Spanish Treasure? Richard Atkins is on the road to El Dorado as he evaluates a pair of keenly priced clay cartridges from Spanish maker SAGA
SAGA Eurotrap 28
28 gram 7.5 plastic wad
Shot load: 430 grains
Pellet (count per oz): 362
UK shot (size / CV): 7.5> / 27%
Pellets in 30” dia: 217
Pellets in 20-30”: 96
Velocity mps (fps): 383 (1,257)
Recoil (M): 10.7
Pressure (unit = bar): 502
SAGA Elite Special
28 gram 7.5 plastic wad
Shot load: 429 grains
Pellet (count per oz): 339
UK shot (size / CV): 7> / 23%
Pellets in 30” dia: 223
Pellets in 20-30”: 100
Velocity mps (fps): 380 (1,247)
Recoil (M): 10.6
Pressure (unit = bar): 486
SAGA began as a small husband-and-wife cartridge business in north-east Spain back in 1951. 67 years later, SAGA is a major cartridge manufacturer owned by the explosives giant Maxam, which also owns the UK cartridge maker Eley Hawk.
SAGA cartridges are currently exported to 50 countries and have been available in the UK for many years. They are imported and distributed by SSM International of Bromyard, England. SSM knows a thing or two about shotgun cartridges, having formerly handled the excellent SMI brand before it became a part of the cartridge and component manufacturing empire that is now Nobel Sport Italia (NSI). For some years, SSM also manufactured its own shotgun cartridges under the SSM/Pointer brand. It has what was then a state-of-the-art ballistic test laboratory underneath its cartridge-making plant.
Maxam is a major manufacturer of every component required in cartridge production, so naturally most of the components used in SAGA cartridges are its own.
Maxam supplies its parallel plastic tube cases, with Maxam primers, to many other cartridge makers. The SAGA Eurotrap 28 uses a red, 70mm Maxam case with an 11mm brass-plated steel head. The case exterior has a striated surface finish that is readily seen and can also be felt when the cartridge is in the fingers; this texture is a characteristic feature of Maxam cartridge cases.
SAGA’s Elite Special uses a deep-blue, 70mm plastic-tubed Maxam case with an impressive-looking 24mm brass-plated steel head. Note that Maxam primers use a paper disc to cover the primer flash hole and prevent the ingress of powder granules that could otherwise alter the primer’s burning characteristics.
Both cartridges have tight, well-formed, six-star-crimp closures; good crimps are essential for a consistent powder burn, without which velocities can vary more than they need to. The laboratory ballistic reports show that both the Elite and the Eurotrap produce consistent results; the Eurotrap in particular achieved supreme consistency during the tests.
Making explosives and propellant powders is the core business for which Maxam is known worldwide, and it has a highly developed range of single-base nitrocellulose propellants for shotgun cartridges. Recent refinements have seen the range increased to cover the lighter 12-gauge powders, with particular attention paid to clean, efficient burning properties. This helps achieve the required energy content while minimising charge weights, which in turn helps keep cartridge costs down and pleases customers (who generally prefer their barrels to look clean after firing in any case.)
The powders used in both cartridges are from Maxam’s square-cut flake PSB range; grey flakes in the Eurotrap suggest PSB-5 and the light green flakes in the Elite suggest PSB+3. The latter is a little more progressive-burning than PSB-5, and this shows in their relative mean pressures. Velocities proved almost identical, but the Elite averaged a slightly lower pressure when propelling the same shot charge weight. Both powders burned very cleanly, with virtually no residue remaining. The semi-auto pattern test barrel was especially clean in both cases.
The wads used are different. Eurotrap uses the Maxam A24 plastic cup wad, which has a novel multi-layered set of tubes forming the compressible centre section. It has good sealing skit, and the shot cup is moulded with four ‘petals’, which are lightly joined at the mouth for snag-free loading.
The Elite Special uses a new plastic wad from wad maker Gualandi: it incorporates its trademark oval tub along with a lattice-bridge-formation collapsible cushioning central section. This too has its four-petal moulded shot cup joined at the mouth.
Regular readers of these tests know that shot quality plays a very important role and has a considerable effect on cartridges’ patterning performance. While a mismatch of other components might detract a little from the performance of excellent shot pellets, no combination of other components – however good they may be – can make low-grade shot pattern as well as high-grade shot.
The single most critical feature of shot, with the greatest influence on its quality – and hence patterning potential – is its hardness. Antimony is used to harden lead shot. It is very expensive (yes, even more so than lead!) and so it increases the cost of cartridges. This is the key reason why premium cartridges cost more than budget ones.
Both types of cartridge actually contain very good shot, nicely polished and graphite-coated. The Eurotrap gave quite good crush value (CV) readings, indicating somewhere between 2 and 3 per cent antimony – ideal for Sporting or as a first-barrel Trap cartridge.
The shot in the Elite, as anticipated, proved harder than in the Eurotrap; its 23 per cent CV reading suggests around 5 per cent antimony content. That is premium shot quality by any reckoning.
Both shot samples were round, well-formed and reasonably closely graded for size. Although both are marked 7.5 shot size, the Elite gave a shot count almost exactly the same as UK size 7 shot. Eurotrap shot had a very slightly wider (but not extreme) range of shot sizes and a higher pellet count per ounce, equating to what would be UK size 7.25 if there was such a size. In summary, then: two very respectable shot samples.
Following our standard procedure, both the SAGA cartridges were submitted to the Birmingham Proof Laboratory for pressure, velocity and momentum testing. Pattern tests were fired at 40 yards from my regular pattern testing gun, featuring a 30” standard bore size barrel with 2¾” chamber, standard forcing cone and bored Imp Mod choke.
The laboratory reports reveal that both cartridges are very consistent. The Eurotrap velocities proved to have among the tightest SD figures a shotgun cartridge can achieve. Few have matched these figures, which goes to show that although these are keenly priced cartridges, they are put together extremely competently.
Patterns confirmed what the shot load suggested: both cartridges have very sensible velocity levels, similar to a number of more famous brands we have featured over recent months. The harder shot in the Elite put 5 per cent more of its pellets within a 30-inch pattern at 40 yards. That equates to one choke-bore more open – just over a Half Choke pattern compared with the Imp Mod-like 61% produced through the same barrel by the Eurotrap.
This once again shows something I have often tried to point out: changing your cartridges will almost invariably alter the pattern results.
The sensible velocity levels used in both the Eurotrap and the Elite Special mean that recoil from the cartridges is not too punishing, as is shown by their moderate momentum figures. This contributes to steadying any muzzle climb, a factor that could help maintain your personal concentration and performance level over a 100-bird competition.
Pattern results were good for both types. The spread of pellets was as regular as with any competition-grade cartridge and better than some; I have had notably less regular results with much more expensive cartridges than these SAGA loads! Both avoided excessive central densities too, which provides a bit more leeway for aiming error while still producing effective pattern density.
Notice how the slightly smaller pellets in the Eurotrap have produced a similar pellet count across their patterns to the more expensive Elite Special. With a 7.25 shot size carrying good clay-breaking energy way past 40 yards, it’s little wonder they performed well on the clays.
On the clays
I tried both SAGA loads on Sporting clays and felt at home with them. The Eurotrap did all that I required on every target presentation. To see if I could detect a difference, I set my own Acorn trap up and, as I often do, moved back to see how far away I could break clays. Even the Eurotrap achieved good breaks when I reached the 45-yard mark, where judging line and lead (especially on blustery days) becomes tricky. When I connected, the clays broke.
I set up a DTL-style target to test the Elite Special. With my full-choke Trap gun, it absolutely smoked clays beyond the 40‑yard mark; more pellet energy and tighter choke at long range made for very positive kills.
While testing these cartridges I suffered an infected spider-bite on my left hand, so I couldn’t hold a gun to do proper Trap targets at Park Farm. Then I remembered that Paul Cerri used SAGA cartridges for several years, so I spoke with him. Paul has consistently been in the top 20 DTL shooters in the country and has won four caps from the England DTL Team. Three of those were won using SAGA Eurotrap cartridges. Paul has tried the Elite Special loads too, but he did so well with the Eurotrap that he stuck with them, using them in both barrels to claim his England places and win many titles. Among the many competitions and trophies Paul has won with SAGA cartridges, one of his proudest achievements has been getting his name on the Fauxdegla 300/300 Hall of Fame plaque. That was achieved using Eurotrap cartridges.
My Trap shooting doesn’t come close to Paul Cerri’s, but I know I will be using more SAGA cartridges in future: the Eurotrap for first-barrel DTL, and the Elite Special reserved for second-barrel ABT. This blend of performance and economy could well suit many shooters, whether they compete in Sporting or Trap.
Velocity Metres per second measured at 2.5 metres from the muzzle.
Pressure The mean breech figure in bar (as per CIP).
SD Standard Deviation (consistency).
CD The Central Density rating, recording the percentage of pellets landing in the 30-inch circle that were recorded within the inner 20-inch circle
Shot size This 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 # .5 = 400 pellets/oz; UK #8 = 450 pellets/oz; UK# 9 = 580 pellets/oz.
Shot weight The 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. This is the amount by which the shot is reduced in size when subjected to the standard crush test. A smaller value means harder lead – a CV of 20% is harder than a CV of 30%, in pellets of a similar size. Smaller shot crushes proportionately more than larger.
CHOKE BORING Half-choke = nominal 60% pattern; Imp Mod (¾) choke = 65%; and Full-choke = 70% at 40 yards.