Cartridge testing: Sovereigns and VIPs

We have two premium grade clay target loads to examine today: one with fibre and the other using a plastic wad.

Eley Hawk VIP Sporting

Shot load: 430 grains
Pellet (count per oz): 425
UK shot (size / CV): <7.5 / 24%
Pellets in 30in dia: 220
Pellets in 20-30in:  100
Pattern: 52.6%
CD: 54%
Velocity mps (fps): 383 (1,256)
SD: 7
Recoil (M): 10.7
Pressure (unit = bar): 479

First we have the latest VIP Sporting fibre wad from Eley Hawk. This could prove particularly attractive to those who shoot grounds where fibre wads are the only loads permitted. The VIP range come in at the top end of Eley Hawk’s catalogue with brisk velocities and hard shot for good performance at greater range.

Maxam’s cases and primers are used. The case is a 70mm-parallel, plastic tube with a 15mm brass-plated metal head and the company’s trademark crisply-ribbed outer surface. Primers are described as Maxam’s signature offering and the cases are neatly closed with a six-star crimp.Propellant is a square cut, thin, laminate flake PSB. Eley Hawk describes this powder as specially blended to provide a smooth acceleration for reduced felt recoil with high velocity. A charge weight of 29 grains produced high velocity with a modest breech pressure some 260 bar below (only 65 per cent of) the CIP limit for a 70mm, 12-gauge cartridge.

This batch of Eley Hawk VIPs used a wad similar to the Diana component, and not form the Kleena range

In common with most modern single-base propellants, Maxam powders are usually quite clean burning. Little residue was left in the test semi-auto barrel, and while a shade more appeared on cool winter days with an over-and-under, it was by no means excessive. People can get too hung up on a bit of residue – it’s of little consequence when you compare it with good ballistics.We have become accustomed to Eley Hawk using their its Kleena wads in 12-gauge cartridges, and the Kleena Evo 5 is listed as the fibre wad used in the VIP Sporting.

However, on cutting up samples for the evaluation of components, it was obvious that the fibre wad used is quite different to the traditional Kleena – they are usually shorter than the other most commonly used fibre wads and are most often used in pairs to give the required wad column height. This batch of VIP Sporting appeared to be loaded with a Diana wad – one-piece with a black laminate end covering to prevent pellets embedding into the top of the wad. Unfortunately, at the time of writing I had not received a reply to find out why these were used, so I must assume that, for some reason, Eley Hawk now consider this as the wad to use in the VIP Sporting cartridges.

These VIP cartridges are loaded with Eley Hawk’s own Bliemeister shot, which proved hard, well polished and graphite coated. They were graded quite closely for consistent size (though actual pellet count was slightly high for 7.5 at 425 pellets per ounce). This increases the number of pellets in each cartridge.

The VIP produced a well-distributed pattern


The Laboratory report reveals quite high velocity with modest pressure, and the low Standard Deviation figure shows consistency is good (especially for a fibre wad load, where it can be harder to maintain tight velocity tolerances). My 24 per cent CV crush test result shows this to be a hard shot sample, especially so considering the relatively small shot size – it would require around five per cent antimony to achieve.High velocities and fibre wads tend not to give the tightest patterns and that’s how things worked out, as the 40 yard pattern test reveals.

Through the regular Improved Modified test barrel, pattern percentage averaged 52.6 per cent, which equates just under ¼ choke on the standard choke percentages chart. This opening of the pattern was accompanied with a 54 per cent CD figure, which shows that the pellets are quite evenly spread across the patterns, as much as you’d expect with plastic wad loads. This helps make the most use of the patterns produced and potentially gives a bit more leeway for aiming error.

By using a tighter choke, the VIP can still perform at range as we found out previously in a distance effectiveness test using the same ammunition. For my part, I have to be delighted with these loads: at my local club Christmas Sporting shoot I ended up with 49ex-50. Some shooting buddies used them and found that they also got positive kills, and recoil did not feel excessive for a brisk cartridge. They proved to be a useful addition to the Sporting shooters bag – especially where fibre wads must be used.

Hull Sovereign Extended Range

Shot load: 428.5 grains
Pellet (count per oz): 452
UK shot (size / CV): 8 / 23%
Pellets in 30in dia: 279
Pellets in 20-30in:  113
Pattern: 63%
CD: 59%
Velocity mps (fps): 373 (1,223)
SD: 6.3
Recoil (M): 10.46
Pressure (unit = bar): 527

We have examined premium clay target loads from Hull Cartridge before and always been impressed. These review loads are in shot size 8, a slight surprise for a load including Extended Range in its description. This cartridge also comes in the 7.5 shot size, and even in 6.5 for really tough FITASC targets.

The 70mm parallel-plastic Cheddite cases have a 15mm brass-plated steel head and takes a neat and tightly formed six-star crimp closure. Hull Cartridge Company loads these into different colour cases that represent the shot size they contain – making recognition easy and avoids using a 9 shot when you meant to use a 7.5. The 8s have blue cases, the 7.5 are maroon and the 6.5 use a black case. This can be handy if cartridges become mixed in either pocket or bag and makes sorting them out simple.

The design of the wad ensures the petals open up well and don’t interfere with the shot

The plastic wad used is the Z2 by world renowned Italian cartridge and components maker Baschieri & Pellagri. This a lightweight wad with an excellent gas seal, plus four self-adjusting support legs for the full depth shot cup, which protects every pellet in the load. Cleverly-designed slits in the shot cup ensure opening up is reliable on exiting the muzzle without need for cutting on loading. All recovered fired test wads were found to have opened up fully.

The propellant is a green disc flake, single-base powder that looks similar to the French Vectan powders (now part of Nobel Sport). It is evidently high energy and efficient as it only uses 22.2 grains to achieve its quite brisk performance. As all the ejecta from a cartridge counts towards momentum (and hence recoil) the lighter charge marginally helps in that direction, as does the light B&P wad.


These Hull Sovereign continued the trend set by others in the range by producing  good ballistics and patterns combined with excellent consistency. Shot size is spot on size 8 and shot loads were all within a few grains of the stated 28-gram weight. Hardness proved exceptional, especially for smaller shot with the 23 per cent average Crush Value equating to in excess of five per cent antimony.

The shot’s high quality is evident in the patterns

Pellet size shows good grading and the well polished pellets were evenly graphite coated. This grade of shot is essential for the top performance at longer range and accounts for a significant portion of the extra cost.It is more difficult to make smaller shot sizes pattern so well as similar larger shot, percentage pattern wise, because the smaller pellets in the lower part of the shot column are more readily deformed by crushing from the pellets above upon initial acceleration. The blend and quality of components is good – as shown by the pattern performance. Despite the small shot size, pattern percentage averaged only just below the nominal 65 per cent for the Improved Modified (¾) test barrel. When you then look at the actual pellet counts in the patterns you will see how there is good pellet coverage that gives a clay virtually no chance of escape.

Pellet energy is lower with small shot than larger shot and so there is a limit to how far 8 shot will break clays. I set up my Acorn trap and began shooting some crossing targets starting at 35 yards. At 45 yards the Hull Sovereign 8 shot were still breaking clays (and some beyond) when I wondered if they could. Though pellet energy must be becoming marginal by then it has to be the dense patterns giving multiple pellet hits that was breaking clays. When shooting beyond 40 yards one might normally choose a larger shot size but I was, frankly, pleasantly surprised by what these shells could break. They are clean burning and quite crisp but I found them comfortable to shoot with – quick enough to perform but balanced for acceptable recoil over a longer shooting course. No wonder Hull Sovereign are the choice of many champion shooters.

Keep in mind!

Following our standard procedure, both cartridges were submitted to the Birmingham Proof Laboratory for pressure, velocity and momentum testing. Patterns were fired from the regular Improved Modified-bored test barrel over a distance of 40 yards.

Pattern tests were fired at a distance of 40 yards from 30in standard bore size barrel with 2¾in chamber and bored Improved Modified.

Velocity = metres per second at 2.5 metres from the muzzle.
Pressure is the Mean breech figure in Bar (as per CIP).
SD = Standard Deviation (consistency).
CD = Central Density rating: records the percentage of the total pellets landing in the 30in circle recorded in the inner 20in circle.
Shot size is derived from actual pellet count per ounce and listed to the nearest UK size (< denotes slightly smaller than, and > slightly larger than).
UK shot 7 = 340 pellets per ounce; 7.5 = 400 pellets per ounce; 8 = 450 pellets per ounce; 9 = 580 pellets per ounce.
Shot weight = average actual shot load, measured in grains: 28 grams equals 432 grains; 24 grams = 370.4 grains; 21 grams = 324 grains.
There are 437.5 grains in one ounce).
CV = Crush Value: the amount by which the shot is reduced in size when subjected to the standard crush test.
Note: smaller value means harder lead and vice- versa (20 per cent CV is harder than 30 per cent CV in pellets of similar size).
Note: smaller shot crushes proportionately more than larger sizes.
Half choke = nominal 60 per cent pattern;  Imp Mod (¾) choke 65 per cent and Full choke 70 per cent at 40 yards.

This article originally appeared in the March 2017 issue of Clay Shooting magazine. For more great content like this, subscribe today at our secure online store

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Posted in Features, Reviews, Technical
One comment on “Cartridge testing: Sovereigns and VIPs
  1. roger miller says:

    Try some S & B fantastic

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