- Richard Atkins evaluates two new Sporting clay cartridges from leading Italian maker Fiocchi
- Clay Shooting magazine had the first look at Fiocchi’s F3 load
- Scroll down for independent pressure and velocity results from the Birmingham Proof House
Fiocchi is a world-class ammunition brand with a history of manufacturing high quality products since 1876. Producers of metallic centrefire and rimfire ammunition as well as shotshells, Fiocchi supplies sportsmen, police and armed forces around the world, with top-ranked shooters using the Italian brand to win many titles.
Clay target shotgun ammunition has become a hotbed for development – a good sign for the sport – and Fiocchi has responded by introducing new loads. Already famed for its Trap cartridges, it has now ensured Sporting clay shooters are well catered for. Fiocchi Trap loads are widely used to cope with the longest targets, a common feature at many major FITASC and English Sporting competitions. However, course designers are becoming more cunning in their approach to test and entertain serious Sporting competitors. They don’t just present a midi clay at 50 yards, but also throw a subtle variety of targets with angles, curved flights, different speeds set on uneven terrain to deceive the shooter into following the wrong flight path. This is where sensible use of the opportunities interchangeable chokes, combined with suitably selected cartridges, can afford shooters a little more leeway in shot placement, yet still score good kills.
If you are among the world’s elite and confident in using full choke for everything, then fine, but the rest of us won’t mind a helping hand and Fiocchi has introduced some new loads to assist us, in particular the F3, which we have been comparing to its stalwart stablemate, the FBlack.
Fiocchi manufactures quality components that also supplies to many other cartridge makers. The types tested here use 70mm plastic cases with 16mm high, nickel-plated steel heads. The F3 is a smart, bright-green colour and the FBlack is, of course, black. They feature tight, neat and consistent final crimps, which also aids consistent ballistics.
Fiocchi uses powders from several major propellant makers, some types being exclusive to them. In the FBlack Sporting Fibre is CSB5, a fine disc flake type, and in the F3 Bior is the PSB5 square-cut flake. Both are single base and burned cleanly, producing fast, consistent velocities with modest pressures. The FBlack Fibre uses a quality one-piece wad with laminated ends to prevent pellets sticking to it, plus a thick overpowder card to achieve the best gas seal and prevent wax from the wad migrating into the powder.
The F3 is fascinating – a double-ended plastic wad with a fairly deep cup at each end (so it can be loaded either way up), and is different to any conventional cup plastic wad. They are deeper than the gas-sealing skirt found on most plastic cup wads, and only part of the shot is contained inside the protective cup when loaded, which leaves two-thirds of the outer pellets above the cup in contact with the barrel wall. A novel concept, and part of the plan for a shorter range cartridge. The Bior wad clearly seals and performs well, shown by the supremely consistent ballistic results: expect to see more of such wads.
The F3 Bior shot pellets are nickel plated while the FBlack’s are graphite coated, and both examples are hard and highly polished. There is some small size variation but quite tightly controlled. Older readers may well recall the time when some wrote about nickel-plated shot, perhaps 20 years ago, as though the nickel produced the hardest and tightest patterning shot.
My tests of some top Trap nickel loads back then showed this was not true, and those who wrote this had not actually done comparative pattern tests but assumed what they believed to be the case. I’m therefore fascinated to read in Fiocchi’s F3 literature that these nickel shot loads are best for short to medium distance targets.
What does this mean? It means Fiocchi is telling it how it is: that the purpose of nickel plating is not to achieve the tightest patterns at greatest distance. Nickel adds a thin, hard and highly polished surface to the hard lead (there is little advantage nickel-plating soft lead). Nickel prevents pellets being compression welded into small clumps so more regular and efficient distribution can be achieved, not extra tightness.
The F3 and FBlack shot proved larger in diameter than the equivalent UK size. Being intended for short to medium-range use, some controlled variation can help obtain a useful shot string, so a small over-leading of the clay can still give a kill.
The cartridges were submitted to the Birmingham Proof Laboratory for pressure, velocity and momentum testing. Pattern tests also followed established best practice, being fired over a 40-yard distance to assess longer range patterning abilities. With F3 intended for shorter range, a 30-yard distance using a Skeet-bored barrel was also conducted.
Fiocchi confirms its expertise in producing superb ammunition with these ballistic results. Consistency is good by any standards, the fibre wad FBlack being exceptional. It’s harder to achieve consistent velocity with fibre wads but these results would grace any plastic load.
Components from case and primer through to powder, wad and shot must be top notch to achieve these results, as must assembly and the crimp closure. British cartridge makers have led the way in the past for fibre wad ammunition, with much greater traditional call for such loads in UK shooting, but Fiocchi has proved that the Italians, early masters of plastic wad competition load manufacture, have caught up.
Consistent velocity is not enough on its own, so what about other factors? The shot used in both types is hard: Crush Value figures boast at least five per cent antimony shot, as claimed by Fiocchi. The 29 per cent CV F3 9 shot is a hard result for small shot. On high overhead shots the tallest targets were readily smashed, even high midis that have the clay’s full underbelly exposed.
The F3 Bior is intended for closer edge on targets, but with suitable chokes they were comfortably dispatched out to 30 yards or more. That the F3 can also respond to choke (producing Full choke patterns at 40 yards) shows great versatility. The FBlack’s hard shot ensured patterns almost matched the Imp/Mod barrel with 63 per cent, even with fibre wads and high velocity, ensuring this 8.5 shot was also able to break surprisingly distant clays. As a medium-range cartridge where fibre wads are required, these can be relied upon to perform.
I enjoyed testing these rather different cartridges and they really shone. Despite being faster than some previous Fiocchi clay loads, these are not uncomfortable to shoot with. A few grains less shot and well-selected components have combined to produce two highly effective cartridges ideally suited to their purpose. The patterns produced ensured you could put the tricky short-to-medium range targets on the score sheet.
I was impressed by the way the F3 Bior gave even and open, but well-populated, short-range patterns through my Skeet barrel. It also proved useful by responding to choke. F3 and FBlack are in Fiocchi’s latest line of high-grade Sporting clay cartridges. They offer real choice of shot size, wad type and performance to provide the thinking shooter the opportunity to tailor cartridge and choke selection to specific targets. It’s not to complicate life for those who don’t see this as part of their enjoyment, but it can put an extra clay or two on the score sheet for those who do.