The budget clay-target sector is a significant one. With price still a key factor for many shooters, it’s an important market for all cartridge brands to have a stake in. For several years now, Eley Hawk has taken a large chunk of this market with its range of 1st First cartridges. Now, amid much publicity, the company has launched its successor, but I am to understand that this is much more than a rebranding exercise, so I was intrigued to try two examples from the extensive, revamped range.
There are three obvious differences with these new budget loads: The name of course, but also the packaging and the case colour. The new name is 1st Select, retaining the link with its predecessor by including First in figurative form. Most will be familiar with the black or red plastic tube cases of the original product, but this has become bright white with a 12mm high brass-plated steel head. The design on the 25 cartons has changed, with the curved corner segment previously seen across the Eley Hawk range exchanged for a more rectangular inset that carries an enlargement of the tradition EBL motif, representing Eley Brothers Ltd, the early founders of the famous brand.
The plastic cartridge cases are smartly printed with gold-coloured ink, and for easy reference the printing runs head-to-crimp on the 28-gram and the other way on the 24-gram cases. Cases are 67mm long and so can be used in guns with 2.5in chambers, such as the typical lightweight English-style game guns – ideal for a sharpen up ready for the game season.
The loads are fibre wad, in 24 and 28-gram 7.5 shot loads. Cases, primers and the CSB propellant are all manufactured by Maxam, the parent company of Eley and Caledonian. The single-base propellants burned cleanly, pressures are moderate and the shells cycled reliably through the two semi-automatic shotguns I used. Crimps are tight and well formed.
The wads used are Eley’s own Kleena fibre. These are produced in the Eley factory, precision-cut from fibreboard and ring-greased to improve gas sealing and reduce fouling. Two wads are loaded into each cartridge, and those in the 24-gram load are thicker than in the 28-gram to take up the extra space in the same 67mm cases. Both use a thick over-powder card to improve gas sealing and prevent the grease from the main driving wads migrating to the powder charge.
Eley produces its own lead shot, using the Bliemeister short drop process. Examining the pellets in the two 1st Select samples showed it to be of good sphericity and well polished with graphite to give a deep black shine. Grading for size was quite close, with actual shot size just larger than UK 7.5 in the 24-gram load (385 pellets per ounce) and slightly smaller in the 28 gram (424 pellets per ounce). The shot is made from lower-antimony lead than found in the premium Superb and VIP ranges, as is to be expected in a budget load. This produced larger crush value figures of 41 and 43 per cent, respectively.
Following our standard test procedure, the cartridges were submitted to the Birmingham Proof Laboratory for pressure, velocity and momentum testing. Patterns were fired from the regular Imp Mod bored test barrel over a 40-yard distance.
Performance figures for the new 1st Select are interesting. Eley says these loads offer “the right balance between speed, recoil and clay-breaking power.” Speed is particularly significant in that makers today put so much emphasis on producing ever-higher velocities but higher velocity comes with increased recoil. The proof reports for these new loads show that velocity has been eased back, and as a consequence the momentum (recoil) figures are noticeably reduced too.
To maintain pattern density, fast cartridges also require hard shot, which tends to increase central density and recoil. The velocity levels here have allowed the patterns with modest antimony shot to maintain a good spread across the pattern plate, recording CD values of 57 and 55 per cent for the 24 and 28-gram loads, respectively, with pattern densities a little below the nominal figure for the Imp Mod choked test barrel.
Next, I tried these cartridges out on Sporting and DTL clays. Both proved comfortable to shoot with, the lower recoil enough to be noticeable and much appreciated. They performed fine for first-barrel DTL use and for Sporting clays of various presentations up to medium range. They aren’t designed to pull back 50-yard departing clays – there are premium loads for that with a higher price tag.
1st Select are designed to produce patterns to suit most targets found on any typical Sporting course and to do so smoothly. I was actually surprised just how far out these loads would perform, particularly the 28-gram version. I would choose the 24-gram in UK 8 shot for plenty of closer targets.
I tried a Trap gun with and Full chokes on test out with an electric trap, letting clays go further out, and was still breaking them at around the 40-yard mark with the 28-gram load. Velocity levels are close to what was once quite usual and these cartridges proved just as able to break clays as ever.
The ability to open up a tight choke can also be used to your advantage, especially for closer targets where a bit more leeway is given, and particularly useful if you have a fixed choke gun with tight chokes (or can’t be bothered to swap interchangeable ones).
The reduction in recoil feels even more smooth than the figures suggest (about 14 per cent lower than a previous report on Eley First) such that they are comfortable to shoot. You will know you could shoot a great many without discomfort – useful for maintaining concentration. Overall the new 1st Select proved able to tackle closer to mid-range targets very well – often these make up most of the targets a Sporting layout, making it a cost-effective choice. These are also smooth operators – try some and you may be pleasantly surprised.
Velocity is in metres per second (or mps) measured at a distance of 2.5 metres from the muzzle. Pressure is the mean breech figure in Bar (as per CIP). SD = Standard Deviation (consistency).
CD is the Central Density rating. This records the percentage of the total pellets landing in the 30-inch circle that were recorded within the inner 20-inch circle
Shot size is derived from actual pellet count per ounce and listed to the nearest UK size (< denotes slightly smaller than, and > denotes slightly larger than). UK shot 7 = 340 pellets / oz; UK 7.5 = 400/oz; UK 8 = 450/oz; UK 9 = 580/oz.
Shot load is the average actual shot weight, measured in grains. [28 grams equals 432 grains; 24 grams = 370.4 grains; 21 grams = 324 grains and there are 437.5 grains in one ounce] .
CV = Crush Value. This is the amount by which the shot is reduced in size when subjected to the standard crush test. Smaller value means harder lead and vice versa. Smaller shot crushes proportionately more than larger sizes.