Paper Cases & New Acquisitions

I acquired yesterday, for reasons entirely unrelated to this website and blog, a new shotgun in the form of a 12 gauge side-by-side Baikal IJ-58 choked half and extra full. It’s the same model as the 16 gauge I’ve mentioned on this blog previously and happily fits just the same – I should get on with it quite well if and when I take it for a walk.

The gun has very few interesting features, except perhaps for the proof marks which must have been struck late on a difficult Friday afternoon in Birmingham as they’re somewhat “approximate” given the gun’s actual measurements(!). I bought it with half a mind to pulling it apart, playing with it and possibly using it as a test gun for a re-bluing project I’ve had in mind for some time.

It wouldn’t have been appropriate to do any of that without test firing it, however, so I stopped off at one of the farms on the way home for a quick mooch around the tree line to see what I could see.

(This is all apparently made relevant to our website by the fact that the Yildiz .410 which should be the subject of this post, was apparently somewhere in the author’s car, slipped and secured whilst he was messing around with his new toy and therefore, somewhere vaguely in the vicinity of some shooting going on,if not directly employed for said shooting… Apparently. – Ed.)

Historical Insensitivity

A new 12 gauge gave me a convenient excuse to try out another piece of kit I’ve been curious about for a while but never got round to using: paper-cased cartridges. The “let’s be very traditional, possibly impersonate Edward VII and shoot a load inspired by 100+ years of shotgunning, just because we can” market doesn’t really cater for a large number of people and when one draws a Venn diagram showing that population overlapped with the population of regular 16 gauge users, such as myself, I suspect the final result might actually be, err, myself. So paper-cased cartridges aren’t really something I’ve ever had an excuse to try before.

Of course, I realise that putting Eley Grand Prix down a £40 Baikal is probably the metaphorical equivalent of drinking Kristal from a pint mug with a handle (or possibly a toilet) – disrespectful, vulgar and entirely wasted on anyone cheap enough to consider that the appropriate receptacle for the job.

On the other hand, I’m a practical person and here was a 12 gauge with a 70mm chamber and a piece of land on which it would be safe to fire it – and if I cared what anyone else thought about it, I wouldn’t be stupid enough to post it on the internet in the first place.

To cut a long story short, the only birds I saw at the farm were the ones that flew off as I opened the car door to get out. I walked around for a bit and saw nothing, but I was too curious about the new gun and the box of cartridges I’d bought for it, that I picked a safe direction to shoot in, dropped a Grand Prix (30g/#6) into one barrel and a comparison cartridge (a Gamebore Black Gold 36g/#4) into the other and fired them both.

I was surprised. The recoil of the Eley cartridge, which I was expecting to be smooth as silk, was actually quite sharp. Obviously I’ve mostly been shooting a .410 for the last few months, so it might be that I felt it more by contrast, but although the Black Gold shell kicked harder still, there wasn’t much in it. Of course, one always feels more recoil when firing in isolation (as opposed to at bird or clay) but I’ve fired commercial and home-loaded 16 gauge loads of heavier shot weight and equivalent velocity and they have not seemed to recoil nearly as much.

As I unloaded, I took the stern advice of my friend, to sniff the empty case, but unfortunately, I couldn’t detect any particular smell from the paper cartridge at all. Perhaps the design is old, but the components are modern!? I did however start to consider the effects which would be in play with a paper-cased load and how they related to my understanding of cartridges.

In Homage to the Editor

The paper forming the walls of the Grand Prix cartridge was really rather thick. Certainly thicker than the plastic used in shot shells of more modern design. As such, there’s likely to be that much less internal capacity into which to stuff powder, wad, card, shot. I also suspect that paper is less flexible under firing than a plastic case would be. All of these things will increase breech pressure and therefore possibly the shot column’s acceleration and the perceived recoil of firing. OK – those things can’t be causally related, but my gut feeling is that it’s possible – likely, even.

That in turn, set me thinking about the effect of paper cases on the small bores. (Eh? What? – Ed.) A 12 gauge case has a relatively large diameter, even accounting for a thick paper case, whereas a .410 cartridge would lose a significant percentage of its internal volume with the extra thickness of paper. This starts to explain why, in the original 2″ cartridges a shot charge of 5/16oz. was all that could be accommodated. When one considers the use of black powder, paper case, felt wad and probably an over-shot card as part of the rolled turnover, it’s amazing that they managed to get any lead in the cartridge at all.

(Finally! Relevance! – Ed.)

What this means then, is that whilst the development of plastic cases was significant for all shotgun gauges, it was particularly important for the smaller gauges, where – presumably – the only other way to increase load weights, pellet counts and performance would have been to employ expensive, brass-cased loads which eliminated the reduction in capacity associated with the thickness of paper.


Of course, the one remaining place where we still see the employment of brass cases in shotgunning on a regular basis is in the 8mm and 9mm Flobert cartridges. Here, I suspect, even the thickness of a modern plastic case would cause a substantial percentage reduction in case volume, which makes it particularly convenient that these bore sizes are for ammunition of rim-fire ignition and brass case rather than centre-fire and plastic parallel tube. Generally, the smaller the gauge, the higher the pressure, so it may be that a brass case contributes to containing the pressure of firing also.

Rather pleasingly, I have been offered, at a very affordable price, the opportunity to purchase a 9mm garden gun as soon as I’m able to pay for it, which is likely to be the end of the month.

Although I don’t think it’s a practical proposition as far as bird hunting goes, it will be an asset to this website and I will certainly look to do some pattern testing with it and write about my findings. I believe two brands of 9mm cartridges are currently commercially available (Fiocchi and RWS). I’ll also look to make some observations about what it could achieve and any useful purpose we might find for it.

Although we aren’t often in the business of shooting bullfinches or protecting olive groves in this country, the gauge must have some useful purpose, since it lingers on in this country after other more capable gauges (e.g. 14, 24, 32) have long since disappeared.

Either way, the quantity of good-quality information regarding the rimfire shotgun gauges is, in my own experience, rather small both on- and off-line, so the team at SBS will do our best to compile what we can on the subject and present it for public consumption.

An Afterthought

I have been discussing yesterday’s pattern testing results with a friend and one of the first questions he asked me during that discussion was whether I would have to go down the road of reloading .410 to tune a cartridge to my requirements. It’s certainly a tempting possibility, as I tend to find reloading enjoyable in it’s own right, strange as that may sound.

I went on to say that my thinking on what ought to make the best-performing .410 cartridge hasn’t deviated very far from where it started back before the Yildiz arrived: something like 16-18g of #7 shot propelled at moderate velocity by a full-length plastic wad.

Rather gratifyingly, most of the tests I’ve done so far have acted as confirmatory data points around that particular idea rather than contradicting it, so the question becomes not what to choose, but whether or not there is a commercially-available cartridge that fits that specification. Most of those I’ve tested so far have one component wrong – perhaps the velocity is too high, or the shot size too large, or a rolled turnover and card have been used instead of a crimp, etc.

On the basis of the data and experience in the field, the Eley Trap load is the best choice so far, but I’ve wounded several birds at longer range with it and I’d prefer not to have to rely on #7½ to get sufficient pattern density unless I have to.

The subsonic tests yesterday did clearly show the advantage of dropping the muzzle velocity. 74% pattern density at 30 yards is – percentage-wise – way above anything else I’ve seen previously and especially impressive given that the cartridge is loaded with a fibre wad. That the performance was better at 40 yards too is equally pleasing. However, the price one pays for that performance is a substantially lower per-pellet kinetic energy (remember that the relationship between velocity and energy is quadratic, not linear). Let’s say a cartridge loaded with #7 gave similar performance (and I doubt it would, for various reasons): you’d get the pellet count required for 40 yards, but probably not the impact energy because you’re starting off 300-400fps slower than a normal supersonic load. Subsonic #6 are, on that measurement, a much safer bet, I’d think.

So reloading may come into it. If I could get hold of some very hard shot (5%+ Sb), in size #6½ with little variation between individual pellets, and put 17-18g of it atop a plastic wad and a slow powder giving 1050-1080fps at the muzzle with smooth acceleration, I might just have the perfect .410 load. But that’s really not so far from some of what’s already available, and whether the difference between that and the next best cartridge would actually be quantifiable… well, I’m sceptical.

On one level, it’s just easier to stick an ounce-and-a-quarter down a 12 gauge and forget about all these minutiae!

Ultimately, more testing is required. I’ve still got the two Fiocchi loads to test and the major deficiency in the data (i.e. that I’m only shooting 2 patterns per combination at the moment) needs to be corrected. I need to go back and shoot 5-6 more patterns – at least – with each cartridge and choke, to improve the reliability of the conclusions I’m drawing from what I’m seeing.

I also have one long-term question which I still want to answer, which is exactly how close in performance terms the 2½” and 3″ loads are. We know more lead makes for better killing patterns, but I remain interested in testing some of the 2½” shells to see if the percentage performance is better with a shorter shot column. Perhaps after I find the best-performing of the 3″ cartridges, I’ll have time to look into it.

Storms, Patterns and Floor Coverings

Having picked up a roll of finest 42″ plotter paper from the post office yesterday, I was able to prevail upon my wife to help me prepare 16 pattern “plates”, just after lunch, with a view to getting some cartridge testing done this afternoon. Along with some neatly cut squares of paper – her skills as a seamstress translating nicely from cloth to a new medium – I was also able, with her help, to construct a measuring line, formed from 50 yards of garden twine and a few drilled pegs, which turned out – as expected – to be a vastly easier method of establishing a shooting range than the previous way involving the repeated use of an 8m builder’s measuring tape.

I headed out to the fields with gun, paper, cartridges and a set of pre-written labels for the patterns and looked forward to an hour or two of minding my own business and shooting for the sake of scientific study.

Damn You, Ye Gods!

I thought it wouldn’t hurt, before starting the business of patterning, to have a walk around for 10 minutes to see if any birds were moving on the farm. Ultimately, there turned out not to be – a couple of crows outside of range of the .410 were the only quarry I saw – and I returned to the car to get the bits and pieces required for patterning.

As I finished setting up, unpacking the paper and getting everything ready for the first shot, the heavens opened, the wind roared and my carefully laid plans pattern plates were blown into the sky by a howling storm that appeared, as from nowhere. Blazing sunshine in both literal and psychological terms gave way to thunderstorms and a few choice words on my part as I chased around the farm, trying to retrieve the sheets of paper which now acted as though sails or kites in the high wind and flew all over the place.

Thankfully, the wind was blowing in the direction of the wood and only one pattern “plate” was seriously damaged as the trees caught and impaled the white squares. (It looked afterwards as if I’d tried to pattern an elephant gun!)

After 20-30 minutes hanging around under the trees, trying to stop everything from blowing away again, the rain eased and I was finally able to step out of the tree line, re-errect the canes, clips and paper which would form the target and begin shooting.

Preparation => Efficiency

Patterning is always a slow business – from that there’s no real escape. I suppose one could, theoretically, line up pattern plates at all distances of interest and shoot a single cartridge through several sheets of paper, but realistically, the only way to achieve a set of pattern test results is to shoot each combination of choke and cartridge at the distance of interest, one by one. With that in mind, today’s 16 patterns in under two hours was not bad going, especially given than roughly an hour was taken up by walking around, setting up and waiting around for stormclouds to pass. I think I was probably managing about 1 pattern every 3 minutes at one point. Certainly, I managed to get home before the expected time and, after something to eat, set about counting pellet holes and analyzing the data I’d collected.

Child-Proof Floor Covering

My wife observed to me, on seeing the state of our lounge as she arrived home this evening, that if nothing else, covering the floor with paper would conceivably stop (or delay) a mischievous child armed with permanent marker from adding to the design of the carpet:

The results of an afternoon’s pattern testing – or possibly a new kind of floor covering…

The results of today’s tests, which were performed with the Lyalvale “Extreme Game” 16g/#6 and Eley “Extralong” Subsonic 18g/#6 cartridges, have been added to their respective pages in the Extended Pattern Tests section of this website.

Full analysis of the data will require more thought and – I suspect – more testing. As the data stands, there are several features which are apparently contradictory. The key points are:

  • Neither of the cartridges really contain enough pellets to make a usable 40-yard pattern a realistic possibility. This was confirmed by testing – neither cartridge threw a 40-yard pattern with even 100 pellets falling in the standard circle.
  • As would be expected, the Eley subsonic cartridges patterned very well on a percentage basis, achieving maxima of 74% pattern density at 30 yards and 51% pattern density at 40 yards. However, the number of pellets available is low, at 184, meaning that only the 30-yard pattern (through 0.015″ choke) is usable. Extrapolation of the trend suggests that pattern density would fail at somewhere around the 33-yard mark with this combination.
  • Confusingly, the Eley cartridges performed better at 30 yards with the choke having 0.015″ constriction, but better at 40 yards with the choke having 0.020″ constriction. Since pellets generally fly further apart with increasing range, one or other of the chokes should give consistently the best performance, even if not the tighter of the two. This suggests a wide variability in performance, bad shooting or some other factor for which I haven’t yet accounted. The only way to determine whether this is a statistical anomaly or a genuine “quirk” of these brands of cartridges will be to shoot more patterns.
  • The Lyalvale cartridges failed to produce any usable pattern at 30 or 40 yards. Whilst they produced the lightest recoil of any of the cartridges thus far tested, #6 shot appears to be too large for a load as light as 16g (or, for that matter, 18g) unless one is in possession of a gun producing exceptional performance – something I do not appear to have. Perhaps the #7 version of the cartridge would offer a better balance of pattern and energy?
  • The Lyalvale cartridge showed better performance at 30 yards with the 0.020″ choke than the 0.015″ choke as one would expect. However, the tighter choke showed somewhat inferior performance at 40 yards. My gut feeling is that this represents a blown pattern, holding together whilst the velocity is high but rapidly spreading as velocity (and therefore pellet momentum) falls due to significant pellet deformation. Since the Lyalvale cartridge is the lightest available load in a 3″ case, it is likely that it has the highest velocity and I would therefore expect this effect, if it is occurring, to be most pronounced in this case.