No need for speed

FBlu crimp2

The Fiocchi company, based in Lecco, Italy, and with several companies within the holding group around the world, is one of the world’s leading ammunition makers.

Besides shotgun ammunition, Fiocchi also produces rimfire and centrefire ammunition for civilian, police and military use and has gained a highly respected reputation during its long history since being founded in 1876.

Fiocchi products have been available in the UK for many years but have really made an impact here since the formation of Fiocchi UK Ltd in 2007.

Under the stewardship of Graham Morris, formerly with Eley-Hawk, Fiocchi products have made considerable inroads on the UK clay and game scene and look well set to expand that already sound base.

We have reviewed some Fiocchi clay cartridges before and noted that their typical recipe is to produce balanced performance levels designed to excel at particular disciplines and target situations.

Although Fiocchi has the components, know-how and manufacturing capability to produce them, ultra-high velocity loads have not featured. Working closely with some of the world’s top shooters over many years, Fiocchi’s approach seems based upon its cartridges being fast enough and consistency is the best way forward, so its cartridges will produce patterns and pellet energy to break the clay but without unduly punishing the shooter, or inducing excessive muzzle flip.

Such is the scale of Fiocchi that it manufactures around 2.5 million cartridge cases per day, many of which are supplied to other world-renowned cartridge makers. They also have the luxury of producing all components themselves, including some propellant powders such as the laminate blue coloured flake powder used in the new F Blu line of competition cartridges.

Fiocchi also has a laboratory within the factory where small production volumes of new cartridges can be developed; immediately outside is a clay shooting ground with a variety of targets, so that new ammunition can be tested against appropriate targets within minutes of being produced.

Top Speed 3 crimps6

Under development in 2013 is a new high-performance Trap cartridge called the Shoot Off, which uses special wad and extra hard shot to produce extra-dense patterns to help ensure kills against the harder, environmentally friendly Flash type targets now used in major international competitions and the Olympics and so on.

Here we have the long-established Top Speed 3 and the 24-gram F Blu competition load for serious ISSF-style competition use. Both F Blu and Top Speed 3 are loaded into lightly ribbed, blue plastic Fiocchi 70mm cases with 16mm high nickel plated metal heads and are closed with very uniform, six star crimp closures with very precisely formed turnover.

An additional finishing operation has been applied to the closure, to make the crimp rim very tight and slightly tapered, which will ensure that every case will enter the chamber with minimum resistance and may improve feeding in any fussy semi-auto shotguns.

A tight closure also helps get the most from the propellant, by increasing the resistance to opening up upon primer ignition, as can happen with less tightly closed crimp closures and possibly leading to wider shot-to-shot velocity variations. This is the type of attention to detail that brings the sort of Olympic and international successes that Fiocchi has achieved in its long history.

The shot is very round and appears to be made by the traditional ‘long-drop’ method rather than the more modern Bliemeister short drop system; shot in Fiocchi’s Linea F series is marked as 5 per cent antimony, which should give a smaller crush value reading (remember that lower percentage CV result equals harder shot, because it deformed less under crushing).

The wad has a deeper shot cup and with one less central section than that of the F Blu

The wad has a deeper shot cup and with one less central section than that of the F Blu

Both powders are small square-cut thin laminate types, the F Blu being faster burning to work with the lighter shot load. The plastic wads are of similar design but the 28-gram load requires a longer shot cup to prevent any shot contacting the barrel and to accommodate this the wad has one less layer of collapsible cushioning in the central section. Both feature four segments to the shot pouch, each joined with three tags to prevent the wads becoming intertwined in the feed hoppers during loading, which would cause the loading machines to jam.

Birmingham Proof Laboratory was used for testing to CIP standards while other samples were dissected, weighed and measured to obtain precise shot load weights and pellets size, essential to ensure pattern results are accurate and meaningful. Both these cartridges are marked with shot size of 7.5, although it became clear on the plate that there was a difference between their actual sizes; another reason why tables are of no use for assessing patterns, as the only thing that is relevant is the content of the cartridges being evaluated.

Round, highly polished, very hard shot and Fiocchi F Blu 24 gram fast-burning small flake propellant powder.

Round, highly polished, very hard shot and Fiocchi F Blu 24 gram fast-burning small flake propellant powder.

Pattern tests were conducted at the standard 40-yard distance which helps assess the longer range abilities of the loads tested. The regular test barrel bored to Improved Modified, which equates to a nominal UK 3/4 choke (or 65 per cent nominal pattern percentage) was used.

If further proof were needed that shotgun ammunition has reached levels of performance that could once barely be imagined, here is further evidence. Single figure velocity SD figures demonstrate the supremely well-matched components being exquisitely put together; those tight crimps played their part in producing extraordinarily consistent velocity figures in both these cartridges.

As noticed by the large number of pellets to count in the 20-inch and 30-inch sections of the patterns, the shot in the Top Speed was actually UK 8 rather than 7.5; though this will produce lower striking energy, just look at how many pellets there are to strike the clay.

Top Speed 40 yard Imp Mod patterns: average 285 pellets in 30” circle

Top Speed 40 yard Imp Mod patterns: average 285 pellets in 30” circle

There is precious little space for any clay to escape through, and that would explain why they performed well on the (mainly Sporting) clay targets I tried them on. I don’t always check the shot in my cartridges but used to do so more often when I competed more: I once found No 9 Skeet shot in a then well-known brand (not Fiocchi) that I had bought for an ABT competition: that made me more inclined to check!

This is most likely an anomaly and sizes would normally be closer to stated size. Although loaded in Italy Fiocchi does load some ammunition specifically to UK specification, as Italian sizes are one half size larger than the same UK designation as a rule. It would be handy if the millimetre diameter was shown on the boxes to differentiate (UK 7.5 is 2.3mm and Italian 2.4mm diameter).

F BLU 40 yard Imp Mod pattern: average 220 pellets in 30-inch circle

F BLU 40 yard Imp Mod pattern: average 220 pellets in 30-inch circle

The F Blu loads are actually approaching the very fast category at 370 metres/second at 2.5 metres, a step up for this brand. Increasing the speed in the 24-gram load makes sense, as recoil remains very modest due to the lighter shot load and so muzzle flip remains controlled, helped by the fast burning powder, which is all-burnt long before the shot exits the muzzle.

The more progressive powder in the Top Speed 3 (lower velocity than the F Blu despite the name) meant mean breech pressure was 30-bar down on that of the lighter shot load. The high velocity F Blu still put up a full choke pattern density from the Imp mod barrel, the hard shot and quality wad all doing their part.

Two very competent loads that will suit their respective disciplines well. Fiocchi picked up a Gold medal in the Malibor World Skeet competition and silver in Trap, and Michael Diamond equalled the Olympic record in Trap with 125 ex-125, so the Fiocchi pedigree holds good!

Richard Atkins

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