This article was originally published in August 2019 and has been updated
My expectations were not high when I tested the new Eley VIP Steel Pro Eco. But I was floored when I found that they were every bit as good as cartridges with lead shot.
I tried to be scientific about testing the new eco cartridges and used a pattern plate to compare the new steel shot cartridges against a similar cartridge with lead shot. In theory, the steel shot should give a shorter shot string and tighter pattern than lead. This is because steel is lighter than lead, so gives a higher velocity at short ranges. Also, steel is three times harder than lead, so on firing the pellets are not deformed.
The Eley Titanium Strike was used as comparison against the eco cartridge, offering the same load and similar shot size, but with lead pellets. At a distance of 25m I shot at the cardboard pattern plates (don’t use a steel plate because it will ricochet) and the patterns were remarkably similar. You could see that on both cartridges the shot was evenly spread, the sign of a good cartridge and gun working in harmony.
Top tip 1: Before using steel shot in your gun test that it is proofed for steel by looking for the fleur-de-lys mark
Top tip 2: Always use fairly open chokes (nothing above 1/2 choke) with steel shot
You may ask what’s the point of a biodegradable cup when we have cartridges with fibre wads that rot to nothing. Many would argue that cups work better at holding lead shot together in the barrel and on the way to the target. But when wildfowling you have to use steel shot by law and a cup is essential to protect your barrels from the harder shot.
Naturally Eley Hawk has made a wildfowling version of this cartridge because that’s where it will be most useful in the UK, but it has also made a version for clay grounds. This is aimed primarily at the Danish market where lead shot restrictions are imminent. Eley Hawk didn’t want its UK customers to miss out and as David Thompson, marketing manager at Eley Hawk, said, there are some claygrounds that shoot over water sources or near areas of Special Scientific Interest that require steel shot. “We wanted to develop a clay cartridge alongside a wildfowling load to ensure that as many areas of shooting can benefit from using non-plastic wads as possible.”
Both the VIP Steel clay load and the eco cup steel wildfowling cartridge are available. The Clay load is currently only produced in 28g shot size 7. David said: “Should demand increase we may be able to add other shot sizes to the range.” The game load will be in 32g 3 and 5 shot. There are no plans to make a lead shot cartridge with the bio wad, but David said Eley is ready to adapt if necessary.
I didn’t know what to expect when I tried these new eco cartridges on the clay ground at E. J. Churchill.
I had never shot a steel load on a clay target before. I screwed in some more open chokes (cylinder and improved cylinder) on my Browning. With steel shot there are two good reasons to use more open chokes, the most important one being that if you use ¾ choke or full your barrels will forced open like a banana because of the hard steel shot. Also, steel, being lighter travels faster, creating tighter patterns than with similar sized lead shot.
I shot targets near and far (up to 40m) with the steel shot cartridges as well as the lead shot and the steel performance was exemplary. I even tried driven targets from the high tower. My only observation was that there was slightly more perceived recoil on the Eco Steel than on the Titanium strike. There was no scientific way of measuring this and I expected the recoil to be similar regardless of whether the shot was steel or lead. The difference was only slight, however.
I dissected one of the new Eley VIP Steel Pro Eco cartridges to examine the shot. It was of good quality. None of the pellets were stuck together and they were of uniform size. To check that all the pellets were spherical I put them on a lid of a paint tin and tilted it. They all gathered in the lower corner, proving they were perfectly round.
The biodegradable cup looked like a plastic cup but was slightly more malleable. David from Eley: “The cup is made from biomass (vegetable matter) and a binding agent, the contents of which are totally compostable and have met several standards for non-toxic breakdown.”
To test the cup’s green credentials I dropped it into a jar of water. If it lived up to Eley’s boast it would dissolve in 24 hours. Sure enough, it did. Eley says that the wad will disintegrate quicker in running water. Even if left on grass, the rain and sun would cause it to break down and dissolve.
With the wad degrading so quickly in moisture Eley has created a ‘dri-lock’ system whereby the crimped end is sealed by melting to ensure moisture does not get into the cartridge. “Our tests over an eight-month period between 0 and 30°C and 40% and 90% humidity indicate the cartridge is still good to fire. The sealing over the crimp was to ensure the cartridge was as weather resistant as we could make it for the UK’s changeable climate and weather conditions,” said David.
Naturally, I thought that there must be a downside to these brilliant cartridges. Yes, the price. At £290 per thousand, the steel cartridges are about £100 more expensive than the Titanium Strike. David again: “The technology for producing the material for the wads and the methods of production has only just evolved and we anticipate that in time the economies of scale can be leveraged to ensure better prices over time.”
I am sure that the Eley VIP Steel Pro Eco cartridges will be the shape of things to come. We are seeking greener solutions in most aspects of life and I predict we will see great advances in cartridge manufacturing over the next few years. Next up biodegradable cartridge cases.
Storing Eley VIP Steel Pro Eco cartridges
- Store your cartridges carefully to give them as long a shelf-life as possible
- Extremes of heat and humidity should be avoided
- Air should be allowed to circulate freelay
- Do not open the outer packaging until you are ready to use the contents
- Protect cartridges from getting wet in the field when in use. Carry them in a belt under your coat or put them in a proper bag and keep the flap shut.
- Avoid putting the cartridges in pockets, particularly in a waxed cotton coat because pockets trap water
- Dry any wet cartridges with kitchen roll and allow them to reach room temperature before putting them away