WHICH CARTRIDGE: CLAYS
HOW much shot, and of what size? How fast should it fly through the air, and what wad material should be used? These are all vital questions when it comes to choosing cartridges for clay shooting. Let’s look at them all, in turn.
How much shot?
For the British domestic disciplines the limit is 28 grammes, which is just a fraction less than an ounce. Participants in the international discipline of FITASC Sporting used to be allowed to use up to 36gr (1¼oz), but their limit has now been dropped to 28gr. Other international disciplines, such as Olympic Trap, require a load of 24gr, which is about 7/8oz.
If you want the definitive ruling on maximum shot loads and sizes for all disciplines, everything is listed in the Clay Pigeon Shooting Association’s Booklet No 5 – General Rules and Regulations, which is sent to all new members and can also be downloaded free by anyone from their website.
Note the loads mentioned both here and in the booklet are the maximum allowed, and there is nothing to prevent shooters using loads lighter than the allowed maximum in any discipline. A good reason for using, say, 24gr for British domestic disciplines would be that the lighter loads are generally kinder on the shoulder, which might be important to lightly-built people or those otherwise sensitive to recoil.
All of the above, of course, assumes that you shoot a 12-bore. Twenty-bore shooters can choose from ranges of cartridges loaded with 21gr (3/4oz), or 24gr (7/8oz). You can also buy 20-bore cartridges in 28gr, although when shooting a load as heavy as this most shooters would be happier with a 12-bore, which would be heavier and therefore soak up the recoil better.
All shot size choices are a compromise unless otherwise dictated by the rules. Put briefly, big shot flies further and hits harder, but can produce rather sparse and gappy patterns which, in the extreme, could allow the clay to pass right through the shot cloud without damage. Small shot produces patterns that are dense, but doesn’t fly as far or hit as hard.
For skeet, by rule, you must use either size 9 or size 10 shot. This is no bad thing because it’s a game of fast, crossing targets which are relatively close, so with the small shot required, the shooter gets the best possible pattern. For most other competitions, the biggest shot you may use is No.6, which is the most commonly-used bird shot. Again, see the CPSA booklet for the definitive ruling.
The sporting disciplines are different to skeet in that targets are presented at all practical ranges. For most club targets, sizes 7½ or 8 will give the best chance at most targets, but you can ring the changes to get the best advantage as the targets get more difficult. For instance, if a stand presenting doubles on report starts with a relatively close, incoming target, then gives a fast-retreating target, you can always load the first barrel with a skeet shell, and tackle the second target with a relatively potent trap cartridge carrying size 7.
The trap disciplines are usually shot with sizes 7 or 7½, but again there is nothing to stop you using small shot in the first barrel and larger shot in the second to tackle the more distant targets.
When it comes to accuracy, consistency is more important than sheer muzzle velocity. With good competition cartridges, every single one generates the same muzzle velocity within a few feet per second, and some of the best clay-shooting cartridges have not been that spectacularly fast. It is therefore best to pick a cartridge with which you will be comfortable shooting perhaps over 100 shots a day rather the one with an advertised extremely high muzzle velocity. By ‘very high’ we mean a muzzle velocity of over 1,400 feet per second, or 420 metres per second if you prefer, and you may be happier with a cartridge generating 1,300ft/sec (390m/sec).
For shooting grounds with a particularly bad noise problem it is also possible to get subsonic ammunition, which generates a muzzle velocity of around 1,050ft/sec (390 m/sec). Subsonic cartridges generate lower noise levels at the muzzle, and also avoid the supersonic ‘crack’ which merges with the bang. These cartridges can also be useful for training purposes, particularly in cases where pupils are frightened they are going to be hurt by recoil, or involuntarily flinch when a gun goes off with a loud bang.
The main purpose of a wad in a cartridge is to provide a gas-tight seal between the shot charge and the large volume of hot, rapidly-expanding gas generated as the powder burns. Cartridges assembled with plastic shot cup wads generally throw tighter, more accurate patterns than those assembled with fibre wads.
However, on some clay shoots wads are likely to fall on fields where farm stock graze, and the veterinary consequences of a farm animal swallowing a plastic wad can be serious for both the animal’s health and the farmer’s pocket. Basically, a plastic wad can block up an animal’s digestive tract.
The answer to this problem is to use fibre-wadded cartridges, and it has to be said that the patterning qualities of such loads has increased markedly in relatively recent years.
When planning a visit to a shooting ground, particularly if it is a small, club shoot, it is always advisable to phone first and check to see if there is a fibre-wad requirement.
In general, fibre-wadded cartridges can be slightly more noisy than their plastic-wadded equivalents, and they may also throw slightly more dispersed patterns.
WHICH CARTRIDGE: CLAYS