We’re all bulletproof when we’re young. We all do things that later, many years later, we look back on and wonder how anyone with such a tepid I.Q. even managed to survive—let alone survive long enough to be asked if he needs help taking his groceries to the truck.
Those of us who have spent many years behind a rifle or shotgun now spend much of our old age whining and complaining about our shoulders and devouring articles about perceived recoil and all the things that are supposed to help mitigate it.
In my case, I managed to compound the natural stupidity of youth with a spectacular horse wreck that crushed just about everything on the right side of my body, including both shoulder and scapula. The result is that I now weep piteously when hugged by small children.
As a result, I regard anything that can help reduce recoil the way the ancients, from Herodotus to Ponce de León, regarded the Fountain of Youth.
The more you shoot, and the heavier the loads or larger calibers you shoot, the higher the price you will pay down the road … and that price is not always just physical. The late Gene Hill (Tears and Laughter , Mostly Tailfeathers , Hill Country , Outdoor Yarns and Outright Lies and many more of the finest books ever written about dogs and hunting, dogs and shooting, dogs and life, and more dogs) once told me he had shot competitively so much and for so long that he had developed a serious flinch. This was at an invitational competitive shoot to raise money for a charity.
The airlines had managed to send Gene Hill’s custom guns with their release triggers someplace where I’m sure they were appreciated—but not to the shoot he and I were attending—so we took turns using my shotgun. All I can say is that ever since that day, I have tried hard to develop Gene Hill’s flinch, because he outshot me and everyone else there.
Flinching can be a very real problem, just as physical damage can be a real problem. If you play your cards right, you can end up with both.
The logical result is that gun companies and shot shell companies keep searching for that elusive “Fountain of Youth,” the magical combination that will allow those of us who hurt to continue shooting without tears and—more importantly— allow younger shooters to possibly avoid doing themselves the same damage we have done.
Enter Federal Premium Gold Medal Grand, a competition clay target load intended to provide more power with less pain.
Because that defies both logic and the laws of physics, let’s take a quick look at the technical hows and whys of that claim.
The modern shot shell has evolved and improved greatly over the earliest all-brass or subsequent paper hulls, but those improvements have been primarily in materials, and the basic construction remains essentially the same.
Putting it in baby talk: The shell today is a plastic case with a thin brass coating on the base that holds the primer. Next comes the propellant, followed by a wad to seal in the gas and cause it to propel the shot. This wad consists of three parts: the powder wad, the cushion and the shot cup that holds the shot and keeps it together as it travels down the barrel. Finally, there is a crimp that seals the top.
The cushion is designed to crumple under pressure, acting as a sort of a shock absorber to keep the shot from deforming. But because neither modern powder nor the shot, itself, takes up that much room, the cushion also serves to take up space.
Presumably, somebody at Federal looked at that extra space and saw possibilities. What Federal has done is take a two-piece wad design the company already had and—taking advantage of improved materials and improved molding techniques—created an air pocket within the wad that acts not merely as a shock absorber for the shot, but also as a cushioning chamber to delay the entire compression process. This, in turn, causes the force of recoil to hit your shoulder more softly and a bit later.
That cushioning effect also allowed the engineers at Federal to use a faster-burning propellant that aids in pattern uniformity. To continue working on that theme, Federal uses a lead shot engineered for optimum hardness and density: Harder pellets deform less; and the less deformation there is, the greater the uniformity of pattern. Harder pellets also provide more downrange energy and are better able to break clay targets. Ergo: more power with less pain.
How much less pain? Perceived recoil is very subjective. A diminutive friend of mine from Texas who is an ardent big-game hunter thinks, along the Elmer Keith lines, that anything below the Weatherby .340 magnum is good only for coyotes and jackrabbits. I stand 5 inches taller and 30 pounds heavier than him, and I would rather be boiled in oil than ever fire a Weatherby .340 again. And that was before my horse wreck.
To try for some kind of objectivity, the folks at Federal rigged up shotguns on rigid bases to precisely measure recoil force by using electrical impulses. Their results showed a 5 percent reduction over their current Gold Medal shells and an 11 to 17 percent reduction over the competition’s brands.
Skeptic that I am, I believed, looking at those figures, that for someone who only shoots occasionally or for a hunter who only shoots seasonally—and not that many shells, even then—relatively small percentiles such as those wouldn’t make much difference.
My reasoning was that as a competition clay ammo, Federal’s Gold Medal Grand was intended for the regular competitor, the shooter who sends many boxes downrange every weekend and during every competition, or for the professional, the serious competitor, who sends shells down range by the case. There, I reasoned, it could make the difference between a lifetime of shooting and an abruptly curtailed career, but I’ll never feel the difference.
I couldn’t have been more wrong.
I was shooting Weatherby’s 12-gauge Synthetic Element— the synthetic-stocked version of the company’s inertia-driven autoloader. I deliberately opted to shoot an inertia-driven gun to avoid any recoil-mitigating effects of a gas-operated gun that might influence my comparison test.
I started by shooting multiple different brands of target ammo I had on hand, all either 1 or 1 1/8 ounces, all 2¾ dram equivalent, all either #7½ or #8 shot, all with muzzle velocities comparable to the test ammo (1,145 fps). Then, I switched to the Gold Medal Grand 1 1/8 shot, 2¾ dram equivalent, #8 shot.
Not only did I feel a pleasant difference—it was such a pronounced difference that I began to doubt my judgment, thinking it might be a reflection of the sensitivity of my damaged shoulder.
To test this, I asked three of the other guys at my club, all in my age range, all of them lifelong shooters, to try some of the shells Federal had sent me. They all agreed: Federal’s Gold Medal Grand had significantly less recoil than any of the other brands of ammo we were shooting. Kudos to the folks at Federal Premium!
There are some other improvements Federal has made. One is that the wad’s plastic base and tube are all one piece, which Federal claims allows reloaders to use Gold Medal Grand hulls an average of 16 to 17 times.
Because there can be some variability in firing mechanisms, Gold Medal Grand uses what Federal calls its PrimerLock head. It is made of brass-plated steel, which transmits energy from the firing pin to the primer more efficiently than solid brass.
The Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers’ Institute (SAAMI) has a drop test that confirmed the Gold Medal Grand PrimerLock outperformed other brands—including Federal’s standard Gold Medal—in both direct and offset testing.
The Element comes with Weatherby’s proprietary Integral MultiChoke system in 12 and 20 gauge and with the Beretta/Benelli Mobil choke tubes in 28 gauge. I opted to shoot improved cylinder at 30 yards; again, I was pleasantly surprised by the results. The Gold Medal Grand #8 gave me a very even and consistent pattern of shot across about a 25-inch area within a 30-inch circle. But what really impressed me was that there was no obvious concentration of shot above or below or to either side of point of aim.
Is the Federal Premium Gold Medal Grand the Fountain of Youth for this aging K-Mart Blue Light Special version of the Six Million Dollar Man? Quite honestly, it has encouraged me to go back to regular shooting—something I once thought I might never be able to do again.
More importantly, it might well make a significant difference in the longevity of a younger generation of competitive shooters. Once again, kudos to the folks at Federal Premium.
- MAKE/MODEL: Federal Premium/Gold Medal Grand
- GAUGE: 12 gauge
- SIZE: 2¾
- CAPACITY: 11/8 ounce; 1 ounce
- POWDER CHARGE: 2¾ dram equivalent; 3 dram equivalent; HDCP
- SHOT SIZE: #7½; #8
FEDERAL PREMIUM AMMUNITION
Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the February 2017 print issue of Gun World Magazine.