English break-fest with Richard Atkins

Lyalvale Express are very well known at clubs across the UK (and far beyond) for producing excellent shotgun cartridges.

Richard used the English Sporters to obtain victory in his local Sporting competition

The company is justifiably proud of being able to state that they are the only UK cartridge company with an Olympic gold medal success to their name. That dates from Richard Faulds’ victory in the Olympic Double Trap event at Sydney 2000, when he used Express Excel Trap cartridges.

Richard is still the key ambassador for Express and uses Express cartridges in the Sporting disciplines where he has racked up a huge tally of success in many major events.

The company manufacture a broad range of cartridges, offered in specifications and prices ranging from budget to premium with plenty in between. The English Sporter range is firmly at the budget end of the scale and includes light 21 gram loads as well as the 28 grams, each in plastic wad and fibre options.

It was seeing so many English Sporter cartridges being used at shooting grounds in my area that drew my curiosity to test and review them. Lyalvale have built business relationships with key manufacturers of all the components needed to produce each type of ammunition in their range.

This enables them, as they state in their company literature, to cherry pick components to give precisely the performance they seek from any particular cartridge, at the best possible price.

They also use the latest loading and test firing facilities and have a skilled and knowledgeable workforce. Lyalvale say this ensures they can make consistent, high performing cartridges in each category. Having tested many types of Express cartridges in the past, I know they can do this; it was therefore of great interest to me to see how these latest budget-priced cartridges would perform.

To do so I obtained some 28 gram shot loads with plastic and fibre wads.

 

Smart presentation and quality components

Despite being budget loads aimed squarely at the club shooter market, the English Sporters come in very smart cartons. These are clearly printed with the cartridge type they contain, the precise specification being obvious from a glance at the description label on the top flap. These labels are colour- coded for easy reference; white indicates plastic wads while green is for fibre wads.

More importantly, the cartons are strong. Anyone who’s had a box of cartridges collapse and dump its contents on the floor knows that this is an essential feature. Both the fibre and plastic wad English Sporter are loaded into a 70mm red parallel plastic tube case with an 8mm brass plated steel head.

The cases are of good quality, with quite stiff plastic tubes; these take the neatly finished six-point star crimp very well and the retained crimp creases evident after firing indicate good strength, which will help the cartridges to achieve good performance and ballistic consistency.

The primers are of the black, lacquer- covered flash-hole types, which prevent the ingress of powder grains into the primer and keep out moisture.

The propellant used in both the fibre and plastic wad loads is green, disc-shaped, single based Vectan of the D20 style. Lyalvale use enough propellant that they are able to have some types custom-blended for their needs.

Vectan powders have long held an excellent reputation for high energy content, consistency and clean burning. The
plastic wad cartridges contained an average powder load of 23.2 grains, while the fibre wads had 24.8 grains. This extra propellant is required because fibre wads are less ballistically efficient than plastic wads, and is one reason why fibre wad cartridges cost more than plastic.

The plastic wad used is the Baschieri & Pellagri Z2M. B&P are world leading producers of cartridge cases, plastic wads and propellant powders, and this is a well-proven wad. It has an efficient gas seal skirt and an effective cushioning centre section that helps to produce excellent ballistic performance and provides considerable protection to the shot load.

Cutting the cartridges open reveals graphite polished shot, a Baschieri & Pellagri Z2M wad and Vectan powder

The shot cup has four moulded slits to assist wad retardation on exiting the muzzle. Recovered wads showed that not all opened fully, but patterns seemed unaffected. The fibre wad is a typical Diana fibre pulp product with a thin, laminated covering at each end to prevent shot pellets from adhering to the wad under acceleration forces.

This one-piece wad is loaded on top of a thick ‘nitro’ card that separates it from the powder; this assists expansion for improved gas sealing and prevents wad lubrication from leaching into the powder charge.

 

Shot loads

The shot load is crucial to performance because ultimately it is pellets striking the target that breaks clays! Shot samples from the English Sporter cartridges proved to be excellent. Express work with specialist shot suppliers and have come up with some very good shot here.

It looks good, being very spherical (not all shot is), tightly graded for consistent size, and highly polished in graphite. The polish produces a shiny shot with pellets that should resist sticking together and thus produce better patterns.

Actual pellet sizes were a shade smaller than the marked UK size, with both the 7.5 and 8 shot pellet counts being a shade higher per ounce than the marked size would suggest.

This will mean a slightly reduced pellet energy but will also provide the opportunity for more strikes; it will be interesting to check how this works out on the clays. Bearing in mind these are budget cartridges I was surprised to see excellent crush value readings when testing pellet hardness. High antimony shot is costly, and is therefore an obvious component to swap out in order to cut costs. Express have not taken that route.

The hardness values indicate around 3 per cent antimony, which is higher than one might anticipate at this competitive price point. Laboratory tests The Express English Sporter cartridges were submitted to the Birmingham Proof Laboratory for pressure, velocity and momentum testing as per our usual procedure.

Pattern tests were fired at a distance of 40 yards from a 30” long, standard bore size barrel with 23⁄4” (70mm) chamber, standard length forcing cone and bored Imp Mod choke. As the result charts show, the tests revealed that performance for both English Sporters is very good and very consistent.

The SD results show that these cartridges match the consistency of many premium cartridges – not what you
might expect! Velocity levels are quick without being punishingly so, and this shows up in the moderate recoil figures. The smooth, clean-burning propellant helps in this regard too.

Although the recoil figure is slightly lower for the fibre wad, the difference isn’t enough to be noticeable; after mixing up some cartridges in my pocket I couldn’t detect the difference with certainty when I fired them. The pattern percentages are interesting.

Both types of cartridge produced patterns a shade below the nominal choke boring of the test barrel. But look at the pattern results! The number of pellets in the patterns, both inside the inner 20” circle and in the outer 20-30” zone, are very high.

The fibre wad cartridges contain a greater quantity of powder, separated from the wad by a disc to improve the gas seal

Very well populated and dense patterns produce hits. The moderate central density (CD) figures also indicate a
pattern distribution that is not excessively centralised and is hence still strong at the outer edges of the pattern.  Before I had conducted my usual pattern tests I shot some clays. The plastic wad load was smashing DTL targets and an array of Sporting clays with great efficiency.

Two regular shooting chums had bought some and were also getting on very well with them. I had a new gun on test when a local Sporting competition shoot came up, so I decided to use the test gun (a Marocchi Evo Sport) with the English Sporter fibre wads (plastic wads weren’t allowed at this ground).

I shot a 48 ex-50 to take the trophy! What more can I say? Kills were excellent and I know that the two I missed were down to me and not my equipment.

What did impress me was how the not- quite No. 8 shot smashed targets, even those at ranges that I thought might be the effective limit for small shot. When I later tested the patterns and saw how dense they were it made sense. Providing you don’t expect miracles, a well patterning No.8 shot load will convincingly break clays further away than you might think; these certainly did!

English Sporters are made for the club market, but when I tested them they produced a level of performance and consistency that would be competitive above that category. I was so impressed that I bought some more!

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