There's a lot of rubbish talked about cartridges and I think I've heard most of it.
To be honest, there's not much to a cartridge - just five components and no moving parts. So not much to go wrong. Thanks to modern manufacturing, malfunctions are rare.
Here's some of the twaddle you might hear along the way...
1. Cartridges are expensive
Even bearing in mind the increasing cost of lead, cartridges are still cheap. The price of lead has quadrupled in the past few years and yet the rise in shotgun ammunition is around 35% across the board.
The cost of shells hasn’t even kept pace with inflation in the last 20 years. So we’ve had it good for a long time.
2. A fast cartridge is better
You get better patterns with slower cartridges. For those longer targets, use a mid-range shell with a higher than average antimony content to give you better patterning and harder hitting killing power. You will also get less recoil.
Speed isn’t everything in cartridge choice. Even with the fastest loads, the pellets are travelling at subsonic speeds only 20 feet or so from the muzzle.
Here’s something to think about: For a target crossing at right angles to the shooting position at a speed of 40mph and 30 yards distance, the difference in lead required for two cartridges that performance wise are 100fps apart (say the difference between 1375fps and 1475fps) is less than three inches.
When you think that your total pattern diameter is roughly 30 inches without taking into account the shot string effect, this is so small as to be virtually impossible to detect from the shooter’s point of view.
3. There’s no such thing as an all-plastic cartridge case
Well Gamebore came up with one years ago.
4. Brass it isn’t
The head of the cartridge may be called ‘the brass’ but it is actually electroplated steel, which is why it rusts. In fact, a cartridge doesn’t need an external brass head at all – it’s just cosmetic.
So what does a big brass head do? Well it adds unnecessary cost but it does look pretty, doesn’t it? Shooters complain about extraction problems, blaming it on the length of the brass whether it be short or long, in equal numbers.
There will always be problems with extraction and it does not necessarily relate to the length of brass, it is usually a particular gun/cartridge combination. Given the differences in tolerance that guns and cartridges are manufactured to, this is hardly surprising.
5. Stored carefully, cartridges will work for a lifetime
This is true and it’s worth considering where you keep your cartridges as in ideal conditions, they will last and last. This means somewhere not too warm and not too cold (because they will underperform).
After firing your normal cartridge in freezing or damp conditions, take a look up your barrels. You’ll almost certainly see a certain amount of unburnt powder that you wouldn’t spot on a hot summer’s day.
Think of your cartridges like good wine – and store in dry conditions at room temperature. Don’t store them in the airing cupboard or in the garage.
6. Fibre or plastic wads?
Plastic wads give better pattern performance at range and less recoil than fibre variants. They are usually less expensive too. However, fibre wads are eco-friendly and sales continue to outstrip plastic.
7. Shot size is a matter of personal choice
I know a chap who swears blind he can tell the difference between a shot size 7½ and 8 just by firing them at sporting clays. I know another guy who maintains that his normal shot size 9 won’t break the second clay on station 4 at skeet.
Both of which are total rubbish.
Shot size is a matter of personal choice. Use what you are comfortable with. A miss will rarely be the cartridge’s fault, it is usually down to operator error.
A word of caution though. Ensure you are acting humanely when shooting game or vermin by choosing a shot size that will do the job at the range intended.
8. Your cartridge is unlikely to be at fault
Statisically mechanical failures are very rare – so your cartridge will rarely let you down.
Missing the target or having a malfunction is generally due to a gun/cartridge combination or pilot error. In which case you better make sure you have your excuses ready.
These could include issues like: the sun was in your eyes, you were too hot, too cold, you were wearing the wrong coat/hat. Anything you can think of that was a distraction.