Rain or Shine

The weather was somewhat changeable this afternoon and as I arrived at a deserted farm, I pondered the difficulties the farming community must face in deciding when to cut crops. Too early and the crop isn’t dry and may spoil in storage before it can be sold; too late and inclement weather can soak the ground, delaying harvest and reducing the yield, either through the plants naturally depositing seed into the ground as they are apt to do, or by causing the crop to rot on the plant, infected with fungus or suchlike. I was grateful then, that my livelihood does not depend on whether the gods bring rain or sunshine for a handful of weeks in July and August.

Having sat in the car with the rain clattering down on the roof for about 25 minutes after I arrived, my patience was rewarded with a break in the clouds which lasted for nearly an hour. I set up the pattern board, with a new “foot” by which the tendency of the wind to blow the plate over was successfully resisted, and began testing the “odd” 12-gauge patterns which I’ve been meaning to shoot for some time, but haven’t yet done so due to focussing on the .410. With that testing and another 30 mins or so after a break for more rain to pass, I exhausted my supply of paper and shot enough patterns to give myself a day or two of counting, analyzing and pondering.

The early results are in, however, and they are either interesting, or as expected.

Speed Kills

Various members of the team here at SmallBoreShotguns are working on articles on various sujects more or less related to the pursuit of small bore shotgunning at any given time. The article I’m currently writing, entitled “The English Disease: Fact or Fiction” is currently 75% finished, awaiting pattern data and that is what I have been able to collect today.

I’ll save the full conclusions for the article itself, but, in short, the hypothesis that speed kills patterns appears to be broadly correct. I shot this afternoon, using my Baikal 12 gauge, 40-yard patterns for two identical loadings (28g/#7½), one subsonic and one very, very fast.

The faster loading – Hull Sovereign – contains much harder shot and – one assumes, better components all round, but even with those advantages, it’s still performing 10% worse than the identical loading shot at subsonic velocity (Hull Subsonic). In fact, one of the subsonic patterns only ended up three-quarters on the plate and still had almost as many pellets in the “circle” as the least good Sovereign pattern. The 30-yard patterns are still to be counted, but there I expect to see noticeable differences in pattern size, which again, will feature in the article.

I’ll say one thing though – Hull Sovereign recoil hard. To be fair, the subsonic rounds kicked pretty hard too – much more than I was expecting – particularly given Hull’s reputation for producing smooth, comfortable cartridges. Undoubtedly, in the case of the former, it’s the high muzzle velocity and the unavoidable laws of physics, but I found myself thinking (yet again) that it was quite unnecessary to get beaten up by one’s gun like that. I’ve been patterning and using the last of the Gamebore Black Gold 36g/#4 cartridges I kept in my car, and they are noticeably more comfortable to shoot than the Sovereigns. I’m just saying.

Oh and whatever the powder in the Sovereigns is, it stinks. Ugh.

Feeding the Russians

I’ve had an excellent, long-range load for my 16-gauge Baikal for almost as long as I’ve had that gun, having stumbled upon an apparently perfect recipe first time out. Whenever I have cases and components available for loading them, that cartridge is the one I’ll use, without exception.

I’ve been hoping to achieve the same for my 12-gauge Baikal, which is the same model of gun with slightly bigger tubes and marginally-different chokes and started with a 34g/#5 loading using Vectan A0 which was – I’m told – a duplication of the Gamebore Pigeon Extreme cartridge of the same specification.

Although I’m not yet at the point of changing the load, today’s pattern testing did show that I haven’t been as lucky with the 12 gauge load as I was with the 16 gauge cartridge. The 40-yard performance of the cartridge was adequate, but mediocre and recoil was slightly more than I would have liked, although it was a warm, muggy day which may have kept powders hot and pressures high.

The patterns shot today revealed little difference in performance between the full and ½ choke barrels of the side-by-side and both gave approximately 60% 40-yard performance. Experience suggests that whilst guns of this configuration will often shoot simillarly performant patterns from both barrels, the overall performance can be improved.

I would expect it to be possible to achieve a 70% pattern, if not a 75-80% pattern with the kinds of powder and components used, so given the sharp recoil and report of the cartridge, I believe the appropriate next step will be to reduce the powder charge a little to see if that tightens the groups and makes the cartridge a little more pleasant to shoot. This has worked in the past and may do so again: examination of the barrels after firing suggests that the pressure is high enough to guarantee complete combustion of the (rather slow) powder and reducing the charge a little may not change that.

Feeding Myself

After I’d finished patterning run out of paper I packed up the car and went to another farm for a wander. This was my opportunity to test, in the field, the stock extension I’d borrowed from my friend and the early results are positive.

#4 shot is not the best shot size for pigeon, but whether or not the first bird I hit was winged by inadequate pattern or poor shooting, it is to my regret that I wasn’t able to persuade it out of the hawthorn bush into which it fled to finish it off. I poked around on hand and knee in the driving rain for 10-15 minutes to try and see where it was hiding (and made a simillar effort on my way back to the car) to none effect. No doubt it either recovered or will have been eaten by the foxes by now.

After suffering a brief but embarrassing relapse of my long-standing shoot-at-anything-within-100-yards condition with a couple of silly shots at distant birds (putting #4’s down the tubes will do that to a man), I consoled myself with a straightforward 40-yard crossing bird that came down cleanly and felt “right”.

This was clearly the difference made by the stock pad – no longer was I having to aim 6′ underneath the bird to hit it, but rather, I was looking where I was shooting and the result was as expected. Obviously, this a thorough test does not constitute, but it certainly feels a lot more like I’m shooting where I think I am.

I quite often think that I’m really not very good at shooting – and compared to many, I’m not – but anything 40 yards out is a good bird, even they always seem rather close to me. The fact that it felt straightforward (or even easy) gave me a dose of much-needed confidence.

And the .410…

Well, what I can I day. This post was about shooting, but not about the Yildiz. I guess sometimes one just has to address the questions that have been waiting unanswered the longest. I’ll order some more paper tomorrow and the new Hull & Eley cartridges will get patterned soon enough. Next week, with a bit of luck.

Over-Tried, Over-Thought

It sometimes feels like I’m an AA-class shooter, but only 15% of the time.

I managed to get out for a wander on Sunday evening, a little later than usual. I stumbled upon what looked like a fairly solid flight line, but it dried up as soon as I could get the decoys out.

I still haven’t solved the problem of how one carries poles, netting, magnet and kit bag all at once without it a) being painfully uncomfortable to carry and b) taking forever to load and unload. Vehicular access isn’t great on some of the land I shoot which usually means a long walk to the place I want to set up. By the time I’ve got there, I’ve drawn so much attention to myself that every bird within 100 miles has disappeared in the opposite direction and invariably, little to nothing turns up in the decoys.

Then again, I’ve never been good at decoying and don’t really have the lifestyle to allow for it, so what do I expect? (Or that’s my excuse, anyway.)

After a few attempts in a few different spots, I decided to pack it in and just go for a walk. Since the plotter paper for my next set of pattern testing remains on order but hasn’t arrived as yet, I took the Baikal 12-gauge out again (with the new home loads) in the hope of getting to know it a bit better. I had a few shots, did a lot of thinking, working out and theorizing and missed everything.

Everything, that is, until I was surprised by a juvenile wood pigeon escaping from the hedgerow in front of me which I promptly blew to bits with the full choke barrel at about 20 yards distance.

In a sense, that bird – unfortunately rendered inedible – was a corollary to the 60-yarder of a fortnight earlier: a surprise opportunity where taking the shot involved nothing more than what was essentially a reflex, absent of conscious thought. At 20 yards, the lead coming out of that barrel isn’t so much a pattern as a lump and if I hadn’t have been bang on target, I’d have missed it altogether.

It’s frustrating to realize once again that, if I could only stop analyzing, stop trying to “measure” the right amount of lead and instead just focus on the bird and let my instincts control the act of firing the gun, I’d bring home a lot more birds. (I might have to buy an open-choked 20-gauge for my next gun and then I’d actually be able to eat them too!)

Indeed, this “over-thinking” is the cause of a number of my acquaintance from the shooting association thinking I am much, much better at shooting than I really am, because they happen to have seen me shoot one or two “spectaculars” but not to miss the five or ten easy 25-yard birds in between. Although I do try to correct them, circumstances have conspired to give me an undeserved reputation. (It seems that having absolutely no idea where to shoot usually gives the same result as not having time to think about where to shoot: the bird on the floor and no-one, myself included, having the foggiest idea of how I brought it down.)

I’m my own worst enemy sometimes.

Due to other forthcoming commitments, pattern testing with the .410 will begin again in a couple of weeks.

Old Habits Die Hard

I responded to a “my first gun” post on one of the UK shooting fora this week. A chap had bought a Baikal – new – and was looking for some basic advice on maintenance, how to set the gun up for clays, how to make it easier to break open, etc. Perhaps also a little reassurance that he’d bought the right thing. I started my reply to him by stating something which is increasingly true: I like Baikals. Of course, the reasons I like them are probably the same reasons everyone likes them: they’re cheap, reliable, essentially indestructible. They also tend to fit me pretty well, which is a distinct advantage.

I took a walk with my new (to me) Baikal this afternoon. The question of which cartridge to use with the gun was almost settled in one shot by the crow I downed as I wandered about.

Choosing A Cartridge

I have two general rules as far as choosing cartridges goes. Firstly, I don’t change cartridge once I’ve found one that patterns well and performs in the field. This is an issue of confidence: in some senses, I’m too aware of all the variables involved in cartridge design not to worry that this or that cartridge will be suitable or unsuitable for whatever it is I’m doing at the time. It’s this thinking that is fatal to good shooting – at least for me. Testing cartridges and exploring their performance is an anorak’s sport and one I’m proud to call mine – but it doesn’t put birds in the bag. There’s a time and a place for thinking about cartridge design and the moment of trying to make a shot connect isn’t it.

The second rule I have for choosing cartridges is that loadings have to be generally appropriate to the size of tube for which they’re intended. This is as much a product of extensive reading and experience as it is a reaction to the pervasive and entirely incorrect idea that “speed” is everything in cartridge design.

It’s also a refusal to jump on the “recoil” bandwagon, where new shooters are first warned that – for example – a 32-gram load in a 12-gauge side-by-side is somehow painful to use and are then encouraged to boast that they have managed to “survive” using a handful of them in the field.

I realize that genuine infirmity might mean that some shooters can’t comfortably shoot an-ounce-and-an-eighth, but in the absence of that, it’s the traditional 12-gauge load and most adults who have done a bit of shooting should be able to manage it well enough, without making it a game of one-upmanship.

I haven’t yet settled on a cartridge to use with the Baikal but aside from the aforementioned considerations, the question I usually ask is, what haven’t I got? In choice of cartridge, as in life, I try to answer the question “what fills the biggest gap?” (or variations upon the same) before laying out money or making a choice about which direction to go.

Research & Development

I’m lucky that I have a choice of guns, all with cartridges tuned to their particular characteristics. The two worth mentioning are a 16 gauge in which I use an ounce of #6 and a 12-gauge semi-automatic through which I shoot either commercially loaded steel cartridges or a 39g/#5 home load. This is also the biggest gap in the list of gun-cartridge combinations I use, so starting with a load slap-bang in the middle of it seemed like a reasonable choice.

34g of #5 would be considered by most a heavy load – particularly through a side-by-side – but having done some research earlier in the year, I had a plan for a load which is essentially a duplication of the Gamebore “Pigeon Extreme” cartridge, except that my version would have a fiber wad rather than plastic.

The interesting characteristics of this load (if it has any) are really the things that it is not. It is not a light 12 gauge load (i.e. 26g, 28g). I already have a perfectly good 28g load and a gun to shoot it with – I don’t need another.

It is also not a #6 load. I can’t deny that 28g of #6 gets me some good birds but in a tube as large as .729″, one can take advantage of the larger shot sizes. #5 is a good choice, providing around 260-270 for 34 grams of shot, which for medium and tight chokes is a good number. The same load of #6 gives around 330 pellets, which would be appropriate in a lightly-choked gun, but which somewhat over-caters for pattern density when one expects 55-80% of the shot to end up in the standard circle.

#5 is rather large for pigeons but some crows are big buggers and it doesn’t hurt to use bigger shot provided there are enough pellets in the pattern. It is convenient then, that I have more #5 in stock than anything else. I put ten of these cartridges together yesterday afternoon, using some old Gamebore “Black Gold” cases I’d been saving for a rainy day.

Performance Testing

The thing about “slow” powders – particularly A0 – is that you need enough pressure to get them to burn properly. Too little powder, or too little lead in front of the wad and the shot barely reaches any velocity at all. More “phut”; less “bang”. Although patterns tend to be amazing for the first 10-20 yards, the 30-yard pattern can be found to be “missing” because all of the shot has hit the floor. This is clearly undesirable.

34 grams of shot is a very light load for A0 (it’s more suited to c. 40-42g loads), meaning that one needs around 30 grains of powder behind the shot charge just to get the cartridge to fire properly. That’s a lot of powder per cartridge, which is itself undesirable.

Sometimes, however, it’s worth accepting a small cost for the chance of a large gain and in this case, that turned out to be a wise choice.

As I wrote on this blog, earlier in the year, I’d tried the Eley Grand Prix 30g/#6 loading in the Baikal and found them to be quite punchy. Likewise, some (but not all) of the other commercial loadings I had in stock. By contrast, today’s loads were smooooooth as silk. Just to emphasise: really, really smooth – the kind of smooth you do not expect to enjoy when you take any box of cartridges labelled “34g” out to the field. Happily, I doubt they’re as “fast” as they could be, but they don’t half kill birds.

Aside: This is what the commercial manufacturers are aiming at when they refer to a cartridge as having “progressive” powder. They know as well as I do that if one uses larger quantities of slower powder, one gets a much more pleasant experience of recoil than with what might be called the “bare minimum” of something else to get the shot column up to speed. There are just two problems:

  1. Slow powder puts manufacturers’ costs up because they buy powder by the ton irrespective of type, so a 50% increase in charge weight means a 33% reduction in the number of shells a given quantity of powder will produce.
  2. They’re all so busy chasing what the market thinks it wants – 1500fps – that there’s no way they can make any load that doesn’t feel at least a little bit “thumpy”.

Regardless, I had a bit of a zen moment just after 2pm this afternoon. I wasn’t really thinking about taking the shot, worrying about lead, or anything. I just raised the gun and shot the crow as it came over the hedge. It wasn’t high – 10 yards up at most – but it was a reasonable distance out. Full choke barrel; bang; thud. It was what you might call “definitive”. I ambled over to pick it up and stopped counting at 53 paces. In my-sized shoes, that’s not much short of 60 yards.

The reason that I haven’t gone wholesale into production mode just yet is that I don’t know how these cartridges pattern. Today’s bird left me in no doubt as to their potency and knowing various things about the gun (bore diameter and choke constrictions†) and how the shells were put together, I expect to find that they are producing excellent patterns from both ½- and full-choked barrels of the Baikal. However, I still want to see them print an 80% pattern at 40 yards before I sign them off, so to speak, and for that, I need to order some more paper.

As I said in a post last week, funds are currently tight and I also need to do some hunting once in a while, rather than shooting at paper all the time. It might be next month before I end up actually testing them. I’ll add these to the long list of pattern testing that already needs to be done and promise my readers that I’ll pick the up .410 before I fly off on another 12-gauge-sized tangent.

Apart from anything else, it’ll do me good to forget about shooting (at) 60-yard birds and continue trying to break that old habit…

† = The Baikal has bore diameters of and 0.717″ and 0.721″ with choke constrictions in those barrels of of 0.017″ and 0.041″ respectively. This is particularly helpful for a fibre-wadded cartridge as the obturation between nitro card, wad and barrel wall will be improved due to the tighter bore. This probably helps to avoid combustion gas passing the wad and affecting the shot, although it may be a handicap to performance in the sense that more scrubbing of pellets will occur. In shot sizes as large as #5 however, this is less significant than with, say, #7½ in a .410″ tube, as dealt with elsewhere on this site. 

Paper Cases & New Acquisitions

I acquired yesterday, for reasons entirely unrelated to this website and blog, a new shotgun in the form of a 12 gauge side-by-side Baikal IJ-58 choked half and extra full. It’s the same model as the 16 gauge I’ve mentioned on this blog previously and happily fits just the same – I should get on with it quite well if and when I take it for a walk.

The gun has very few interesting features, except perhaps for the proof marks which must have been struck late on a difficult Friday afternoon in Birmingham as they’re somewhat “approximate” given the gun’s actual measurements(!). I bought it with half a mind to pulling it apart, playing with it and possibly using it as a test gun for a re-bluing project I’ve had in mind for some time.

It wouldn’t have been appropriate to do any of that without test firing it, however, so I stopped off at one of the farms on the way home for a quick mooch around the tree line to see what I could see.

(This is all apparently made relevant to our website by the fact that the Yildiz .410 which should be the subject of this post, was apparently somewhere in the author’s car, slipped and secured whilst he was messing around with his new toy and therefore, somewhere vaguely in the vicinity of some shooting going on,if not directly employed for said shooting… Apparently. – Ed.)

Historical Insensitivity

A new 12 gauge gave me a convenient excuse to try out another piece of kit I’ve been curious about for a while but never got round to using: paper-cased cartridges. The “let’s be very traditional, possibly impersonate Edward VII and shoot a load inspired by 100+ years of shotgunning, just because we can” market doesn’t really cater for a large number of people and when one draws a Venn diagram showing that population overlapped with the population of regular 16 gauge users, such as myself, I suspect the final result might actually be, err, myself. So paper-cased cartridges aren’t really something I’ve ever had an excuse to try before.

Of course, I realise that putting Eley Grand Prix down a £40 Baikal is probably the metaphorical equivalent of drinking Kristal from a pint mug with a handle (or possibly a toilet) – disrespectful, vulgar and entirely wasted on anyone cheap enough to consider that the appropriate receptacle for the job.

On the other hand, I’m a practical person and here was a 12 gauge with a 70mm chamber and a piece of land on which it would be safe to fire it – and if I cared what anyone else thought about it, I wouldn’t be stupid enough to post it on the internet in the first place.

To cut a long story short, the only birds I saw at the farm were the ones that flew off as I opened the car door to get out. I walked around for a bit and saw nothing, but I was too curious about the new gun and the box of cartridges I’d bought for it, that I picked a safe direction to shoot in, dropped a Grand Prix (30g/#6) into one barrel and a comparison cartridge (a Gamebore Black Gold 36g/#4) into the other and fired them both.

I was surprised. The recoil of the Eley cartridge, which I was expecting to be smooth as silk, was actually quite sharp. Obviously I’ve mostly been shooting a .410 for the last few months, so it might be that I felt it more by contrast, but although the Black Gold shell kicked harder still, there wasn’t much in it. Of course, one always feels more recoil when firing in isolation (as opposed to at bird or clay) but I’ve fired commercial and home-loaded 16 gauge loads of heavier shot weight and equivalent velocity and they have not seemed to recoil nearly as much.

As I unloaded, I took the stern advice of my friend, to sniff the empty case, but unfortunately, I couldn’t detect any particular smell from the paper cartridge at all. Perhaps the design is old, but the components are modern!? I did however start to consider the effects which would be in play with a paper-cased load and how they related to my understanding of cartridges.

In Homage to the Editor

The paper forming the walls of the Grand Prix cartridge was really rather thick. Certainly thicker than the plastic used in shot shells of more modern design. As such, there’s likely to be that much less internal capacity into which to stuff powder, wad, card, shot. I also suspect that paper is less flexible under firing than a plastic case would be. All of these things will increase breech pressure and therefore possibly the shot column’s acceleration and the perceived recoil of firing. OK – those things can’t be causally related, but my gut feeling is that it’s possible – likely, even.

That in turn, set me thinking about the effect of paper cases on the small bores. (Eh? What? – Ed.) A 12 gauge case has a relatively large diameter, even accounting for a thick paper case, whereas a .410 cartridge would lose a significant percentage of its internal volume with the extra thickness of paper. This starts to explain why, in the original 2″ cartridges a shot charge of 5/16oz. was all that could be accommodated. When one considers the use of black powder, paper case, felt wad and probably an over-shot card as part of the rolled turnover, it’s amazing that they managed to get any lead in the cartridge at all.

(Finally! Relevance! – Ed.)

What this means then, is that whilst the development of plastic cases was significant for all shotgun gauges, it was particularly important for the smaller gauges, where – presumably – the only other way to increase load weights, pellet counts and performance would have been to employ expensive, brass-cased loads which eliminated the reduction in capacity associated with the thickness of paper.


Of course, the one remaining place where we still see the employment of brass cases in shotgunning on a regular basis is in the 8mm and 9mm Flobert cartridges. Here, I suspect, even the thickness of a modern plastic case would cause a substantial percentage reduction in case volume, which makes it particularly convenient that these bore sizes are for ammunition of rim-fire ignition and brass case rather than centre-fire and plastic parallel tube. Generally, the smaller the gauge, the higher the pressure, so it may be that a brass case contributes to containing the pressure of firing also.

Rather pleasingly, I have been offered, at a very affordable price, the opportunity to purchase a 9mm garden gun as soon as I’m able to pay for it, which is likely to be the end of the month.

Although I don’t think it’s a practical proposition as far as bird hunting goes, it will be an asset to this website and I will certainly look to do some pattern testing with it and write about my findings. I believe two brands of 9mm cartridges are currently commercially available (Fiocchi and RWS). I’ll also look to make some observations about what it could achieve and any useful purpose we might find for it.

Although we aren’t often in the business of shooting bullfinches or protecting olive groves in this country, the gauge must have some useful purpose, since it lingers on in this country after other more capable gauges (e.g. 14, 24, 32) have long since disappeared.

Either way, the quantity of good-quality information regarding the rimfire shotgun gauges is, in my own experience, rather small both on- and off-line, so the team at SBS will do our best to compile what we can on the subject and present it for public consumption.