Richard Atkins tests two new shotgun loads

Clay shooting expert Richard Atkins is testing two new shotgun loads that offer good performance, less recoil, and an affordable price tag!

On test: Clever Mirage T1 24 Gram 7.5 Fibre and Plastic

Fibre 368 grains (left) and Plastic 373 grains (right)

Shot load: 373 grains
Pellet(count per oz): 331
UK Shot (size/CV): >7 / 28%
Pellets in 30in dia (Av): 193
Pellets in 20-30in: 85
Pattern: 68%
CD: 56%
Velocity: 370 m/s (1,214 fps)
Recoil (M) (unit= Ns): 8.8
Pressure (unit = bar): 528

Shot load: 368 grains
Pellet (count per oz): 363
UK Shot (size/CV): <7 / 33%
Pellets in 30in dia (Av): 178
Pellets in 20-30in: 75
Pattern: 58%
CD: 58%
Velocity: 386 m/s (1,266 fps)
Recoil (M) (unit= Ns): 9.3
Pressure (unit = bar): 570

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 is a brand many club shooters might be unfamiliar with. However, it’s well known among the world’s elite clay shooters, because Clever has concentrated on producing absolute top grade cartridges ever since the Chiampan brothers started making their own competition cartridges in 1952.

Now, 50 years later, Clever has an unmatched record of world and Olympic success. The name is often mispronounced by us Brits who see it as an English word meaning intelligent, but the correct way to say it is “Clay-ver”.

Clever’s dedication to ultimate performance has meant they are known as a premium shell – but the more modestly priced T1 Mirage Clever deserves to become better known among clay shooters generally.

It includes a fibre wad option directed at the growing UK fibre wad market. I was fortunate to visit the Clever factory in the past, thanks to the previous importer, and I’ve seen the dedication of Clever employees, so I was pleased to have the opportunity to review these T1s.

Smart presentation

The bright, sturdy cardboard cartons of 25 are crisply printed in red, white and black with basic cartridge details on the top flap. The 24 gram shot weight is printed large (there’s a 28 gram option) and the (Italian) shot size 7½ (2.4mm). The fibre wad version has ‘FIBRE’ printed large while the plastic wad option doesn’t state ‘plastic’.

Clever built their reputation and impressive record of success by selecting the components they use in each cartridge type, for every discipline, from leading component makers. This gives them the widest choice of components.

T1 cartridges are loaded into 70mm long, red, parallel plastic tube Reifenhauser construction cases. The ribbing on the case suggests these are of Maxam origin, with the primers being the excellent Martignioni 688. 

The 10mm tall brass plated steel heads are typical of T1 type cartridges where, especially with Italian cartridge makers, case head height is an indicator of price and performance categories. Cases proved strong, as can be detected from the firm, crisp, way the six-point crimp closure folds remain evident after firing.

The fibre wad option has special appeal in the UK where their use is increasingly dictated. The main driving fibre wad is a quality product from Diana. Loaded in conjunction with a 4mm thick over powder ‘nitro’ card, the 70mm case allows a 20mm long wad to be used and ensuring a more efficient gas seal in gun bores than shorter wads might, especially in long forcing cone guns.

The plastic wad is Clever’s Flexi Max patented design. This has an efficient gas seal base with a honeycomb form centre section to absorb set-back forces and soften recoil. A key feature is the shot cup; this is made as a full cup with no moulded in ‘slits’ to form petals.

Clever prefer to cut the slits into the shot cups on loading each wad into the case. Although more time consuming, hence more expensive, this ensures the shot cups open up evenly upon exiting the muzzle and wad remains intact with each fired wad behaving identically. It’s this sort of attention to detail that has helped Clever achieve their enviable record of success.

Propellant powders

The propellant in the plastic wad cartridge is Maxam CSB5, which is a light greenish grey, single based, disc cut powder with a very economical average charge weight of just 17.8 grains. The fibre wad type uses a square cut powder with a charge weight averaging 20.6 grains. Both types left minimal barrel residues with a light, fine, easily removed ‘dust’ in the bore.

Both propellants produced moderately quick velocities; ideal for cartridges which, as cartons state, are promoted for their low recoil. Shot loads proved excellent quality; well graded for size and roundness and polished with graphite to a glossy black finish.

As with all lower priced cartridges the lead mix contains less antimony than in the premium range, as the higher crush percentages CV results show. These indicate at least 2% antimony and Clever claim to use 2.5% antimony shot in the T1 Mirage, so that sounds about right and it’s more than some budget loads.

Both T1 samples are marked 7.5 shot size. Being Italian, this equates to closer to UK No.7. Conducting my usual shot count across several loads showed sizes were a little different.

The plastic wad shot count averaged 330 per ounce, fractionally larger than UK No.7 (340 per ounce). The fibre wad shot load averaged 363 pellets per ounce, slightly smaller than UK No.7.

Fibre wads tend to pattern slightly more open than plastic wads so slightly smaller shot makes sense, giving the opportunity to get more pellets into the pattern. I’d generally choose Italian No.8 (UK 7.5) or even UK No.8 for most of my 24 gram cartridge use, reserving 7.5 for the longer shots with more choke. T1 are made in 7.5, 8 and 9.5 (Italian) shot sizes.

PLASTIC WAD: 24g plastic wad pattern at 40 yards with Imp Mod choke
FIBRE WAD: 24g fibre wad pattern at 40 yards with Imp Mod choke

Performance

Both these cartridges were submitted to the Birmingham CIP Proof Laboratory for pressure, velocity and momentum testing. Pattern tests were conducted at 40 yards from a 30in long, standard bore size barrel with 2¾in (70mm) chamber with standard length (short) forcing cone and bored Imp Mod (UK ¾) choke.

It’s intriguing to note that Clever, who as their record shows, know all about the requirements for a high performance cartridge, have kept velocity for both T1 types down a modest amount from their faster premium competition loads. This makes sense. These are intended to be a low recoil load for training and for the less demanding disciplines and target types. 

A 400 mps 28 gram load typically results in a momentum result (indicating recoil) of around 11.1 Ns – whereas the fibre T1 load gave just 9.3 Ns, indicating around 16% less recoil.

The plastic wad T1 was even smoother with 20% less! These may not sound like massive reductions, but are very significant in producing smooth shooting characteristics. As is usually the case, consistency was better with the plastic wad load than the fibre wad, which is shown in the SD figures.

Moderate velocities also help with pattern quality, especially in lower antimony shot cartridges. Softer shot propelled very fast tends to open patterns more quickly. Pattern results at 40 yards, using the same Imp Mod test barrel, showed that the plastic wad T1 exceeded the nominal Imp Mod (¾) pellet count in the 30in circle by an average of 3% to record 68% density.

The 5% faster fibre wad load put an average of 58% of its shot load in the 30in circle at 40 yards. This equates to just 2% under ½ choke from the same barrel. These results might assist those who sometimes ponder the differences between plastic wad loads – you need to remember that it’s not all about the wads!

Breaking clays

As I often remark, it is pellets that break clays, not percentages. The slightly smaller pellets in the fibre wad load helped ensure that, despite the lower percentage, there were only on average five pellets less in the inner 20in pattern circle than the plastic wad load. The outer 20-30in segment was an average 10 pellets down for an overall 15 fewer pellets in the 30in patterns.

The important thing is, how did they perform on the clays? I would say surprisingly well – except it wasn’t really a surprise! Many shooters will have tried lighter shot loads at some time, even down to 21 grams, and been pleasantly surprised at how well they break clays.

Before I had pattern tested them, I used the fibre T1 load on a variety of Sporting clay targets and achieved pleasing results, even when testing a gun I wasn’t familiar with. I put in a ¾ choke for a particularly long crosser and broke most of them. That told me these shells were fine for the large majority of club and standard targets. 

I used the plastic wad version for DTL where they broke first and second barrel shots well, even with ¼ and ½ chokes. I also tried these at another Sporting shoot with no fibre ban. They tackled surprising long targets and gave good breaks on closer ones using more open chokes.

I’m sure the T1 loads will meet the requirements of plenty of Sporting and Trap shooters. For the demanding targets, carry a box of premium types – I used Clever Grand Italia.

All in all I found the Clever T1 very smooth to shoot with good pattern potential, for less money than Clever’s premium cartridges. It could well prove a very happy introduction to this world class cartridge brand for many clay shooters. Try some and let us now how you got on.

The slits are cut into the cup at loading, ensuring they open evenly on firing

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