Clumsy Oaf

I went out this afternoon for an amble around the countryside, though my heart wasn’t in it, if the truth be told.

There were very few birds around today – one of the nearby farms, to which I don’t have access, has recently been drilled and I occasionally saw in the distance a large flock of perhaps 300 birds ascend and descend in response to some perceived hazard. Nonetheless, I had a few chances on my own patch.

The first and best chance was at a bird passing overhead. I saw it a long way off and, knowing that the appearance of a bird where I spotted it usually means that it’ll follow a line over roughly the position I was in, I watched and waited. Sure enough, it flew to within 20-25 yards as I hid behind a hawthorn tree, waiting to take a shot.

I remember, every time I go out, the words of one of the early “influences” on my shooting career, who told me sagely: “whenever you think a bird comes into range, look at the floor, count to three and look up again – then it’ll be in range”. He knew my bad habits better than I did at that point!

So there I was, waiting. In all honesty, I could (and should) have taken it earlier and in a more relaxed fashion. 40 yards, as regular readers may be aware, tends, to me, to look closer than it really is, but I do make a good proportion of those shots. In this case, however, I waited too long and emerged too hurriedly from the hedgerow.

As I raised the gun, turned with the bird and stepped forward to shoot, I managed to gouge myself in the leg with an old piece of steel fence post, hidden in the long grass, which somehow slipped through the gap between the top of my boots and my shorts, leaving me with a small, but nasty gash from which an improbable quantity of the red stuff started to appear.

Needless to say, it put me off the shot enough that I didn’t even manage to pull the trigger and instead of retrieving my first bird of the day, I spent the next ten minutes trying to stop the bleeding with a combination of my T-shirt and a packet of wet wipes I keep in my shooting bag.

For the rest of the days shooting – perhaps another six shots in total – I can only say that, if I had any enthusiasm for shooting before I cut my leg, it had evaporated by the time I fired the next few shots at a small group of birds passing high overhead and missed them all. Although I completed my usual walk, I felt more as if I was going through the motions than that I wanted to be there.

Sometimes I think I shoot because I have the opportunity (rare enough with the constraints of family life), rather than because I want to.

Having paused on my way back to the car to stare for a while at a large expanse of open sky and yet somehow failed to see an approaching bird before it had flown within 10 yards of me (which I also missed), I unloaded the gun and went home, too despondent to carry on. Tiredness may have played a part, but in the end, it just wasn’t my day.

Tired Eyes

I’d intended to go out patterning cartridges yesterday evening but a family member was taken ill and I had to stay in.

Being particularly tired today and short of time, I didn’t feel like doing the patterning I’d planned for yesterday today. Instead, I went out this evening with my 28 gauge and managed a long walk and a single wood pigeon from four attempts.

I’m rather irritated with myself that it wasn’t one bird for two attempts. The third and fourth shots I took were at a bird which appeared suddenly over a line of trees, about 10 yards out, with the wind behind it and afterburners on, so to speak. There was literally no chance of my being able to swing the gun fast enough to get ahead of it and shoot it – even if I had known how much lead to give it – and I should have left it well alone. It might perhaps have been worth having a go if my surname was “Garfitt” or “Digweed”, but it was well beyond my abilities. Somehow, though, I found I’d fired two shots at it before that realization had become fully apparent. Gnn.

It should really have been “more birds” for four cartridges. I’ve really struggled lately to focus on the birds fast enough to take snap shots when they emerge from the tree line. I probably failed to raise the gun to at least three “shootable” birds today, which was somewhat frustrating.

Some of the difficulty I have in seeing the birds fast enough is probably rooted in tiredness and far too many hours sat in front of computer screens. Some of it is no doubt because I don’t do enough any practice on clays, for reasons I’ve discussed previously. On the other hand, having come home today to discover a letter from my opticians telling me that I was five years overdue an eye test, I am starting to wonder whether my sight might have deteriorated a little. I’ll get something booked in for next week and see what they have to say.

Hull “High Pheasant”

Finally: one shot and no patterns is not enough data to comment on the qualities of the Hull “High Pheasant” 23g / #7 28-gauge load in any useful way. My instinct though, is that they were slow and probably patterned reasonably tightly; recoil was very mild indeed, even though they’d been sitting in a hot car for most of the day. If I ever get to the end of the already long list of patterns I need to shoot for this blog / website, I’ll do a few of those and see what they look like. Not much different to the Eleys, I suspect.

At Last!

It is is some satisfaction that I am able to report that my new shotgun certificate arrived in the post today. Hunting will resume shortly – perhaps as soon as this weekend, time allowing.

New Cartridges

I’ve put the new certificate to good use already. Other than collecting my shotguns from the local RFD – who very generously waived fees in view of the short duration and my being a loyal customer – I also acquired four new boxes of cartridges. Two them, although unlikely to produce world-beating patterns, given the loadings of 11g/#6 and 12½g/#6 respectively, will be pattern tested in the SmallBoreShotguns .410 test gun in the next few weeks:

Two new, previously-untested loadings for pattern testing by the SmallBoreShotguns team: the Hull “Game & Clay” 11g/#6 loading on the left and the Eley “Fourlong” in 12½g/#6 flavour on the right.

I was also able to acquire the “other” box of cartridges for another of our forthcoming experiments. We intend to compare, as directly as we can, the effect upon patterns of a change in muzzle velocity of 500fps in the hope of demonstrating with evidence the value of what one might call “more moderate” velocities than English shotgunning seems to prefer.

On the left in the picture below is the subsonic Hull load I mentioned in a previous post and on the right is the loading most similar to it that I was able to acquire at my local shop, their top-of-the-range “Sovereign” brand.

Two boxes of Hull cartridges: a subsonic loading of 28g/#7½ on the left and a supersonic version of the same load on the right.

Admittedly, there are at least two important differences between the cartridges other than the muzzle velocity: firstly, the “fast” load has a fibre wad, not plastic and second, the shot contained within the cartridges is likely to be somewhat harder being a premium brand. Hull list 5% antimony for Sovereign, as opposed to 2% for most of their “budget” lines – we assume the subsonics fall into the latter category.

We’ll mention these factors again when we do the write-up. Of the two, I’d expect the hardness of the shot to make more of a difference, but neither to significantly affect the result. Nonetheless, we’ll try to account for these differences in analyzing the pattern data. Unfortunately, the shop had no plastic-wadded Sovereign cartridges in stock, so it was a question of buying what they had rather than what would have been ideal.

All of this came after requesting some of the plastic-cased Eley “Grand Prix” 30g/#6 and discovering that the shop hadn’t got a single box in stock to perform the “plastic versus paper” comparison I’d originally planned to do first. “I’m sorry – we only have the paper version,” was the reply. I found myself thinking that that seemed a rather pleasing response!

Snatched Opportunities

The final box of cartridges was the Hull 23g/#7 “High Pheasant” load for 28 gauge. I’m not really sure why I bought these, except that I remember using some in the past and – looking back on it – unfairly writing them off, when – like most things in shooting – the problem was undoubtedly operator error.

I like to keep a box of cartridges in the glove box of my car in case I’m ever in the position of needing to grab a gun and snatch an opportunity for a wander around the hedgerows under time-limited circumstances. This is quite often the way I end up going hunting, given that there are small people living in the house.

Since I’ve found that the fit of my 28 gauge is vastly improved with the addition of the leather stock extension I’ve borrowed from my friend, I’ll just have to remember to take that gun on these occasions and give the Hull cartridges a proper field test before I revert back to my long-term favorites, the Eleys. I’m sure they won’t disappoint.

I’ll curtail this here as there are a couple of Baikals locked in the cabinet that need also need trying for size with the stock extension attached. I suspect the results with those will be just as good as with the 28 gauge. I’ll let you know the outcome next time.

Patterning Officer’s Report: Part I

It’s just past 10pm as I start to write and, thus far, I’ve completed the pellet counts for the 40-yard and 20-yard patterns. Without the 30-yard data available for comparison, it would be premature to draw any firm conclusions, but thus far, everything seems to have turned out pretty much as expected.

Eley “Trap” 19g / #7½

The Eley “Trap” cartridge continues to perform consistently well. Pellet counts in the standard circle of 116 and 128 confirm once again that this is the cartridge to beat and that effective ranges of 37-40 yards are not out of the question. Here’s a sample pattern:

40-yard pattern shot through the ¾ choke of the Yildiz .410 using the Eley “Trap” 19g/#7½ shell.
Fiocchi “Magnum”

Both of the Fiocchi cartridges proved themselves again to be mediocre. Whilst I don’t have the 30-yard figures to estimate a usable range, these are not 40-yard cartridges by any stretch of the imagination. Pellet counts were – at best – an unusable 75 in the standard circle, with a range of numbers dropping as low as 37 in the circle with the half choke.

At this point, it appears that even the nearest equivalent and – in the author’s opinion – poorly constructed Eley “Extralong” cartridge loaded with 18g of #7 shot outperforms the Fiocchis by a small margin. This might come as something of a surprise to the “anything but Eley” crowd who are somewhat vocal in .410-world!

The one point of interest which seems to be emerging as I compare the Fiocchi cartridges’ patterns is that there is essentially no difference in end-performance between the #7½ (Italian) and the #6 (Italian) loadings. The smaller shot size seems to allow so much “extra” pellet deformation over the larger that any increase in absolute shot count is wiped out by pellets lost as fliers due to scrubbing: both cartridges are printing roughly the same patterns at 40 yards, irrespective.

20-Yard Patterns

In themselves, 20-yard patterns don’t tell anyone much, even in the .410. A quick calculation on the basis of today’s results shows that the minimum percentage pattern of any of the Eley “Extralong” Subsonic and Fiocchi “Magnum” cartridges was 95% when shot out of the “half-choke” (0.015″ constriction) barrel of the Yildiz. Effectively, the number of pellets one fires at the pattern plate at this distance is the number of pellets one gets in the pattern – with the tighter chokes, at least.

At 20 yards therefore, it’s probably more useful to talk about pattern size than pattern density. Here, poorer cartridge performance can be an advantage, particularly if the target is on the ground, moving quickly. Since any pattern at this range, from a cartridge with 130 or more pellets, ought to be sufficiently dense, the pattern with the largest area ought to be the easiest to shoot and therefore the most effective.

As might be expected, the Eley subsonic cartridge patterned most tightly, followed by the Fiocchi cartridge loaded with #6 (Italian, 2.7mm) shot. The “loosest” pattern was printed by the Fiocchi #7½ (Italian) cartridge, which covered the whole of the standard circle, suggesting an effective pattern area of about 30″ diameter. In contrast, the Eley cartridge had perhaps only a 20-22″ usable area – the rest of the circle was uncovered by pellet strikes. For short-range rabbits, therefore, the Fiocchi cartridge might be a better bet.

Here are the patterns:

20-yard pattern shot through the ½ choke of the Yildiz .410 using the Eley “Extralong” Subsonic 18g/#6 shell.
20-yard pattern shot through the ½ choke of the Yildiz .410 using the Fiocchi “Magnum” 18g/#6 shell.
20-yard pattern shot through the ½ choke of the Yildiz .410 using the Fiocchi “Magnum” 19g/#7½ (Italian) shell.
The 28 Gauge…

My 28 gauge produced a number of very usable 40-yard patterns in the end. Here is the most pleasing of them – a very evenly-spaced 168 in the standard circle from the Eley VIP 21g/#7 cartridge. If I can’t get what I want out of the little .410, this will certainly do as a backup gun – and what a confidence boost it is seeing an effective (with some margin) pattern from only ¾oz. of shot to start with…!

40-yard pattern shot through the ½ choke of a Yildiz 28 gauge using the Eley VIP 21g/#7 shell.

More will follow tomorrow when I have all of today’s data available for analysis.

Sunshine & Patterns Galore

It was (and still is) a glorious afternoon in my part of the world. I’ve just got back from my first pattern-testing trip using the new “patterning box” and it was a complete success.

I was treated to clear skies, blazing sunshine and relatively low wind – as opposed to the rainstorms and gale-force blasts that frustrated somewhat my previous attempt! With the use of the new patterning box, the whole process was significantly easier and I managed to get through 31 individual patterns in a little over 2½ hours.

The cartridges under test today were the two Fiocchi “Magnum” loads I had outstanding from the pre-Christmas acquisitions. I also shot some supplementary patterns for the Eley “Trap”, “Extralong Subsonic” (#6) and “Extralong” (#7) cartridges for which I’ve already collected some data.

Patterns, data and photographs of today’s tests will follow in the next day or two once I’ve had time to do the analysis required.

An Aside

Whilst my 28 gauge isn’t the “official” Small Bore Shotguns test gun for 28 gauge patterning, I did take the opportunity to pattern properly the Eley VIP load which I use with my “unofficial” gun (another Yildiz, but this one is an over and under).

I haven’t done pellet counts or analysis on this cartridge either, but I don’t need to know the exact numbers to be able to say it patterned beautifully.

I’ve been using the Eley VIP cartridge since I bought the gun, but I started out with the 21g / #6 version. I’ve downed some good birds with this load, but during last year, I often had a nagging feeling that I was losing (or wounding) birds every now and again because the pattern wasn’t particularly good.

I re-patterned the cartridge in October last year and found that none of the patterns I’d shot, using loose or tight chokes, were particularly good. Some were adequate for a 40-yard bird, but only just; most were somewhat sparse. The full choke (0.040″ constriction!) blew patterns. Perhaps that was just the way the tests went that day, but when the need to re-stock arose, I ordered the cartridge with #7 shot in it. That decision appears to have been vindicated.

Although I’ve shot some patterns (and some birds) with the #7 version of the VIP cartridge already, none were produced as carefully or methodically as today’s patterns. The actual results will be interesting to discover when I’ve finished the counts, but if anyone reading this is in the market for a 28 gauge cartridge, I strongly recommend the Eley cartridge – or the #7 version of it, at least…

Data to follow.