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.
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.
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.
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.
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.