Richard Atkins puts some Eley Hawk cartridges on the pattern plate at extended range to see if clays really can be broken beyond 60 yards…
Many readers will be aware of the amazing feats achieved by George Digweed. Not only has he won more major international competitions than any other shooter, but some will be aware of George’s exploits breaking clay targets at seemingly impossible ranges. George set the world record for breaking a clay at a staggering 130 yards at Bisley back in 2011.
For those of us too often defeated by clays at well under half that range it all seems rather surprising, and as someone who has pattern tested countless cartridges over the past 40 years, such a feat appears technically impossible. But, as conventional aerodynamics would apparently tell us that the bumble bee should not be able to fly, George has turned the distance at which a clay will break on its head. We will never be faced with 130-yard targets at any conventional clay range but might sometimes encounter something around the 50 and perhaps even 60-yard mark. If that distant target is a midi then the effect is similar to a standard size target at greater range.
When tackling targets at extreme range it’s essential to be aware of several aspects – but two of the most important will be pattern density and pellet energy.
There are the usual problems associated with shooting any target, such as judging distance and target speed to get the lead correct. Shot begins to drop as range increases, and this will definitely be the case at 130 yards, but for the longest ranges we might realistically face, the drop remains fairly small – especially relative to the larger spread of the pattern, so allowing a slightly lower line should suffice.
Huw, the editor of Clay Shooting magazine, was clearly feeling in the festive spirit, or suffering from sampling it [isn’t that what Christmas is all about? – Ed] when he called me to see if I could undertake some pattern tests to see what happens at extended range. These pattern tests were to be conducted using some new cartridges from Eley Hawk, the VIP Sporting 28-gram, 7.5 fibre-wad load. They contain a Diana fibre wad, the first time I have seen Eley Hawk use fibre wads other than its Kleena models in 12-gauge competition loads.
The test distances were to be 30, 50 and 70 yards. If selecting a cartridge specifically for long range clays then you would probably choose a plastic-wad Trap load, but this was more to examine how a quality fibre wad load behaves as range increases (and many Sporting grounds insist on not using plastic wads). That is why Eley Hawk and other makers have introduced more fibre wad loads into their cartridge ranges.
Huw also requested that I use a Full choke barrel for these tests to optimise the patterns for distance. It was decided I use the 30in Full-choke bored top barrel of my Browning Citori Trap gun as this has a standard size barrel bore and so is well suited to fibre wad loads (fibre wads not having the same capacity to expand as plastic wads do, to create a gas seal).
I had to measure out the 70-yard firing point mark because my regular pattern test facility was currently only marked for 20, 30, 40 and 50 yards. My architect’s tape measure made it a simple task to set another peg at 70 yards. However, looking back to my two pattern plates was just how far away they looked. A clay at that range looks decidedly small, and a midi looks minute.
I would also not be able to centre my patterns reliably at this distance shooting free-standing. Pattern testing is trickier than it appears anyway, because after a while you begin anticipating the recoil and flinch and the pattern will not be centred on the plate and may miss it. I, therefore, fitted a foam protector to the top loop of a short decorating stepladder to rest the gun’s forend on. This proved ideal for height and stability and seemed to help tame recoil – shots taken deliberately can feel much more noticeable when compared with the more natural, fluid approach used for shooting clays.
A trial pattern from 70 yards also revealed that I could only shoot on one plate at a time at this distance despite having two stood next to each other. This was because some pellets strayed so far from the centre of the pattern that they were striking almost two feet onto the other plate, which would give misleading results. I would just have to walk the 140-yard round trip for each 70 yard test.
The 30-yard test patterns averaged 87 per cent of the shot within the 30in circle, with an average of 260 pellets within the inner 20in circle. That’s a slightly lower percentage of pellets in the 30in circle than standard test charts suggest for Full choke, but – as the pattern photo clearly shows – it is a massively over-populated pattern, which shows why Full choke is not your friend at 30 yards.
Any target within 30 yards would be clearly pulverised to black dust, but might also prompt the thought that a more open choke could gain several inches of leeway that could come in handy at times. Yes, puffs of dust look impressive, but 100 good kills scores more than 99 black puffs and a miss.
By anyone’s standard, a 50-yard clay is a long target. But if it’s edge-on it’s going to be even trickier to connect with and, due to the extra thickness of the fast spinning outer rim, even harder to break when struck. The pellet count is now much depleted from that at 30 yards but still puts an average of 145 pellets in the 30in circle and 75 within the inner 20in circle. The pellets were also well distributed across the patterns, which definitely helps make better use of the pellets within the pattern. Full face-on targets such as rising teal, loopers and chandelle presentations should still fall within the scope of this cartridge.
It is interesting to note that the Central Density figure for the 50-yard patterns averaged 52 per cent, illustrating that the spread was much less centrally concentrated than at 30 yards. This clearly shows the migration path of the pellets as range increases. This results from the combined effects of air resistance and any distortion from the pellets’ original round form – caused by initial acceleration set-back pressure upon firing – plus any abrasion from contact with the barrel walls.
Even a perfect sphere will disperse in this way, but more slowly. This can be seen by the way steel shot – which is much harder than lead – is able to pattern much more tightly than any lead cartridge.
Clearly this is a real test for any cartridge let alone a fairly brisk fibre-wad load. However, it is useful to pattern at this range as a visual and quantifiable means of seeing what happens as range increases. The rate pellets are directed away from following a straight line becomes increasingly evident as range increases – in the space of 40 yards, the 87 per cent pattern from the 30-yard marker has dropped to just 13.5 per cent at 70.
Compared even with the 50-yard pattern, which still held sufficient density to give a reasonable chance of reliable hits, the 70-yard patterns proved much too open to offer much prospect of reliable hits.
There is, of course, the question of the clays actually breaking when hit. Smaller pellets lose their velocity – and therefore their retained energy – faster than larger ones, and so more strikes are likely to be needed to ensure the clays break, otherwise you will merely get that annoying tinkling sound (rather like pellets dropped into a crystal glass) that denotes the clay is hit, and it may even be pushed off course but not be broken. You will find in the CPSA Technical Rule book that this is referred to as a “Dusted” clay – struck, but no visible part has fallen away and is scored lost.
If you are thinking of tackling George Digweed’s amazing long range clay breaking feats, you will need to select a cartridge with considerable care. Larger shot size and plastic wads will be essential.
You might look at these results and wonder if these cartridges perform well, and yes, they do. The actual shot size proved slightly smaller than 7.5 with a count of 425 pellet per ounce (an average of 418 in each load). Smaller shot deforms slightly more than larger shot, and this and the fibre wad will play a part in the rate of dispersion. What I can happily report is that I used the couple of spare boxes at a local Christmas Sporting shoot. My score of 49ex-50 gave me the nice bottle of whisky up for High Gun, so yes, they certainly do work – they smoked the targets. Cheers!