Blowing Away the Cobwebs

Today was the first time since I acquired the little Yildiz that I’ve wished for my usual cartridge containing 28 grams of number 6 shot. I’ve mentioned my tightly-choked 16 gauge gun in previous posts and today’s pass-shooting at small groups of jittery wood pigeons would have suited that gun and cartridge very well.

This morning, however, in the interests of continuing to learn to shoot the new gun (and in the absence of a supply of perforable material for further patterning work), I persisted with the .410 and can report some success, finishing with three birds for six shots from my hour-long walk around one of the quieter bits of the Cambridgeshire countryside.

It was a qualified success, however.

Settling Down

I’ve been unwell this week and have felt rather unsettled with it. Medications for the colds / influenza have come on remarkably in the last twenty years and one can now acquire formulations that knock viruses for six and make all of the symptoms disappear. This is wonderful, in so far as one can maintain one’s usual routine, go to work, live life and so on, but the anti-histamines they include tend to make me drowsy whilst they’re working and leave me feeling somewhat disjointed afterwards until I’ve had a good night’s sleep.

This morning was the first morning this week that I’ve felt well enough to get up and not immediately take the medication for relief from those symptoms. On that basis, I decided to push myself to go out for a wander in the cold, to blow away the cobwebs, so to speak. It was the right decision – glorious, blazing winter sunshine, beautiful clear skies and some good opportunities were my reward.

I arrived at the farm just as the driven shoot next door had started their first drive. I wasn’t in a hurry to get out of the car, since I wasn’t there to act as impromptu “back gun” – until I saw a low-flying flock of 100 wood pigeons displaced from the wood through which the beaters were presumably making their way, at which point I got out, fumbled two cartridges into the gun and – flustered – missed two attempts before I’d gone 20 yards from the car. This was not the beginning to the morning for which I’d been hoping.

Once again, my excitement – the same excitement that makes me shoot that aforementioned 16 gauge at 60-yard birds I haven’t a hope of hitting – got the better of me and two wasted cartridges were the result. Now – one could argue that unless I’d fired those two shots, the opportunities that followed, of which I “converted” three of four, wouldn’t have happened, but I’d still rather have come home with four empty cases than six.

I tried to compose myself and carried on.

Driven Wood Pigeon!

I hadn’t walked much more 20 yards further before I had my first real chance. Having discharged both barrels in the manner described above, I moved into the treeline along which I was walking to await any birds which circled round to return to their original roost. I moved up slowly through the wood, thinking that it was worth staying concealed for a while and kept an eye on the field. My instincts were rewarded when a pair of birds circled back a few minutes later and I was able to take a bird perhaps 20-22 yards up, flying into the wood, just higher than the top of the tree line.

Unfortunately, in spite of having the luxury of a second or two to line up the shot and take it (and in spite of the pigeon bouncing hard off a tree trunk on the way down) when I retrieved the bird, it needed a blow from a priest to complete the job.

I suppose it makes sense that, as someone who does not usually shoot driven birds, that one of the presentations I find most troublesome is the “straight towards you, constant height” bird, not least because, face on, one has to block out the bird with the muzzles of the gun and trust one’s instincts about where and when to pull the trigger. Ordinarily, I’d try to turn sideways and take it as a high crosser, but in this case there wasn’t time and I ended up putting the shot up the right side of the bird and winging it.

Although my shooting was, in this case, less than perfect, I believe that this was the only one of the three birds I bagged today that I missed, in the traditional shooter-points-gun-in-wrong-direction sense. Unfortunately, it transpired that I also had a hard lesson to learn about exactly what this little .410 is and isn’t capable of.

Pulling the Envelope

I don’t want anyone to think that I’m mistaking a clear failure to point the gun in the right direction with cartridge inadequacy, which – apart from generally wanting this blog to be a true record of my experiences with the .410 – is why I’ve been honest about wounding the bird in the way I described above. I fired a bad shot and wounded a bird. It’s not great and I don’t feel good about it, but it happens to everyone who hunts, from time to time (and no doubt a lot more than people will admit !- Ed.). That said, the fact that it’s unavoidable doesn’t (and shouldn’t) make any of us feel comfortable about failing to cleanly kill our quarry.

That’s why, in case you were wondering, I’m not more triumphant about achieving a 1-for-2 ratio with a .410 I’ve only owned for a month or two. Don’t get me wrong – I’m pleased – to a degree. The gun appears to fit and when I shoot it, I am actually hitting and bagging some birds with it. I am starting to learn the lessons of appropriate (.410) range and – doubtless – if I’d been shooting a 16 gauge today, I’d have still wounded that first bird by taking a bad shot.

Unfortunately, if I had had my 16 gauge with me, I suspect I wouldn’t have wounded the second and third birds also.

I said earlier that I find the “driven” presentation difficult and that’s true. One that I don’t tend to struggle with however, is the crossing bird, so when I later saw a small group of wood pigeons flying above the wood, 30-40 yards in, only a few feet above the tops of the trees, it seemed entirely natural to raise the gun to them and take a shot.

The shot connected, as expected, and the bird barreled down into the wood. When I got to it to pick it up, I learnt my first hard lesson about the limitations of using #7½ shot on live quarry. The pigeon had both wings broken and wounds in its neck (crop) and side where pellets had entered but failed to penetrate through to the vitals. When I later breasted it, I counted six obvious pellet strikes, but none of them had been immediately lethal. I could, of course, have “missed”, but the evidence suggests otherwise. Although testing has shown that the Eley “Trap” cartridges will produce an adequate pattern at 40 yards, I suspect that when folk say that #7½ runs out of steam at around 35 yards – at least in small loads like these – they may be right.

If one “pushes” the envelope to work outside the normal boundaries and limitations of a situation, then I very much need to “pull the envelope” and bring the ranges I’m shooting at down even further than I have already.

Curbing One’s Instincts

I hope that whoever it is out there that is tasked with “keeping score” is at least chalking up a mark in my column for being frank about my failings, even as they delete them for my sins.

After bird number two had been dispatched and put into the bag, I switched over to the Eley “Extra Long” Subsonic cartridge to see what their performance would be like in the field. Although they’re 400fps slower than the “Trap” cartridges I’d been using, I’m afraid I can report no significant differences with any other cartridge in terms of muzzle blast or noise levels (though I always wear ear defenders to shoot, so perhaps two versions of really, really loud are hard to tell apart).

When I heard a bird departing the tree line behind me, whirled round to see it and instinctively took a shot at it, I’m afraid that it did not occur to me that this gun, loaded with #6 shot would have no pattern to speak of at 45 yards range and what, once again, would have been a cleanly killed bird, had there been 280 pellets in the pattern, came down flapping because, in the event, there were only 170.

The shot was, basically, good. It was an easy-ish quartering bird by the time I was on it, felt good as I pulled the trigger and followed through and – even by my mediocre standards, was a pretty straightforward shot.

Unfortunately, despite the best piece of advice for good shooting basically being “don’t think about it”, hunting with this gun does require thought: one must curb one’s instincts and remember that the quantity of lead thrown into the air by a .410 is extremely limited and that this alone – without considering all of the other complications of small bore shotgun internal ballistics – brings its maximum range down into the ranges attempted regularly by the “ordinary” (or mediocre) shooter.

A Stand Against Prejudice

I’m sure that the events I have just described will serve only to cement in the minds of some readers the idea that the .410 is a wounder of game. The way I used it today – instinctively and to take the some of the same shots as I would have a 16-, 12- or 10-gauge – certainly goes a long way to making that belief true. I am not proud of this.

However, it is my belief (and my wish to prove to myself) that, used within it’s limitations, the .410 is still a perfectly adequate small-to-medium game gun. I know from others’ experience that it is possible to tune a .410 to give 40 yards of usable range and that, with appropriate self-restraint, one can use it as well as any other shotgun out to that kind of distance.

I have learnt already with this gun, to ignore the 50-yard-plus birds and to some degree, even birds which are much closer but which have presentations too difficult for a shooter of my standard. The very fact that I can record three birds bagged for six shots fired (and not, for example, 30) is testament to that improvement. It will serve me well if and when I return to shooting my larger-gauge guns.

That said, I must train myself better to ignore not just the out-of-range birds, but the borderline ones too. The challenge with this gun (which I am finding remarkably easy to get on with), is now not what I can hit, but what I can leave.