The 5 Best Federal Loads

Federal Ammunition and AR-15 Rifle on Target

Federal Cartridge Company has been around just a little over 100 years. They are now under the Vista Outdoors umbrella along with Blackhawk, Bushnell, CCI and Speer, among others.

Federal Cartridge Company products were sold in grocery stores (and in rural America they still are), barbershops and filling stations. During World War II, they ran Twin City Ordnance Plant.

They have been among the most popular makers for sales to European police and military. Federal was among the first makers to use bullets from custom makers including Nosler and Sierra.

The Premium line was a trendsetter in this regard. I am proud of my handloads, and for many years, a handloader had it all over factory loads. With the introduction of the Federal Premium load, it took a super careful handloader just to equal the factory load!

Federal has also introduced top-rated defensive loads. They developed the Hydra-Shok and later the HST. A new loading, the Hydra-Shok Deep, answers penetration issues with minor calibers.

I was given the task of finding five good Federal loads for this ongoing feature. This is very difficult, I probably have 12 or 14 Federal loads I use often, and I don’t write about anything I have not personally tested.

No glossy report and exponential praise of something I have never laid eyes on or fired.

1. Federal Train and Protect .357 Magnum

This .357 Magnum features the 125-grain Versatile hollow point. The bullet is well-named. The projectile expands well per my testing. Velocity is just over 1400 fps in the Traditions Liberty single-action revolver with 4¾-inch barrel and 1460 fps in the five-inch barrel Custom Shop Smith and Wesson.

This load offers good value in 50-round boxes. The same load may be used for practice and defense use. This line is an excellent introduction and a boon to cash-strapped shooters who need to master their handgun.

The 125-grain .357 Magnum is the most proven man-stopper in the world and this load will serve well. I also use the Federal Train and Protect 158-grain .38 Special lead semi-wadcutter hollow point often, and my backup .38 is loaded with this one.

Federal Train and Protect .357 Magnum
The Federal Train and Protect loading offers first-class performance.

2. Federal .357 Magnum 180-Grain JHP

This loading is a mainstay in my Magnums and will be as long as I trek the woods and hunt deer-sized game. This load breaks over 1100 fps in the four-inch Colt Python and a solid 1190 fps in the six-inch stainless Python.

This load penetrates a solid 18 inches and expands to .62 inches. The Federal 180-grain JHP is similar in performance to the classic 173-grain lead semiwadcutter hollow point handload that maximizes the .357 Magnum.

At ranges of 50 to 75 yards, a careful hunter may take his deer home. When I frequent backwoods areas, I carry this load in the four-inch Python. Accuracy is superb to 100 yards.

I have seen what the Federal load does to a deer-sized animal. For defense against feral dogs, coyote or a member of our protein-fed ex-con criminal class, the 180-grain JHP makes a great deal of sense.

Federal .357 Magnum
Federal quality control is evident in the 180-grain .357 Magnum loading.

3. Federal .45 ACP Hydra-Shok

If there is a .45 ACP load with a more proven track record, I do not know what it may be. The Hydra-Shok was among the first hollow-point bullets with millions of dollars of R&D and T&E established behind it.

After many false starts from most makers, we had loads that either fed well or expanded, but seldom both. The Hydra-Shok offers a balance of expansion and penetration.

During a particularly difficult investigation during the late 1980s, I became friends with an FBI agent and the talk turned frequently to our mutual interest in firearms.

He said once, “Really, if you are worried about stopping power just get a SIG P220 .45 and load it with Hydra-Shok.” That solved the argument for both of us, and it is still a valid statement.

The Hydra-Shok 10mm, once issued by the FBI, is also a good load, a bit superior to the .40 S&W, but not as hot as a full-power 10mm. Federal continues to develop new versions of this versatile bullet.

Federal .45 ACP Hydra-Shok
A good .45 Auto and the Federal Hydra-Shok is a formidable combination.

4. Federal 40-Grain Vital-Shok .223 Remington

I shoot more handguns than rifles. This means that I have fewer choices in rifles and I need a load that does exactly what it is supposed to do without any concern for limited performance.

That is why I often choose a Federal Cartridge Company rifle loading. The .223 Remington was designed as a varmint load. The 55-grain load may be the most versatile, the Federal 62-grain Green Tip is a great load, and the 62-grain Bonded is a good deer load.

For handling varmints and coyote and making certain the bullet fragments and doesn’t ricochet, a lightweight bullet at 4000 fps is the ticket. I don’t want to lose accuracy potential either.

The Federal 40-grain .223 is ideal for coyote. I used to envy my western friends for having so many coyote to practice shooting on. I wish they would take them back as they have invaded the south as well. This load is ideal for taking out these predators.

Federal .223 Remington Ammo
The .223 Remington is a versatile loading. Federal offers a number of excellent choices.

5. Federal Ascent 175-Grain .308 Winchester

The .308 Winchester is among my favorite cartridges and my standard ‘big bore’ rifle cartridge. It is all I need for hunting. Recently I made a big change and retired my Springfield M1A in favor of the Springfield Victor .308, something that involved firing hundreds of cartridges and not something to take lightly.

The advantage of a rifle that is easy to fit with optics was one big advantage of the AR-type system. I was able to retire both the bolt-action .308 and the M1A. Among the single most accurate and formidable loads I have used is the new Terminal Ascent bullet.

It may be the best hunting bullet I have ever tested, and I have tested many. The Edge bullet already provided outstanding expansion potential over a wide range of conditions. The Terminal Ascent bullet improved on the Edge bullet’s long-range accuracy.

The 175-grain .308 Winchester loading is a superbly accurate load, a tack driver in any decent to top-quality rifle. The AccuChannel groove on the Ascent bullet’s shank helps increase the bullets accuracy.

The heat-resistant polymer tip ensures expansion even at long range. If you have used and respect the Trophy Bonded Bear Claw, then you will recognize the primogenitor of the Ascent, tweaked for game of all sizes.

The profile is the Secant, proven for long-range accuracy. Federal has tested the bullet at extreme ranges. It expands even at very long rifle range, while offering excellent performance for thin-skinned game at shorter ranges as well.

I tested the load for three-shot groups in the Springfield Victor. With the Leupold scope dialed in, the Ascent load put three bullets into .9 inches at 100 yards. (The rifle features a Wilson Combat Trigger — previously I could not approach this standard.)

Curious, I drug out the seldom-used Savage Model 12 Varmint rifle in .308. The result was a three-shot group of .6 inches at 100 yards. Would I lug the Savage around for an extra .3 inches of accuracy in the field? Not for the hunting I do.

If the game were to be found at over 300 yards, the Savage/Ascent combination is going to look very good. I debated the 180-grain Nosler Partition loading for this slot. For most uses, it is a fine choice, affordable and accurate.

For long-range use, the Ascent simply edged it out. These are just a few loads from one of our most reliable and innovative makers. Do your research and choose well.

Federal .308 Ammo
The 180-grain Nosler .308 is another good Nosler load, a close runner up to the Ascent.

What are your favorite Federal ammunition loads? Let us know in the comments section below!

About the Author:

Bob Campbell

Bob Campbell’s primary qualification is a lifelong love of firearms, writing, and scholarship. He holds a degree in Criminal Justice but is an autodidact in matters important to his readers. Campbell considers unarmed skills the first line of defense and the handgun the last resort. (He gets it honest- his uncle Jerry Campbell is in the Boxer’s Hall of Fame.)

Campbell has authored well over 6,000 articles columns and reviews and fourteen books for major publishers including Gun Digest, Skyhorse and Paladin Press. Campbell served as a peace officer and security professional and has made hundreds of arrests and been injured on the job more than once.

He has written curriculum on the university level, served as a lead missionary, and is desperately in love with Joyce. He is training his grandchildren not to be snowflakes. At an age when many are thinking of retirement, Bob is working a 60-hour week and awaits being taken up in a whirlwind many years in the future.

Published in
Black Belt Magazine
Combat Handguns
Rifle Magazine
Gun Digest
Gun World
Tactical World
SWAT Magazine
American Gunsmith
Gun Tests Magazine
Women and Guns
The Journal Voice of American Law Enforcement
Police Magazine
Law Enforcement Technology
The Firearms Instructor
Tactical World
Concealed Carry Magazine
Concealed Carry Handguns

Books published

Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry
The 1911 Automatic Pistol
The Handgun in Personal Defense
The Illustrated Guide to Handgun Skills
The Hunter and the Hunted
The Gun Digest Book of Personal Defense
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911 second edition
Dealing with the Great Ammunition Shortage
Commando Gunsmithing
The Ultimate Book of Gunfighting
Preppers Guide to Rifles
Preppers Guide to Shotguns
The Accurate Handgun
The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (6)

  1. How about some 9mm ammo ,20 gauge defense ammo, and 6.5 creedmoor ammo that is what i own and use and some 22lr wouldn’t hurt

  2. My new favorite round is 327 Federal Mag. Fun to shoot without all that much pressure on my wrists.
    I’m a young 71 Y.O.

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