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High Bird shotgun cartridges review

High Bird shotgun cartridges review

We’re now in the thick of another pheasant season where the trend – and demand – again seems to be for higher, more sporting birds.

This is all well and good but if it’s the height of a bird that floats your boat you’re going to need the right tools to do the job properly.

And a major part of the equation is finding the right cartridge to go with your gun.

The Continental loaders really had this market sewn up until about four years ago when our UK manufacturers finally woke up and realised they had better get their act together and fight back.

Today we can take our pick from a range of specialist shells that fit the bill perfectly.

Remember, if you are going to shoot birds that are 45 yards plus, you need long barrels, plenty of choke and plenty of lead.

These heavier loads are not more powerful than standard cartridges but they have more pellets to fill the pattern at range and as we all know, good patterns kill birds.

The new Black Gold 36gm from Gamebore was introduced late last season with development input from top game shot, Simon Ward.

It’s a revamp of the previously popular Black Gold 35gm which is now to be discontinued in fibre wad version.

The 36gm offering (fibre) is advertised as a 4 shot only but at 3.3mm the pellets are actually UK size 3 shot and the extra gramme in weight accommodates just an extra five pellets in the load!

This trend towards continental shot sizes serves only one purpose – to increase striking power which it delivers admirably.

High performance, hard hitting and all in a Gordon Recoil System case to help reduce ‘bump’ – this one is rapidly becoming a bench mark for high bird loads.

Black Gold Game 12bore 36gm 4
» Case Length: 70mm
» Wad: Fibre
» Muzzle Velocity: 1400fps
» £311 per 1,000

Hull’s 34gm Sterling Game (plastic and fibre wad) was loaded specifically for high bird shooting some years ago to complement its more widely used sister with a 1.1/8oz (32gm) payload.

Hull’s range has also been revamped and improved recently and this has seen the arrival of a 36gm fibre only in 4 or 5 shot called Sovereign Extreme.

It’s aimed squarely at the increasingly crowded high performance heavy load market and it has been well thought out.

At 1,400fps it is not quite as fast as the Eley VIP true, but it delivers bags of performance and is comfortable on the shoulder.

Sovereign Extreme 12 bore 36gm 4,5
» Case Length: 70mm
» Wad: Fibre
» Muzzle Velocity: 1400fps
» £310 per 1,000

The Supreme Game range already includes a 34gm 4 and 5 shot offering (and in a 2.1/2in case don’t forget) but last season this manufacturer upped the ante a little with regard to high bird ammunition by launching the Europa Game.

‘Europa’ refers to the continental shot sizing so while it says shot size 4 and 5 on the box these are in fact English shot sizes 3 and 4!

As with Gamebore’s Black Gold these deliver greater striking energy and therefore better kills – without sending your head in to a spin about the pros and cons of shot size analysis.

Why use the Europa as opposed to the tried and tested Supreme?

Performance of course!

The Europa is a tad faster than its older sister but is amazingly smooth on the shoulder.

Available in a 32 or 34gm, the latter really is the obvious choice for the high bird afficionado and as I say, is probably the smoothest shooting of all the choices tested here.

Europa Game 12 bore 32gm 4,5
» Case Length: 70mm
» Wad: Fibre
» Muzzle Velocity: 1400fps
» £297 per 1,000

Europa Game 12 bore 34gm 4,5
» Case Length: 70mm
» Wad: Fibre
» Muzzle Velocity: 1400fps
» £319 per 1,000

Eley Hawk were one of the first to produce a high performance heavy load in their VIP range with a 1.1/4oz (36gm) offering loaded only in a photo degradeable plaswad.

But that changed when the whole Eley game range was re-vamped last season and their high performance heavy load range was ‘tweaked’.

This tweaking work saw the 34gm VIP Elite take its place alongside the 36gm VIP Extreme with both becoming available in shot sizes 4 and 5 and a choice of fibre as well as photo degradeable paswads.

Both are truly versatile high performance cartridges for tall birds.

Talking of high performance, if it’s a game shell and the label is VIP, it will clock in with a muzzle velocity of 1,450fps which is no mean feat for the heavier loads in this range.

The down side is that they will give you a little tickle on the shoulder if you use an overly light gun.

VIP Elite 12bore 34gm 4,5
» Case Length: 67mm
» Wad: Plastic or Fibre
» Muzzle Velocity: 1450fps
» £313 per 1,000

VIP Extreme 12bore 36gm 4,5
» Case Length: 70mm
» Wad: Plastic or Fibre
» Muzzle Velocity: 1450fps
» £313 per 1,000

All the cartridges here are loaded in 2..3/4in (70mm) cases and are therefore unsuitable for the majority of older English game guns.

They’re best fired through a weightier O/U to soak up the increased recoil. My choice?

There’s so very little between them that it would be unfair to pick one out against the rest.

And anyway, if you have a good day with your choice of cartridge, then that is probably the one you will stick with.

Try a box of each and make your own mind up!

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