Keep all your shotgun pellets within the scoring ring at 25 yards.
By Warren Wilson
I admit to experiencing hesitation when using shotguns for law enforcement purposes. Please don’t misunderstand, although I’m built like a Praying Mantis that swallowed a marble, I can still handle a shotgun, so it’s not the recoil. I’ve been nervous that, if I needed to fire in a populated area, a stray pellet might find an innocent. Many cops have the same feeling. Too many times when I have practiced, trained and qualified with buckshot, a rogue pellet struck several inches outside of the main pattern; often not only outside the qualification ring but occasionally even off the silhouette altogether. There’s a popular phrase that you are civilly liable for each round you send downrange. I’ve never been comfortable with that saying because concern for the safety of our fellow citizens should take precedence in our minds over civil liability. So, I often left my shotgun in the car and instead chose the AR platform carbine for hot calls or pre-planned raids. In retrospect, the shotgun may have been a better choice for some of those situations.
I thought I’d found the solution with Benelli’s interchangeable choke tubes. The modified choke tightened up my buckshot patterns to a comfortable level. But then I learned that chokes tighter than Improved Cylinder tend to send slugs off course. If you don’t believe me, just ask my department’s target stand that is no longer with us. One of the senior firearms instructors directed me to change back to the Improved Cylinder choke tube and leave it there for the safety of our range equipment.
In recent years, some ammunition manufacturers have made headway in this area and introduced new technology that significantly reduces the pattern of their buckshot. Specifically, Federal added the Flitecontrol ® wad to their Premium® Law Enforcement buckshot loads. It’s essentially a cylindrical plastic cup that holds the shot together as it leaves the barrel. The rear section of the wad opens and the wind resistance or ‘drag’ pulls it away from the shot. The result is an incredibly tight pattern.
We used the Federal Tactical LE13200 offering for testing. This 12-gauge, 2 ¾-inch, nine-pellet shot shell is advertised at 1,145 feet per second. The pellets have a smooth copper coating that also contributes to tight, consistent groups. Our department started using it a few years ago with great results. There were no more errant pellets and qualification scores went up across the board. The closest thing to a problem we came across was, at 7 yards, the Flitecontrol® buckshot strikes so close together that there are only three or four discernible holes in the target. This makes it a little more difficult for the firearms instructors to score the targets and that’s a good problem to have.
SWAT Sgt. Tim Doyle agreed to do the shooting (take the beating) for me. Patterns were measured at their largest and smallest diameters and then rounded to the nearest quarter inch. The original plan was to compare Flitecontrol® to standard buckshot loads at 7 and 15 yards since that is our qualification course of fire for buckshot. After witnessing this Federal ammunition’s capability, we tested it out to 25 yards. At 7 yards, both the old-fashioned buckshot and the Flitecontrol® stuff gave good results. At 15 yards, the patterns started to open up a little. The Flitecontrol® group was 4.25-inch by 3.25-inch while the standard buckshot was a much more familiar 10.25-inch wide by 5.5-inch high. There was one errant pellet on the latter target that struck over 3 inches to the right of its nearest relative and almost completely off of the silhouette.
It should be noted that we used our state’s police qualification target for this test. It’s a picture of a female offender pointing a gun at the shooter and has an approximately 10-inch by 13-inch scoring ring. It’s more than a little challenging to get all of those pellets into that 10-inch-wide area with a 10.25-inch pattern. The rogue pellet in question hit the felon’s shirt sleeve and would have undoubtedly gone downrange in real life. This all-too-common occurrence during qualification and training is what caused my original anxiety on the issue. To the contrary, the Flitecontrol® pattern kept all pellets well within the scoring ring at that distance, grouping about 3.25-inch by 4.25-inch.
We concluded that, at 25 yards and beyond, there is no real need to test any standard buckshot. The standard buckshot barely kept all of the pellets on the paper. It measured 22.25 inches by 16 inches. Only three of the pellets landed in the scoring ring. Only five of them were on the silhouette, while four of them went downrange. That is in no way acceptable. Not only are stray pellets traveling downrange, the ammunition is about half as effective as it was at the gun’s muzzle.
On the other hand, the Flitecontrol® buckshot not only stayed on the silhouette at 25 yards, but all nine pellets were within the scoring ring. In an urban setting, I’d have a hard time unleashing standard buckshot at that distance. I’d sooner resort to my sidearm. After firing Federal’s Flitecontrol®, I would not have the same hesitation using these shells in my scattergun.
There was a time when the only way for a cop to get a tighter pattern from his/her shotgun was to pay for an expensive modification or to sacrifice his/her ability to accurately shoot slugs by using a tighter choke tube. With innovations like Federal’s Flitecontrol® buckshot, the street officer has an economical and simple way to make the shotgun an even more effective tool. PM
Warren Wilson is a Lieutenant with the Enid Police Department in Oklahoma. He is a former SWAT team member/leader and has been in law enforcement for 19 years.
1. Flitecontrol® buckshot produced a 4.25-inch by 3.25-inch group at 15 yards.
2. Federal recently added the Flitecontrol® wad to its Law Enforcement/Tactical buckshot lineup, resulting in tighter groups at farther distances.
3. Flitecontrol® wad and nine .32 caliber 00 buckshot copper-plated pellets.
4. The Flitecontrol® wad holds the buckshot together after leaving the muzzle, resulting in a staggeringly tight pattern. Photo courtesy of ATK.
5. Standard buckshot can create uncomfortably large patterns at 25 yards.
6. The author was anxious about the occasional buckshot flyer at 15 yards. Note the target perforation to the far right, which would have undoubtedly gone downrange in a real-life scenario.