Clever Grand Italia cartridge review

Richard Atkins puts Clever’s premium Grand Italia clay cartridges through their paces

For years Clever cartridges have largely been associated with the top end of clay shooting. Founded by the Chiampan brothers back in 1952, the company was focused on excellence – and that’s what they have delivered.

Visit their website at and you’ll find a list of European, World and Olympic medal winners who have put their faith in the Clever brand; it reads like a Who’s Who of clay shooting greats.

Clever realised that many shooters would like to use such a prestigious brand but can’t justify premium ammunition for training, practice and the less demanding disciplines. They introduced their Mirage T1s for the club shooter.

We reviewed them in our April 2020 issue, and they performed remarkably well. This month we have some cartridges from the premium end of the Clever range. These are the Grand Italia, part of the stable that has garnered so many medals.

A glance at the Grand Italia cartons leaves you in no doubt as to Clever cartridges’ success, as they list 42 European Championships, 19 World records and a list of Olympic successes spanning from 1960 to 2016. Clearly printed on the top flap, along with shot load, shot size and calibre details, are the words ‘Extra Hard Shot’, a key factor in any premium cartridge.

The Grand Italia has made its name as a plastic wad version, since all major top flight competitions have used only plastic wads since they became available. For a long time there was no Grand Italia fibre wad option – but now there is! 

Clever is an independent cartridge manufacturer. They do not manufacture any of their components, instead selecting what they require from the leading makers of cases and primers, propellant powders, wads and, of course, shot.

This gives them the flexibility to produce high grade cartridges without needing to make the huge investment required to manufacture components themselves.

Clever declined to identify the components they use in the Grand Italia cartridges, explaining it was a ‘trade secret’, so in this review I can only note my observations and highlight similarities to known components.

Understanding the test results

  • Velocity is measured at 2.5 metres from the muzzle.
  • Pressure is the mean breech figure in Bar (as per CIP).
  • SD is 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 also within the inner 20-inch circle
  • Shot size is derived from actual pellet count per ounce and is listed to the nearest UK size, with < and > symbols where shot is slightly larger or smaller than the nearest size. UK No.7 = 340 pellets/oz; UK No.7.5 = 400 pellets/oz; UK No.8 = 450/oz; UK No. 9 = 580/oz.
  • Shot weight is the average actual shot load, measured in grains. 1 grain = 0.065 grams = 0.0023 oz. 
  • CV is 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, so a CV figure of 20% is harder than 30%, for pellets of similar size. Smaller shot crushes proportionately more than larger size.
  • Choke boring Nominal pattern percentages at 40 yards are: Half Choke 60%; Imp/ Mod (three quarter) choke 65%; Full choke 70%.

Clever Mirage Grand Italia 28g 7.5 Shot Plastic

The box leaves you in no doubt about the Grand Italia’s success in top class competitions
Shot load427 grains
Pellet count per oz368
UK shot size / CV<7.5 / 19%
Pellets in 30in dia (avg)261
Pellets in 20-30in 103
Pattern  73%
Velocity376 m/s (1,234 fps)
Recoil10.5 Ns
Pressure548 bar

Clever Mirage Grand Italia 28g 7.5 Shot Fibre

Both wad types are loaded into a 70mm plastic case with a 16mm head
Shot load430 grains
Pellet count per oz359
UK shot size / CV<7.5 / 20%
Pellets in 30in dia (Av)218
Pellets in 20-30in 99
Pattern  62%
Velocity382 m/s (1,253 fps)
Recoil10.9 Ns
Pressure527 bar

Quality components

Both the plastic and fibre wad versions come in distinctive cartons with a dark background and a clearly printed identity panel. The plastic wad version includes the shot details and also mentions 1,340 fps velocity, while there is no velocity information printed on the fibre wad cartons. Both wad types are are loaded into 70mm long parallel plastic tube cases with 16mm high brass plated steel heads.

Close inspection reveals that both of these cases are high grade but from different makers. The ribbing on the fibre wad case is very fine, almost smooth, while that of the plastic wad is more heavily ribbed. The primers and internal case base wads are also different, with a paper covered flash hole in the fibre wad cartridge, and black lacquer in the fibre wad.

The primers will obviously be matched to the propellant powders selected. The cases are very neatly closed with a tightly formed, six star crimp.

The powders are markedly different. That in the plastic wad load is a very fine, small sized cut flake powder, light greyish-green in colour. It is evidently highly efficient as the charge weight is quite modest at an average 21 grains.

The fibre wad propellant is a much more vivid green colour, also square cut flake but not such finely cut grains as in the plastic load. Clever mention that one is French and the other Spanish and blended to their requirements; that makes Vectan and Maxam the possible sources, although that was not confirmed.

The plastic shell gave an impressively tight pattern through the Imp Mod test barrel
The fibre wad gave lower pattern percentages but still killed long targets well

It is rather interesting to note that a much greater powder charge weight is used in the fibre wad load, averaging 27 grains. The end result is actually quite similar, as the ballistic results reveal.

Both powders appear to be single based and both burned very cleanly; a characteristic of a majority of modern single base propellants for clay cartridges.

The plastic wad is made for Clever to their specification. It follows the design principle used in the T1 plastic wad and shares the name Flexi Max. Its precise honeycomb structure cushioning centre section provides shock resistance to the lead shot on firing, and also the controlled compression to form a neat, tight case crimp. The wad is fairly light at 42 grains; the long cushioning section may also assist in moderating a small amount of felt recoil.

This plastic wad confirms the level of detail that Clever go to in developing their loads. Most plastic wads are moulded with the slits between the shot cup petals moulded in at the same time. They are usually lightly joined together at the mouth and sometimes below too.

If you gather fired plastic wads you will have noticed that the petal joining bands do not always open evenly, and occasionally not at all. Just how much difference this makes is hard to pin down, but Clever overcome any issues by having their Flexi Max wad manufactured with a full, uncut shot cup.

The petals are then formed by slitting the shot pouch with special blades as each wad is inserted into the cartridge case, ensuring there are no plastic bands to resist breaking as the wad leaves the muzzle. This makes for a more complex loading process and tight quality control to ensure all is well, but Clever consider it worth the effort.

The fibre wad option is quite recent and is offered in response to the growing demand for fibre wad clay target loads in the UK. Clever naturally chose to use the fibre wad from market leading manufacturer Diana.

With the greater shot load, the one-piece Diana wad is 15mm long which is 5mm less than that used in the 24 gram T1 we tested previously. This obviously puts a greater workload onto the main wad.

I was interested to note that Clever have used two hard nitro cards under the fibre wad, which they tell me is to improve the obturation and gas sealing.

As expected, the shot loads are of excellent quality, well graded for regularity in both size and roundness, and polished with graphite to a glossy black finish.

Living up to the Clever printed claim on the cartons, the shot proved extremely hard; to get crush values in the 20% region as recorded in the charts requires at least 5% antimony.

Sizes proved very close in both types too. These are Italian 7.5 and the pellet count per ounce shows them to be between UK 7.5 and 7. This is a good size for long range work as energy is still retained well, plus there’s a few more pellets to fill the patterns than you’d get with UK 7.

The slits in the shot cup are cut during the loading process, to ensure the wads open evenly on leaving the muzzle

Performance tests

The 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 ins long, standard bore size barrel with 2¾ in (70mm) chamber with standard length (short) forcing cone and bored Imp Mod (UK ¾) choke.

As with the T1 cartridges the velocity levels are kept on the moderate side; ‘High Velocity’, as printed on the cartons, has no official designation. Clever’s successes at the highest level prove, however, that their velocities are definitely high enough!

Keeping velocities within sensible but effective margins has several advantages; the two most important are lower recoil and better pattern potential.

The impressive pattern result from the plastic wad version exceeded the nominal boring by a full 8% for a ‘super-full’ pattern result. It’s clear to see why so many champion shooters continue to rely on Clever premium cartridges for tackling the toughest, longest targets.

The other advantage is modest recoil, which you can see from the momentum figures. These 28 gram recoil figures are lower than some high velocity cartridges even with lighter shot loads!

Keeping recoil down helps maintain composure over a long shooting course, while reducing the likelihood of flinching and other effects that detract from concentration and shooting performance.

I used the plastic wad version on Trap targets, letting some of them go extra distance, and when I did my part they proved their ability to produce positive kills at range.

I used the fibre wad mainly on Sporting clays and got on well, even with some longer targets. When I came to pattern them I was surprised that the percentages were a little lower than anticipated. Indeed I tested some more to check.

The shot is hard and the velocity is still moderate and recoil very manageable, even though they’re a shade faster than the plastic wad load. Whatever the reason they worked well.

The Clever brand has a great reputation and makes fine products. The plastic wad Grand Italia has a pattern performance that’s hard to match and is comfortable to shoot.

If you have ever wondered if there is any difference between premium and budget cartridges I suggest you buy a few boxes of Grand Italia and try them on longer, tougher targets.

They are not required for a great many targets but for UT, Olympic Trap and some FITASC type Sporting then, when the chips are down, try ‘boxing Clever’! 

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