July 21, 2023
While it can quickly become an expensive hobby, 3-Gun competitions are a lot of fun. As the name implies, the competition involves an AR-15-type rifle, pistol and a shotgun. One runs various stages with these firearms as quickly and accurately as possible to win, and each match stage will look a little different. Talk to a few 3-Gun competitors, and most will agree that the shotgun is what makes or breaks a match. Reloading and running an AR-15 and pistol are fairly straightforward, but the shotgun can easily complicate things. Many great rifle and pistol shooters have lost a match due to a slow shotgun reload. There are many factors that go into running a 3-Gun shotgun, but ammo is certainly an important one. Until now, there hasn’t even been a specifically designed shotgun ammo for 3-Gun competitions. That has changed with Federal Premium’s new 12-Gauge, 7.5-shot Action Shotgun shotshells.
Before we break down what makes these new shells special, let’s take a look at the demands of a 3-Gun shotgun and how they operate in a match. In general, a 3-Gun shotgun is a semi-auto shotgun with a shorter barrel compared to a trap or sporting shotgun. There is a large aftermarket for extended magazine tubes, which generally place shell capacity to more than 10 shells in a gun. Shooting a 3-Gun shotgun in a match is fairly straightforward. Shots rarely exceed 25 yards, and targets usually include cardboard silhouettes, steel “poppers” that need to be knocked down along with clay pigeons that can come from several different directions.
What makes the shotgun stages difficult is the reload, and the reload is often what makes or breaks a match. Speed is obliviously the key, so serious 3-Gun competitors spend serious time simply practicing a shotgun reload. The reload method is usually referred to as “quad-loading.” A competitor will grab four shells from a specialized shell caddy worn on the belt, then they will quickly run the first two into the magazine tube then subtly adjust the other two in their hand to follow. With magazine tubes that can hold as many as 13 shells, this can still take a moment, but it’s a blast to watch a serious competitor load their shotgun faster that one would think possible. This brings us to the shotshells needed to run a match.
Competitors have been using many different brands of shotshells since 3-Gun first became mainstream. While the shotshells have worked, they’ve all been various offerings designed for trap, skeet, sporting and even hunting. The Federal Premium Action Shotgun is the first line of ammo specifically designed for 3-Gun shotgun shooting, but there is a lot more to it than just having the “right load.”
Action Shotgun Load Details
You can tell that a few 3-Gun competitors had the chance to offer some insight to the Action Shotgun’s production, because the shells don’t come in the standard 25-shell boxes we typically see. The Action Shotgun shells come loosely inside a plastic bag in one large cardboard box. Go to a trap or skeet match, and you will see that competitors place a standard 25-round box in a shell caddy worn on the belt and pull one or two shells at a time loosely from the box. A 3-Gun competitor needs to individually load each shell into a unique carrier worn on the belt. Is it that big a deal to use the typical 25-round boxes? No, but it shows nice attention to detail that the packaging is optimized for a 3-Gun competitor bulk loading from a tailgate or range bag.
The loading of the shotshell itself is just right. It’s a 7.5-shot 12-gauge loaded with an ounce and eighth charge, putting velocity at 1,235 feet per second (fps) according to the box, and our testing put velocities quite close to advertised. It’s a 2 ¾-inch shell with a standard 70mm diameter. The Action Shotgun is more than powerful enough to knock down a steel target, but the recoil impulse is ideal for quickly running a stage.
While the loading is what you’d expect for a 3-Gun match, it’s the hull of the Action Shotgun shell that makes it stand out. The first thing you’ll notice is that the shell is roll crimped, and a plastic cover holds the shot in place within the wad. The texture the shell has is right in the sweet spot for 3-Gun. There is just barely enough texture to have a solid grip in your hand without the chance of it getting in the way of a quick reload. The roll-crimp design runs well in standard, tube-fed shotguns, but they’ve also been designed to run well in a newer player in the 3-Gun game — magazine-fed shotguns.
The Benelli M2 is probably one of the most-common shotguns used in 3-Gun. They’re incredibly reliable, and their tube magazines are easy to modify for greater capacity. The Benelli M2 is relatively affordable at around $1,300 dollars new, and it doesn’t cost much more to modify them for competition. Due to this, you’ll see a lot of them in the entry-level “Limited” division of 3-Gun, so it’s an obvious choice to test out the new Federal Action Shotgun. Within the “Open” division, we’re started to see more and more mag-fed shotguns like the Rock Island Arsenal VR80. At around $600 off the shelf, it’s even more affordable than the Benelli, but it is restricted to the open division for new shooters considering an affordable gun to try out the sport.
The new Federal Action Shotgun ran flawlessly in both shotguns. Mag-fed shotguns can be finicky with shotshells, and there are plenty of shells that won’t cycle in them. Out the of the gate, the Action Shotgun design works well in the mag-fed VR80, so and I would speculate fine operation in other mag-fed shotguns. When it comes to patterning a shotgun, I typically shoot from 35 to 40 yards at a large cardboard target. Since 3-Gun shotgun stages rarely have targets beyond 25 yards, I set up at the 20-yard line. The pattern from both the M2 and VR80 was almost identical, so it seems consistent from two completely different guns. The pattern is just right to put enough shot on a steel target to knock it down or hit a moving clay pigeon.
I’m a fan of the sport, but I don’t actively compete in 3-Gun myself, so I sent enough shells to friend Mike Lindsey, who is as serious as they come in 3-Gun, to run a match. Linsey had no function issues during the match with his M2, and he smoked steel targets and clays alike. Lindsey placed first in the Tactical Division and Second Overall and was highly pleased with the shotshell’s performance. He noted that the Action Shotgun uses a clean-burning powder which didn’t stink or burn his eyes as much when running through stages the way other powders can.
One question that was raised before he performed centered around the plastic cap toward the front of the shell that keeps the shot in place within the wad. He noted that in extremely rare instances while running a match with slugs, wadding has been known to perforate a paper target, and he was curious if the thin plastic cap had the potential to cause a similar issue. Looking for the plastic caps after shooting, they fall even shorter that the Action Shotgun’s wadding, so no issues there to any who came to a similar question.
Overall, we could find no issues with the performance of the Federal Action Shotgun. In fact, it exceeded our expectations and proved the shell is truly designed for the 3-Gun competition. The price point for the Action Shotgun seems more than fair, too. MSRP is $165 for a case of 200 shotshells, but I’ve seen the shelf price as low as $130. For those looking to save money by reloading, that’s probably the one complaint you could find if I had to name something. Due to the roll-crimp design, it doesn’t look like you’ll be able to reload the Action Shotgun, especially since you send the cap down the barrel, too. With that being said, fewer and fewer shooters seem to be able to save any money reloading shotgun due to the prices of components, so I’d call this a wash.
The shooting sports are one of the best ways to get new shooters into our world, and 3-Gun’s fast pace and action make is some of the best fun, too. It’s great to see the sport is expanding, and with that comes greater aftermarket support and new products to aid it along. The Federal Premium Action Shotgun is a shotshell truly designed to improve your performance in a match, so whether you’re a serious competitor or just getting started, it’s worth a try.
Federal Premium Action Shotgun Specs
- Gauge: 12
- Shot: 7.5
- Muzzle Velocity: 1,235 (advertised)
- Length: 2 ¾, 70mm diameter
- Charge: 1 1/8 oz.
- Shells per Case: 200
- MSRP: $165
- Contact: Federal Premium
About the Author
Jack Oller is a U.S. Army veteran, having served in the Military Police with one deployment to the Camp VI Detention Facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. He has extensive firearms training from military and civilian schools and is a passionate shotgun shooter and hunter. Jack has an English degree from Illinois State University, and he started his career in the outdoor industry as Associate Editor for Guns & Ammo magazine. After Gun & Ammo, he worked as Brand Manager for Crimson Trace and now is the Digital Editor for Firearms News.
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