Richard Atkins tests the two new premium clay target loads from Eley Hawk: Eley Titanium and Titanium Strike
When the UK’s longest established cartridge maker introduces a new range of premium clay target cartridges, it clearly heralds the arrival of something that will interest serious clay target shooters. The new Eley Titanium range is obviously designed to appeal to the top of the market, as is made clear in Eley’s promotional material for the load, which refers to Titanium being developed for the ‘highly demanding shooter’, being designed to be ‘impressively effective at any range’ and using 5 per cent antimony magnum shot.
The Titanium range comes in six options: four versions of Eley Titanium, and two of Titanium Strike. Titanium is the standard graphite-polished lead shot version and is offered in continental shot sizes 7.5 (2.4mm) and 8 (2.3mm), with a choice of plastic or fibre wads, in 28 gram shot loads only.
Titanium Strike uses 5 per cent antimony magnum shot, which is continental shot size 7.5 and is coated with nickel instead of graphite. Both 28 gram and 24 gram shot loads are being offered in this cartridge, but there is no fibre wad option.
We were sent both Titanium and Titanium Strike cartridges to evaluate. The review was approached with some excitement, as it has been some time since a premium clay cartridge was last introduced. Recent years have seen a greater emphasis on budget cartridges and mid-range offerings where efforts have been made to provide a balance between cost and performance. It will be interesting to see how the extra-hard premium shot and other components blend to provide the performance uplift that is claimed for these new cartridges.
Titanium and Titanium Strike are packaged in cartons of 25. The cartons feature a picture of a stylised blue clay target being smashed, and the names of the cartridges printed on the box in bold white for the Titanium and bright silvery lettering for the Titanium Strike. Shot load and wad details are clearly printed on the top flap.
Both types of cartridge are loaded into 70mm Maxam parallel plastic tube cases in an attractive light blue colour. The Titanium have 16mm-high, nickel-plated steel heads, while the Titanium Strike have 25mm heads in the same material. Primers are Maxam and have paper covered flash holes to prevent the ingress of powder into the primer cup.
The cases are closed with six star crimps; all the crimp closures exhibited a neat, tightly turned over edge. This helps to give consistent ballistics, and ensures the cartridges chamber smoothly in any type of gun.
Wads and powder
The plastic wad used in both Titanium and Titanium Strike is the well regarded Maxam A-Type, which is claimed to provide ‘ultimate recoil reduction technology to deliver dense, consistent patterns at any range.’ It has a shock-absorbing centre section made from layers of small tubes that sit in four rows, separated by flat discs. This section is designed to collapse in a controlled manner when the cartridge is fired, providing a stable platform and cushioning the shot load. An efficient gas seal sits below this, while a shot cup with four pre-formed petals is above. The shot cup petals are lightly joined at the cup mouth; the cups mostly opened reasonably well, with at least two petals opening on leaving the muzzle. Some opened fully, ensuring they quickly fell away from the shot load.
Maxam, Eley’s parent company, is a major producer of propellant powders, and it is a special blend of their single-base, square-cut flake powder, PSB +3, that is used in the Titanium range. It is a clean, efficient-burning powder that operates at lower than average pressures for this type of load. Both the Titanium and the Titanium Strike contained an average powder charge of 23.5 grains of this propellant.
The defining feature of these cartridges is that both types are loaded with 5 per cent antimony, premium grade, magnum shot. This is described on the carton as being ‘ultra hard shot’. On testing the shot, it proved to be well graded for size and quite accurately spherical; this is a characteristic feature of shot produced by the long drop system, or tower system, which is commonly found in Italian made shot nowadays. Whether Eley, Maxam or Italian shot has been used here is unclear, but interestingly the shot sizing is to the larger Italian size and not the UK shot size designation used by Eley Hawk. This means that the 7.5 shot is actually closer to UK No.7 size shot and the No. 8 is UK 7.5. The metric shot sizes printed on the cartons confirm this, with shot diameters given as 2.4mm and 2.3mm respectively.
This means that, while pellet energy is greater than the respective UK shot size, there are fewer pellets per ounce of shot load.
As for ‘ultra hard shot’ this claim is borne out by by my crush value tests. As you can see in the charts, the nickel-coated shot in the Titanium Strike cartridges had a fractionally higher pellet count per ounce, and was hence slightly smaller than the graphite-polished shot in the Titanium. This small variation is no more than the variation from batch to batch; lead shot production from molten lead to pellets is surprisingly precise, although not quite in the ball bearing category! The shot in the Titanium is well polished in graphite for a bright, glossy black surface finish, while the nickel-coated shot naturally gleams with a bright silvery appearance.
I should point out a misconception that sometimes occurs relating to nickel coated shot: some think that the nickel coating makes the shot harder and therefore able to give tighter patterns. That is not the reason for using nickel coating on lead pellets. A microscopically thin coating of nickel cannot significantly increase pellet hardness, and therefore it is only worthwhile nickel coating shot that is already hard.
What nickel does is reduce the likelihood of the shot pellets becoming stuck together by the force of the massive acceleration they undergo upon firing. It also helps pellets slide over one another smoothly. The effect is that nickel-coated shot can produce more evenly distributed patterns, with fewer groups where two or three pellets have stuck together in flight, and is less likely to produce excessive central density (which trap shooters sometimes refer to as a ‘hot core’ pattern).
In these ways nickel coated shot can help increase cartridge effectiveness, by creating a sufficiently dense pattern over a large effective area rather than cramming too many pellets into the central pattern.
The Titanium cartridges were, as per our long established procedure, submitted to the Birmingham Proof Laboratory for pressure, velocity and momentum testing. Pattern tests were fired at a distance of 40 yards from a 30” long, standard bore size barrel with 2¾” chamber, standard forcing cone and bored Imp Mod choke.
The results were excellent. The SD figures are extremely good with excellent consistency; both cartridges are comfortably into the low single figures. This reveals that all components not only worked as they should but also worked well with each other.
Eley has chosen a velocity level that is genuinely quick without being ultra fast: just under 400 metres per second. This is fast enough to do the job while keeping recoil within bounds. High velocities inevitably come with increased recoil, all else being equal. Note also that the progressive burning PSB+3
powder produced this brisk velocity while also maintaining very modest pressure levels indeed. Achieving this with clean burn and the aforementioned consistency are very desirable features!
As the pattern results show, the magnum shot certainly does do what it is supposed to: it produces dense patterns. Both cartridge types had a significantly greater percentage of pellets in their patterns than you would expect from the nominally 65 per cent (Imp Mod) test barrel. Their patterns were around 10 per cent more dense than the choke boring would suggest. This really does show what hard shot, along with well selected components and sensible velocities, can achieve. It might be an eye-opener those who have been told, or read, something along the lines of, “just buy the cheapest you can find; all cartridges are the same!” As these products clearly show, true premium cartridges can offer significantly improved long range patterns.
The nickel effect
The pattern distribution results also show how nickel loads perform compared to lead. Total pattern percentage in the 30” circle at 40 yards was only 1 per cent different on average for each type. This is, in reality, virtually identical; the natural variation from any set of patterns could produce such a result. The ‘nickel effect’ showed itself in the distribution, where the proportion of pellets in the outer 20” to 30” zone was bolstered by the central density figure being 3% lower with the nickel shot load. (Actual pellet counts were higher for the Titanium Strike because there were more pellets in each cartridge).
I found both of these cartridges reasonably comfortable to shoot. Recoil was identical with both types – firm but manageable. In a heavier trap gun than I generally use they would be smoother still; the sensible velocity and highly cushioning wad help with this.
I mainly tried the new cartridges on trap targets, because these gave an edge-on, departing target that helped to assess the quality of the cartridges’ kills. I tried each in the first barrel and then the second and found, unsurprisingly, that kills were very positive. I achieved some impressive distant target smashes with both types and even some second barrels still smoked their clays.
Overall I got on best with the Titanium Strike. I had yet to do the pattern tests when I shot them, and I believe it was the nickel shot with its more even pattern that helped me. If your shooting is spot-on every time that is fine, but when you are occasionally slightly off having a slightly wider effective pattern can put one or two all-important extra targets on your card. That could be what decides whether you are winner or an also-ran.
Both the Titanium and the Titanium Strike are superb cartridges. They are definitely correctly billed as premium loads for the serious and dedicated shooter and are specifically designed to pull back the longest of targets. That means that you do not need them for your run of the mill Sunday Sporting shoot, where the extra-tight patterns might not be an advantage! In fact, if your gun shoots Extra Full choke patterns with an Imp Mod choke like my test barrel did, then you may choose to open up your usual choke.
Being a premium cartridge, they come at a premium price with suggested figures starting at £300/1000. You won’t gain the full advantage from them for the majority of close and mid-range targets, and there’s already plenty of choice for those. The Titanium and Titanium Strike come into their own when the targets get tough; long, fast, departing and edge-on clays can still be convincingly smashed with cartridges like these. Put a box or two in your bag, and try them on some tough targets to discover what they can do for you.