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Clear up that cartridge confusion!

There’s a lot of twaddle talked about shotgun cartridges and I reckon I’ve heard most of the rubbish over the years. Let’s face it, there isn’t a lot to a cartridge and with only five components and no moving parts in its make up, not much can go wrong.

This, coupled to modern manufacturing methods, ensures that malfunctions are rare. So let’s take a look at some of the commonest myths that do the rounds from time to time.

A lot has been written about this subject recently, so at the risk of boring you still further… the price of lead has nearly quadrupled in less than a year and yet the rise in the price of your shotgun ammunition equates to around 35% across the board.

The cost of lead in 1,000 cartridges is now about £80 whereas a year ago it was less than £30. Whilst this year’s increases have been steep, cartridges are still cheap.

In real terms the cost of our shells hasn’t even kept pace with inflation over the last 20 years or so. As the saying goes, we’ve
had it too good for too long – and it isn’t the manufacturers who are profiteering from the increase in material costs.

Speed isn’t the be all and end all when choosing a cartridge. In fact everything falls into some sort of perspective when you realise that even with the fastest of loads, the pellets are travelling at subsonic speeds only 20 feet or so from the muzzle.

It is also a fact that you get better patterns with slower cartridges, so for those longer targets, use a mid range shell with a higher than average antimony content to give you better patterning, harder hitting killing power. You will also feel less recoil.

Here’s something to think about: For a target crossing at right angles to the shooting position at a speed of 40mph and 30yards 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.

Plastic cartridges.Who said you can’t make an all-plastic cartridge case? Gamebore came up with one years ago!

Although we tend to call the head of the cartridge the ‘brass’, it is in fact electroplated steel and that is why it rusts. The fact is that a cartridge does not require an external brass head at all, it is purely cosmetic. Remember Rottweil’s Special Mk II back in the 80’s?

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.

Stored in ideal conditions, cartridges will last (and work) for a lifetime. Too warm and they will be a bit hot, too cold and they will under perform.

Take a look up your barrels after firing your normal cartridge in freezing or damp conditions and you will see a certain amount of unburnt powder that you will not get on a hot summer’s day.

Like a good wine, stored correctly it will last longer. For optimum performance, store in dry conditions at room temperature. In other words, don’t leave them in a garage or airing cupboard!

The laws of physics dictate that plastic wads must give better pattern performance at range and less recoil than fibre variants and they are also usually less expensive. Fibre wads are however the only viable eco-friendly alternative and that is why sales of them continue to outstrip plastic.

You pays your money and you takes your 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.

For us mere mortals, shot size is a matter of personal choice. Use the shot size you are comfortable with because a
miss will rarely be the cartridge’s fault, it is usually down to operator error. A word of caution though, when shooting game or vermin, choose a shot size that will do the job at the range intended in the interests of humanity.

Understand that your cartridge will rarely let you down, mechanical failures are statistically very rare although they do happen.

Malfunction or missing is usually down to a gun/cartridge combination or pilot error, so always make sure you have an encyclopaedic catalogue of excuses at the ready.

Sun in your eyes is a classic, too cold, too hot, wrong coat, wrong hat or equally any other distraction that takes your fancy will usually suffice.

  • Norman Berry

    It’s not just the price of lead that’s gone up, plastic has gone up, transport costs have risen, wages have risen in most cases, business rates, gas, electricity have all increased, cartridges are still cheap in comparison with the cost of a days sport.

  • B Barker

    Guy Boryczko, I suggest you read the article again, or preferable had read it correctly in the first place, before leaving such a comment!