Shotshell Breakdown

How It's Made: 12-Gauge Plastic Target Shotshell

Types of Shotshell Ammunition

Federal loads six different gauges of shotshells: 10, 12, 16, 20, 28 and 410. Their lengths and shot charges vary from the 21⁄2 inch–1⁄2 oz. 410 to the 31⁄2 inch–21⁄4 oz. 10 gauge. They are loaded with lead, steel and HEAVYWEIGHT® shot, as well as slugs and buckshot.

Lead Shot: Pellets and buckshot are formed by pouring melted lead through a sieve or swaged (formed in a die). Traditional wads for
lead shot are molded from flexible, low-density polyethylene plastic and have a cushion section on the bottom. The cushion helps
reduce the number of deformed pellets and recoil.

Steel Shot: Made by cutting steel wire into short lengths which are formed and ground. Premium shot is coated with a rust inhibitor. Wads for steel shot are molded from high-density polyethylene. They have thick sidewalls to prevent the pellets from contacting the shotgun bore surface. Steel shot ammunition requires large charges of special slow-burning powders to give the large shot column a gentler start but a faster exit from the bore.

FLITESTOPPER® Shot: Available in all-steel pellets for waterfowl and upland birds, and nickel-plated lead pellets for upland birds. Features a ring to cut on impact and better edge to edge patterns.

HEAVYWEIGHT® Shot: Pellets are made of tungsten-alloy. The FLITECONTROL® wad protects the bore from hard pellets. Heavyweight shot is 35% denser than lead. This shot can be used in a steel safe barrel.

Sabot style slugs: Feature a lead or copper bullet enclosed in a polyethylene sleeve that grips the rifling to provide spin and increased accuracy. For rifled barrels only.

Rifled or "Foster" slugs: Have helix ribbing to enhance stability through the bore. It has a hollow point that is designed for maximum expansion. The rifled slug is recommended for smooth bore shotgun barrels.

There are similarities and differences in the component parts and construction of a shotshell. The head and primer are similar in all shells. The tube and base wad are either paper or plastic. The shot wad design and powder vary with the type of shotshell. Some of these loads have a granulated plastic buffer which prevents pellet deformation and produces tight, uniform patterns.

How It's Made


Take a virtual tour of our plant to learn how our 12-gauge plastic Target shotshells are made!

Welcome to the
Federal Premium® plant

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Federal makes a variety of shotshells for every shotgunning pursuit. They all start as plastic pellets and our example here goes from pellet to pallet without being touched by a human hand.

Did you know?

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Federal was the first company to color-code our shotshells for safety and identification. We make the color variations by mixing colored pellets in with the white ones.

Brown for 10-gauge
Red (or black) for 12-gauge
Purple for 16-gauge
Yellow for 20-gauge
Red for 28-gauge and .410

Step 1

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Plastic pellets are melted down into a plastic tube.

Step 2

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We heat, stretch and cool the tube until it forms the hull. The process is called “extruding”. The machine that does this is called the Riefenhauser—named after the German engineer who built the first model.

Step 3

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Hulls are cut to length as it comes off the Riefenhauser. They then move along to the next stage in the process.

Step 4

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The case head is stamped out of sheets of metal. Brass for our Premium® Gold Medal, and steel for our lower cost target loads. With a series of strikes of the stamp we have a fully-formed case head that has a flash-hole for the primer to spark in and even the markings on the rim.

Step 5 – Gold Medal®

Step  5 – Gold Medal® Image

Our Premium® Gold Medal® hulls are one piece—with an integral base.

Step 5 – Top Gun®

Step 5 – Top Gun® Image

Our lower cost target loads use a paper base wad to seat the primer in. Here the wads are rolled and inserted in the hulls.

Step 6

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The hulls move to the primer insert and heading machine where it gets its primer and a case head.

Step 7

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Still untouched by human hands, the shell moves on to the loader where it gets its powder charge, shot wad and pellets.

Step 8

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It's then crimped, labeled and ready for the packing line.

Step 9

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Each shell is inspected by a skilled employee. The shells are then boxed, weighed and cased up for shipping to your local sporting goods store.

Step 10

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The packaging process is completely automated and uses quality control systems to make sure each shotshell coming off the line is ready for your shell bag.

Finished Product

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Next stop, your local sporting goods store!

Patterning A Shotgun

Just like you would when taking to the field with your rifle, it's important to know where your gun shoots and how it patterns with the load you've chosen. Spend an hour or so at your local gun club before opening day comes around and you'll be a better, more successful hunter. Here are a few tips for patterning effectively.

1. In a safe location, set up a 40-inch square paper target with an aiming point in the center.
2. While wearing eye and ear protection, shoot once at the aiming point from 20 yards. Repeat from 30, 40 and 50 yards on separate targets.
3. Check the pattern for uniformity, gaps or holes in the shot pattern.
4. Try different chokes, loads and shot sizes to find the performance you prefer.