Why one major cartridge brand can't be "better" than another

cartridge boxes on a bar in the pub

Just like drinks, the choice of ammo is wide and varied; and so are the opinnions on what's best. Special thanks to landlord Lee Whittingham, The Crown, Hyde Lea, Stafford for his help with these pictures - Credit: Drennan Kenderdine

Using the anology of drink preferences down the pub, Drennan Kendardine explains why one cartridge brand can’t be “better” than another...

fiocchi cartridge going into gun

What works for one person won't necessarily work for you; find what does and stick to your guns! - Credit: Cervus UK

Shooting grounds sometimes remind me of the Great British pub, and the quirky characters and behaviours we observe there. We have (probably) all been in a pub at some point, and met or overheard the brainiac, the solicitor, the philosopher, the fighter, the loud one, the non-payer, the two pints all-nighter, the power drinker and the moaner, waxing lyrical over something or other. Very often, you’ll see and hear the same characters on shooting grounds, waxing lyrical about their preferred cartridges. 

Staying on the pub theme, we all have our favourite drink, whether it be real ale, keg beer, terrace fighting lager, sophisticated lager, gin, funny gin, really silly gin, fake whiskey (American), single Malt whiskey, battery acid wine, fine wine, stuff with bubbles in it... the list goes on. In my analogy, the cartridges are the drinks, and the way in which people choose them is often based on virtually the same pretexts – by that I mean we are driven by our desires, our likes, wants, wallets, and even sometimes by myths. 

Take the classic Carling Black Label lager, which represents an entry-level club cartridge in comparison. This lager is one of the UK’s bestselling drinks, yet it’s undeniably wishy-washy when you compare it to Stella – the competition grade ammo of the lager world with a reputation for being a bit of a smasher. So, why are certain drinks more favoured than others, just like cartridges are? Price plays a major key in influencing most people’s purchase decision, before quality even registers in the brain – Carling Black Label sales prove this. 

Marketing also plays a big part in persuading us to part with our cash, and considering that Carling BL was actually designed as a lady’s drink back in the ‘70s to encourage more women into pubs, it has changed direction extremely successfully and now entices the British public to consume a katrillion gallons of the stuff daily. Marketing will, whether consciously or sub-consciously, play a large part in your cartridge choice too. But most of all, our choice of drink and cartridge will come down to personal preference – what we like and what works for us. 

george digweed shooting

Try telling this man that Gamebore White Gold are "fertilizer"! - Credit: Archant

Chimp mode!
The biggest similarity between the Great British pub and the shooting world, or rather between cartridges and drinks, is the way in which we all seem to believe that OUR choice is the best choice. And that is the point of my article this month...  

I’ve been on shooting grounds, and in pubs for that matter, where people have told me that they think Gamebore White Gold are actual fertilizer (aka s**t), and they’d rather shoot the club ammo. This makes me chuckle no end. How on earth, in all that is holy, can you say they are dross? Haven’t you heard of a chap called George Digweed? You know, the guy who shoots Gamebore White Gold and has won a staggering 26 World Championships, 19 European Championships, 116 International Championships, 16 World Cups, 10 European Cups and 11 English and British Championships? (And I’m sure he will straighten me out and inform me he’s actually got more than that.)

So, no, it’s not the cartridges that are fertiliser; it’s simply that they don’t like them, and when it comes to explaining why, they revert to what is referred to in psychology as ‘chimp mode’ – the chimp part of the brain is quick to respond to stimuli by going immediately into fight, flight or freeze mode, with little conscious, rational thought.  In contrast, the emotionally intelligent way to explain their preference would be this: “They are not my cup of tea, but they’ve certainly earned their place in the world as a great cartridge.”  

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The same goes for all cartridges and those who like or dislike them. Take Express, for example. Some people loathe them and think they are the worst cartridges on the planet, even proclaiming they won’t win anything; but, once again, all you need to do is mention a chap called Richard Faulds – the Lyalvale shooter with more medals than a North Korean general and an Olympic gold to boot – and that myth is quickly dispelled. As for not winning anything, their World Cup and Express range literally dominates UK Helice, notching up more wins than all the other manufacturers in this area; I even used their World Cup shell to win the Coronation Cup of Great Britain.  

Sticking with our pub theme, you hear the same sentiments when drink comparisons are made – people refer to Bombay Saphire as nothing more than brake cleaner, which is an outrageous statement, and proves unequivocally that our opinions differ (and that some opinions are just short of being in the funny farm). You may think Bombay is little more than brake cleaner, but there’s a lot of evidence to suggest otherwise, so it’s more likely that you just don’t like it very much.

It is no secret in the shooting world that I prefer Lyalvale Express cartridges. Particularly their Excel 24g, World Cup and Supreme loads for Clay Shooting. But that doesn’t mean other cartridges from different manufacturers are classed as rubbish by me. I recently shot Gamebores Black Gold – they killed everything very convincingly, and the recoil was very smooth and rounded to provide comfort and quick barrel alignment. I’m also a fan of Eley’s VIP 24g, a cartridge that is just brilliant. Would I shoot them? Yes, without hesitation; however, they are not necessarily my preferred load. 

Richard Faulds in 2000 when he won Olympic Gold

Richard Faulds in 2000 when he won Olympic Gold; now, logically, are Lyalvale REALLY bad? - Credit: Wolfgang Schreiber

It all comes down to taste
The point is this: just like the Great British pub, the shooting community is full of different characters, some more colourful than others, and all with very different tastes and preferences. Just like some will proclaim one lager to be king and one to be ditch water, the same will be said about everything from cartridges to guns.

The important words here are ‘tastes’ and ‘preferences’ – there is no right or wrong answer when we’re talking personal preference. What works beautifully in one gun in the hands of one shooter may not work quite as well in yours. That doesn’t mean it’s not a good cartridge; that just means it’s not right for you. Sure, in some circumstances their vastly more expensive choice might ‘taste’ better than yours, but that’s not much help if you can’t afford to drink it when you want to (or rather, shoot it when you want to... come on, stay with me!). 

In conclusion, the next time you hear someone telling you with absolute certainty that the shells you’re shooting are no good and you “need” to try this, that or the other in order to shoot better, just remember that it’s the equivalent of someone telling you to put down your nice cold, crisp gin and tonic and tuck into their tepid red wine, because your drink of choice sucks and theirs is amazing. In that situation, you’d probably tell them where to go and quite rightly continue to enjoy that gin. 

So, if your cartridges are working for you, stick to your guns (excuse the pun), because everyone is different. What works for you or them won’t work for everyone. The same can be said for the proclaimers of “this brand is terrible whereas this brand is ace”. Every major brand has big wins on their records, just like all major beer brands have decent sales (the phrase ‘major brand’ being the giveaway)... proof if ever it was needed that they will all work for someone. 

woman catching pink cartridges ejecting from a gun

Every major brand has a list of wins at the highest level, proving that they all work for someone - Credit: Sellior & Bellot