Garden Gun Performance

In October 2017, some of the patterns generated by the testing of the Fiocchi “Flobert” 7½g/#7½ cartridge were published on one of the major UK shooting forums. The response was generally appreciative and interested and the SmallBoreShotguns team were asked to comment further in response to the question

“With your findings regarding patterns and energy, what practical / humane range do you think the 9mm garden gun has?”

The Hedgewalker gave this reply:

I hesitate to state a number as I’ve never pointed one at live game and don’t intend to do so in future, but I would think somewhere between 12-15 yards for normal small-to-medium UK quarry on the basis of what I’ve seen so far.

I’ve patterned the Fiocchi #6 (IT) and #7½ (IT) cartridges and a very small number of the RWS #10 loading.

The #6 cartridge and to a lesser extent the #7½, I would probably trust to “rifle-shoot” pigeons, small rabbits and any smaller species at the distances I’ve specified above. I mean “rifle-shoot” in the sense of taking aimed shots at stationary or near-stationary targets. In that sense, the 9mm Flobert cartridge really is what many people believe the .410 to be.

Neither cartridge is really suitable for moving game and although I’ve done a lot of work to produce evidence for the .410 being a perfectly good gun for wingéd / fast-moving targets, I am defeated by the 9mm – it just isn’t capable of it, except by relying almost entirely on luck, which renders it inhumane.

Unlike the .410, where there is a range of cartridge effectiveness, from the truly awful (most 2″ / 2½” loadings; many continental cartridges) to the basically capable (e.g. the better 2½” / 3″ loadings), the 9mm doesn’t have either the range of ammunition (to allow for cartridges more or less suited to the individual firearm) or the inherent capacity to work with.

To put it in its proper place, I’d consider the 2″ .410 loadings, collectively, as being capable out to around 20 yards – whether limited by pellet energy or pattern – and the 9mm is the next logical step downward as you’d expect.

A 2″ .410 round might only produce 900-1000fps at the muzzle; the 9mm is in the region of 600-700fps. That 2″ .410 round loaded with #9 shot will give about the same individual pellet energy at 15 yards as a 9mm cartridge loaded with Italian #6, give or take. There’s not that much between them ballistically: a gap, certainly, and the 9mm usually comes off worse, but it’s not as big as you might expect. To counter: how many people regularly rely on 2″ .410 cartridges?

There are some particular considerations with the garden gun however.

Almost certainly due to the muzzle velocity being around half of “normal” shotgun velocity, garden gun patters are noticeably smaller, with fewer fliers than the equivalent “normal” pattern at any given distance. That means that, although the overall pattern is smaller, the density within the pattern area will usually be equivalent to a cartridge with a much higher number of pellets.

The 56 pellets we saw in the 20″ circle for one of the 20-yard patterns using the Fiocchi #6 cartridge is theoretically equivalent to around 120-130 pellets in a 30″ circle. That’s a sparse pattern for pigeon, but it would probably do the job most of the time and the energy is there too. Take a few yards off that and you can see why it’s called a garden gun – it would probably knock over the woodies rummaging around your feeders which you’ve intended for smaller, prettier songbirds.

The other thing which you have to take into consideration is the velocity of the shot. Even in 5-yard pattern tests, it’s possible to hear two distinct noises – that of the shot, and that of the pellets going through the paper / card. By the time you get out to 20 yards, you’re getting the kind of delay you’d expect from an “ordinary” cartridge at 45-50 yards. That should emphasize the point about aimed shots and stationary targets – there’s a real risk that even a small deviation off target would leave you with a squealing rabbit or flapping bird.

You’ll notice that I haven’t mentioned the RWS #10 cartridge much yet. Whether it has any use in this country really depends on which of the various schools of thought you subscribe to and at this point, I’m not qualified to comment except to tell you what they are.

The age old debate about using #7½ or #6 shot for pigeons that we have on [the forum] every now and again is really a shadow of a much more important argument over cartridge choice in small bore guns and if the .410 hints at it, the 9mm shows it up in spades.

Essentially, the argument is over whether it’s best to drive a few, big pellets straight through the bird in the hope of killing it quickly via destruction of organs or major blood loss, or whether it’s best to shower it with as many tiny shot as possible in the hope of hitting some part of the central nervous system (CNS) and killing it instantly in the one sense, whilst recognising that it takes a few seconds for the heart to stop beating / blood to stop pumping afterwards if the CNS is the only thing that is hit.

It is my strong suspicion that, whilst asking the question about 12 gauge is like asking angels to dance on the head of a pin, the same argument in the very small bores actually exposes two “islands” of performance between which the “compromise cartridge” is not as effective as either of the “extremes”.

I suspect that, although pellet energy is exceptionally low, even at the muzzle, the RWS #10 cartridge (or even the #11 equivalent) would probably exceed most peoples’ initial expectations of lethality because the chances of a CNS strike are substantial in a tight and very dense pattern and the skull of the average small critter is so thin that even those tiny pellets would break through to kill.

At the other end of the scale, if you chose to go down the “drive big pellets through it” route, then you have to go all the way and use the very biggest shot you can. Ok – you might only have 60 pellets in the cartridge and most people would call using what is the equivalent of #5½ English in a .410 pretty crazy (I certainly do) – let alone in a cartridge holding half the quantity of shot – but again, with the high density pattern (not often seen in the .410) and an aimed shot, you probably would drive 2-3 pellets through something important and kill the target that way.

In the middle though – with a #8 cartridge, say – you have neither the pellet energy required to drive the shot through the target, nor the pattern density to be reasonably sure of hitting the head or neck. The result is quarry wounded every time. I think that the .410 hints at this too and though I’ve always been too scared of injuring birds to actually shoot at them with (for example) 14g/#9, the anecdotes I’ve read do seem to support what I’m suggesting.

Beyond that, I’m not sure. Garden guns are generally quiet, for a powder gun, but the environment you shoot in makes a big difference. In a field, it’s pretty comfortable to shoot without ear defenders in a way that no other shotgun is. Surrounded by trees (i.e. in an actual garden or wood), you can get a lot of sound reflected back, but it’s still tolerable and that probably means most isn’t escaping elsewhere to annoy the neighbours.

Pietro Fiocchi used to say that the .410 was the smallest bore size with which one could seriously hunt. I believe he was right, but there is (or perhaps was) a place for the 9mm in the stable. I didn’t mention songbirds / migratory birds above, but I suspect the #10 cartridges probably had more of utility in the past, when that kind of hunting was still legal. It wouldn’t take much to bring down a sparrow, for instance! Perhaps there are still uses for them now – Falco still produce double guns bored in 8mm and 9mm rimfire, for example – but for whom or what they are intended, I’m not really sure.