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Federal, 100 Years and Counting

William W. (Bill) Gabbard

Thud! The fat grey squirrel hit the ground. My Grandfather just shook his head and said, “I have never killed a squirrel that far in my life much less with a 20-gauge.” I laughed and told him that it just took a good shotgun with the right shells. He reached over and pulled one of the little yellow Federal Hi-Power shotshells from my vest, looked it over and said, “I need to get some of these.” 

Federal Hi-Power

I had bought the little Winchester 37A from him for $40 and was teasing him a little for letting a good shotgun get away. The part about the good ammunition I had learned the hard way. I had let way too many squirrels escape using cheap, underpowered ammo. “Bopa” as he was known by all of us has been gone for nearly 35 years, but the 37A is still here. Those Federal Hi-Power 20-gauge shotshells are no longer in production, but Federal has enough variety in their shotshell lineup to make your head spin. Federal is celebrating their 100th anniversary, and even though it doesn’t seem possible, I have been using their products for over half of that time. 

Choosing Ammunition: Factory Loads

I asked J.J. Reich, an old friend of mine who now works for Vista Outdoor as Senior Media Relations Manager for Federal, Hevi-Shot, CCI and Speer Ammunition, when and why he first started using Federal ammo. J.J. said that he started using Federal products when he moved to Minnesota over ten years before he went to work for Federal. His main reason to start using Federal was that it was made in Minnesota, and it was the pride of using a locally made product. Most of the folks he hunted and shot with either worked for or had a family member or friend that was in some way affiliated with Federal. 

Federal Ammo varmint

Following a series of steps and missteps the Federal Cartridge Corporation was incorporated on April 27th, 1922, with a grand total of 7 full time employees. By 1985 they had over 2900 employees. Today they employ approximately 1400 workers.

Federal has been at the forefront of innovation since the early days. In the Shotshell line products like HI-Power, Steel Shot, the first 3 ½ inch Shotshell, and more recently Hevi-Shot and TSS, are just a few examples. The Hydra-Shok bullet in the handgun line set the standard for the FBI Protocol on defensive bullet performance. Federal was the first ammunition company to employ custom bullets from other manufacturers in their rifle bullets when they started their Premium line of Centerfire Rifle Ammunition. Today they offer their Premium ammunition featuring bullets from 8 manufacturers, not counting their own branded premium bullets. These include bullets made by their competitors - Hornady’s V-Max line of bullets and Nosler’s Ballistic Tip Varmint, in the varmint line, all the way to Woodleigh Hydro Solids for dangerous game. 

Since 1922 Federal has gone through a series of owners that is mind boggling to say the least, Olin, Federal-Hoffman, Pentair, Blount Industries, Lehman Brothers, and Alliant Techsystems (ATK). Most recently Federal was spun off from ATK where they surfaced as one of the flagship companies of Vista Outdoor. Throughout these changes in ownership, Federal has remained focused on providing a quality product that meets the need of the sportsman.

Winchester with Federal Ammo

Several years ago, before I started handloading, I was working with a Winchester Model 70 XTR Featherweight rifle that was proving problematic. It was shooting groups in the two- to three-inch range, when my little brother decided to try some “Blue Box” Federal 130 gr ammo through it. The rifle that wouldn’t shoot was suddenly shooting nickel sized groups at 100 yards. The late Finn Aagaard wrote about trying different ammo to see what your rifle liked best. His advice back in 1990 was “Try Federal first.” 

20-gauge with Federal shells


We would like to congratulate Federal on surviving and thriving in a very competitive and ever-changing industry. We wish them the best in their next 100 years. When anybody mentions Federal ammunition, I think of my grandfather, the little 20-gauge shotgun the Model 70 Rifle and smile. 

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