Gun Review: Baikal MP18M-M Single Barrel Shotgun

A Baikal MP18M-M Single Barrel .410 Shotgun formerly owned by The Hedgewalker.

The Baikal MP18M-M is, in spite of its extreme simplicity, a difficult gun to get along with. The version this author owned, early on in his shotgunning career – an “Improved Modified”-choked gun with a composite stock – was a step on the road to a more expensive double gun. It was bought to afford the possibility of using .410 ammunition at minimal expense in “hardware”. Ultimately, the investment of £160 at the time of purchase was a poor one and the gun was sold around 12 months later at a substantial loss.

Although the author recalls a fondness for the lever action operation of the gun – unusual, certainly – the difficulties posed by the design are several and hard to surmount. Even with practice, the gun was so light as to make it uncontrollable at times, particularly on crossing targets. Any perpendicular target within 30 yards, traveling at 300mph was easily broken, but the more normal loopers and teals at the clay ground where the gun received most of its use escaped unharmed. It was always far easier to give a target 30 feet of lead than 30 inches!

Russia is not a member of the CIP, so all Baikal guns are required to go through one of the UK proof houses before sale in the UK. The specification and marks on the author’s example indicated a 3″ / 76mm chamber, superior proofed. The bore size was exactly .410″ as marked. The (chromed) barrel length was 26″, making the gun somewhat on the short side – though ballistically-speaking this would have been no disadvantage. Drops at heel and comb were as advertised, although the shape of the gun made fit a complicated issue (see below). The choke was a tight nominal ¾ choke at 0.018″ (some consider this to be a full choke in the .410) and short, with the constriction achieved in around ½” of barrel length. The stock had mounts for the attachment of a standard stud / swivel sling.

The lack of a proper rib on the gun was also unconducive to consistent shooting. When mounting the gun, one could only see the curved top of the barrel with a bead at the end, over the top of the breech block. The effect of this “sight picture” was often to make it appear as though the barrel was curved upward, like a banana, which often drew attention away from the target and onto the barrel, resulting in a miss.

Even with extensive experimentation with pattern plate and stationary targets, it was never possible reliably to determine whether one’s line of sight should be past the breech block and down the top of the (slightly conical) barrel, or whether it should be along a line between the top of the breech block and the bead. The author suspects that it was perhaps somewhere between the two. This made determining whether the gun actually fitted somewhat difficult. If the manual made any comment on this subject, it was unclear, being written entirely in Russian and therefore, impenetrable.

Unfortunately the difference in angle between the two possible sight axes was substantial and would have accounted for a movement of the pattern of 3-4′ at 30 yards. Even settling on one or the other as an arbitrary “normal” and shooting instinctively was difficult: the light weight of the gun even made consistent mounting difficult to achieve and, short of aiming the gun like a rifle, it was hard to put two consecutive shots into the same place. In the field, under conditions of surprise when a bird had been flushed a few yards in front, the author suspects it would have been almost impossible – though he never attempted to shoot game with the gun.

Somewhat inexplicably, the stock of the composite version of the MP18M-M is capped by a substantial rubber recoil pad which – even accounting for the possibility of firing heavy-for-gauge 3″ cartridges – seemed a little unnecessary. That said, the author recollects that the odd shot did kick a little from time to time: at under 5lbs, the gun is extremely lightweight and doubtless this contributes to felt recoil, expecially where the mount has been poor.

It is difficult to recall which of the many cartridges tested in the gun performed the best. Some informal testing / patterning was performed with the Baikal from time to time, but none as methodically or carefully as the tests which produced the data provided by this site.

The Gamebore 14g / #9 skeet load and its Lyalvale equivalent were useful for clays, both producing reasonable, if borderline-blown patterns through the fixed 0.018″ choke. Partly on the basis of more recent experience, the author strongly suspects that the Full-choked version of the gun (0.023″ constriction? – Ed.) would have shown no improvement, but that the “Modified” version (0.014″? – Ed.) would have been more versatile. Unfortunately, the RFD from whom the gun was obtained were not able to offer a choice of chokes.

In the end, this is a “workhorse” gun which will do the necessary on static targets, but which, with its flaws, will not make wing-shooting straightforward and which, by preventing this, contributes further to the impression of the .410 as a sitting-rabbits-at-20-yards (only) bore size. This is unfortunate.

If it were necessary to buy another of these guns, the author would choose the wooden-stocked version with the lightest available choking and expect only to use it to acquaint a very small person with the sensation of recoil, before moving them quickly onto a lightly-loaded 28 gauge for any kind of serious shooting. There are enough of these guns around that it ought not to be necessary to buy one brand new. Undoubtedly, this gun will fit someone and they will get on with it admirably, but experience suggests that patience, money saved and the purchase of a more traditionally-shaped (double) gun will reap greater rewards.