Target load review w/ Richard Atkins

Richard Atkins reviews 28 gram Target Loads in plastic and fibre wad from Spanish maker Rio

The Rio cartridge brand has a long history, having been founded in 1896. Now a part of the large and successful Maxam Outdoors company, the sporting arm of the Maxam explosives company, Rio joins other well-known brands including Saga, GB, Melior and of course the UK’s own Eley Hawk. Global sales of Maxam Outdoors cartridges currently exceed 500 million rounds annually.

Rio cartridges have had a UK presence for many years and have garnered a fan base. Their UK importer and distributor, CCI International (of CCI clays fame), intends to broaden Rio’s market reach and user base.

The Rio range includes medium and top end cartridges for serious competition use, but in the UK is perhaps best known for its budget Target Load cartridges.

Here we are evaluating the top-selling Rio 28 gram Target Load, also available in 24 and 21 gram shot weights. We’ll be comparing the plastic and fibre wad options. 

The cartridges are smartly presented in bright blue, cardboard cartons of 25 that look anything but budget. These are sturdy and won’t burst open if dropped. Shot weight and size, plus case length and velocity are clearly printed on each carton.

Both plastic and fibre wad cartridges are loaded into bright blue, lightly ribbed 70mm Maxam cases with 12mm brass-plated steel heads. They are primed with Maxam primers that have paper covering their flash holes. The loaded cases are closed with neat, tight, well turned over, six-point star crimp closures.

Load and case details are clearly printed in bright silver on each case, but while the fibre wad cases are clearly marked ‘fibre’, the plastic wad option isn’t marked ‘plastic’.

This may be because on the continent fibre wads are little used, so fibre wad cartridges are often developed just for the UK. The continental market will accept cartons or cases without an indication of wad type; plastic wads are assumed to be the default.

With more and more UK clay venues requiring fibre wad loads, virtually all continental cartridge brands selling into the UK have introduced fibre wad options. On the Rio website, while full details of cartridge specifications and some components are provided, for many of their cartridges, there are no details for the fibre wad target options.

When the parent company is huge with outlets in 80 plus countries and has the capability to manufacture every component required, including lead, plastic wads, powder and primers, then it is no surprise that the vast majority of components will be produced within the Maxam empire.

The wad in the plastic wad Target Load is the highly regarded Maxam A type wad with multi-layer tubular honeycomb centre section. This has pre-formed leaves to the shot cup joined with fine tabs.

It is the same wad that Eley chose when developing their top of the range Titanium competition cartridges, so although this is a budget cartridge, it has a wad that’s used in top end loads too!

The fibre wad option appears to be by Diana, being a one-piece, 18mm long fibre wad with black laminate coating at each end; this is loaded in conjunction with a 4mm thick over-powder card wad. It makes sense to use a proprietary fibre wad when manufacturing them is not the easiest thing to do, especially maintaining size and material consistency.

The powder used is Maxam CSB5. This is a single-base, disc-flake nitrocellulose propellant. It is designed for use with 28 gram shot loads in 12 gauge shotguns and it is known to perform well in this context, burning consistently and cleanly with minimal residues.

CSB5 is also economical to use, with a charge weight of just 22.2 grains providing the energy in the plastic wad load. The powder used in the fibre wad load appears to be the same, but the charge was rather heavier at 27 grains.

Fibre wads are less efficient than plastic wads and require more propellant. This is just one reason why fibre wad cartridges cost more than similar plastic wad options.

Shot loads

Spanish shot sizes are close to UK designations, so there is no need to allow for larger shot pellets as you would with Italian shot. This was borne out by the pellet counts, which showed the shot in the plastic wad Target Load spot on UK 8 shot with 442 pellets to the ounce.

The shot in the Fibre wad version was a fraction smaller, with a count of 465 per ounce. Both shot samples were moderately hard, with crush tests indicating an antimony content of 2 per cent or more, which is good for a budget cartridge. 

The plastic wad shot pellets were reasonably graded for size – the majority falling within 0.002” of 0.086” in diameter – and were well polished with graphite for a smooth, black surface. The shot in the fibre wad load was similarly hard but with slightly smaller average size and slightly wider size variation.

Laboratory tests

The Rio Target Load cartridges were submitted to the Birmingham CIP Proof Laboratory for pressure, velocity and momentum testing as per our usual procedure.

Pattern tests were conducted at 40 yards from a 30” long, standard bore size barrel with 2¾” (70mm) chamber with standard length (short) forcing cone and bored Imp Mod choke (UK ¾) choke.

The ballistic laboratory results show the Rio Target Loads performed well; the plastic wad load especially. The velocity of 374 m/s does the job without making the cartridge uncomfortable to shoot. Plenty of competition loads have settled around this figure for the same reasons.

Unusually, the fibre wad option actually gave a notably higher velocity result. Without the forgiving collapsible centre section of a plastic wad, some find fibre wad loads give slightly more firm recoil characteristics and, shooting one type then the other, you may well detect this. But then there is more actual recoil energy because the fibre load is a brisk load!

Some makers choose to have their fibre wad loads a shade slower than their plastic wad equivalents, but Rio have taken a different approach here. Neither load is uncomfortable, especially in a full-weight clay target shotgun, but you can tell the difference.

Fibre wads tend to yield more open patterns at higher velocities, and this was the case when firing the Target Loads through the test barrel. The fibre wad load was shown to be around one choke degree more open than the plastic wad, giving just under Half Choke results, while the plastic wad averaged within 1 per cent of ¾ Choke pattern density.

This is an excellent result that shows how far budget loads have come in recent years.

Shot-to-shot consistency was superb with the plastic wad Target Load, both in terms of velocity and patterning. As is often the case, the fibre wad version produced greater variations on both counts.

The most important feature of the loads is of course their target breaking ability. I tried them both against a variety of Sporting and Trap targets. The plastic wad version shot very well indeed and coped well with all targets out to medium range and bit beyond.

Even though the Rio website states: “Shooters will notice that when using these products the clay target will smash into bigger pieces,” in practice this was barely perceptible. The majority of Sporting targets and first barrel Trap clays were well munched.

The slightly smaller shot size in the fibre version also gave very positive kills on closer and middle-distance clays with an appropriate degree of choke. They proved very capable on high tower birds where the full profile of the clay was exposed.

As I have often mentioned, you do not need to buy top of the range cartridges designed to smash 45-yard, edge-on clays to tackle the majority of targets found on Sporting layouts.

Budget cartridges such as these Rio Target Loads will tackle many of them rather better than you might anticipate and, combined with sensible choke selection, might even put a few more kills on your card!

Overall, this pair of cartridges earn the sometimes over-used ‘perform above their price bracket’ summary. Why not look out for a Rio dealer and try some for yourself! 

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