Range Report: Federal BallistiClean — Frangible Buckshot

Federal 12 gauge BallistiClean frangible shotshells box side view

During the past few months, I have evaluated Federal’s relatively new frangible buckshot. The BallistiClean loadings are available in both buckshot and slug loads. These loads are very useful in training. They are lead free, which allows their use in indoor ranges and enclosed training facilities. This is a big plus.

Why choose frangible ammo?

I don’t have to tell you how much Federal’s reliability means in training. The frangible loads allow the buckshot or slugs to break up when meeting metal training targets. Since much institutional testing involves vehicles and steel plates set up on firing ranges, this is a great advantage.

receiver and bolt in a 12 gauge shotgun
After firing the test shotguns did not exhibit excess powder ash.

Federal’s Catalyst lead-free primers are very reliable. The shells feed and cycle reliably in automatic shotguns (per my testing). Many frangible loads do not have sufficient recoil impulse to function in self-loading shotguns. This is due to a light payload. Federal has designed a load with modest recoil but sufficient mass to cycle in self-loading shotguns. Let’s look at some of the features and benefits of these loads.

  • 100 percent lead-free Catalyst primer
  • Primer compound is non-hygroscopic, has no shelf life limitations, and easily ignites a large variety of shotshell powders
  • Lead-free frangible slugs and buckshot reduce the amount of splash-back on steel targets
  • Clean and consistent
  • Provides ballistic performance and feels almost identical to duty loads
  • 25-count boxes

In other words, the shells strike to the same point of aim as service grade buckshot and slug loads.

Standard ammunition uses jacketed or lead bullets. Depending on the bullet nose style, the bullet or shot may ricochet if the angle of attack is sufficiently off center. Buckshot seems it would be prone to bouncing due to the round lead ball.

If buckshot strikes the ground or pavement, it will bounce. It all depends on the angle at which the loads strike the target. Sometimes, buckshot flattens quickly if it hits hard resistance. However, if the resistance is hard enough, buckshot will bounce back from the object.

Buckshot, if centered in the threat, usually stays in the body. Frangible ammunition is designed as a training resource for added safety. The bullet fragments. Sometimes, depending on the target — such as a steel target — the frangible projectile turns to dust.

HIgh performance wad and frangible buckshot from Federal
This is a sample of frangible buckshot recovered from 14 inches of water.

Frangible projectiles are most likely to be pulverized when tossed against steel plates. These small pieces don’t have much penetration. Usually, frangible bullets or pellets are lighter weight, which results in less penetration.

Firing Federal’s load from a safe distance at old vehicle rims confirmed their design profile was met. There was only a puff of dust and no shard large enough to pick up was observed. I placed a cardboard barrier around the steel target to test splashback — a test I have used for many years. There was some dust, but no fragments penetrated. The shot is basically metal sinters glued together so it falls apart easily.

Frangible ammunition is sometimes used for tactical duty inside buildings or around airports. These loads have good penetration but due to their light weight, they do not penetrate as deeply as standard loads. In pistol calibers, a non-expanding frangible bullet isn’t as effective as a quality expanding bullet. Buckshot is another matter.

This is a strong load that clocked 1,371 fps through a Caldwell Ballistic Precision Chronograph.

While drywall and panel board penetration may be comparable to standard buckshot, it isn’t quite as deep and likely to shatter on hard resistance. In training, back in the day with early versions of frangible ammunition, we were sometimes dusted with fragments at very close range, but they were just that — dust.

Frangible loads are made of powdered copper with some type of glue — technically a polymer bonding agent — that holds the powdered copper together. Since there is no lead, the residue is non-toxic.

For a threat that is heavily clad, this is far from my first choice for personal defense, and this isn’t the intent of the loading. However, I went past exploring the Federal load’s training advantages. Federal buckshot strikes to the same point of aim as standard buckshot from 5 to 20 yards, which is a big advantage. Since frangible bullets are lighter in most calibers, they usually strike lower than the point of aim. This isn’t a concern with the Federal buckshot loads.

Federal 12 gauge BallistiClean frangible shotshells box top view
This is a high technology product with many good features.

Testing Results

The load features nine #00 buckshot frangible balls. I tested the Federal BallistiClean loads and found they clocked 1,371 fps. This is a potent loading. However, recoil is less than standard buckshot, as the pellets are lighter.

Penetration was 14 inches in water, compared to 18 inches with standard buckshot. At 15 yards, the pattern was 5×6 inches from a cylinder bore 18.5-inch barrel shotgun. While these are excellent training loads, I would think that these loads may be useful for varmints, pests, and even personal defense in crowded environments. They are more versatile than I would have thought.

As an aside, there are folks who somehow think frangible loads are hard on a barrel. The opposite is true. They are softer than standard loads. I have used .223 and 9mm frangible loads that leave more of a copper residue than standard ammunition. This is understandable because the bullet alloy or composition is softer.

Buckshot is a different story. Since the frangible buckshot payload rides in Federal’s advanced shot cup over a high tech wad, the shot pellets do not contact the bore.

I am very impressed with this loading. It is high tech and does exactly what it is designed to do — offer lead free, clean, and safe training in crowded steel-rich environments. There is also a limited field of use in personal defense.

Have you tried frangible loads? How did they perform for you? How would you use Federal’s frangible buckshot? Share your answers in the comment section.

  • Federal 12 gauge shorty shotshell
  • Spent Federal Flite wad
  • Orange silhouette target showing six buckshot holes
  • Federal 12 gauge BallistiClean frangible shotshells box top view
  • HIgh performance wad and frangible buckshot from Federal
  • Federal 12 gauge BallistiClean frangible shotshells box side view
  • receiver and bolt in a 12 gauge shotgun
  • Federal shotshell showing the copper colored primers
  • crimp end of a Federal shotshell

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 (2)

  1. Yes I have used the 9mm version and they were just as accurate as the lead bullet version.
    Highly recommend for home defense or for training purposes.

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