Ask the experts: Should I use plastic or fibre wads?


I have recently moved home and had to find new clay shooting clubs to attend. The clubs I previously used allowed the use of plastic wad cartridges but the two closest to where I now live only allow fibre wad ammunition. At my previous clubs fibre wads were considered by several shooters to be a disadvantage as it was said they don’t pattern so well. Do fibre wads make such a big difference? Could my scores suffer as a result?


This question is often asked when the need to use a fibre wad cartridge arises. There is no single answer that covers all situations because there are several factors that can and do affect cartridge performance. Clay Shooting magazine has carried a great many cartridge reviews over the years and in some of those fibre wad and plastic wad cartridges have appeared side by side, allowing comparison.

The results have shown that when testing two similar grade cartridges, one with fibre and the other with plastic wads, the difference between the performance they produce, both in terms of velocity and pattern quality, can be remarkably slim. The old ‘yardstick’ that ‘plastic wads improve patterns (implying pattern density & quality) by up to ten per cent’ is just not borne out by practical testing. Yes, there is usually a small difference and possibly slightly greater consistency but seldom to such a significant amount.

The patterns shown with this article are of two quality competition cartridges by Hull Cartridge Co. The 28 gram Pro One (plastic wad) and Pro Fibre both contain hard, competition quality shot. The Proof Laboratory test results showed both achieve similar ballistic performance. The average pattern test results also proved very close from the test barrel that I have now used for over 30 years; and this is where one of the key differences can arise.

A relatively recent trend has seen some gun makers enlarge the internal bore diameters of their guns (a procedure given various names such as being ‘back-bored’ or ‘over-bored’) above what had previously been considered a ‘standard’ bore size. It is common for guns with oversized bores to also have their forcing cones lengthened. This being a tapered section leading from the chamber to the bore results in a longer section of the bore being of larger diameter. This can lead to greater opportunity for some of the propellant gases to get past the fibre wad and to cause various degrees of disruption to the shot charge. This disruption can result in patterns that are weakened or otherwise adversely affected. This has been observed during testing but it is not, at this time, possible to definitively quantify how much this will affect any particular
gun/cartridge combination.

The answer to your question is therefore that it very much depends upon which gun you have.

Older guns, also new ones retaining ‘standard’ bore sizes, can produce comparable patterns and performance with similar quality fibre and plastic wad cartridges. Some of the later style bores have been found to produce significantly depleted patterns with fibre wad cartridges compared with plastic wad.

Therefore it is also true to state that there is only one way to be certain how well your gun and chokes will perform with fibre wad and that is for you to pattern test them yourself! Richard Atkins

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