Behind the Scenes at the Federal Cartridge Co. Plant

The Federal Cartridge Company has been in business in Anoka, MN, since 1922. Along with another plant in Lewiston, Idaho, … Continued

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The plant employs about 1,000 people in Anoka. It was game day, and there were Viking hats, jerseys and sweatshirts everywhere I looked.
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Federal employees like the outdoors. These are the standings of the summer fishing contest.
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They get around the sprawling factory on Segways–well, not really Segways–but these adult trikes are useful for hauling tools around the huge shotshell loading facility.
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And, Federal employees make a lot of ammunition. That’s me, with Tim Brandt, grabbing handfuls of Prairie Storm, Federal’s newest pheasant load.
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Hulls begin as handfuls of ground plastic. Federal field loads and their budget target loads use hulls made by the Reifenhauser process, in which an internal basewad is added to a plastic tube and held together with a brass or steel head.
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The plastic is alternately heated . . .
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. . . and stretched.
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. . . and quenched.
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This is just part of the whole machine, which is 50 of my paces long. It looks like a giant plastic pasta maker, or maybe a Play-Doh Fun Factory.
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The stretched hulls are cut to length first, like the hulls in this bin.
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These stacks of paper will become thousands of basewads.
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This machine installs paper basewads in the bottom of the hull.
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The cartridge heads are stamped out of sheet brass or steel, depending on the load.
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Heads for lower-cost field loads are made of steel, and so can be conveniently transported on magnetized conveyor belts.
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These primed hulls are ready to be loaded.
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Meanwhile in another part of the plant, lead bars are melted, then dripped into tanks of water to form pellets. Federal doesn’t use a tower – the lead only falls a few feet. Screens sort the pellets to size.
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The formed pellets bounce down this stepped incline. If they are fused together or out of round, they fall through the gaps. The rejects are melted down and dropped again.
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This high-speed loader is set up to make 12 gauge target loads. It is very fast, and unlike me and my loader, it seems to never spill powder and shot. I want one. First, I’m going to need a bigger basement.
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Despite the large number of people who work at Federal, you don’t see many of them on the shotshell loading floor which is a highly automated operation. This man is tending to the high speed loader.
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Wads on a conveyor rushing on their way to be loaded into Top Gun target ammunition.
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Top Gun loads kick out of the loader. A high-speed loader makes tens of thousands of rounds in a shift.
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The loading machines in the premium Prairie Storm line aren’t as fast as the target ammo loaders, but they still churn out shells by the thousand. They work on two shells at once. For loads like Prairie Storm that use ground plastic buffer to cushion the shot, the ground buffer is vibrated in to each shell.
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This man is weighing components for quality control. Also, twice per shift, 25 shells from each loader are tested for pressure, velocity and function.
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Shells go through three crimping stations, then are lacquered to seal out moisture.
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The packing machines load boxes all by themselves. Years ago, on a tour of another plant, I saw people doing this by hand.
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The finished product rolls down the conveyor belt. As a final quality check, each box is weighed on a scale accurate to a 1/10 of an ounce. Any box that weighs too much or too little is pushed off the belt by a mechanical hand.
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This robotic arm works tirelessly, stacking shells onto pallets. Each pallet holds 22,750 shells.
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The shotshell warehouse is mind-boggling: each pallet holds 22,750 shells, and the machines are still running in the plant next door, making more.

The Federal Cartridge Company has been in business in Anoka, MN, since 1922. Along with another plant in Lewiston, Idaho, Federal makes shotshell, centerfire and rimfire ammunition, including some of the most innovative hunting loads in the industry.

Field & Stream Shotgun Editor Phil Bourjaily visited the Anoka factory in September with tour guide Tim Brandt and photographer Erika Gratz, giving him a behind-the-scenes look at the shotshell line where the shells begin as ground plastic, sheets of brass or steel, lead ignots and powder and are turned into finished shells by the thousands.

Here’s a look at two of the shotshell lines at once: the premium line that loads Federal’s Prairie Storm ammunition and the high-speed line that makes budget-priced Top Gun target loads.