Rather stupidly, I forgot to check whether the abbreviation “Ltd.” appeared on the markings of the garden gun, but it’s late and I’m tired. For that reason, I’m not going to do a full write up of today’s trip, with pattern counts, etc. – that can wait until tomorrow when there’s more time and I’ve had a chance to cut open some cartridges.
I don’t want to give the impression in what follows, that I’m cavalier about the safety aspect of shooting. Rather, the opposite is true. What happened today was safe because I was very aware that I had with me two guns which a) I hadn’t ever fired before and b) whose condition I didn’t know. I acted accordingly and when the unexpected happened, nobody was endangered because I was cautious and had taken appropriate precautions.
The Garden Gun
When I got to my usual “firing range”, I tested the garden gun first. I’d never fired a rimfire (of any kind) and I had three sets of cartridges to try. These were an unknown brass-cased load of #10 shot, a nickel-cased load of entirely unknown provenance and some (brass-cased) Fiocchi #6 (2.7mm or English #5½) shells. The first two of those were provided with the gun and the latter were obtained from my local dealer on the way home from work today.
The first shot – one of the brass #10 loads – surprised me somewhat. The report on firing was, although quiet by shotgun standards, louder than I expected it to be and although this gave the impression of a substantial powder charge, it was still quite possible to hear the shot cloud tearing through the patterning paper. Not only was this the case, but sound of the pellet impacts was of noticeably long duration, which suggested a wide variation of low pellet velocities (i.e. a long, slow-moving shot cloud).
After this first “success”, I changed the paper and tried one of the nickel-cased cartridges. On the first attempt, this cartridge failed to fire and I observed the usual precaution of pointing the gun away from me, towards the floor and, after 30 seconds, opening the breech away from me. The firing pin had struck the edge of the case and deformed it, but the cartridge was intact.
Having opened the breech, I turned the cartridge in the chamber and fired again. This time, the gun produced a barely perceptible report and recoil and again the noise of pellets tearing through the paper 20 yards away was very noticeable. Inspection of that pattern suggested that the nickel-cased cartridges probably contained #9 or #8 shot, but I’ll deconstruct one tomorrow and get a definitive answer.
I fired several more cartridges of all three types. None of them produced any real recoil or muzzle blast and all were comfortable to fire without hearing protection (though I only tried this with one of each to check). Another brass #10 round failed to fire on the first attempt, but I didn’t check the cartridge that time – I simply waited 30 seconds with the gun in a safe direction, cycled the bolt and fired again. I have to say though, that without any noticeable recoil, I have a nagging voice in my head which is wondering whether it fired the first time and I simply didn’t notice!
I began to suspect, after the second nickel-cased round failed to fire, that the spring in the bolt had weakened because of the gun’s age. A second attempt caused that cartridge to fire and split the case mouth, though without any obvious variation in recoil / power. Others of both of the types which came with the gun also suffered case splits.
Whilst I would usually expect ammunition to last forever, the fact that the two kinds that had come with the gun both suffered misfires, but the brand new Fiocchi shells didn’t makes me think (and hope) that the cause is perhaps age-related degradation of the ammunition or perhaps the hardness of the case metal used for those particular brands. It may be the case that the ammunition had been poorly stored.
More testing will show whether it’s the ammunition or mechanism at fault.
I shot several patterns at 20 yards with all three cartridges and one at 10 yards with the Fiocchi cartridge. The patterns of the #10 cartridge were really rather good – I expect them to show 120+ pellets in the standard circle when I count them tomorrow. I wouldn’t like to guess what the individual pellet energy would have been, but I suspect it would be too low to point them at anything alive at that distance. I seem to remember calculating that 8-10 yards was the range at which #10 fired at 600fps became borderline for pigeons, rabbits, grey squirrels, etc.
On the other end of the scale, the Fiocchi cartridges do appear to produce a usable pattern at 10 yards if one uses a 20″ circle rather than the standard 30″. I doubt they would be humane at any greater distance, but the question of pellet energy doesn’t really exist: even with a slow, 600fps muzzle velocity, they’ll still retain enough energy to kill small game whilst what little pattern there is survives.
An Italian acquaintance of mine has described the use of the 9mm shot cartridge on really quite large quarry, but I remain unconvinced. Since I’ve no plans to this gun’s effectiveness on live game, performing the “wet telephone directory” penetration test may provide a useful approximation.
The counts and percentages will follow tomorrow, but these initial conclusions do support the use of #8 or #9 shot if one wants to get the maximum possible range out of the diminutive 9mm cartridge – although, the third, nickel-cased brand of cartridges which probably contain shot of one of those sizes did not produce very good patterns, unfortunately.
Before I started testing the garden gun, I wandered around the boundaries of the farm with the 20 gauge. In hindsight, this would have made no difference at all even had there been birds to shoot at, since, in trying to deactivate the safety catch of the gun, I had inadvertently engaged it instead. I discovered this mistake later, as I attempted to test fire the gun and shoot a 20-yard pattern with the Gamebore “Regal Game” cartridges which I’d bought, thinking that they might turn out to be rather good. It appears that I was right.
Generally, I don’t like safety catches and don’t use them. Rather, I make a point of not pointing the gun in the direction of anything I’m not intending to kill. That approach saved a lot of ball ache today.
Having attempted and failed, with the characteristic “click”, to fire the gun and produce my first pattern, I followed the usual procedure (again!) and pointed the gun safely at the floor for 30 seconds before doing anything else. I didn’t expect the cartridge to be at fault and thought rather that, having paid a mere £30 for each gun, there was a good chance of them both being mechanically unsound.
After half a minute or so, I planned to open the gun, breech pointing away from me, barrel pointing at the floor, in case the action of breaking the gun were to release the firing pin and cause the gun to fire before I could extract the cartridge. It occurred to me before I attempted this, that some guns have mechanical safety catches which actually block the movement of the hammer / pin and that it might be worth engaging the safety for that reason. I pushed the safety slide through: the gun fired.
Happily, safe handling prevented anything more than a few stems of barley stubble from being destroyed, but it was a little surprising nonetheless. I quickly regained my composure and realized that a previous owner must have repainted the red part of the safety slide – on the wrong side! Furthermore, there was enough strength in the hammer spring to fire the cartridge, even after the sears had been disengaged and the hammer and pin were held on the safety!
On my Browning – and indeed, every other gun I can remember handling with a trigger-mounted slide-type safety – one pushes the safety button to reveal the red colouring when one is ready to fire. On Accacio single-barrelled folding shotguns, perhaps modified by careless owners, one apparently presses the red side of the safety slide to hide the colouring when one is ready to fire. I trust that readers can understand why that might be confusing!
Regardless, I quickly realized my mistake and shot patterns at 20, 30 and 40 yards. What the results of those might be, remain to be seen, but my instinctive reaction on seeing them was that the Gamebore cartridges are producing rather more than the 57%-60% performance one might expect from the gun’s nominal half choke (0.017″ constriction).
I had hoped to use the 20 gauge occasionally (if at all) as a short-range gun, perhaps with #7 shot, as I don’t really have any others set up for close work (the 9mm notwithstanding). However, it would appear that I’ve found a good long-range cartridge from the off, so to speak, and it’s hard to ignore that. I’ll know more tomorrow, but it looks promising.
That’ll do for now. And please remember dear readers – “muzzle awareness” is rule #1. Today might have ended very differently if I hadn’t been both very cautious about handling my new guns and very careful about the directions in which they were pointing.