Codename: Multitube

It’s been a very busy day.

I started the morning early and went out to the farm where I usually do my patterning to find the landowner in his jeep and his workers in combines and tractors all over the place, which would have made shooting patterns there a potentially dangerous disturbance. I drove on.

The next farm was already cut and vacant, but there were enough children playing at the nearby recreation ground that I though it would be unfair to disturb them. I drove on a second time.

At the third farm, I found a car I thought I recognized and could just make out the shape of a hide on the opposite boundary. I believe one of the other members of my shooting association may have been attempting to decoy pigeons, but after a few minutes observation, nothing appeared to be moving and given that I was half a mile away, I set up the pattern plate and shot five patterns as quickly as I could.

Less Is More

As I said I would previously, I loaded some more of the 34g/#5 cartridge I intend to use with the Baikal 12 gauge I bought a few months ago, albeit, with the powder charge reduced by approximately 1.5 grains.

Three 40-yard patterns shot with the full choke barrel gave an average of 172 of 246 pellets (maximum: 179) in the standard circle which is an average pattern density of 70%. This is satisfactory and gives an on-paper maximum range of somewhere around 51-52 yards. In practice, I suspect it wouldn’t be hard to push that to around 60 yards with good shooting, as previous “field testing” has shown.

The two half-choke patterns shot today averaged 160 of 246 pellets in the standard circle at 40 yards, which is an average pattern density of approximately 65%. This is also adequate for a “near” barrel and should give a maximum usable range of around 47 yards on paper.

Overall, these figures represent a 5-10% improvement in pattern or around 7-8 yards of extra effective range, simply by lowering the muzzle velocity of the cartridge. If I sound like a stuck record on this subject at the moment, that’s only because it works – every time.

40-yard pattern shot through the full choke of the Baikal 12 gauge using a 34g / #5 reload.

I don’t shoot a 12 gauge much these days, so this loading will now “do”. I daresay it’s as good as any commercial manufacturer would want one of their cartridges to be.

I further suspect that the “ideal” constriction for this particular recipe is probably somewhere between the 0.017″ and 0.041″ of the half and full choke barrels respectively. I believe the closely matched performance from both tubes probably represents “going over the hill” in performance terms and that the full-choke patterns are borderline blown.

New Acquisitions

After finishing those patterns, I drove north to meet a friend and he and I went to visit the RFD from whom the aforementioned Baikal was bought. We went with various purposes in mind, but mine was mainly to look at a pair of 9mm rimfire guns which were available for very reasonable asking prices. In the end, I bought a “Modern Arms” bolt action gun, which will now become the SmallBoreShotguns test gun for 9mm Flobert ammunition.

A 9mm Flobert single-barrelled bolt action shotgun belonging to the Hedgewalker.

It’s a reasonably old shotgun – I’d guess 70-80 years old given the condition – and labelled “No. 3 Garden Gun” as one would expect for an old English 9mm. The proof marks date from no later than 1954. Unusually, however, it has rather a long barrel – 28½”, which is at least 4″ longer than most other examples. Ballistically, I’m sure that length of barrel doesn’t help, but at least there’s no question of it being Section 1.  Confusingly, what appears to be a marking of 0.41″ appears on one side of the chamber, but it’s definitely a 9mm!

I found the gun was covered in grease, oil and some quantity of rust when I brought it home and examined it. It has cleaned up pretty well, although I killed my .410 copper brush by using it to hammer – literally – the crap out of the bore. I’m going to try to get a more appropriate brush to give it a gentler but more even clean when I go to the shop to buy some ammunition for it. It’ll benefit from another good scrub when it’s had its first firing, but that will only take it so far.

In fact, I’m inclined to do the initial testing required for the relevant section of SBS and then to deconstruct it, thoroughly clean, de-grease and polish it, then re-blue the metalwork. There is some surface rust on the action and very little of the original blueing is left. On that basis, stripping it down and refinishing it would extend its life, give me some experience doing that particular job but – most importantly – be no great loss if it all goes tits up and I break it. I don’t expect to be doing any hunting with it, given the handful cartridges I have for it contain #10(!) shot.

We shall see.

Hedgewalker’s New Name

It wasn’t just the 9mm that came home with me, however. I also managed to acquire a single-barreled Accacio folding 20 gauge. This gun will have no particular purpose at all, except that it provides a safe chamber and tube in which I can fire and test 20 gauge cartridges and that it “completes the set”.

A 20 gauge folding Accacio shotgun belonging to the Hedgewalker.

Of course, I don’t have any guns in the really big bores – 10 gauge, 8 gauge, 4 gauge, etc. I do now have an example of every common gauge from 12 gauge to 9mm rimfire, however, which means that, with the exception of precisely two brands of 10-gauge cartridges, I can now potentially fire and test any cartridge commercially-available in the UK.

For reasons entirely related to an occasional need for silliness, I therefore henceforth adopt the pseudonym “Multitube”, in recognition of this (rather fatuous) achievement!

More important than the invention of new epithets, this should mean that, when the SmallBoreShotguns team conceive of experiments to conduct to investigate this or that feature of shotgun shooting, there is at least one option available for firing the cartridges.

Again, I have no particular intention of hunting with the gun, though the handful of cartridges kindly provided by my friend containing 24g/#6½ do fit neatly into the gap between 21g/#7 (28 gauge) and 28g/#6 (16 gauge) and make me curious as to the efficacy of such cartridges on – for example – wood pigeons.

Test Firing

I did return to the farm I usually use to do pattern testing on my way home, in the hope of test-firing the guns. Unfortunately the harvesting continued in earnest and it was still unsafe to shoot, but I’ll try to get out one evening this week to try the guns out and create some initial patterns.


For those of you who have followed this blog since its inception, I need to mention two words: Carolina Reaper. I’m not growing any of that variety of chilli this year, but I did manage to obtain some peppers to taste this week.

In short, they are similar to the Naga peppers I like very much and they do have the traditional Habañero flavour, but they’re a lot less refined. The heat is intense but the flavour does not persist along with it in the way that it does with the Nagas – particularly when they’re cooked. Adding raw pepper “sprinkes” to the first dish gave a much better result than throwing them in with the other vegetables in the wok for the second. The latter approach essentially removed the “perfume” and left only base pepper flavour and capsaicin.

In short, I’m pleased to have tried the Reapers – they are still the hottest pepper in the world, I believe – but after you get to this level of heat, there’s really nothing between them in terms of “hotness” so it has to be all about how they taste as they melt your soft tissues into goo. The Naga has the better flavour, in my opinion – and anyway – what’s a million Scoville units between friends?

Rained Off

I thought I’d take the opportunity of a relatively “reponsibility free” week to get out to the fields again this evening and test the modified 12 gauge reload that I’m working on for use in my Baikal.

Unfortunately, it was not to be. Pouring rain and no sign of blue cloud anywhere made me abandon the outing before it started and instead, I came home with the intention of writing up this morning’s purchase – a box of Eley “Extralong” 18g / #6 – leaving only a single Eley cartridge (the same shell in a #5) left until that manufacturer’s range is completely tested.

The contents of the Eley “Extralong” 18g / #6 cartridge.

The testing of the 12 gauge reload will have to wait for another day.

Making Plans

I’ve arranged to travel, with a friend, to see a mutual acquaintance on Sunday lunchtime. This acquaintance, from whom I obtained the aforementioned Baikal, tells me that he’s in possession of two or three guns I really ought to have a look at and that prices in the £20-70 range are asked.

It may be the case that I return home with both 9mm rimfire and 20 gauge folding shotguns on Sunday evening – though the examples presented would have to be exceptional for me to buy both and risk the wrath of the resident accountant.

I require a 9mm for testing for this site and probably for a very small-scale pest control job likely to come up in a month or so, where even a lightly loaded .410 is likely to be too much gun. I will of course, keep readers informed on all points, but the short of it is a family member, a large number of rabbits and the need for projectiles lethal at 10 yards but essentially harmless at 25-30, which strongly suggests the use of a garden gun rather than an air rifle.

Time of Day

In collecting the new Eley cartridges today, I managed to have a 10 minute conversation with the two senior staff members at my local RFD. They seemed pleased to pass the time – I’m a “regular” – although less impressed with my comments on the performance of .410 cartridges.

Ignoring the fact that I was very likely correct on all points (they probably claimed the very same to each other after I left – the only difference being that I have the evidence to back it up), they did promise to try to obtain some of the Hull “High Pheasant” 19g / #6 cartridges which they seemed to think would sell well and give me the opportunity to buy a box for testing. I shall endeavour to do so at the earliest opportunity.

They also kindly knocked a pound off the price of the cartridges I bought, so I can’t have irritated them that much…

Rolling Average

Having completed the pellet counts, although not the full analysis, for the three cartridges I tested earlier this evening, it is difficult to escape the conclusion that a rolled turnover (RTO) closure is exceedingly damaging to cartridge performance.

I have heard it said in the past that the kind of crimp – 8-point, 6-point or RTO – make very little difference to overall performance and, beyond making life easier for the cartridge companies and their loading machines, is most often used as a means of avoiding unsafe chamber pressures via the adjustment it allows to “resistance to opening” – i.e. the amount of force which must be applied to open the case and propel the shot column out of it, up the gun barrel.

Although I understand the well-established relationship between crimp type and chamber pressure, I have never been convinced that the type of crimp applied to a cartridge is simply an irrelevance when it comes to performance and, since beginning to test .410 cartridges on a regular basis, I am more sceptical than ever.

Once again, the ubiquity 12-gauge guns and their in-no-way-marginal performance probably obscures for most the knowledge of a significant factor affecting pattern quality.

Losing 5% of the pellets in a 12 gauge pattern is rarely significant. Even a 20% loss in some loads is neither here nor there. One will always have enough shot in the pattern to cover and break or kill one’s target. Again, however, we find that the .410 – although not principally different – highlights a feature of cartridge design which significantly damages cartridge consistency: the rolled turnover.

Non-Standard Deviation

Looking at today’s data and the data for the other cartridges we have previously tested, it is immediately clear that those cartridges with fold crimp are far more consistent than those with a rolled turnover, almost irrespective of the other components used to create them.

The only exception to this rule (to date) has been the Lyalvale 2″ cartridge which appears to show good consistency but, perhaps importantly, was largely tested at ranges of 20 yards only; perhaps more 30-yard patterns would begin to paint a different picture?

I would suggest again – since I think I have mentioned this theory previously – that the piece of card which closes the cartridge must be interfering with – and sometimes spreading – the shot in the column.

This interference likely occurs because the card acts as though a very small sail, slowing rapidly as it enters the atmosphere (from the gun barrel). In doing so, it is doubtless impacted by the shot, which, though it has much greater momentum, is not comparatively massive – especially where the RTO card is thick. These collisions – essentially random – deflect the shot and the card, leading to further interference until the shot has spread beyond the diameter of the card.

The result of all of this combined interference is essentially random. Sometimes a small number of pellets will be affected as the card flies quickly out of the cloud; at other times, the card will be buffeted along by the shot and take longer to fall to the ground, affecting / deflecting more pellets before it does.

I presume that this variance correlates with the number of pellets remaining in the useful pattern area and the larger range of variation seen with RTOs (as opposed to fold crimps) with the standard deviation in pellet counts for a particular pattern test.

In Short

It would appear that cartridges completed with a folded crimp will give best performance. Today’s cartridges, all having RTOs, gave very poor performance, even with the supposed advantage of larger shot and relatively low velocities. They were also noticeably inconsistent.

On the other hand, the #7 version of the Eley “Fourlong” cartridge (the #5 and #6 versions of the same cartridge were tested today) has a folded crimp and produced some of the best, most consistent performance the SmallBoreShotguns team has ever seen in a .410.

From inspection, the #7 loading appears to use a different powder, but is otherwise identical (wad, primer) to the #5 and #6 loadings. This is strong evidence as to the value of a good, firm, folded crimp over a rolled turnover.

Aside: Keeping the Pressure Off

Although several notable sources of reloading data indicate RTO (i.e. less resistant) crimps for some particularly thumpy reloads, I am not in favour of this approach, for the reasons described above.

I have always thought that if one fears excessive chamber pressure, it is likely an indication of trying to use the wrong powder for a given load. It would be far better to change the powder or quantity of powder and use a good, strong, 6-point fold crimp on the case, than add a card and an enormous degree of randomnimity to the loading’s performance.

I suppose the evidence is on my side: does anyone reading this know of a top-of-the-range clay cartridge made with an RTO? I can’t think of a single example.

To Be Expected

I’ve just returned home from a quick patterning trip during which I was able to shoot 12 patterns with the three new .410 cartridges.

Results appear to be as expected with perhaps a slight hint at the benefits of a reduced shot charge – the lighter Hull cartridge appears pattern as well as, if not better than the Eley #6 cartridge, although the rolled closures of the Eley cartridges probably contributed to what appears to be disappointing performance.

Numbers to follow later or tomorrow.