Blinded by Sunshine

I returned today to the cattle farm I visited a fortnight ago, where I shot my first bag of thirty-plus. Today’s bag wasn’t even close to double figures – two jackdaws, a crow and a wood pigeon – but it did afford some pleasant company and, after a poor start, some cracking shots.

I’d arranged to meet a couple of the other association members to try and make another dent in the numbers of crows infesting the barns. The three of us arrived early-ish and set up a line of hides across the end of the yard which allowed us to cover a lot more ground than we otherwise would have done individually. The arrangement of hides seemed unorthodox but was – apparently – initially effective.

There were fewer birds around this morning and although the others had managed to bag six or seven between them before I arrived, we only managed five more in the remainder of the morning, of which four were mine.

With hindsight, I should have constructed my hide in a different place. Although the location of the hide was good – directly under a known flight line – the orientation was unfortunate and on the first four attempts to shoot, I stood up and immediately blinded myself in the blazing sunshine, wasting cartridges and missing the bird, each time rendered invisible by the massive green and purple blotches in my vision, where the sun had burned its impression into my retina.

Eventually, as you can imagine, I got bored of this, and migrated over to the larger of the other two hides. Over a cup of coffee and a chat, we then watched and waited and took most of the (few) opportunities presented to us. I opened my account with a straightforward jackdaw, brought down with the second barrel and left the next opportunity to my colleague.

After that, at long intervals, followed three more birds. Once again, I “clicked” with the 16 gauge and didn’t miss for the rest of the day. I dropped a 40-yard jackdaw at the feet of my other colleague in the other hide (the shot was upward and perfectly safe), much to his surprise and my amusement and later, from the other hide, a short but extremely fast wood pigeon.

When all hope that we might see other birds was exhausted, I started to pack up my kit, but kept the gun handy. My foresight was rewarded with a maximum-range shot at a crow, which folded beautifully and invited enthusiastic congratulations from my compatriots and many favourable comments on my ability, which I received graciously, even if I felt that my real ability didn’t quite justify the kind words.

Once again, I’m left with a confirmation that 28g of #6 will kill cleanly some spectacular birds (when it’s fired from a tightly-choked 16 gauge, at least) and a nagging feeling that it might just be simpler to buy a slab of factory ammunition and save all the time spent reloading (although three of today’s birds were shot with reloads).

The .410 will, I’m sure, at some point, get another outing. The acquisition of new cartridges to test remains difficult, however.

Personal Best

I hope readers might forgive a modicum of arrogance if I begin by saying that I made some cracking shots today. Although my first “proper” day’s shooting in a long time was by no means perfect, there were two periods of the day where everything clicked and I brought down some stonking birds.

I set out early as planned and got to the farm just after 7am, having disturbed several hundred rabbits and one muntjac doe from their early morning grazing on the verges of the back roads.

Having parked, it took me a while to unload and decide exactly where to build the hide, but my task was to try to rid the cattle yard of the corvids milling around the barns which limited the possibilities to only two or three locations. Eventually, I set up under a line of trees at the end of the yard looking over a field of green barley, with decoys in the bare patches. Although I was never going to shoot every crow in the place, I made a good start, with a crow on my first shot and ten down before 8am.

As you can imagine, I was, by then, in something of a buoyant mood and when I saw one of the many tens of swallows darting over the crops try to eat, thrice, one of the down feathers of the 11th bird (as it gently descended from the point of the shot to the ground) – presumably believing it to be insect life of some kind – I actually laughed out loud. At the same time, I tried very hard not to allow myself to become over-confident and carried on picking my shots but as the morning wore on, the tiredness of the early start began to catch up with me.


As always seems to be the way, the avian traffic slowed down considerably by 10:30am and the steady stream of birds which had been “keeping my eye in” had all but disappeared. Fatigue set in and in spite of plenty of coffee and a snack, my concentration broke. By this point, I’d shot 19 for 30 cartridges and thus it stayed for much of the next hour.

The intervening time gave me an opportunity to reflect on the day so far.

I’d started the day with a quarter-choked 12 gauge and after birds #6, #7, #8 and #9 came down for four cartridges fired, I had wondered whether I should carry on or try the Baikal 16 gauge or the .410 which I’d also brought with me. I retrieved the Baikal.

Bird number 10 was a bit of a spectacular: a jackdaw falling to an ounce of #6 from the full-choked barrel at well over 40 yards (probably nearer 50), at a 90° angle from the orientation of the hide, just as it was about to disappear over the tree line. (I retrieved it, quite dead, for the pattern.) If I needed any reminders about just how capable the queen of the medium gauges is with it’s traditional loading, I wasn’t short of them today.

Capability requires operator competence, however, and my success was short-lived. After missing the next three in a row, I picked up the 12-gauge once again to finish the first session and “discovered”, in the process of working through my 12-gauge “odds and ends” that an ounce of #7½ will indeed bring down a 50-yard bird, as some like to claim, but only sometimes.

I believe I’ve made it fairly clear on this blog that, given the choice, I prefer larger shot (and that remains the case). That lucky, 50-yard jackdaw was quickly followed by a second, wounded at shorter range, and a crow that – although well-hit at around 40 yards – destabilized for a second or two and then flew on, exemplifying in three shots the reason why we don’t use clay loads on game. Needless to say, the handful of “clay” cartridges remaining in the bag were quickly discarded.

Number 20

Readers can imagine, I’m sure, the irritation brought about by shooting 19 birds at a decent cartridge ratio, with the promise of a 20th delayed not only by an hour’s lack of opportunity, but then by a further hour or so of fannying around having apparently forgotten how to shoot.

By midday, I was counting the intervals between seeing birds (as opposed to firing at them) and was within a few minutes of my self-imposed time limit for packing up and going home. Since one can hardly continue doing the same thing and expecting different results, I decided to get the 16 gauge out for what I expected to be the last few minutes, just to see if shaking things up a bit would make a difference.

As with the 12 gauge, I’d bought along my bag of 16-gauge odds and ends. Apart from a quantity of my own 28g/#6 reload, I had about 50 cartridges obtained a long time ago from the local shop at a heavy discount, apparently from the collection of one of their now-deceased former customers. I hadn’t really looked at them before this morning, except to note that they were good enough value to purchase without further consideration: I believe I paid £5 at the time.

Two old brands of 16 gauge cartridge: SMI “Standard” and Sellier & Bellot “Black Star”.

In fact, the bag contained examples of SMI’s “Standard” cartridge, containing 28g / #6 and a similar number of Sellier & Bellot’s paper-cased “Blck Star” cartridge which I believe were (are) loaded with 26g / #7. I would be surprised, given the primers and the degree of corrosion, if any of them were less than 40 years old. There was also a single, likewise agéd example of Eley’s “Grand Prix”, so I put that in the full-choke barrel and one of the green SMI cartridges in the half-choke.

Five seconds later, a crow appeared over the hedge row to the left, as far away as I think I’d ever reasonably expect to shoot anything and was promptly killed by a snap shot, courtesy of the Eley cartridge. Finally, for the first time in nearly three years, I’d reached 20 birds in a day. (That’s what having kids will do to you… – Ed.) I might buy a box of the modern Eleys and compare them to the new-ish Gamebore “Regal Game” when I get a chance.

The Exodus

A flurry of birds quickly followed, with a double for #22 and #23 another highlight, taking me to 24 for I’ve stopped counting cartridges by 12:30pm. After another 30 minutes of total inactivity during which I ate my lunch, I packed up, although I wasn’t giving up when I had a whole-day pass of which to take advantage.

Instead, I drove to the other end of the farm to set up a hide in a maize field which I’ve known both crows and wood pigeons to attack in the past.

None of my shooting this afternoon approached the consistency of what I’d managed in the first two hours of the day (and the S&B cartridges loaded with #7 were not entirely convincing at longer ranges) but I did manage to bring down another seven birds in an hour or so after lunch, most of them higher and faster than the morning’s birds.

By the time I’d built the hide, the wind had picked up somewhat and the birds’ flight lines brought most of them over the wood to which I had my back, which made for exciting, instinctive shooting. One was a particularly good bird, which although not far from the hide, was high and fast enough that it fell, dead, over the far hedge and into the next field, over 100 yards away.

Unfortunately, although the feeling of tiredness had receded, I was never really able to settle this afternoon, mostly thanks to the 48,000,000 local mosquitoes apparently determined to infest the hide. If I shot 30 birds today, I probably killed ten times that number of mozzies, though in spite of my efforts, my arms and legs are still covered in bites. I gave up both pursuits at around 3:30pm, having accounted for 17 crows and 14 jackdaws, which is a personal best, I’m afraid to say. Cartridge count was around 85, give or take.

In case anyone was wondering, the .410 did come out for a few minutes, but ultimately, I didn’t “click” with it as I did the other two guns. Certainly this afternoon, the ranges were too long for it to have been any use and this morning, it didn’t come out early enough for it to benefit from an operator on form. Perhaps another day.

An Afterthought

With all the other things going on in life recently, I haven’t really had any time for any reloading. Interestingly – for me, anyway – I came home today, feeling that sometimes, it’s quite nice just to pop some factory shells in the gun and focus on the shooting and the enjoyment of the day, rather than worrying about whether the patterns for this or that reload will be good.

Getting Stuck In

May and June are the months for crows and, once again, one of the local landowners has been in touch with the sporting association of which I’m a member to ask that someone come and deal with the 300-500 that are currently inhabiting his cattle barns. I’ve volunteered for the Sunday morning slot and I’m looking forward to it.

It’s been so long since I’ve been out that – although I don’t feel completely rusty, shooting-wise – I’m concerned about remembering to take everything I need. Since I’m planning to be out at around 6am to be in the fields for 7am, Sunday morning isn’t likely to be the best time to scramble around the house for bits of kit I’ve forgotten to pack.

I’m almost certain that I’ll take a half-choked 12 gauge and the .410. It might be time to start using up some of the odds and ends left over from last year’s testing  if the birds decoy well, to make space in my cartridge box for whatever I can lay my hands on for the remainder of this year. That’ll probably depend on how well the birds decoy.

We shall see.


“All rabbits to be shot on sight!”

I reminded myself yesterday or the peculiar satisfaction of small-bore shooting.

A visit to relatives yesterday afforded the opportunity to walk around the grounds of the house with the strict instruction that “any rabbits are to be shot on sight”. Unfortunately, in spite of fencing and the prospect of far tastier morsels left elsewhere in the garden, the little buggers have been steadily eating their way through the vegetable patch.

Even if the Pest Act 1954 and the designation of the entirety of England as a Rabbit Clearance Area under that Act were not enough to persuade us to shoot the blighters as a matter of civic duty, I think we’d still have been motivated to try. Unfortunately, as well as being eternally hungry, they’re also rather wary and in spite of patience and best efforts, we weren’t able to get near enough to any of the handful that appeared to take a shot.

I didn’t go home empty-handed however. Regrettably, I’d had to turn down the possibility of “hundreds of crows” – or so said an acquaintance who tried to persuade me to visit one of the Association’s farms with him instead – as the visit to see family had been arranged previously. I still haven’t heard out how he got on, but no doubt it’ll be three figures or something ridiculous!

For my part, I managed a small bag of wood pigeons at a ratio of 1 for 2 – admittedly at short-to-medium ranges – with Hull’s “High Pheasant” 19g / #6 loading for .410 proving its efficacy once again. A renewed confidence in my shooting abilities and sight of much of the local fauna – a pair of young foxes, some pheasants of a certain age and at least one sparrowhawk, if not two – were my other rewards.

On the subject of the the 2018 “priorities” I listed in an earlier post, I’m starting to be able to turn attention back to pattern testing and reloading. A trip to my local shop didn’t turn up anything except the Hull cartridges, though I asked questions about buckshot as well. 42g / #3 in a Gamebore cartridge was the largest they had, but #3 doesn’t quite meet my definition of buckshot. I’ll be looking further afield in the coming weeks to see what I can obtain.

.410 cartridges, likewise, remain difficult to find. I’ve tested everything I can obtain locally, so it looks like I’ll have to make some inquiries on the online fora and see if folk are aware of any local (or less local) suppliers of the shells I’ve not yet tested.

A final observation: our new carpet is being delivered / fitted tomorrow. This will mark the end of the rebuilding / redecoration of the house since the flooding last year and will probably justify a pint or two of beer to celebrate.