Wad’s the big idea? Plastic vs fibre

Clay Shooting editor-in-chief, James Marchington, asks if it’s time to ditch plastic wads

should probably begin by admitting I am totally biased. My kids like to pull my leg about my age with questions like: “Dad, what was it like when the dinosaurs were around?” Well I’m not that old, but I do fondly remember the days when cartridges were made of paper, and the only type of wads available were those punched out of a sheet of fibre board.

I don’t mean the special editions like Eley’s latest royal blue paper-cased beauties created to celebrate their 190th anniversary. Back then, when I was trotting along at my father’s heels clutching a stick as a make-believe gun, there was nothing else. My father always shot Eley Grand Prix no.6 and was deeply suspicious of anything else, having had some surprises from Eastern Bloc cartridges, which occasionally went off like a bomb and filled the air with confetti.

I would pounce on his fired shells and fill my pockets – he had no need of a magnetic stick. Even today, a whiff of that glorious aroma of burnt powder and hot paper transports me back in a flash to a pigeon hide in the hedge overlooking a field of golden stubble, or a scorching August day walking the Scottish hills in search of grouse.

As a science student at university, I was impressed by the new-fangled plastic wads and cases that had started coming from the USA – not least because I could reload the plastic cases at a fraction the cost of buying factory ammo in the gun shop. And although I never tested it myself, I was also sold on the idea that plastic cup wads threw better patterns at greater distance than a simple fibre wad.

In time my dad came round to plastic too, initially for wildfowling where waterproof plastic cases were much more practical than trying to dry the salt spray out of pocketfuls of paper-cased Eley Alphamax in the linen cupboard after every outing. Eventually he succumbed to plastic Grand Prix, and even dallied with the occasional box from another manufacturer – British of course, just a bit further north than Birmingham.

Since then plastic has become the norm for every type of shotgun shooting. Many Sporting grounds insist on fibre wads, and they’re de rigueur for game and pigeon shooting, but you’d struggle to find paper-cased shells in your local gun shop, and most clay shooters will use plastic wads whenever they’re permitted.

Now, though, the tide is turning against plastic in the wider world. We’re seeing images of plastic pollution littering the oceans, dead seabirds with gizzards full of multicoloured bits, and mountains of plastic bottles at landfill sites. We are even told that plastic is getting into our own bodies through food and drink, and there’s a growing call to reduce the amount of plastic waste we produce.

Shotgun cartridges and wads make up only a small fraction of the planet’s plastic problem of course, but I’m surprised by the number of plastic wads and cases I see on the tideline even in remote places like the west coast of Scotland. They do get about, and I don’t like the idea that I might be contributing even in a small way to a global litter problem.

Should we all be switching to paper cases and fibre wads for our clay shooting? Probably. But then we ought to be changing our shopping habits across the board, and progress is slow. As with so many things, we are reluctant to change until we’re forced to – or at least until there’s a strong financial incentive.

If paper cased, fibre wad cartridges were readily available at a lower price than plastic, or the rules were changed so that they were compulsory for competitions, then we’d all switch overnight. That doesn’t seem likely, however, so for now I don’t expect a huge swing towards paper. Change may be coming, but it will be a slow process. I do look forward to that smell of freshly fired paper though!

Posted in Advice and tips, Coaching

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