Defying expectations

Richard Atkins looks at two cartridges from FOB, and finds that first impressions don’t tell the whole story…

Both cartridge types make use of Vectan’s well respected 206 powder

FOB is an established brand in Europe, where it has a strong presence in the hunting and sport shooting scene, but it’s perhaps less well known in the UK. FOB’s importer, West Country Guns, has been working hard to raise the brand’s profile.

It is popular with many clubs and keen shooters in the West Country, but we don’t see so many further north yet. Who knows though? That might change, as it has some interesting cartridges. Here we look at two plastic wad offerings.

FOB is now part of the huge Nobel Sport Group, which incorporates several cartridge brands (including NSI and Tunet). Within the group are Martignoni, a company that manufactures cases and primers, and Vectan, a powder maker. Some wads are also made within the group.

The FOB Viper offers some interesting fibre wad options, one of which uses a plastic obturator disc. This has some potential for reducing gas blow-by, and thereby might assist guns with long forcing cones by helping to tackle balling issues.

Such guns, as we know, often perform less well with fibre wad ammunition. Clay Shooting magazine intends to look more closely at this issue, testing two types of FOB fibre wad loads with several overbored guns. This will take several weeks to complete, so look out for it in a later issue.

The offerings under review are the FOB World 28 and the Viper BJ, which is the plastic wad version of a range that also has two fibre wad options. Both cartridges come in strongly made cartons with distinctive looks.

The World 28 carton has a colourful abstract swirl pattern with a light blue strip at the left side and the name large in the centre. The Viper range has eye-catching cartons too.

On a black background is a grey and black snake with red eyes and tongue – you won’t mistake these for any other brand.

The cartons show the gauge, chamber length, shot load and size of their contents, clearly printed on white panels; they also carry the CIP approval sign: the letters CIP with a crown above and capital ‘M’ below.

Both cartridge types are loaded into 70mm parallel tube plastic cases; this facilitates reliable feeding in most semi-automatic guns, and ensures the fired cases will fill a 70mm chamber. Many guns are now chambered for 3” cartridges, but there are no clay loads in 76mm cases that I am aware of.

My preference is to use cases that match the chamber length where possible, as it provides a smoother passage for the shot from the cartridge case into the forcing cone and bore.

The cases, made by Reifenhauser, are strong plastic tubes with plastic base wads. The primers are Martignoni, and have their flash hole covered with lacquer. This stops grains of powder migrating into the primer while also sealing out any moisture.

World 28 cartridges use a mid-blue colour tube with a 16mm brass-plated steel head, while Vipers use a bright orange case with an 8mm head of the same material. Both are closed with neat, six-point star crimp closures without a heat seal. The crimping looks neat and efficient.

The propellant powder used in both cartridges is a disc-shaped, laminate flake, single-based nitrocellulose from Vectan’s 206 range. This is a quality powder known for consistent performance and very clean burning.

I was surprised that the powders appeared the same; with the Viper priced below the World, I anticipated finding a cheaper propellant inside. I have no complaints about being proven wrong!

The wads used are plastic cup wads, the design differing slightly between the two cartridges. The World wad has four layers of discs separated by straight cross pieces to form a sturdy, collapsible centre section.

The Viper BJ contained a wad of a style I had not seen before: a single central disc with a central box section to provide cushioning through a controlled collapse.

The Viper wad’s shot cup has four straight, moulded-in slits to form the cup petals. The World’s shot cup is similar, but has radial slots at the base of each slit and three tiny pips on each slit keeping the petals lightly joined. The gas sealing skirt of the Viper wad is deeper than that of the World wad.

The lead shot in the World 28 was reasonably round and coated in graphite, giving it a dull appearance. Shot size range in both cartridges showed some variation, but the vast majority of pellets were close to the average size. The Viper shot was very round and had been well polished, so although it was also graphite coated it looked lustrous.

My shot crush tests revealed that the shot in the Viper BJ was harder than the World 28; with the World having the higher metal head, it would follow that this contains higher antimony shot. But the World shot gave a CV reading of 42 per cent, indicating a low antimony shot less likely to pattern tightly.

At 26 per cent CV the Viper BJ shot matched a good many mid-range cartridges (and above that!). The pattern tests would reveal what effect this difference in shot hardness would have.

The Viper cartridges tested were marked as shot size 7.5, while the World on test were marked as size 8. Examining the World’s shot revealed that it was slightly larger in diameter than the marked UK 7.5 would suggest, with 416 pellets per ounce. The Viper gave a count of 372 per ounce, equating to UK size 7¼, meaning both shot loads were a bit larger than the UK size.

Laboratory tests

The FOB World and Viper cartridges were submitted to the Birmingham CIP Proof Laboratory for pressure, velocity and momentum testing. Pattern tests were conducted at 40 yards from a 30” long, standard 12-bore barrel with a 2¾” (70mm) chamber, a standard length (short) forcing cone and an Imp Mod choke.

The Proof laboratory tests revealed excellent performance for both FOB cartridges, with very similar consistency figures in the low single-digit region. Velocity levels differed noticeably.

Viper BJs are at a level that many top-performing cartridges hover around – quick without being too punishing. The World are more brisk, exceeding the magic 400 metres per second figure that marks a cartridge as having impressively high velocity. The World 28s feel more lively, but in a full weight clay gun or semi-auto this is not too noticeable.

FOB World 28 at 40 yards with Imp Mod

When it comes to patterns, the Worlds’ combination of the softer lead shot and higher velocity results in less dense patterns than the Vipers. These held the 65 per cent choke boring of the test barrel, while the World 28s fell two full choke percentage categories below the typical Imp Mod result. This was not how I would have expected to see these results, but it makes perfect sense given the results of the crush tests.

This shows, once again, that it is not possible to be sure what pattern density a given cartridge might produce, unless you pattern test it. A shooter might say: “I like my patterns tight so I have ¾ chokes in”, but depending upon the cartridge they are using, their pattern density may be quite different to what they think they are achieving.

The upshot of these properties was that these cartridges did not perform as I expected. The Worlds’ breaks were not quite so clean or positive at distance as those of the Vipers.

Using them with a World cartridge in the first barrel and one of the Vipers in the second, I shot some ABT, some UT and a few longer clays I set up with my own trap – the latter to check distances and repeat shots without upsetting the rhythm of a squad.

FOB Viper BJ at 40 Yards with Imp Mod

I was impressed with how this combination worked. Though patterns were well populated with both cartridge types, the extra pellets in the Worlds made up for their lower density. Combined with the pellets’ low CD ratio this meant good coverage, with very few open patches in the patterns.

The Worlds’ shot size had plenty of punch, and the Vipers gave very positive breaks on edge-on Trap targets that were further away than it would be reasonable to expect a budget load to perform. They absolutely murdered DTL targets, even with a 3/8 choke in the first barrel.

These cartridges between them can tackle virtually any combination of target size, distance and presentation you might find on a Sporting layout. Although it seems like a case of role reversal, once I worked out how best to use these cartridges, both types worked well.

Overall, my favourites have to be the Viper BJs; these produced excellent breaks and were smooth to shoot – exceptional performance at a good price. If you fancy trying some I would order now, as prices may not remain low.

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