Champion target load with its air-cushioned polyethylene “Pellet Protector” shot cup and wad column. Having an actual cup that enclosed the shot was a new idea and drastically tightened patterns. This technology was so new that Federal included high-speed photos of the shot cup in flight at various distances in the 1965 catalog, showing wary consumers how it separated from the shot shortly after leaving the muzzle.

The new technology, combined with hardened shot (produced by adding antimony), helped keep patterns tighter than competing brands and made them the choice for shotgun competitions. A quick note: “hard shot” was somewhat new at the time and a big selling point. Harder pellets deform less and fly truer, but they also hit harder—Federal did tests on the clay pigeon-breaking ability of hard versus soft lead shot at distance.

As early as the 1965 catalog, you can find Federal touting the denser patterns of extra hard shot for both competition and hunting. In the 1968 catalog, you can see a cutaway illustration of the plastic Champion shell, touting all its features: extra hard shot, Pellet Protector wad with air cushion (for tighter patterns and lower recoil), and the one-piece plastic hull made by Federal’s new draw-form process.

Proven Performance

Saying your shells are great for competition is one thing—proving it is another. While Federal shotshells had always been popular with competition shooters (Dave Yeager won the Professional World Skeet Championship in 1958 using Federal ammunition), the advances in shotshell technology in the late 1960s soon made them the overwhelming choice of serious shooters.

By the 1970s, if you were a winning shotgun competitor, chances are you were using Federal shotshells, as they dominated the shotgun competition circuit. In 1971, more than half (36 out of 70) of the major shotgun championships held since 1965 had been won using Federal shotshells, which means they had won more than all other brands combined. This included the four-day-long Grand American Trapshooting tournament.

In the ’70s, shooters using Federal ammunition won the Clay Target Championship of America, the Grand American Handicap, the Doubles Championship, the All-Around and Hi-Over-All Championships. At the National Skeet Shooting Association World Shoot, competitors are separated by gauge, and Federal shooters won the .410, 28-gauge, 20-gauge, and 12-gauge championships, as well as the All-Around Championship.

Technology Keeps Advancing

Competitors kept winning using Federal shotshells, but that didn’t mean the engineers in Anoka sat on their laurels. Experiments continued on how to improve the performance of the shotshells, and in 1971, Federal introduced the patented “Triple-Plus” wad column. This two-piece column featured Federal’s polyethylene shot cup sitting atop a wad with a plastic pillar.

Upon firing, the pillar of the wad crushed to cushion the shot column as it got up to speed. The plastic wad also featured a cup that fit over the powder to maximize burn efficiency.

Many shooters prefer slightly larger patterns, depending on how quickly they can get on the clay bird. In 1974, Federal introduced the “Special” 12-gauge Target Load. This affordable offering was designed for shooters who wanted a more open pattern. This paper shell had a non-plastic wad column without any shot sleeve, paired with extra-hard shot. If this sounds a bit old-school even for 1975, know that this ammo was used to win the Individual and Team trophies during the 1974 National Skeet Shooting Association’s International Championships.

Federal’s Monark and Champion brands had always been popular, and 16-, 20-, 28-, and 410-gauge Target Loads have more than proven themselves in competition. By 1975, 12 of the top titles at the National Skeet Shooting Tournament in the 410, 28-, and 20-gauge categories had been won with this ammunition, which is more “small bore” titles than any other brand.

The Champion line was so successful that Federal expanded it. By 1976, we were offering both Champion and Champion II Target Loads. The Champion II shells sported one-piece plastic hulls, whereas the original Champion shells used paper tubes.

By 1976, Champion shotshells had been used to win more major Grand American trap and National Skeet shooting trophies than any other brand, and that success continued. Every ATA high handicap average record set in the 1980s was set with Federal target loads.

In honor of the 1980 Olympics, which saw no U.S. participation because of a boycott resulting from the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, Federal introduced the Gold Medal target load. While it was deprived of the chance to score in Moscow, Gold Medal quickly became a standby of trap and skeet competitors. It had a hull designed for repeated reloads and the Super-Plus Wad, whose shock-absorbing center section provided smooth, soft recoil.

When combined with extra-hard shot for evenly distributed patterns, the Gold Medal was designed for domination, both on the field and in the market. The standard Gold Medal product was supplemented in 1985 with the Extra-Lite version. The Extra-Lite offered shooters the chance to trade a little bit of velocity for a lot less kick.

What some competitive shotgunners like best is economy, and for them, Federal introduced Top Gun ammo in 1988. This offered performance close to Gold Medal standards at a more popular price. The late 1980s saw an explosion of interest in sporting clays shooting, and Federal found a great way to meet the demand by renaming the former Special Target loads Sporting Clays. These were paper-hulled shells with fiber wads, offering a bigger pattern for close-in sporting presentations. A free bonus was the great smell that emanates from traditional paper shells. International trap and skeet competition requires special 24-gram loads at higher velocities, and Federal rose to the challenge in 1996 with Gold Medal International Paper loads that brought home gold, silver, and bronze medals for the U.S. team.

More Big Wins

From 2000 through 2022, competitors shooting for Team Federal continued to shine at major matches. In 2012, Team Federal swept the High All Around Southwestern Grand American Championship. Leo Harrison took home first, Ray Stafford finished second and Rick Marshall Jr. rounded out the top three.

In 2016, Federal upped the ante with its Gold Medal Grand line of competitive shotshells. These were offered with traditional paper (a Federal exclusive) and distinctive white plastic hulls. The key to Gold Medal Grand performance was a two-piece wad with recoil-absorbing SoftCell technology.

At the ATA 2017 Grand American World Trapshooting Championships, Team Federal shooter Sean Hawley hit 2,538 out of 2,600 targets to claim the coveted ATA 2600 High Over All Champion Title. In the summer of 2021, Federal congratulated the USA Shooting shotgun team members who won Olympic medals in Tokyo. Federal-sponsored shooters Vincent Hancock, Kayle Browning and Brian Burrows captured medals in their events against the world’s best on the biggest stage.

In 2022, a Federal Premium High Over All (HOA) launched, touted as the brand’s best target load ever created. Its hard, high-antimony lead payload and new, exclusive one-piece Podium wad produce the most consistent patterns, while the solid brass head and tapered, one-piece hull made reloading easier than ever. A complete list of sixteen 12-gauge loads delivered a wide range of payloads, velocity, dram, and shot sizes to accommodate the needs of any discipline of competitive shooting.

Another great Federal shooter, Derrick Mein, has already been putting HOA to work on the competitive circuits. The NSCA National Champion, ATA Grand American AAA High All Around Champion, 2021 U.S. Olympic Team member, and 2022 ISSF World Cup bronze medalist recently dominated the field at the Federal HOA Cup 400. There, Mein took first place in High Overall scoring, won both the Main Event and Super Sport Event, and took second in 5-Stand and fifth in FITASC.

Advancement like that is nothing new. Throughout the 10 decades of Federal’s existence, busting clays with target loads always has been, and likely always will be, a key element to the company’s rich history and overall success.

Limited Edition Anniversary Ammunition

Don’t miss your chance to own a piece of Federal history. In honor of our 100th anniversary, we’re offering limited-edition rifle and handgun ammunition with throwback packaging designs. They’re available now, but supplies won’t last.

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Anniversary Ammo Packaging