Know Your Shotshells
Federal Gold Medal Grand
Each year’s SHOT Show visit promises more than a few days respite from the clutching grip of winter. It brings with it an opportunity to see a broad array of new things: guns, ammo, reloading equipment, cartridges and assorted components and tools designed to make life a little bit better. And, occasionally, a surprise.
One of the surprises this year came with the Federal Cartridge Company’s announcement of a new 12-gauge target shotshell to replace its time-honored and respected Gold Medal. Actually, what Federal did was discontinue its 12-gauge, 2¾" wine-colored Gold Medal plastic shotshell and replace it with a new offering in a white plastic hull. The company retained its 12-gauge, Gold Medal paper loads and its 20 and 28-gauge and .410-bore Gold Medal target loads. The new Grand shells are available in a one-ounce load of 7½ or 8 shot at 1,180 f.p.s. and 1 1/8-ounce loads of the same shot sizes at 1,100, 1,145, 1,200 and 1,235 f.p.s.
This new Gold Medal Grand does differ from its predecessor in several respects other than the color of the hull. To begin with, the metal head retains its 12mm height but is now brass-plated steel rather than brass. We’re told this offers more resistance to the firing pin striking the primer, thereby ensuring more consistent ignition. The shot is hard, round and contains 5% antimony.
The older Gold Medal hull was of a one-piece construction with a straight wall and integral basewad. Its outer surface was ribbed. Crimp was the familiar eight-point star. The new hull follows suit in all respects. I’m assured by Federal staffers the internal capacity of the two hulls is the same. To me, sectioned shells seem to suggest a thinner basewad in the new Grand hull albeit by only a few thousandths of an inch. A friend and ballistician for another company who has had an opportunity to work with the Grand hulls tells me, for all intents and purposes, the two hulls are, indeed, the same and, therefore, interchangeable. But he did note a loss of velocity with identical loads of 5 to 6 f.p.s. when using the Grand hull and a loss of pressure of up to 500 p.s.i. Both meaningless, as he noted, in shotshells.
Perhaps the most significant difference between the old and new shells is the wad. Older reloaders may remember the Federal 12C1, a 12-gauge wad for 1 1/8 ounces of lead shot. It was a two-piece affair with a white, or opaque, shot cup and cushioning section in one piece and a separate, red, over-powder cup. The two pieces were assembled together before inserting into the hull. The wad was originally designed for use with the Federal paper shotshell and dimensioned accordingly. It was discontinued a few years ago.
The new Grand shotshells employ a very similar wad. The 1 1/8-ounce version is somewhat larger in diameter for use in the thinner-walled plastic hulls but uses the same two-piece construction referred to in Federal literature as SoftCell technology and numerically as the 12C5. The wad does offer a rather large air pocket where the two pieces join. Compressing the air as the wad collapses at firing softens felt recoil, or so it is claimed. In my range tests, however subjective, I did experience a softer recoil sensation. The 12C1 and 12C5 differ visually in that the 12C5 over-powder cup is black, rather than the red of the 12C1. The one-ounce version is similar but with a shorter shot cup and a longer cushioning section. The over-powder cup is also black, making it difficult to distinguish between the two. It is, I’m told, to be called the 12C6. I’ve advocated for a different color over-powder cup, but we’ll see. Both the 12C5 and 12C6 will be available as reloading components, but first lab time needs to be devoted to determining where the wads fit, if at all, in any Wad Interchangeability charts and to developing specific load data. It shouldn’t be long, though.
I found the velocity levels assigned to the various loads interesting, sometimes conforming to the old dram equivalent standards and sometimes not. For example, the one-ounce load at 1,180 f.p.s. is the 2¾ dram eq. standard for that shot weight and gauge. In the 1 1/8-ounce loads, 1,090 f.p.s. would be the traditional 2½ dram eq. load. The stated velocity of 1,100 f.p.s. is somewhere between it and the 2 5/8 dram eq. rating of 1,120 f.p.s. On the other hand, the 1,145 f.p.s. offering is the traditional 2¾ dram eq. load, and the 1,200 f.p.s. shell is the long-established 3 dram eq. load. The 1,235 f.p.s. handicap load is neither the 3 1/8 dram eq. (1,225 f.p.s.) or the 3 1/4 dram eq. (1,255 f.p.s.). There is no reason, of course, other than tradition, to adhere to the old classifications, but as an old-timer, I always find the non-standard velocities a bit jarring, particularly in target loads. This is especially true since the box and shell labeling continue to reference dram eq. standards.
The one-ounce box is labeled “12-gauge — 2¾ Dram eq. — 1 oz shot — 7½ (or 8) shot — 2¾ inches — 1180 muz vel fps”. Exactly as it should. The shell markings are “7½ (or 8) — 2¾ — 1” on one line and “2¾" 70mm” on a second. Also “Federal Premium Ammunition” in three lines and “Gold Medal” and “Grand” on two others. Heads are stamped “FEDERAL 12 GA GOLD MEDAL”.
The 1 1/8-ounce 1,100 f.p.s. load is marked on the box “12 gauge — Extra Lite Dram eq. — 1 1/8 oz shot — 7½ (or 8) shot — 2¾ inches — 1100 muz vel fps”. The shell is marked “7½ (or 8) — Extra Lite (in two lines) — 1 1/8” and below “2¾" 70mm”. The 1,145 and 1,200 f.p.s. loads are marked on the box as we would expect: “12 gauge — 2¾ Dram eq. — 1 1/8 oz shot — 7½ (or 8) shot — 2¾ inches — 1145 muz vel fps” and “12 gauge — 3 Dram eq. — 1 1/8 oz shot — 7½ (or 8) shot — 2¾ inches — 1200 muz vel fps”, respectively. The shells are marked accordingly. The final load at 1,235 f.p.s. is marked on the box “HDCP Dram eq.” rather than a number as is the shell, being neither fish nor fowl according to dram equivalent standards. The 2017 Federal catalog lists the HDCP velocity as 1,245 f.p.s., but I’m assured 1,235 f.p.s. is the correct speed.
At the range, I ran a series of chronograph tests as well as patterning each load at 32 yards. In chronographing, I set a baffle at two feet from the muzzle, the start screen at 4', the mid point at 6' and the stop screen at 8'. The chronograph was my Oehler 35 P. Chronographing shotshells with such equipment is difficult at best, but for the 1,100 f.p.s. 1 1/8-ounce load, I recorded a 1,101 f.p.s. for five shots; for the 1,145 f.p.s. load I got 1,143 f.p.s.; the 1,200 f.p.s. load clocked 1,217 f.p.s. and the HDCP (1,235 f.p.s.) load came in at 1,275 f.p.s. The one-ounce load showed a speed of 1,187 f.p.s.
Patterning was limited to the 7½ shot size but was consistent with strong center density at this abbreviated distance with few to no voids. Patterns spread, of course, with the increase in velocity ranging from about 22" with the Extra Lite load to 28" with the HDCP, all from a tight Modified choke in a Remington 11-87. Percentages captured in a 30" circle ran 92% with the Extra Lite load, 87% with the 1,145 f.p.s. load, 80% with the 1,200 f.p.s. load and 73% with the HDCP load.
All in all, I was impressed with this new Gold Medal Grand offering from Federal: good patterns, modest recoil, consistent and flawless functioning. One of its professed attributes is improved reloadability. We’ll explore that in a future column. SS
An avid hunter and shooter, Dick VanDenburg passes the time between seasons at the loading bench and the range testing handloads and new factory offerings. For the past 30 years, his findings have been published in a variety of firearms publications. He started writing for Shotgun Sports in September 1999. A native Virginian, Dick now calls Colorado home.
CAUTION: Read the notice and disclaimer on page 4 of this magazine. Always consult comprehensive reference manuals and bulletins for details of proper training, requirements, and procedures, techniques and safety precautions before attempting any similar activity.
NOTE: Pressures are often listed as “p.s.i.” or “l.u.p.” values. You may find different pressures listed for the same load in different handloading manuals. They are not the same. In general, p.s.i. values will be about 1,000 units higher than l.u.p. values. This applies to lead-shot loads only. There are often considerable differences between the p.s.i. and l.u.p. values with steel-shot loads. Also remember there can be differences in how loads act in various test guns and equipment that can also affect these readings and the values published.