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.
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.