Suits You, Sir?

It had puzzled me for a long time: when I bought a 16 gauge Baikal side by side a few years ago, I noticed an overnight improvement in my shooting.

I’d become frustrated with my 28 gauge over the preceding summer and in early October of that year – I can’t remember exactly which one – I decided I wanted something new to shoot over the winter. I’d been on the look out for something “unusual” – perhaps a .410 – for some time, but when I saw advertised on the website of a reasonably well-known gun dealer, a 16-gauge side-by-side for the grand total of £140 delivered to the local RFD, I telephoned them immediately and reserved it.

After receiving the gun, my impulsiveness appeared to have paid off. After a summer where the bag returns had been “ones” and “twos” with an awful lot of “zeros” in between, I suddenly started shooting double figures on a regular basis. This carried on through till March or April where – called to shoot corvids at a local cattle farm – I put in a bag return of 20 jackdaws and an assortment of wood pigeons, rooks and crows for a total exceeding 30, which remains my best bag in a day to date.

(I should emphasize that I’m particularly useless at decoying as I almost never get the chance to attempt it.)

After that, although I’d been using the 16 gauge somewhat religiously, in the hope of this “winning streak” continuing, the bags returns tailed off and despondency set in. The numbers have never really since recovered, although I have had some spectacular one-off birds with that gun as I’ve walked around the hedgerows.

A Borrowed Gun

It wasn’t until last summer when I borrowed a Zabala 12 gauge from a friend that the cogs started to tick in my head, so to speak, and the conclusions that I think I’ve reached this week started to form.

The reason for the loan was simply that, even after quite a lot of years shooting, I still didn’t have a 12 gauge double gun and this seemed to be an omission from my collection. In the event, the gun didn’t fit and I didn’t get on with it, but I remember very clearly that, having observed it seemed long in the stock, we laid out the Zabala next to my 16 gauge and found that the 16 gauge stock was really very short indeed.

At the time, that discovery did no more than confirm the feeling that I had when I mounted the gun- the stock was getting in the way – so we took the fitted extension off and I took it away to play with it for a month or two before returning it. What it should have prompted however, was the realization that the shortness of stock coupled with initial use in the wintertime (when my shooting clothes were considerably thicker) made for a gun that fitted in the cold, but which was much too short in spring and summer where I only wore a thin T-shirt.

Last Week

I wasn’t going to write about (i.e. admit to) last week’s outing, which was as bad a display of shooting as I think I have ever produced, but it has at least resulted in something positive in the days following.

As it happens, I was shooting at the same cattle farm I mentioned above, once again doing (or failing to do) my bit to keep the crows down. When I returned home, having downed two birds for what I guessed must have been 40 cartridges, I was angry at myself and disappointed that I hadn’t learnt the lesson of my final shot of the day rather earlier.

I’d found a good spot for a hide behind an old cattle cart and had had some good opportunities, even if it wouldn’t have been called “busy”. I’d taken the 28 gauge and my 12 gauge semi-automatic, the latter because I’m running low on “ordinary” 12 gauge shells at the moment and the only ones I have in stock were some steel #4s and a bag full of my 39g/#5 reloads which are probably a little on the hot side when it’s 30 degrees in the shade – the strongest chamber wins the day.

I’d intended to shoot the 28 gauge since the ranges were more likely to be short, but after hitting the first bird with my first shot – probably luck – I then missed another 14 shots in succession, most of them by firing both barrels at a single bird as I tried to adjust the amount of lead I was giving in the hope of working out what the hell was going on. By that point, I was so utterly confused that I packed away the 28 gauge gun and shells and switched over to the 12.

Unfortunately, the pattern continued. I had been operating under the impression that the 12 gauge, although I hardly use it now, was my first gun and had been chosen and adjusted with help from one of the instructors who taught me how to shoot in the first place. It should therefore fit, but over the last hour, I fired another 7 cartridges at passing crows and wood pigeons and missed every single one.


It was only this morning when I packed my shooting bag that I unpacked last week’s empties and found I hadn’t used quite as many as 40 cartridges for my two birds. It turned out to be only 25, but being positive about that discovery seems a little like rejoicing in the fact that one has a life jacket with which to escape the sinking ship, only to die of hypothermia in the water 3 hours later.

Perhaps I should include in my bag, the two clumps of weeds I shot at on my way to working out what was happening, although for the most part, they were un-hit. After missing 7 in a row with the 12 gauge, I used the weeds, with plenty of open soil around them, as a point of reference to determine where both the guns I had with me were shooting, compared to the point at which I was looking.

The answer to that question turned out to be that the shot was approximately 4′-6′ high of where I was looking at around 40 yards. I tend to prefer a flat-shooting gun, but what I was seeing didn’t just indicate a high pattern bias; rather, it was poor gun fit.

The last opportunity of the day was a big old bugger of a crow who came to have a look at what was going on after I cleared away the pigeon decoys I’d been using. I proved the theory by pointing the gun a good distance – about 6′ – underneath where he was flying and pulled the trigger. The bird flopped down on the deck with quite a thud.

Well that halved the ratio, at least.


When I got home, I looked at the semi-automatic. For reasons I have not been able to adequately explain, the gun was missing a stock spacer and had the wrong shim inserted into the stock which was making the comb rather too high. That immediately explained the problem of shooting high. I can only imagine that I changed the configuration for the sake of experimentation and forgot to put it back when I last put the gun away, many months ago.

I wrote my friend a message to describe all of this to him last Monday and he’s promised his assistance in sorting it all out, for which I’m grateful. After today’s trip out, a pattern is emerging however and the solution is starting to make itself clear.

Before I wasted all those cartridges, I’d already decided to extend the stock of the 16 gauge in the hope of improving the fit of the gun. I’d thought about leaving it alone as a “winter gun”, but frankly, I’ve missed using it. It hasn’t come out much since I bought the .410 which is the usual subject of this blog and I’ve wanted to change that for a while.

I’ve therefore been trying to decide whether to buy a grind-to-fit stock extension, or a slip-on recoil pad. I think I’ve now settled on the latter.

Four Guns; One Problem

I’ve said previously on this blog that I own two Baikals – a 12 gauge and the aforementioned 16. I had intended to pattern some cartridges in the 12 gauge this morning, to check their performance, but in the end I decided not to since it was blustery and looked like rain. After getting rather frustrated with the pattern plate falling over in the wind two weeks ago, I didn’t really want to repeat the experience.

Instead, I went for a wander. I fired about 10 cartridges in the end, for two birds. Still not really an acceptable shot-to-kill ratio, but if I recount that the both birds came from the last two shots of the day, again taken by shooting at points well underneath the bird, readers may begin to see the pattern which is emerging.

I checked the shape and length of the Baikals against each other when I got home and found them to be essentially identical. If the 16 gauge is too short – which I’m 99% certain it is – then so is the 12 gauge version.

Recalling that the sight picture of the semi-automatic was also improved by more drop and a longer stock, I got the 28 gauge out too. I’m inclined to think that that my shooting would probably benefit if that gun too had a slightly longer stock. As I said above, I prefer a flatter-shooting gun and in all cases (prior to modification) these guns have all shown rather a lot of slope up the rib when I mount them. The 28 gauge, particularly, was showing about £3.50 for the “pound coin” method of checking fit.

The Snowflake Generation

Most of the cartridges I fired this morning were 36g loads that I’m using up because I want the cases for reloading. I know that one can make do with much lesser quantities of shot, but could it be that the current trend for light loads in big tubes is explained not only by our addiction to “speed” but also because modern shooters are a bunch of proverbial pansies? 1¼oz through a medium-weight side-by-side? I barely noticed.

Five Cartridges: Lessons Learned

Although I said in my first post after returning from last weekend’s patterning trip that I hadn’t managed to shoot all the patterns I wanted to, I did make substantial progress this week. I’m certainly going to have to find some more cartridges to test, given that the list of patterns left to shoot with the shells I have is beginning to get quite short.

At this point, all the patterns are counted and all of the data is collated and I’ve confirmed – if not actually learned – one or two things about each of the cartridges tested. It feels like it’s been a huge effort – perhaps it has, or perhaps I’m just tired – and I’m ready for a break once again. Hunting tomorrow evening will not involve the use of a pattern plate!

Currently, I’m not happy with some of the analysis I’ve written about the cartridges. Apart from anything else, I feel I’ve been lazy as far as the technical side of the analysis goes, so I’ll be re-visiting what I’ve written this week at some point very soon to distil the useful information from the sundry words and add the more specific technical analysis which has been a feature of my previous writing.

For those of you who don’t have time to read each of the analyses in turn, here’s a summary of what I’ve covered this week.

Bornaghi “Extreme”

My opinion of the Bornaghi cartridge was moderately improved by further testing, but the cartridge remains well away from being one with which I would choose to hunt. Better-performing alternatives are more-readily available and cheaper to acquire. I had always thought of Bornaghi as producing top-quality cartridges (and the components may be well-chosen and of high quality) but at the end of the day, performance is king and the 14g shell just doesn’t make the grade. I do continue to appreciate the level of detail that Bornaghi print on the cartridge case – in case one were in any doubt about the shell’s contents and capabilities.

Lyalvale “Supreme Game” 9g/#6

I like the idea of a 2″ cartridge – it is a pleasingly-unusual historic curiosity but nonetheless appropriate to the .410 given the origins of the gauge. I remain interested in obtaining and patterning Lyalvale’s alternative 9g loading containing #9 shot and investigating its behaviour.

As much as it would be nice to find a reason to keep a box or two of the Lyalvale cartridges “in stock”, they are not, a practical cartridge for hunting, particularly in a 3″-chambered .410 where the performance issues created by firing short cartridges in long chambers are clear from the data. If I were a more talented shot, I might justify using a handful of them whilst decoying (the shot size is more than sufficient), but they aren’t “general purpose”. Testing them has strongly suggested that a large “jump” between case and chamber-end has a significant and detrimental effect on performance.

Eley “Fourlong” 12½g/#7

For this round of pattern testing, the “Fourlong” cartridge is my personal “winner”. I don’t view subsonic or marginally-supersonic muzzle velocities as any kind of handicap and – on the basis that the long-term average pellet counts for the ¾-choke at 30 yards stays within the region of the 120 pellet mark – I think I’d use these cartridges more often if I was sure that ranges were going to be at 30 yards or under (e.g. decoying). Once again the wisdom of keeping muzzle velocities (and, one assumes, pressures) well below modern expectations is proved.

I’ve been impressed by Eley’s heavier loads (e.g. the 19g “Trap” cartridge) but there’s something about putting that much shot in a .410 that seems a little excessive. I remain hopeful that I will find a true 40-yard cartridge, but if I don’t, then doing 30 yards well with a genuinely light loading, rather than hoping for 40 yards on the basis of luck may be the more satisfying and appropriate option.

Eley “Trap” 14g/#9

Cartridges where one has such a genuine excess of pellets that the most concerning feature is how large one can make the pattern are few and far between. The nearest most folk get is with a cylinder-choked gun and a #9 cartridge on the skeet field, though the Italians go one better with their Dispersante cartridges which contain a device to further spread the pattern. Nonetheless, this is the case with the “Trap” cartridge and our theory that shooting many chokes at the same distance would give the most useful picture turned out, I believe, to be true. Whilst this series might usefully be supplemented by some 20- and 25-yard patterns in future, we established that pattern sufficiency is hardly an issue where #9 shot is used in the .410, but that it’s ability to kill the target remains very much in doubt.

Eley “Trap” 14g/#7½

The patterns shot with the #7½ version of the “Trap” cartridge confirmed that it is probably the best-balanced cartridge yet tested by the SmallBoreShotguns team. Conventional wisdom has it that #7½ shot probably runs out of “oomph” at around 30-35 yards and this coincides with the range at which the best patterns shot from this cartridge fall below the minimum required density. Whilst the heavier, 3″ version of this loading provides more pellets in the pattern, it doesn’t necessarily give any extra range, as its somewhat patchy performance on longer-range birds in the field has demonstrated.

Although perhaps contradicted by later results from tests of the 2″ Lyalvale cartridge, we could not deduce any negative effect on performance from this 2½” loading, compared with it’s 3″ sibling, in spite of the shot column of the former “jumping” from case mouth to the end of the chamber. In fact, the shorter cartridge gave marginally better performance – which is as yet unexplained.

What’s next?

As I said at the beginning of this post, I’m going to start looking around again for some more cartridges to test. This may take some time, but there are plenty more brands in the UK market which I need to find and obtain. In general terms, I believe the previous “priority list” is now reduced to the following:

  • Gamebore “.410 Hunting” 16g / #7 [3″] (or any / all shot sizes available)
  • Gamebore “.410 Target” (a.k.a. “Skeet”) 14g / #9 [2½″] (useless for hunting, but I have a point to prove / refute)
  • Any 3″ cartridge not mentioned above containing #7 or #7½ shot.
  • Any other 3″ cartridge.
  • Lyalvale 2″ / 9g / #9.
  • Any of the Lyalvale 14g [2½″] loads (including the #9).
  • Any other 2½″ cartridge.
  • Anything else.

Additionally, of the cartridges so far tested, there are many with which I’d like to do supplementary testing. It is not my expectation that shooting any of the following patterns will alter the conclusions I’ve drawn from the data collected so far, but they will help to provide a broader data set upon which to base general conclusions and future analysis.

  • Bornaghi “Extreme” 14g/#7: 40-yard patterns with ¾-choke.
  • Eley “Fourlong” 12½/#7: 30-yard patterns with other chokes.
  • Eley “Extralong” 18g/#7: 20-yard pattern with half choke for completeness.
  • Eley “Extralong” Subsonic: Full choke patterns for  to rule out the remote possibility of 40-yard performance; further patterns to sort out 30-yard results for 0.015″ / 0.020″ chokings.
  • Eley “Trap” 14g/#9: 20-yard pattern with ½-choke with for completeness.
  • Eley “Trap” 14g/#7½: 20-yard pattern with ½-choke with for completeness; cylinder, quarter and full choke patterns with to produce a complete data set.
  • Eley “Trap” 19g/#7½: Cylinder and quarter patterns to complete data set.

Additionally, I would like to record confirmatory patterns to strengthen confidence in the existing data centered around the 0.015″ and 0.020″ chokes which have been most extensively tested and seem to be the most effective overall. Since the list above probably accounts for another 30 patterns and confirmatory testing the same again – without accommodating the testing of any new cartridges – it may be some time before they are all ready for analysis!

Humble Pie?

I don’t know if what I’m about to say constitutes a significant climb down from a position I’ve held for a long time, or whether this is simply a restatement of my opinion which allows for one or two edge cases but doesn’t change the fundamentals. The fact that I’m not yet sure suggests that I need longer to ponder the question and see where I end up after analyzing the data I’ve gleaned from last Sunday’s patterning session.

The the issue at hand can be expressed as a simple question:

Can a cartridge containing nine grams of number six shot be of any practical value to anyone?

My long-standing answer to that question has always been “absolutely not” but I’m forced at least to reconsider the answer in light of the data I’ve generated for the Lyalvale “Supreme Game” cartridge of the aforementioned specification.

In defense of my previous experience, I should mention that one has to accept a number of potentially-controversial assumptions to get to any other answer than “no”.

Breaking The Mould

It is simply impossible to adopt the methodology we’ve used elsewhere on this site to analyze the performance of the Lyalvale cartridge. Comparing the performance of the 2″ shell against a 120- or 140-pellet minimum standard (in a 30″ circle) is facile when the loading averages 102 pellets on in the case. Even if it produced rifle-like performance, it could never achieve what was asked of it.

This means that, to give any kind of commentary on the performance of the cartridge, we have to change the parameters of the experiment. Allowing for a much more accurate shooter, we can show that a smaller number of pellets in a smaller effective pattern area give pattern density equivalent to our 120-pellets-in-a-30″ circle standard. (Detailed discussion and the mathematics behind this will be shown on the extended pattern test page for the cartridge when our analysis is complete.)

We can therefore show that, provided the shooter can achieve more than twice the degree of accuracy required for the use of cartridges deemed to produce minimally-sufficient 30″ patterns, the use of the 9g / #6 loading on small-to-medium game may be acceptable at ranges as great as 30 yards!

30-yard pattern shot through the ¾ choke of the Yildiz .410 using the Lyalvale Express “Supreme Game” 9g/#6 shell (20″ circle).

Of course, many mere mortals cannot achieve anything like this standard of shooting!

Two-Inch Edge Cases

This isn’t the appropriate place for a detailed analysis of the Lyalvale cartridge’s performance (see the link above). However, the headline figure of 53 pellets falling into a 20″ circle at 30 yards gives an equivalent pattern density within that area of 119 pellets in a 30″ circle. If we consider the latter a “killing” pattern, then, if the quarry is covered by the former pattern, it should also be killed.

For most of us, this approach will be inhumane. Inhumane because our shooting skill is not sufficiently great; inhumane because we will most often have more appropriate tools available than a 2″-chambered .410. It is extremely difficult to find circumstances in which one would have to rely on this cartridge to the exclusion of anything else.

That said, for “rifle-type” shooting at targets which are still and very close to the shooter, the “Supreme Game” loading may be an appropriate cartridge. Provided ranges really are short and the quarry stationary, this cartridge will “do the business” so to speak – though for most such situations (e.g. rats in the yard) the alternative loading of this brand, containing 9g of #9 shot may still be a better choice.

Is that a climb-down? I’d like to think not and although the mathematics doesn’t lie, I still maintain that as a loading, 9g /#6 is of almost no use to almost anyone.

2½” vs 3″: Which is best?

The creation of the first tranche of pattern data for the 2½” Eley “Trap” cartridge last weekend offers the possibility of a direct comparison between the behaviour of 2½” and 3″ cartridges which are essentially identical.

Allowing for the fact that differences in case capacity require either a different powder, or a different quantity of identical powder, the two versions of the “Trap” cartridge appear to be of common construction: there is no difference in wad, shot size, shot composition or crimp. We assume that the primers are also identical.

Thus, provided we compare the cartridges’ performance by percentage and not by absolute pellet counts, we can determine whether the simple fact of increasing the height of the shot column improves or degrades performance.

In fact, in the case of the Eley “Trap” brand, there is little difference.

The data collected at the time of writing gives a 42.5% average performance for the 2½” version of the cartridge fired through the 0.015″ choke of our test gun at 40 yards, compared with a 42.0% average for the 3″ version. The 0.020″ choke produces average pattern densities of 47.0% and 46.0% for 2½” and 3″ shells, respectively.

The SmallBoreShotguns team have not yet collected sufficient data to draw a firm conclusion for all chokings and distances, but thus far, we can say that if a longer shot column does significantly damage performance, it is not (yet) demonstrated by the Eley “Trap” loadings. In fact, the loss of performance in the 3″ cartridge is so slight that it will easily be outweighed by the greater number of pellets in the case, as the absolute pellet counts presented in the data clearly show.


We do not consider the Eley “Fourlong” (12½g / #7) and “Extralong” (18g / #7) to be equivalent-except-for-case-length: the former has a fold crimp; the latter a rolled turnover crimp.

Pattern Testing Trip

The afternoon started well, with blazing sunshine and very little wind and I managed to rattle through 20-25 patterns with very little difficulty. Later, the wind picked up and the rate at which I could shoot them slowed drastically. Even the heavy plywood of the patterning box, now peppered with plenty of lead shot, could not counteract the sail-like behavior of the paper in the breeze and my attempts to shoot the last few patterns were frustrated by the whole edifice toppling repeatedly.

In the end, I gave up. I have enough patterns to keep me busy counting and analyzing data for most of the week, if not longer. The other patterns I had hoped to shoot will have to wait for another day.

No Country for Old #7’s

A quick wander round the farm before I started provided a single shot at a wood pigeon departing post-haste. In failing to account for a straightforward, 35-yard going-away bird which produced a beautiful explosion of feathers as I hit it, but which – once again – flew on, I can only remind readers of my previous posts exploring the differences in presentation between the approaching driven bird and the more commonly-encountered going-away bird.

As I continue to gain experience with the .410 and the smaller-than-I’d-like shot sizes I’m attempting to use with it, I find myself less and less convinced that it can ever be a general purpose gun.

I am not a talented shot, by any means, but I am on form at the moment and I’m failing to bag easy birds that I’d reasonably expect to have folded in the air with a larger shot charge. The Yildiz will kill (and has killed) birds at 40 yards (and probably a little beyond), but I’m increasingly persuaded that whether it will do so with the shot sizes required to maintain a “killing” pattern is – at medium-to-long ranges at least – heavily dependent on the presentation and line of the bird and – to some degree – on luck.

I can offer no evidence for the following assertion since I have recorded none, except what is written in this blog. However, I seem to recall that most of the longer clean kills I’ve made using #7 (or smaller) shot, both in the the .410 and in my 28 gauge (where I’ve switched to using #7 in the last year or so) have been crossing or approaching birds. Departing birds have required the attention of a priest more often than I’d like.

Of course, that may sound like a terrible excuse for simply bad shooting – I can only speak as I find – but I do feel if today’s bird had been coming towards me, the Eley cartridge (18g/#7) would have accounted for it as expected. Likewise, if I’d made an identical shot with 32g/#5, it would undoubtedly have come down.

Two Islands of Thought

I’m increasingly interested in the significance of head / neck strikes where the use of smaller shot is concerned. I continue to suspect others’ success with the smaller sizes – one acquaintance bores us endlessly on a well-known forum on every conceivable subject, provided it’s #7 shot – is down to very high pattern density and amenable presentation.

If this is the case, then the use of smaller shot sizes in a .410, incapable of firing enough pellets to achieve those very high pattern densities, may be sub-optimal. It may be the case that relying on apparently below-minimum pattern densities with larger shot sizes is a better approach in the small gauges.

That said, one can achieve high pattern densities with even smaller shot than #7. Are there in fact two “islands” of terminal performance, one favoring pattern, the other penetration, with the “best of both” option in the middle failing to outperform either? Do we fail to see these “islands” in the larger gauges because genuine pattern insufficiency is almost never an issue and they overlap each other? Is this why I read – horrifyingly – that “serious high-bird .410 shooters” use Winchester cartridges loaded with American #4!?

As yet, I remain undecided, but I am starting to consider whether the evidence collected thus far is starting to support this theory. M(any m)ore field tests will be required to prove or disprove it.

Oh well. I’ll just have to go hunting some more…


I was kept company today by two noisy juvenile crows. Obviously, they were in the process of fledging and had reached the stage of being “branchers” where they were building up strength in their wing muscles by flapping short distances between the outer branches of the tree they were inhabiting, approximately 20 feet above where I’d placed the pattern plate.

I’m sure some readers will question why I didn’t shoot them on sight. I asked myself the same question.

I’m sorry to say that as I encountered them, the possibility of conducting a slightly unethical experiment as to the efficacy of #9 shot briefly crossed my mind. Since this was only 30 seconds after I’d shot and failed to kill the wood pigeon that got away (and that with #7), I decided that I wasn’t prepared to risk wounding them for the sake of my curiosity, pest birds or not. After that it seemed a little cold to simply invent another reason to shoot them having decided the first wasn’t sufficient, so I left them to mind their own business and went away to mind mine. I’ll shoot them next week instead.

Pattern Analysis

Thus far, I’ve only been able to complete pellet counts on a single cartridge, partly due to an intolerant spouse who complains that the sound of pattern paper being moved around is too noisy against which to watch television.

The cartridge thus far completed is the Eley “Fourlong” 12½g/#7 and (without having spent much time thinking about it carefully) the data shows that it performs well in percentage terms, apparently confirming that subsonic velocities, short shot columns and fold crimps are all beneficial. Unfortunately, the small number of pellets in the cartridge limit its usefulness to sub-30-yard ranges, but it is both consistent and impressive, given that other, much heavier loads cannot match absolutely its performance.

There certainly appears to be some merit in the argument that 2½” shells often perform as well as 3″ shells in the .410.

More will follow during the week as I complete the pellet counts and publish the data / analysis.