First Outing, First Impressions

I had a very enjoyable walk along some fine hedgerows under the big Cambridgeshire skies this afternoon and was treated to a very attractive sunset at the end of it. As planned, I had with me the new Yildiz .410 and I can report that, overall, I’m very pleased with it, after its first proper outing.

There is some work to do to get it to where I want it to be, however.

First Impressions

The positives first. The gun is lightweight and very comfortable to carry. I probably covered 3-4 miles today and at no point did I feel that I was lugging around a heavy piece of steel. That said, I’m not sure there would be anywhere to go, so to speak, if a .410 gave that experience. It points very nicely and has a noticeable upward bias – I’d guess somewhere around 65/35 or perhaps even 70/30. That’s more than I’m used to with my other guns, but it didn’t prove too much of a handicap as the two wood pigeons I bagged proved.

After time in the field, I found I was slightly disappointed with the bluing in the chamber area. I found when I was cleaning the gun that it seemed thin and dull where it had been rubbing against my jacket and there were some “trails” on one side where it had rubbed against one of the buttons of my coat. I think this was a deposit from the button onto the blue, rather than a scratch in the bluing, as a good rub with some gun oil removed it, but I have not noticed this with my 28 gauge – also a Yildiz – which after 2-3 years of reasonably regular use still retains a glossy, dark finish. Perhaps they are not spending as long on the bluing process as they have in the past?

The area where I feel there is most work to be done is in the cartridge department. When I owned a .410 previously, I remember being somewhat less than impressed with the performance of the Eley “Extralong” cartridges and the same was true today.

Performance in the Field

One of my motivations for buying another small gauge gun was to tackle, head on, a bad habit I’d got into of taking, regularly, 60-yard shots at passing birds. The usual result of such shooting is about four wasted cartridges followed by one “spectacular” (and repeat), which isn’t why I got into shooting. It’s shooting by what I’d call “informed luck” rather than by skill and I need to stop doing it.

The habit developed partly out of a long “drought” last spring where there were basically no birds on any of my permissions and partly out of owning and shooting a 16-gauge gun so tightly choked that minimum usable range is about 30 yards and maximum is somewhere beyond 70. I pride myself on being an ethical hunter and although I’m sure many readers will be familiar with the desire to take the occasional “pot shot” when it’s been five outings since you’ve seen a bird that was closer than 100 yards, it isn’t really sporting. To be fair, when I use that gun, it’s normally clean miss or clean kill, depending on whether I’m pointing it in the right direction, but still.

A .410 is not a gun you can push to the limits of shotgun shooting. It will not let you take outrageous shots – one will never successfully down a 60-yard bird when there are so few pellets of such a small size in the cartridge to start with. The gun limits the shooter, rather than, in the case of the 16-gauge described above, the skill of the shooter limiting the capability of the gun. It is this discipline that I want to force upon myself using the Yildiz and I have probably had my first hard lesson in that respect today.

It was very noticeable today that the gun “ran out of steam” after about 30 yards. Several issues contribute to that situation, I think. For example, the first bird I shot was probably only 20-25 yards away, but it survived the shot long enough that about half of its descent was vaguely controlled, before it “flopped” and fell the rest of the way. We all get a wounded bird every now and again and that bird was dead before it hit the floor, but I do like to see them fold properly in the air – the sort of “and that’s that” effect that game shooters will recognize.

I wondered several times on my walk whether the slightly disappointing performance I was seeing might be that I was using #7 shot where I’ve used #6 and #5 in the past. I like #5 shot – even for pigeons – but recently, I’ve switched down from #6 to #7 in my 28 gauge to achieve a better pattern-energy balance and I’ve started with #7 in the .410 since it’s long been my belief that anything larger leads to an unbalanced cartridge in that bore size. All of a sudden, #7 seems to be the new “normal”!

Whilst enjoying the scenery, I found myself saying to myself things like “I’m used to big shot and ‘definitive’ results and now I’m using #7 I have to get used to things being slightly less immediate, occasionally.” I’ve had a few “slow kills” with the 28 gauge too recently, which plays on the mind, but I don’t believe #7 is insufficient for normal-range shooting – we’ve been using it for exactly that for hundreds of years, for goodness sake!

In all, I fired ten cartridges for two birds, which I thought wasn’t too bad for a first outing with an unfamiliar gun and a .410 at that. Some of the shots were out to about 40 yards; most were in the 20-30 yard range. Six of those cartridges were three sets of two shots at the same bird. Usually I hesitate to use the second barrel unless I’m sure I can correct my error and hit the bird (and then miss because I’ve hesitated), but today, I was just trying to get a feel for where it was pointing and how it swung, so I didn’t worry too much about missing a second time. If I’d have done the patterning before my walk, I probably would have left at least two of those “double” birds well alone and reported a vaguely respectable “two for six”, but stupidly, I didn’t…

Pattern Tests

When I got back to the car after my walk, I retrieved the four sheets of cardboard that I’d brought along – none of them quite big enough to be a pattern plate(!). I plan to do a full series of pattern tests in the near future – today I just wanted to get an indication of performance. The results of these informal tests seemed to entirely make sense with the shots I’d taken earlier in the afternoon.

The “plates” were 30″ x 23″, making them 7″ under-sized in one direction, or approximately 13% smaller than they should have been, once the appropriate circle had been drawn onto them. I set them up at 30 and 40 yards and shot four patterns with the Eleys. The cartridges contain, on average, 208 pellets. The 4-notch choke (0.010″ constriction) put 68 pellets onto the cardboard at 30 yards and a mere 29 pellets onto it at 40 yards. Neither of the patterns were even vaguely usable. The 3-notch choke performed better, putting 104 pellets into the circle at 30 yards and 62 into the circle at 40 yards.

This is very much not “Light Modified” / “Light Full” performance as I’d hoped for. If I adjust those numbers to account for the missing pattern area and convert to percentages, I obtain the following results: 4 notches @ 30 yards: 38%; 4 notches @ 40 yards: 16%; 3 notches @ 30 yards: 56.5%; 3 notches @ 40 yards: 37%.

Clearly, there are a number of reasons why these patterns might be so poor, the first of which is simply that shooting only one pattern through each barrel at each distance could have produced a statistical anomaly that makes performance look a lot less good than would be shown over a 10-shot average.

However, I have found with other .410s in the past, that the Eley 3″ cartridges just don’t seem to pattern particularly well at range. I can’t say exactly what the reason for this trend is, but I found the recoil to be rather sharp (much more noticeable than the equivalent load in a 28 gauge of the same weight) and the “wad” to be basically a nitro card by itself. When taken together with the melted case mouths, my gut feeling says this is an over-loaded cartridge with a tiny quantity of powder producing very high temperatures and pressures very fast to get the shot column moving. It suggests that a lot of that shot is getting squashed together or possibly welded, deforming and never reaching the pattern plate because it’s curling off out of the pattern as fliers.

Next Steps

The first thing is to adjust the basic configuration of the gun, not focus on secondary ballistic effects. I’ve tightened the chokes on the gun by one “notch” and I’ll repeat the pattern tests with the new “tight” barrel sometime soon – hopefully next week. The 3-notch choke is usable as an “open” barrel: 56.5% of 208 pellets at 30 yards is enough pattern to kill birds out to 25-30 yards and – interestingly – is pretty close in performance terms to what Yildiz themselves call the 3-notch choke: Modified. Provided I can get better performance out of the other barrel, I may yet end up with a 40-yard gun (i.e. ” for all reasonable ranges” but no further), which I’d consider a great success.

I’m still going to look for some of those Gamebore cartridges, as I suspect that a plastic wad and slightly lighter load will make a noticeable improvement in performance in a .410. I may also buy some of the other brand the local shop had, relatively useless as they no doubt are (11g/#6), just to get some percentages for “another cartridge” to see if the (already rather tight) chokes give broadly similar performance irrespective of cartridge, or whether, as I suspect, the Eleys with their fibre “non-wad” and roll turnover are a particular handicap.

What happens after that will depend largely on the results of those tests, but one thing’s for sure. The proverbial itch is being scratched and it’s very satisfying indeed – and just as interesting as I’d hoped.