Joe Balog was born and raised on the Great Lakes, where he's earned a living as a charter boat captain, pro bass fisherman and outdoor communicator. As waterfowl editor for Realtree.com, Balog was bitten by the duck bug while hunting the world famous St. Clair Flats. Between duck hunting, fishing, and dog training, Balog spends some 300 days a year on the water.
The Truth About Federal Black Cloud
Do all those pricey, high-end waterfowl loads really work? Are they worth the extra cost? That's what we're attempting to find out in this and upcoming Duck Blog entries. In this installment, we'll be talking about Federal Black Cloud.
I recently quizzed JJ Reich, who works for Federal, about Black Cloud, the ammunition that, by many accounts, started the premium shotshell craze in duck hunting several years ago. Good, bad or indifferent, one cannot deny that when Black Cloud ammo hit the market, the shotshell world took notice. Suddenly, extensive marketing was involved with the introduction of a new shell. And it wasn't just a marketing gimmick that quickly died out; hunters who liked what they found welcomed Black Cloud into the waterfowl world.
I have always believed that perfectly spherical shot pellets are the way to go because round objects tend to fly in a straight line. But when I quizzed Reich on this, he pointed out that the Flightstopper pellets in Black Cloud, which are spherical with a "Saturn Ring" around them, are not just some haphazard design. They were specifically engineered to fly straight, like a round pellet, yet introduce more trauma to the target upon impact. Rest assured, he said, Federal tested A LOT of pellet shapes.
That would be kind of a cool job...
But anyway, Federal settled on this shape and incorporated it into a mix of round pellets to produce the payload. As I've said here before, I’m not sold on the whole "increased trauma" deal, either. Shoot a duck at close range with a 12-gauge shotgun, and you get a dead duck. But many hunters are finding that these premium loads help reduce cripples. That's good. Waiting until you look a duck in the eye before you shoot also reduces cripples, but we don't always have that luxury.
The real technology isn't in the pellets, however, it's in the wad. Traditionally, wads did a good job of controlling the distribution of a pattern, but now they take on a whole new role. The Black Cloud wad “holds” to the load dramatically longer than other wad designs. As it flies through the air the wad opens up from the side, stalls out, and allows the pellets, in a very uniform pattern, to continue on on their way. Wild, huh?
Because of that design, the Black Cloud wad travels quite far. I remember shooting over ice and watching my wad land 75 yards out when I first tried Black Cloud. Now I know why.
Reich made a believer out of me, I admit. Black Cloud takes uses a wad to keep a uniform pattern of both round and "traumatic" pellets on target well down-range. That's the goal for every hunter patterning a shotgun.
This year, Federal has introduced Black Cloud Close Range. It's 100 percent Flight Stopper pellets, and the wad is designed to allow those babies to get crazy at about 15 yards downrange. According to Federal, the pattern becomes quite large from 15 to 30 yards out, but then loses effectiveness. Initial testing proved that, when a duck came in close and you did your part, you could count it for the strap.
I plan to test this a bunch this year. I like close shots. There’s nothing in duck hunting quite like the final approach of the birds, when you literally pray the dog doesn't move, all the while holding your breath and staring out of the tops of your eyes. Just the thought of it makes me anxious for next season.
Visit the Federal site to learn more about Black Cloud ammunition.