Send for Valjean!

When I unpacked the pattern plate this morning, it became clear that I wasn’t going to be able to shoot all of the patterns I wanted: the roll of patterning paper was running out and I had to prioritize what I shot on the basis of answering the most interesting questions.

In the end, I shot enough patterns with the Fiocchi “GFL36” cartridge to confirm that – with around 55-75 pellets left in the pattern at 30 yards – pattern density fell far short of what is required to reliably kill wood pigeons and that it was reasonable, last weekend, to conclude that at least some of the shots I felt I was “on”, were in fact misses due to lack of pattern density. One can never tell, of course, but on the basis of today’s testing, I will never fire those cartridges at living creatures again.

I also shot enough patterns with the Hull “High Pheasant” loading to believe that it may work as an alternative to the Eley “Extralong” (#7) loading when I can’t get hold of anything else. 30-yard pattern densities for the Hull cartridge appear to be satisfactory (though those remain uncounted at this point) but the 40-yard patterns, though unsatisfactory, are on a par with what the Eley cartridge puts in the circle at the same range: the difference is that the Hull cartridge contains #6 shot, which suggests that it’s percentage performance will be relatively impressive when I’ve done the analysis. Perhaps the ultra-slow powder – whatever it is – makes a difference here.

Birds on the Floor

No, not the results of an over-exuberant evening in Liverpool, but a moral question I was encouraged to reconsider this morning.

When I started shooting, I always thought it was a bit unsporting to shoot at birds which are simply wandering around on the floor and not actually in flight.

The answer I was given to this question is that, because wood pigeons are shot under the terms of the General Licence for the purposes of crop protection (or protection of human health), it isn’t actually legal to shoot them for sporting purposes. It follows then, that if you don’t shoot the birds on the floor – because it seems unsporting – you are at risk of implying that you are shooting pigeons for sport and are therefore probably breaking the law. As such, I’ve always shot them, wherever possible, and taken them home to eat, just like all the others.

On the other hand, shooting a juvenile bird, probably not long fledged, which hadn’t seen me, even at a distance of 10 yards, was probably a little “unfair”. Then again – as I regularly remind my boy – life isn’t fair and humans are the most advanced predator in the history of the world – and I wasn’t going to miss the opportunity to bag a bird. Would it have been more moral to leave it? Would I have broken the law if I had? Send for Valjean!

The Search Continues

Having exhausted most of the local (and less local) RFD’s in the search of new, as-yet-untested .410 cartridges to feed to the Yildiz, I have started to look in less orthodox places and much further afield.

I returned today, for the first time in 3 years, to the clay ground at which my shooting career began some years ago. The shop there, as readers might expect, stocked cartridges more suited to smashing clays than to hunting, but I returned home with two new brands of shells (including the first Gamebore cartridge we’ve managed to acquire), ready for pattern testing.

New .410 cartridges for testing purchased on 23rd September 2017.

It’s unlikely that I’ll get round to testing these two tomorrow morning when I go out to the fields with the pattern plate, given the backlog, but between now and the end of the year, I’ll try to get them all patterned, analyzed and written up.

It’s worth nothing that the Fiocchi “Magnum” loading of a (generous) 18g of 2.3mm shot is identical to the 3″ Eley “Trap” cartridge which has demonstrated the best performance in the Yildiz to date. The cartridge also contains a very, very slow powder, which ought to limit the damage the pellets suffer under conditions of firing. Given that the other Fiocchi cartridges the SmallBoreShotguns team have tested have produced relatively poor performance, I don’t expect them to out-shoot the Eley loading, but the possibility is there and it will be interesting to find out.

One Year On: What have we learned?

Hindsight is always clearer than current experience and mine suggests that I have suffered a period of malaise regarding shooting of late. The failing weather hasn’t helped – who would want to be out in thunder and driving rain, given the choice? – but I have had opportunities to shoot that I haven’t taken. This is unusual for me. It’s perhaps a product of having so many projects on the go at the moment that a degree of exhaustion took hold – the effort of going out was too much when the alternative was to try to clear some of the things in my in-tray.

Last Sunday’s trip however, even though – on paper – I shot appallingly badly, seems to have rekindled my enthusiasm. Sometimes all it takes is a small achievement (like a left and right with a difficult-to-shoot gun) to remind me that I’m not a completely incompetent shot, that I have learnt a huge amount over the last few years and that, having stuck with it through the long purgatory of “zero” bags at the start, I do now more often bring something home than not (excepting the days I’m out patterning, obviously). I remember, very clearly, saying to a friend some time ago, that if I could turn the “zero bags” into “one bags”, I’d be happy with that: it’s happened and I am.

I noted last month that it is now a year since the SmallBoreShotguns team got this website up and running. In that time we’ve done a lot of experiments, discovered some interesting things and confirmed – at least in part – a lot of suspicions / theories. One of the things I thought I had done when marking that anniversary was to lay out a list of general conclusions as to the first year’s testing of .410 ammunition and suggest what kind of cartridge would maximise the potential of the Yildiz – but I haven’t been able to discover in the history of what I’ve written that that got any further than being an idea, so here, for the record, is where I think things stand.

Commercial Cartridges

Of the commercial cartridges we’ve tested so far, Eley have proved to be the best manufacturer, their range being consistently better than the competition for any given general specification (e.g. 2½”, 3″, etc.). Their 19g/#7½ “Trap” load continues to provide the best performance on paper and it is frustrating that a local supplier of those cartridges has proved so elusive: I want to to buy a slab to keep me going in the field whilst I continue testing the other possibilities available in the UK market, but I’ve no idea where to do so. Even JustCartridges do not appear to stock them.

At the other end of the spectrum, the Italian manufacturers have fared badly. Bornaghi and Fiocchi both have reputations for producing high performance cartridges, but the results of the SmallBoreShotguns team’s pattern testing have not shown those brands in a good light. Many UK manufacturers outsource their .410 cartridge production to larger European makers. This author believes – but is not certain – that Lyalvale cartridges are produced under such an arrangement, which may explain their relatively poor performance. The Hull offerings are middle-of-the-road, producing (on the basis of limited evidence) mediocre performance in percentage and absolute terms, but outdoing some of the competition.

.410 Homeloads?

I don’t have a .410 reloading press and at this point, it would be an unaffordable luxury. However, that doesn’t prevent me from formulating a hypothesis for what would produce the best performance from a .410 cartridge on the basis of a year’s experience.

I’d start with 17-18 grams of very hard #7½, #7 or #6½ polished shot loaded into a 3″ case. The shot wouldn’t need to be copper-plated or have any of those “gimmicks” attached, but it would need to be hard: .410’s are high-pressure guns and – probably because users’ expectations are so low to start with – many manufacturers use cheap lead which will melt, deform or weld under the conditions of firing, seriously damaging patterns. The actual shot size would depend on how many pellets ended up in the circle at 40 yards – I’d choose the largest posssible size, without dipping below 120.

Those case would be primed with a “cool” primer and a powder as slow as it was possible to use safely, aiming for a consistent muzzle velocity between 1150-1175fps. The shot doesn’t need to travel faster than that to be effective – anything marginally supersonic will do. The case should be 6-point fold crimped; rolled turnovers should be banished in any gun smaller than an 8-bore as an unnecessary indulgence, highly damaging to cartridge performance, which really betray poor cartridge design. If there isn’t enough space for the shot and a fold crimp, it’s either the wrong wad, the wrong (or too much) powder, or too much shot for the cartridge.

As for the wad, we’ve seen repeatedly that fibre and short plastic wads give superior performance to full-length plastic wads, in spite of the opposite generally being true in the larger bores. I would follow Eley in using a short-petalled plastic wad, longer than the “diabolo” type but not as long as the Fiocchi type, aiming for the best compromise between scrubbing and crushing.

Unfortunately, at present, this kind of cartridge remains imaginary. I know of no maker, other than Eley, who use anything other than cheap, bog-standard lead in their small bore loads. All use the cheapest powder available as a matter of course and either tiny fibre wads of varying degrees of strength, or long-petalled plastic wads. Even Gamebore, of whose cartridges I had high hopes, reserve their patented “Diamond Shot” for any shotgun gauge except the .410, which hints again at outsourced production.

Eley, frustratingly, only fold-crimp their “Trap” loadings and – lately – their 14g/#7 “Fourlong” loading. Given the state of the cases for their 3″ load after firing, I suspect that these (cheap?) shells would not stand up to fold crimping at the time of loading any more than they stand up to anything else afterwards. I’d like to test the 18g/#7 “Extralong” loading with a fold crimp – I suspect that, if such a cartridge were produced, it would probably displace the “Trap” cartridge as my preferred commercial loading on the basis of shot size.

Will such a cartridge evert exist? Would it perform? Well – perhaps. Aside from completing pattern testing for the rest of the cartridges in the UK market in our second year, the SmallBoreShotguns team intend to beg or borrow the use of a .410 reloading press, to try and create that “perfect” cartridge. Of course, it won’t be – but, unhindered by cost, we might just come up with something better suited to hunting than anything we’ve yet tested.

We shall see.

The Ethics Committee

Once again, the afternoon I had planned didn’t turn out as intended.

I finally acquired some Hull “High Pheasant” cartridges yesterday morning – it’s taken me weeks to find a moment to get to the local RFD to buy them – and I planned to take those cartridges and the two other brands awaiting testing out to the fields to pattern them today.

It became clear within 10 minutes of arriving that today was not the day for patterning. Intermittent rain and high wind would have made for a frustrating, if not fruitless, trip. Although I traveled to another farm in the hope of finding some cover under which to place the pattern plate, the primary purpose of my visit was quickly abandoned in favour of an attempt to decoy the many birds there, which – if they weren’t following a flight line in the strictest sense – were at least milling around over some newly-drilled barley stubble, feeding on the remnants of the old crop.

No Extension Required

Under any normal circumstances, I’d want to gloss over the first part of this afternoon’s decoying session as much as possible, but unfortunately for me, this blog is as much a journal of my shooting career, written for myself, as it is a tale of my trials and tribulations with a .410, written for others. This means that I’m obliged to be brutally honest, else I’ll be able to draw no reliable conclusion about how well or badly I might be doing at any given moment and whether my shooting has improved (or not).

Suffice it to say, shooting one bird for 20 cartridges is not really something I want to dwell on, particularly when that stunning achievement debacle exhausted my very limited supply of the Eley cartridges (the “Extralong” 18g/#7) which are the only .410 loading I can currently obtain which even meet the standard of “usable, if I pick my shots”.

On the other hand, one important question was answered by that string of misses: the Yildiz fits me better without the stock extension than with it. I draw this conclusion from the fact that, having removed it, I shot the next four birds for four shots and felt a lot more comfortable doing it. Sometimes you have to try something different to know you got it right the first time!

Impromptu Field Test

Ordinarily, I’d prefer to shoot a few patterns with a cartridge before using them in the field. I realize that I’m in a small minority there and that most folk test their cartridges’ efficacy by pointing them at birds, but – without wanting to turn it into a huge moral crusade – if there’s something I can do to check that I’m the weak link in the fire cartridge, kill bird chain of events, then at least I can’t be accused of going out unprepared or deliberately choosing a cartridge that turns out to be inhumane.

Of course, most folk shoot 12 gauges, so they don’t have to deal with this shit in the first place. There will always be enough pellets in the air.

Of the three “other” brands in my bag, the Hull cartridges contained the heaviest payload (19g) so I reasoned that firing a handful of those would be most likely to bag me a bird and would give me the opportunity to experience the recoil of the cartridge with a view to writing up a “first impressions” page this evening. (It was that or give up and go home.)

After waiting for the passage across the farm of a small thunderstorm during which I took shelter in a hawthorn tree, the Hull cartridges accounted for the first three of the aforementioned five birds, including my first left-and-right with the Yildiz. (Yay! – Ed.) They performed very well: I put the rest away in the bag with a view to pattern testing them at the earliest opportunity: I suspect I’m going to need quite a lot of them as there will be some 40-yard tests as well as the usual 20- and 30-yard tests to be done.

The fourth bird (and the three following) all fell to the Lyalvale “Supreme Game” cartridge (14g/#6) which was theoretically the next best cartridge available for use. These cartridges are, to be fair, a bit short on pellet count and there were several occasions when I felt that I’d been “on” a bird but managed to do no more than dislodge feathers, which makes me wonder what a 30-yard pattern might look like. Nonetheless, they did the business on the shorter birds three times out of four, with only one bird needing to be dispatched by hand.

One thing I will say about the Lyalvale cartridge is this: I don’t know of a softer-shooting 2½” .410 cartridge. There really was nothing to it – I was so surprised when I fired the first one that I stopped the gun dead in surprise. Luckily, the bird still came down.

After the immediately-following second shot, which I missed because I’d hesitated after the first, I actually broke the gun to check that the contents of the cartridge weren’t stuck in the barrels! Thankfully, all was well, but it did prompt me to think that having some noticeable recoil to deal with is an important part of our shooting routines and that, when it’s not there, it can be as disruptive as excessive recoil.

I’d like to get a box of the #7 version of the Lyalvale cartridge to pattern test. I’m hopeful that they might be rather good.

Recurring Theme

If, when I’m dead, someone decides to put a gravestone up to mark my passing, I suspect it will probably be engraved somewhere with what ought to have been the 11th commandment: thou shalt not use inappropriately large shot in small bore guns.

Hunters of all kinds really ought to know the name Pietro Fiocchi and afford it the respect it deserves, but some of the things currently being done in the old master’s name ought to have him spinning in his (own) grave.

Having also found the Lyalvale cartridges to be worthy of a decent amount of pattern testing and decided likewise to retain as many of those as possible for the purpose, I switched over to using the remaining brand in my bag, the Fiocchi “GFL36” 11g/#6 (Italian) loading.

I ought to have known better than to attempt to shoot birds with such an unbalanced cartridge, but the birds were, for about the first time in 6 months, being reasonably obliging and starting to give me the opportunity to have a few shots, so I stayed.

Knowing the Fiocchi cartridge was likely to be somewhat ineffective, I pulled the decoys in 10 yards – the nearest were almost in the hide – and tried very hard to limit my shots to 25 yards or closer. After a few apparently missed attempts to hit slow, easy incomers, however, I confess I started to question whether in fact the 11g marked on the cases referred to lead shot or something altogether less substantial. (Unicorn farts and rainbows. – Ed.)

I fired a lot of the Fiocchi cartridges – perhaps 15 – unfortunately to very little effect. The only birds I am certain I hit were the three that actually landed (or nearly landed) in the decoys, where it was possible to see the pattern impact the soil around the bird. One of these was wounded and required a blow to the head to dispatch it. Another was centered in the pattern but escaped in haste with only the loss of feathers. The third was shot three times whilst stationary – all aimed shots – and yet still continued to wander around looking flustered until I put it out of its misery with the priest.

In hindsight of course, I should have foregone the opportunity (a hard ask when I so rarely manage to decoy anything) or used one of the other cartridges. Shooting 11 grams of what is effectively #5½ shot at anything is a poor recipe for filling one’s bag, but recalling that all of the Fiocchi cartridges I’ve tested have tended to be cheaply made and patterned poorly, there was never much chance of this cartridge being a diamond in the rough.

In fact, given that the “GFL36” has a rolled turnover where the other Fiocchi cartridges have been crimped, I doubt that there were even 50 pellets within the standard circle at my self-imposed 25-yard limit. If this estimate is even close to the mark (and it certainly felt like it), then using this cartridge on live game is essentially inhumane at all reasonable ranges. I only wish that it had occurred to me to do the mental calculations that led me to that estimate whilst I was in the field, rather than upon later reflection.

Of course, without attempting to use them in the field, I would never have been able to form this impression of the cartridge and learn that it ought never to be used by the serious hunter. Should I have done so? Would others have bothered patterning them first? I’ll refer the matter to the ethics committee, but I’d rather the weather had been better, put it that way.

In spite of that, I shot well. With a different, more capable cartridge, I think I could have come home with 15-20 birds quite easily, provided the stock extension had stayed off. Needless to say, I won’t be using the Fiocchi loading for anything other than pattern testing in future. I urge readers to avoid it at all costs.


Having said that I like the Eley 18g/#7 loading above, I should qualify my opinion slightly. The Eley cartridges produce a usable pattern and they kill birds and that’s my primary concern.

I do wish though, that bits of the case didn’t follow the pellets down the tube, that they’d make them with a proper crimp rather than a card and turnover, and most of all, that they’d change the primer for one that doesn’t turn the pin hole inside out under the pressure of firing and repeatedly scratch the beech face of my shotgun when I try to get the bloody thing open.

Don’t get me wrong: I know it isn’t easy to make a good .410 load and Eley have been by far the best manufacturer the SmallBoreShotguns team has tested so far, but come on chaps: drop the powder by half a grain or use a cooler primer maybe? Or maybe just get some better cases? Throw me a bone here. My gun might like them, but I don’t.

New Starter

Things have been a bit quiet around here for the last couple of weeks. I’ve twice planned to go out to test the Fiocchi / Lyalvale cartridges I acquired last month and have had twice to cancel those trips due to other unavoidable commitments turning up.

I had planned to go out this afternoon and return with patterns and reports, but once again, life got in the way. This afternoon however, the distraction was more pleasant and in fact did involve shooting: I took my children to see my parents at their new house (with substantial garden) and there my boy – unprompted – asked whether he could have a go with the garden gun (which I’d put in the car to show to my brother who was also visiting).

Under supervision of three adults and with appropriate precautions taken, he was able to fire two shots safely into a cardboard box from short range. Afterwards, he showed great curiosity about the passage of the pellets through the cardboard, instinctively looking to the other side to see where they had passed through. This bodes well for his career as a hunter! He’s been given the empty cartridge cases for his “special box of things” as a souvenir of his first proper shooting.

We only fired a handful of shots between us, but we realized afterwards that we’d performed an inadvertent penetration test. When my boy was investigating the box we were using both as a target and to hold some balloons, we realized that some of the pellets (#7½ shot from the Fiocchi cartridges) had ended up inside the box and were rolling around.

The box was a strong packing box taken from the house move and made of corrugated cardboard. We’d folded it to make it stand up which had caused the face that we were shooting at to have a double layer of card. The pellets appeared to be penetrating those front two layers reliably but not the back of the box (i.e. the third layer). Rather, they impacted it and either bounced off it, falling into the box, or became embedded in the surface. I can’t make any scientific statement about that, but it does appear to be the case that a few layers of strong card will stop a good proportion of the contents of a 9mm shot cartridge, which tells us something about just how short the gun’s effective range with #7½ shot would be.

We didn’t do any standardized pattern testing of the Fiocchi cartridges, but they did appear to be pretty good – saucer-sized and evenly-distributed at around 10 yards distance.

The other new starter to which the title of this post could refer is the new SmallBoreShotguns contributor, known as “Point729”, who has submitted a trio of articles to us for publication. These are currently being edited and will appear on the site shortly.