Drennan Kenderdine tests the Lyalvale Express Ultimate Steel cartridge, which comes with Express's new biodegradable Earth Wad...

There’s never a day that goes by without a discussion on steel shot and the headaches it causes in certain areas, especially in game shooting. I’ve shot enough steel-loaded cartridges to know the killing capabilities of the stuff, be it for game or clays. But lethality is just one of the headaches steel shot has bought to the manufacturers – whichever way you cut the mustard when it comes to steel, the problem is in the very material and the potential havoc it can and does cause to guns.

Suppose steel sits in an oversized plastic cup wad; in that case, the potential damage to the barrel is as low in percentages as a maths professor can calculate. However, the goal is to move away from environmentally damaging plastic wads. 

There have been many attempts to resolve the issue by putting steel shot in biodegradable wads, and these have caused an even bigger headache than anyone could have imagined; there have been problems with steel fusing together, and wads breaking down while in the case. I could write a list of things that are still happening in the trade with eco wads, and it would not make pretty reading. So be warned, especially if you’ve got steel shot with eco wads and have had them stored for a while.  

credit: Archant

The Earth Wad 
Express is one manufacturer who hasn’t exactly been dominating the market with an alternative biodegradable wad for shooting steel. They’ve been more than quiet on this subject and have kept themselves to themselves. However, that’s not to say they’ve just sat back with their feet up and watched the rest of the manufacturers churn out alternatives to solve the dilemma of producing an all-in-one shell that will be kind to the environment and also protect guns from having their barrels scored. 

Lyalvale Express has taken a different approach with its Ultimate Power range. They have eliminated these problems with their environmentally-friendly wad, aptly named the Earth Wad, which is new and novel, looks nothing like anything else on the market and doesn’t behave like any other wad on the market. The Alchemist of Express, who’s scientific knowledge of elements and materials is worthy of a Nobel Prize, has dropped the mic and, to use an overused phrase, has produced a game changer. 

The Earth Wad used in the Ultimate Power range is EN 13432 certified, which is all well and good for saving polar bears, but will it protect my prized family heirloom? Fear not – as I mentioned above, Express have been quiet on this subject. Still, when you compare the wads from Express to others on the market, you will see that Express has resolved not only the environmental issue but also the possibility of shot scoring barrels. The Earth Wad’s petals/leaves are not constructed like other wads; the petals are not moulded, they’re cut – by a blade as sharp as a surgeon’s knife. By doing this, there are no visible gaps in the wad. Express has eliminated the potential of shot getting in between the leaves, which is what causes the protection the wad offers the barrels to be compromised. With the Earth Wad, the potential of the shot comprising the wad and running directly on the barrel, causing scoring marks and damage, has been eliminated. 

credit: Archant

Can I shoot Ultimate Steel in my gun? 
Ultimate Power currently comes in two strengths, or levels of performance if you prefer: Standard Steel (SS) and HP (High Performance) in different coloured boxes. SS is in the familiar gold and black box from the Ultimate Power range, with ULTIMATE STEEL displayed on the front. HP is in a black and silver-grey box, clearly showing the words HIGH PERFORMANCE on it. Both cartridges share the silver-grey plastic case and shiny silver 16mm ferrell. Their appearance shouts: I’m all about steel!  

The cartridges are, however, of different lengths, and both have different crimping styles. Ultimate Power at the moment comes in two strengths, or two performances if you prefer. Standard Steel comes in 2½" cases, so those with guns chambered 2½" and above can use these. Express has achieved this by using a roll turnover as opposed to a star crimp.  

High-Performance Steel comes in 3" cases and is only suitable for guns chambered 3" or above. This cartridge uses a star crimp system.  

So, which one can I use in my gun? Standard Steel cartridges can be fired in any gun tested to the standard level (i.e., most ‘nitro’ weapons that have been tested to at least 930 bar), and can be used with any choke up to Half choke being the recommendation from the proof house. High Performance Steel cartridges should always be labelled as such on the package, and they should only be used in firearms that have passed steel shot testing. These firearms must be proofed to at least 1320 bar, be marked ‘steel shot’, and carry a fleur de lys proof mark. Most high-performance steel can be fired through any choke, but for shot sizes BB (4.1mm) and bigger, it is not suggested to use a choke larger than a Half.  

credit: Archant

How do they shoot? 
Having established that both the planet and our guns are safe, what do they shoot like? The SS 2½" version is loaded with 30g of No.5 shot, and comes in just one pellet size. I tried these through my very old English Midland’s Gun Co. side-by-side, and in a Caesar Guerini Invictus High Pheasant V.  

The HP 3" version is loaded with 32g of No.4 shot, again coming in one shot size. I ran these through the same Caesar Guerini, and a new Browning Maxus 2 semi-auto courtesy of the team from Browning UK.  
It is impossible to try either cartridge on their intended quarry with the season not yet started. With that said, there’s always an alternative, and that alternative in this case is usually a much more challenging quarry! I’ve always maintained that if a cartridge can kill woodpigeons and crows, it’s going to mop up what any gamekeeper can send over you on a game shoot, and both SS and HP did that.  

Ultimate SS are a gentler cartridge than the HP, which makes sense. The SS are smooth with little delay in impacting the quarry, and took out some relatively long-distance crows, as well as pummelling the decoyed pigeons.  

The HP shells have both the bite and venom of a rattlesnake when it comes to lethality, and achieved perfect cycling in the Browning Maxus 2. There’s some noticeable difference in recoil (as expected) using the Invictus compared to the standard steel. I also used the HP on Canada geese, and they flattened those like a force 5 hurricane taking out a garden shed. 

So, whether you’re shooting early season partridges or Devon’s highest pheasant, as long as you are using the appropriate cartridge for your gun, the Lyalvale Express Ultimate Power Steel with that revolutionary Earth Wad could be your one stop for all quarry this season.

Ultimate Power Standard Steel: 2 ½” case, 30g No.5. 
RRP: £429 per 1,000 

Ultimate Power High Performance Steel: 3” case, 32g No.4 
RRP: £509.00 Per 1,000