Modest Outcomes

Forty-one thousandths of an inch is a lot of choke for a 12 gauge and represents really quite a lot of “squeeze” on an already over-sized fibre wad and shot column – especially when it’s a reduction from a bore diameter of .721″ rather than the more traditional .729″, as is the case on my Baikal.

Of course, there are a small number of wildfowlers who believe that steel shot, already generally superior to lead in pattern performance terms because of its hardness, requires chokings of 0.060″ or even 0.070″ to function at its best. The fad for “terror” chokes (and bloody hell the idea scares me) giving constrictions that would make American turkey shooters’ eyes water now seem to be dying out thankfully and not before time. It is quite ridiculous to think that such constrictions could be anything other than damaging, especially when one considers that it is quite straightforward to “blow” a pattern with what many folk consider to be the standard full-choke constriction (c. 0.040″).

Pattern testing today filled out some more numbers for the Fiocchi Flobert #7½ round but, as lots of people seem to say to me at the moment, that’s much of a muchness. I’m not going to hunt with that gun, so whilst it’s theoretically interesting, knowing their performance doesn’t achieve much practical.

On the other hand, supplementary patterning for my 34g/#5 load has prompted a change of course.

Now, to be fair, today’s patterns weren’t as bad as I thought they might have been and – given the difficulty in picking out some of the pellet holes, might represent a slight under-estimate of performance. 159 and 143 in the circle at 40 yards are usable, if not spectacular patterns from the full choke barrel. However, when the half-choked barrel is producing patterns of 191 at the same distance, one has to begin to suspect a blown pattern due to excessive choke and this may be what we saw today.

40-yard pattern shot through the full choke of the Baikal 12 gauge using a 34g / #5 reload.

The trouble with the cartridge, as it’s currently constituted, is that although it does provide fairly smooth recoil and a comfortable shooting experience, performance is mediocre and inconsistent and it does use a lot of powder, a good proportion of which is left un-burnt in the barrel after firing. A0 is really a “magnum” powder and using it on really rather a light load is wasteful.

Since I’ve been investigating loading some “traditional pigeon” shells using A1 – which ought to be a much better powder for 34g – I’m going to abandon the A0 cartridge as unsuitable for the Baikal – at least for now – and see if I get any better results with a different powder. #7 shot is proving hard to get, so 36g/#6 might do for that experiment and – if they turn out to be any good – perhaps I’ll actually end up using them in the field.

Unfortunately, I’m sceptical. Using a faster powder will increase pressures and increasing pressures is likely to damage performance. It may simply be that a tight bore with a very tight choke at the end of it is just too much for any ordinary cartridge and that I’ll have to get the full choke barrel bored out somewhat – perhaps to somewhere between the .041″ constriction it has now and the .017″ constriction that seems to perform so well with the originally-intended cartridge.

We shall see, but given my luck in finding good, performant cartridges for all of my other guns, it seems only fair that I have to do a little work to get one of them printing patterns the way I want them. Apart from anything else, it will get hugely confusing if, all of a sudden, I’m pulling the back trigger for nearby birds and the front trigger for the screamers. That just wouldn’t feel right after several years of using a near-identical 16 gauge that works the other way round…

A Grand Day Out

Looking back on recent posts on this blog, it’s clear that, only a couple of weeks ago, I wasn’t having the best time of it. Happily, regression to the mean is one of the few “rules” in life that one can rely on and I’m pleased to report another good outing today, to go with the positive trip I had last weekend.

I traveled today to see an old friend and was pleased to find him looking well (particularly given a recent illness). We instigated another meeting of the Cardboard Perforation Society (CPS) on some of his ground and pattern tested the Fiocchi #7½ 9mm Flobert cartridge which has been sitting on the shelf for some time. This was a rather amusing exercise which saw us shooting patterns at 5, 10, 15 and 20 yards and in the foremost case prompted many amusing jibes on the subject of accuracy: the muzzle of the gun was practically touching the pattern plate.

To give a conclusion in a sentence: whilst concerns about the penetrative ability of small shot at low velocity remain, the Fiocchi shells do appear to offer some utility in short-range vermin control. In fact, the #7½ cartridge may be the best of the 9mm shells we’ve tested – proper results will follow later.

We performed these tests using some packing boxes I found at work, left over from a recent office move. These were stacked, awaiting disposal, so my employer was only too happy to let me cut them up and take them away. They produced fifteen or so plates of various sizes which will keep me going whilst I await the delivery – tomorrow apparently – of the next roll of patterning paper, with which I’ll do the pattern testing for the increasingly large pile of .410 cartridges sitting on my “man shelf”.

In fact managed to return home with another box to add to the .410 mountain, in the form of the Gamebore “Traditional Game” 9g / #7 (2″)  cartridge (the link displays the re-branded version) of which I have until now – in spite of having visited the Gamebore website reasonably regularly for some years – been entirely unaware.

A Wander

It was probably selfish of me to observe to my friend after we’d finished patterning, that taking leave from work and not going shooting (as opposed to patterning) always feels a bit of a waste of a day off. Selfish, in the sense that one shouldn’t invite oneself to others’ domains and simply expect to be allowed to shoot – one must be invited to do so, of course.

Nonetheless, I think my friend understood the point I was trying to make (i.e. that free time should be used for the things that give most enjoyment) and kindly agreed that we should go for a wander around the woods not far from where we’d done the patterning. The sun blazed and the sky was clear in a manner entirely uncharacteristic of any 27th October I can remember and we both enjoyed the walk very much.

In the end, one juvenile wood pigeon fell to a 15-20 yard shot from my Baikal 12-gauge, with another easy attempt prevented by the safety catch earlier on. (I forget, every time I take that gun out, that it has an automatic safety – I may have to “fix” that at some point.) The stock extension appeared to improve the fit of the gun and if anything, I felt as if I’d shot marginally over the top of the bird, rather than underneath, which suggests a slight over-correction. I’ll take it out again a few more times in the next few weeks to be sure.

The only other shot I took was at a bird further out, which I think I hit, albeit perhaps only with a single stray pellet. It continued on for at least another 200-300 yards before dropping to the ground, but whether it was landing normally or falling because it had expired, I couldn’t tell. The foxes will have had it by now if it was the latter.

Nonetheless: one in the bag – in spite of my confidence in the 34g/#5 reload being somewhat dented by some rather poor patterns shot only minutes earlier. I’m going to have to rethink that cartridge – it’s not consistent, or obviously performant enough for me to be happy with it, or have confidence in it, whether or not it’s printing 140 at 40 yards. (Again, results to follow.)

After we’d packed the guns away, we drove out towards one of the local RFD’s and stopped at the pub, where I was grateful to be treated to a very nice lunch.

What do you mean, #7?

I promise readers that I’m not going to be any less cynical on the subject of shot sizes in the small bores and when we visited the local firearms dealer just after lunch, it was certainly the case that, for .410, all the cartridges on the shelf, except for the aforementioned Gamebore loading, contained #6 shot or larger.

I was tempted to buy more of the Hull “High Pheasant” 19g/#6 loading and a box of the RWS 9mm shells containing 7g/#10, but I can obtain the former locally and the latter were phenomenally expensive for a cartridge for which I have no use and which I’ve previously tested – no matter how appropriate the tiny shot size might be to the tiny Flobert case. I was also tempted to buy a box of the Gamebore buckshot load (which I’ve known about for as long as I can remember, but never seen for sale), simply for interest, but decided against it, not only because I’d have no use for them, but also because they would probably blow to bits the pattern plate and render rolls of expensive paper useless should stray pellet travel through the box.

In the end, however, I was pleased to come away with something new to test and, although the Gamebore shell is probably a 20-yard cartridge at best, it might yet turn out to be a good 20-yard cartridge, with all of the usual accommodations one has to make for a 2″ cartridge assumed. I suspect that my inherent curiosity regarding such extreme loadings may see it jump a few places up the queue and feature in my next set of testing.

The Gamebore “Traditional Hunting” 9g / #7 cartridge.

After that and another pleasant drive through the country, I dropped my friend back at his house and we parted ways. A slow journey back and the responsibilities of fatherhood kept me busy for a few hours after I got back, but I’m now “in the zone” and will get on with counting some patterns as soon as I’ve hit the button to publish this post.

More to follow.

Super Steel – Sometimes

It’s been a while since I’ve managed to get out to the fields, but a snatched couple of hours, first thing this morning, paid dividends. The weather was windy, but bright and I managed a mixed bag of three for five shots, which I thought was quite respectable.

Stock Extensions

I’ve been making inquiries this week about stock extension pads. The pad my wife kindly ordered for me, for my Birthday, was returned to the supplier as unsuitable. It was simply too large and fell off every time the gun was pointed skyward, for every gun with which its use was intended. That pad was exchanged for an alternative model, which proved equally over-sized and therefore likewise unsuitable.

After this, I decided to take advice. Having constructed – I flatter myself – what may have been the post with the highest density of euphemisms per paragraph in the history of one of the major shooting fora (and got it past the moderators) to request opinions on a next step, I received some suggestions on alternative products and approaches. A friend has offered to assist with the “Russian Purdeys” (as he refers to my Baikals) but I may have managed to come up with an answer in the meantime: “home economics”.

Crises of masculinity aside (I’m yet to have one), I rather like the fact that I can sew. In fact, I can sew rather well, when I put my mind to it. This afternoon, after lunch, whilst supervising the small people in the house, I dug out my wife’s sewing box and tightened the elasticated part of the stock extension, such that it now doesn’t fall off the back of either of the Baikals, rendering it useful. Result!

Superb Steel (Sometimes)

The reason for interrupting an account of this morning’s wanderings with comments on the subject of stock extensions was simply to point out that the requisite progress on making several of my guns fit had not been achieved by the time I left the house at 8am.

Since the conditions precluded the possibility of doing any patterning and I wasn’t feeling optimistic enough to take an unfamiliar, single-barreled 20 gauge to the fields, I retrieved my Browning Maxus from the cabinet and a box of the Gamebore “Super Steel” 32g/#4 cartridges from the cupboard.

Now usually, I’m a sceptic about all things steel, because I’m far too aware of its limitations in comparison to lead and other more ballistically-efficient metals. As a hunter, I think we should be using the most effective ammunition we can, within reason. Lead is readily and cheaply available and I have long suspected the claims for lead poisoning in wildfowl to have been somewhat selective and over-blown. Either way, the law says we can’t use it over wetlands, so I don’t – but that doesn’t mean I can’t be suspicious of it either. Usually, it’s of no concern -it’s not as if I do much ‘fowling anyway.

However: even accounting for all of the above, I have always trusted the Gamebore load and have taken some of my longest, best birds with it. Although that does include a handful of stratospheric ducks – the quarry for which it was intended – it’s actually rather a good wood pigeon cartridge and proved its worth again this morning with a clean kill of a passing bird around 45 yards from the hedgerow where I was walking.

When I left, I had wanted to change the choke in the Maxus to the ½ choke, which has tended to perform well with the steel cartridge, but I had unable to find the choke key and in the end, had to make do with ¾. I needn’t have worried. I don’t usually “see” the shot cloud, but the low sun this morning made it quite apparent, as did the damage to the bird, that this was a good, tight (as opposed to blown) pattern. I may even shoot a couple of plates for the sake of interest at some point.

A Little Decoying

One problem which occurs when one spends the majority of the time shooting small-gauge guns, is that when one does finally take a 12-gauge for a walk, it’s all to easy to feel “unrestricted” and take on distant birds which are significantly further out than the 10-15 yards of extra usable range of a 12 gauge over (for example) a .410 will allow for. That said, I don’t feel, other than having more confidence to take on the opportunities presented than I might have had whilst carrying a .410, that I suffered from this misguided instinct as I perhaps have in the past.

The dead crow I picked up this morning was, to be fair, over 90 paces from the natural hide I’d been using, with a handful of decoys, to try and encourage a large number of crows that were milling around on the second farm into a “shootable” location.

Before anyone jumps to any conclusions however, readers will be reassured that, when I shot the crow the first time, it was no further out than the wood pigeon I had taken earlier (probably closer, in fact) and that, when it started to fold, clearly hit, I fully expected it to come down there and then.

In the high wind, however, the bird appeared to recover and glide a little, which prompted me to take a second shot at it to try and prevent it  escaping and suffering significantly before it finally expired. The second shot also connected and killed the bird outright – I was greatly relieved – but the wind carried it still further before it came down and necessitated a long walk to retrieve it.

It is plainly unethical to shoot at birds 75 yards away, so at this point, it seems worth reassuring readers that, in any situation other than trying to dispatch wounded, escaping quarry, I wouldn’t have raised my gun to a bird that far out – even knowing and freely admitting my habit of taking on “reasonable” long-range birds (e.g. 40-55 yards) perhaps slightly too often.

Ignoring that fact, it does highlight an important feature of steel shot, which was particularly apparent today. Although, out to a certain range, steel shot of the right size and velocity will kill just as well as lead, the distance over which its effectiveness “tails off” seems to be much shorter than that of lead.

What I mean is that, if one’s cartridge containing lead shot will kill well enough at 40 yards all day long, then taking a few 50- or even 55-yard shots isn’t going to result in lots of wounded birds. Yes, you’re playing the odds unless performance is very good, but you’ll probably still wound few enough (good shooting assumed) that no-one watching you will feel you’re pushing any ethical boundaries.

On the other hand, with steel, a 40-yard cartridge which kills reliably can easily become a 45-yard cartridge that wounds 50% of all the birds it connects with. Assuming that we use larger shot sizes for steel, as is common practice, then the larger, harder pellets (which make bigger holes) may even kill more effectively than equally-energetic lead pellets – but the greater drag and lower momentum eventually catches up and they become ineffective more quickly: playing the odds at the border of a steel cartridge’s range isn’t likely to go well on the basis of my limited experience.

I’ll try to look into the mathematics of this in the next few weeks and see if I can work up some numbers which support this hypothesis.

An Unexpected Visitor

Whilst hiding in the hedge, keeping watch over the decoys, I had an unusual visitor. A female Goshawk (I’m about 95% certain of my identification), floated gently into the middle of my crow decoys, seemed to inspect them for a few minutes and then remained, not 25 yards away from me, accepting my admiration disdainfully, until a pair of crows (neither hollow nor plastic), appeared and chased her off again.

I had been under the impression that the Goshawks in this country were generally kept by falconers and that they didn’t appear in the wild, but I look forward to being corrected and having my identification of the bird supported by new information. Whatever it was, it was a magnificent bird and a pleasure to see it.

The third item in my mixed bag, as yet unmentioned, was a large, male rabbit, which appeared out of the hedgerow just as I was walking back from picking up the crow. Usually I wouldn’t shoot them as I haven’t enjoyed eating them in the past, but this was an instinctive shot – not perfectly executed, I have to admit – and taken on the grounds that, since the hare proved so pleasant the other week, I thought I’d give rabbit a try again. I don’t suppose the farmer will mind. After that, I field dressed it and took it home, feeling that I’d had, all in all, a rather good morning.

Shot Size 4¾

Since I started patterning my new 34g/#5 reload, I’ve been slightly curious as to why the average pellet count for the cartridge is so low. Historically, #5 shot has tended to number 220 to the ounce, or approximately 7.76 pellets per gram of shot, which should put around 264 in the cartridge. Certainly that (or rather, 270) was what I was aiming at, which makes the 246 pellet average somewhat lower than expectations. Even allowing for some variation on the basis of size, antimony content, the quantity dropped by the bushings on the loader, etc., it was still difficult to explain the aforementioned discrepancy.

I was browsing the website of the Clay & Game company, from whom I bought my last supply of #5 shot, this afternoon. I was really looking at prices for a 20 gauge conversion kit for my Lee press (why buy cartridges when one can load one’s own!?), but I noticed whilst I was there that they advertise their #5 shot as being 2.85mm in diameter. The comments of an acquaintance elsewhere (coincidentally) prompted me to calculate that this represents a size – contrary to Clay & Game’s own shot size table – equivalent to 208 pellets per ounce – very slightly larger than a traditional English #5, or approximately equivalent to #4¾.

The difference between myself and my acquaintance is that he thinks that the kind of difference I’ve just described is significant. Nonetheless, it does answer the question: a 34g load of “number 4¾” should contain approximately 249 pellets – not far from the 246 average in shot drops I’ve counted.

Feeding The Garden Gun

I’ve been calling various local(-ish) RFDs in the last couple of days to try and find a source of sensible cartridges to feed the new garden gun.

The wisdom of the learnéd – as far as I can glean it from the internet – is that the RWS ammunition loaded in #9 and #10 shot sizes is a good place to start and that the #9 “double shot” cartridge – in spite of the arguments against the practice made by myself and others on this website – is suitable for small game out to 15-20 yards. I am yet to find a supplier.

Nonetheless, I have been offered boxes of Fiocchi cartridges containing (Italian) #6 shot. Of course, this doesn’t surprise me, since all small bore cartridges are loaded with #6 shot! The fact that this practice extends even to the tiny 9mm, into which you can fit a meagre four drams of lead, amused me somewhat. I’ll buy some at some point, in spite of the fact that this loading would comprise approximately 60 pellets and have an effective pattern area of around 8″ at a maximum of 10 yards, irrespective of choke. Well – I can always prove or disprove that theory, can’t I?

The best candidate shop is closed on Wednesdays, so I left a message. Hopefully I’ll hear back from them tomorrow.

Codename: Multitube

It’s been a very busy day.

I started the morning early and went out to the farm where I usually do my patterning to find the landowner in his jeep and his workers in combines and tractors all over the place, which would have made shooting patterns there a potentially dangerous disturbance. I drove on.

The next farm was already cut and vacant, but there were enough children playing at the nearby recreation ground that I though it would be unfair to disturb them. I drove on a second time.

At the third farm, I found a car I thought I recognized and could just make out the shape of a hide on the opposite boundary. I believe one of the other members of my shooting association may have been attempting to decoy pigeons, but after a few minutes observation, nothing appeared to be moving and given that I was half a mile away, I set up the pattern plate and shot five patterns as quickly as I could.

Less Is More

As I said I would previously, I loaded some more of the 34g/#5 cartridge I intend to use with the Baikal 12 gauge I bought a few months ago, albeit, with the powder charge reduced by approximately 1.5 grains.

Three 40-yard patterns shot with the full choke barrel gave an average of 172 of 246 pellets (maximum: 179) in the standard circle which is an average pattern density of 70%. This is satisfactory and gives an on-paper maximum range of somewhere around 51-52 yards. In practice, I suspect it wouldn’t be hard to push that to around 60 yards with good shooting, as previous “field testing” has shown.

The two half-choke patterns shot today averaged 160 of 246 pellets in the standard circle at 40 yards, which is an average pattern density of approximately 65%. This is also adequate for a “near” barrel and should give a maximum usable range of around 47 yards on paper.

Overall, these figures represent a 5-10% improvement in pattern or around 7-8 yards of extra effective range, simply by lowering the muzzle velocity of the cartridge. If I sound like a stuck record on this subject at the moment, that’s only because it works – every time.

40-yard pattern shot through the full choke of the Baikal 12 gauge using a 34g / #5 reload.

I don’t shoot a 12 gauge much these days, so this loading will now “do”. I daresay it’s as good as any commercial manufacturer would want one of their cartridges to be.

I further suspect that the “ideal” constriction for this particular recipe is probably somewhere between the 0.017″ and 0.041″ of the half and full choke barrels respectively. I believe the closely matched performance from both tubes probably represents “going over the hill” in performance terms and that the full-choke patterns are borderline blown.

New Acquisitions

After finishing those patterns, I drove north to meet a friend and he and I went to visit the RFD from whom the aforementioned Baikal was bought. We went with various purposes in mind, but mine was mainly to look at a pair of 9mm rimfire guns which were available for very reasonable asking prices. In the end, I bought a “Modern Arms” bolt action gun, which will now become the SmallBoreShotguns test gun for 9mm Flobert ammunition.

A 9mm Flobert single-barrelled bolt action shotgun belonging to the Hedgewalker.

It’s a reasonably old shotgun – I’d guess 70-80 years old given the condition – and labelled “No. 3 Garden Gun” as one would expect for an old English 9mm. The proof marks date from no later than 1954. Unusually, however, it has rather a long barrel – 28½”, which is at least 4″ longer than most other examples. Ballistically, I’m sure that length of barrel doesn’t help, but at least there’s no question of it being Section 1.  Confusingly, what appears to be a marking of 0.41″ appears on one side of the chamber, but it’s definitely a 9mm!

I found the gun was covered in grease, oil and some quantity of rust when I brought it home and examined it. It has cleaned up pretty well, although I killed my .410 copper brush by using it to hammer – literally – the crap out of the bore. I’m going to try to get a more appropriate brush to give it a gentler but more even clean when I go to the shop to buy some ammunition for it. It’ll benefit from another good scrub when it’s had its first firing, but that will only take it so far.

In fact, I’m inclined to do the initial testing required for the relevant section of SBS and then to deconstruct it, thoroughly clean, de-grease and polish it, then re-blue the metalwork. There is some surface rust on the action and very little of the original blueing is left. On that basis, stripping it down and refinishing it would extend its life, give me some experience doing that particular job but – most importantly – be no great loss if it all goes tits up and I break it. I don’t expect to be doing any hunting with it, given the handful cartridges I have for it contain #10(!) shot.

We shall see.

Hedgewalker’s New Name

It wasn’t just the 9mm that came home with me, however. I also managed to acquire a single-barreled Accacio folding 20 gauge. This gun will have no particular purpose at all, except that it provides a safe chamber and tube in which I can fire and test 20 gauge cartridges and that it “completes the set”.

A 20 gauge folding Accacio shotgun belonging to the Hedgewalker.

Of course, I don’t have any guns in the really big bores – 10 gauge, 8 gauge, 4 gauge, etc. I do now have an example of every common gauge from 12 gauge to 9mm rimfire, however, which means that, with the exception of precisely two brands of 10-gauge cartridges, I can now potentially fire and test any cartridge commercially-available in the UK.

For reasons entirely related to an occasional need for silliness, I therefore henceforth adopt the pseudonym “Multitube”, in recognition of this (rather fatuous) achievement!

More important than the invention of new epithets, this should mean that, when the SmallBoreShotguns team conceive of experiments to conduct to investigate this or that feature of shotgun shooting, there is at least one option available for firing the cartridges.

Again, I have no particular intention of hunting with the gun, though the handful of cartridges kindly provided by my friend containing 24g/#6½ do fit neatly into the gap between 21g/#7 (28 gauge) and 28g/#6 (16 gauge) and make me curious as to the efficacy of such cartridges on – for example – wood pigeons.

Test Firing

I did return to the farm I usually use to do pattern testing on my way home, in the hope of test-firing the guns. Unfortunately the harvesting continued in earnest and it was still unsafe to shoot, but I’ll try to get out one evening this week to try the guns out and create some initial patterns.


For those of you who have followed this blog since its inception, I need to mention two words: Carolina Reaper. I’m not growing any of that variety of chilli this year, but I did manage to obtain some peppers to taste this week.

In short, they are similar to the Naga peppers I like very much and they do have the traditional Habañero flavour, but they’re a lot less refined. The heat is intense but the flavour does not persist along with it in the way that it does with the Nagas – particularly when they’re cooked. Adding raw pepper “sprinkes” to the first dish gave a much better result than throwing them in with the other vegetables in the wok for the second. The latter approach essentially removed the “perfume” and left only base pepper flavour and capsaicin.

In short, I’m pleased to have tried the Reapers – they are still the hottest pepper in the world, I believe – but after you get to this level of heat, there’s really nothing between them in terms of “hotness” so it has to be all about how they taste as they melt your soft tissues into goo. The Naga has the better flavour, in my opinion – and anyway – what’s a million Scoville units between friends?