Personal Best

I hope readers might forgive a modicum of arrogance if I begin by saying that I made some cracking shots today. Although my first “proper” day’s shooting in a long time was by no means perfect, there were two periods of the day where everything clicked and I brought down some stonking birds.

I set out early as planned and got to the farm just after 7am, having disturbed several hundred rabbits and one muntjac doe from their early morning grazing on the verges of the back roads.

Having parked, it took me a while to unload and decide exactly where to build the hide, but my task was to try to rid the cattle yard of the corvids milling around the barns which limited the possibilities to only two or three locations. Eventually, I set up under a line of trees at the end of the yard looking over a field of green barley, with decoys in the bare patches. Although I was never going to shoot every crow in the place, I made a good start, with a crow on my first shot and ten down before 8am.

As you can imagine, I was, by then, in something of a buoyant mood and when I saw one of the many tens of swallows darting over the crops try to eat, thrice, one of the down feathers of the 11th bird (as it gently descended from the point of the shot to the ground) – presumably believing it to be insect life of some kind – I actually laughed out loud. At the same time, I tried very hard not to allow myself to become over-confident and carried on picking my shots but as the morning wore on, the tiredness of the early start began to catch up with me.


As always seems to be the way, the avian traffic slowed down considerably by 10:30am and the steady stream of birds which had been “keeping my eye in” had all but disappeared. Fatigue set in and in spite of plenty of coffee and a snack, my concentration broke. By this point, I’d shot 19 for 30 cartridges and thus it stayed for much of the next hour.

The intervening time gave me an opportunity to reflect on the day so far.

I’d started the day with a quarter-choked 12 gauge and after birds #6, #7, #8 and #9 came down for four cartridges fired, I had wondered whether I should carry on or try the Baikal 16 gauge or the .410 which I’d also brought with me. I retrieved the Baikal.

Bird number 10 was a bit of a spectacular: a jackdaw falling to an ounce of #6 from the full-choked barrel at well over 40 yards (probably nearer 50), at a 90° angle from the orientation of the hide, just as it was about to disappear over the tree line. (I retrieved it, quite dead, for the pattern.) If I needed any reminders about just how capable the queen of the medium gauges is with it’s traditional loading, I wasn’t short of them today.

Capability requires operator competence, however, and my success was short-lived. After missing the next three in a row, I picked up the 12-gauge once again to finish the first session and “discovered”, in the process of working through my 12-gauge “odds and ends” that an ounce of #7½ will indeed bring down a 50-yard bird, as some like to claim, but only sometimes.

I believe I’ve made it fairly clear on this blog that, given the choice, I prefer larger shot (and that remains the case). That lucky, 50-yard jackdaw was quickly followed by a second, wounded at shorter range, and a crow that – although well-hit at around 40 yards – destabilized for a second or two and then flew on, exemplifying in three shots the reason why we don’t use clay loads on game. Needless to say, the handful of “clay” cartridges remaining in the bag were quickly discarded.

Number 20

Readers can imagine, I’m sure, the irritation brought about by shooting 19 birds at a decent cartridge ratio, with the promise of a 20th delayed not only by an hour’s lack of opportunity, but then by a further hour or so of fannying around having apparently forgotten how to shoot.

By midday, I was counting the intervals between seeing birds (as opposed to firing at them) and was within a few minutes of my self-imposed time limit for packing up and going home. Since one can hardly continue doing the same thing and expecting different results, I decided to get the 16 gauge out for what I expected to be the last few minutes, just to see if shaking things up a bit would make a difference.

As with the 12 gauge, I’d bought along my bag of 16-gauge odds and ends. Apart from a quantity of my own 28g/#6 reload, I had about 50 cartridges obtained a long time ago from the local shop at a heavy discount, apparently from the collection of one of their now-deceased former customers. I hadn’t really looked at them before this morning, except to note that they were good enough value to purchase without further consideration: I believe I paid £5 at the time.

Two old brands of 16 gauge cartridge: SMI “Standard” and Sellier & Bellot “Black Star”.

In fact, the bag contained examples of SMI’s “Standard” cartridge, containing 28g / #6 and a similar number of Sellier & Bellot’s paper-cased “Blck Star” cartridge which I believe were (are) loaded with 26g / #7. I would be surprised, given the primers and the degree of corrosion, if any of them were less than 40 years old. There was also a single, likewise agéd example of Eley’s “Grand Prix”, so I put that in the full-choke barrel and one of the green SMI cartridges in the half-choke.

Five seconds later, a crow appeared over the hedge row to the left, as far away as I think I’d ever reasonably expect to shoot anything and was promptly killed by a snap shot, courtesy of the Eley cartridge. Finally, for the first time in nearly three years, I’d reached 20 birds in a day. (That’s what having kids will do to you… – Ed.) I might buy a box of the modern Eleys and compare them to the new-ish Gamebore “Regal Game” when I get a chance.

The Exodus

A flurry of birds quickly followed, with a double for #22 and #23 another highlight, taking me to 24 for I’ve stopped counting cartridges by 12:30pm. After another 30 minutes of total inactivity during which I ate my lunch, I packed up, although I wasn’t giving up when I had a whole-day pass of which to take advantage.

Instead, I drove to the other end of the farm to set up a hide in a maize field which I’ve known both crows and wood pigeons to attack in the past.

None of my shooting this afternoon approached the consistency of what I’d managed in the first two hours of the day (and the S&B cartridges loaded with #7 were not entirely convincing at longer ranges) but I did manage to bring down another seven birds in an hour or so after lunch, most of them higher and faster than the morning’s birds.

By the time I’d built the hide, the wind had picked up somewhat and the birds’ flight lines brought most of them over the wood to which I had my back, which made for exciting, instinctive shooting. One was a particularly good bird, which although not far from the hide, was high and fast enough that it fell, dead, over the far hedge and into the next field, over 100 yards away.

Unfortunately, although the feeling of tiredness had receded, I was never really able to settle this afternoon, mostly thanks to the 48,000,000 local mosquitoes apparently determined to infest the hide. If I shot 30 birds today, I probably killed ten times that number of mozzies, though in spite of my efforts, my arms and legs are still covered in bites. I gave up both pursuits at around 3:30pm, having accounted for 17 crows and 14 jackdaws, which is a personal best, I’m afraid to say. Cartridge count was around 85, give or take.

In case anyone was wondering, the .410 did come out for a few minutes, but ultimately, I didn’t “click” with it as I did the other two guns. Certainly this afternoon, the ranges were too long for it to have been any use and this morning, it didn’t come out early enough for it to benefit from an operator on form. Perhaps another day.

An Afterthought

With all the other things going on in life recently, I haven’t really had any time for any reloading. Interestingly – for me, anyway – I came home today, feeling that sometimes, it’s quite nice just to pop some factory shells in the gun and focus on the shooting and the enjoyment of the day, rather than worrying about whether the patterns for this or that reload will be good.

“All rabbits to be shot on sight!”

I reminded myself yesterday or the peculiar satisfaction of small-bore shooting.

A visit to relatives yesterday afforded the opportunity to walk around the grounds of the house with the strict instruction that “any rabbits are to be shot on sight”. Unfortunately, in spite of fencing and the prospect of far tastier morsels left elsewhere in the garden, the little buggers have been steadily eating their way through the vegetable patch.

Even if the Pest Act 1954 and the designation of the entirety of England as a Rabbit Clearance Area under that Act were not enough to persuade us to shoot the blighters as a matter of civic duty, I think we’d still have been motivated to try. Unfortunately, as well as being eternally hungry, they’re also rather wary and in spite of patience and best efforts, we weren’t able to get near enough to any of the handful that appeared to take a shot.

I didn’t go home empty-handed however. Regrettably, I’d had to turn down the possibility of “hundreds of crows” – or so said an acquaintance who tried to persuade me to visit one of the Association’s farms with him instead – as the visit to see family had been arranged previously. I still haven’t heard out how he got on, but no doubt it’ll be three figures or something ridiculous!

For my part, I managed a small bag of wood pigeons at a ratio of 1 for 2 – admittedly at short-to-medium ranges – with Hull’s “High Pheasant” 19g / #6 loading for .410 proving its efficacy once again. A renewed confidence in my shooting abilities and sight of much of the local fauna – a pair of young foxes, some pheasants of a certain age and at least one sparrowhawk, if not two – were my other rewards.

On the subject of the the 2018 “priorities” I listed in an earlier post, I’m starting to be able to turn attention back to pattern testing and reloading. A trip to my local shop didn’t turn up anything except the Hull cartridges, though I asked questions about buckshot as well. 42g / #3 in a Gamebore cartridge was the largest they had, but #3 doesn’t quite meet my definition of buckshot. I’ll be looking further afield in the coming weeks to see what I can obtain.

.410 cartridges, likewise, remain difficult to find. I’ve tested everything I can obtain locally, so it looks like I’ll have to make some inquiries on the online fora and see if folk are aware of any local (or less local) suppliers of the shells I’ve not yet tested.

A final observation: our new carpet is being delivered / fitted tomorrow. This will mark the end of the rebuilding / redecoration of the house since the flooding last year and will probably justify a pint or two of beer to celebrate.


Well it always is, isn’t it? Christmas comes and goes and one spends weeks looking forward to it (or at least being vaguely aware of its impending arrival) and then it happens and one wonders after – or even during the event – “was that it?”.

Of course, the children enjoyed it, but with the multi-day festival of food and (alcoholic) drink of my younger days now very much left behind, it’s difficult to find much enthusiasm for it if I’m honest. By the evening of the 24th, a celebratory tot of whiskey and an early night seemed infinitely preferable to a noisy party. It was much the same for New Year’s Eve, I’m afraid.

Holding the Fort

It was my turn to work the three days between Christmas and the new year this year, so I didn’t really achieve “holiday mode” until the afternoon of the 29th December.

Although I did manage – briefly – to pick up a gun on the 26th, it wasn’t for any kind of glamorous Boxing Day event, but rather a (successful) pot shot at the pigeons that continue to plague my relatives’ winter crops. That day, it was the .410; when I returned last weekend to have another go, I ended up taking a lightly-choked 12 gauge which afforded similar success.

Apparently, neither my relatives, nor their neighbours could tell the difference between the subsonic cartridges I employed on both recent occasions and the previous use of the garden gun. I suspect that this response was more to do with their wish that I continue to deal with the local “flying boobies” (as one of them rather quaintly put it) than because there is no appreciable difference, but provided I’m within the conditions of the General Licence and not offending anybody, I’m happy to continue.

Either way, that and the efforts of an aquaintance to turn three single-barrel guns he owns into a battery of moderated shotguns inspires a new reloading project (a subsonic cartridge or two) and suggests a use for the 20-gauge I have sitting in the cupboard. We will have to see what 2018 brings.

Turning the Handle

I managed to have about four weeks off working on my various projects over Christmas. I didn’t finish the computer game I’d had planned for my “holiday”, but I did buy and complete another, so I feel I’ve had a rest.

This post, of course, is a means of gently getting things going for 2018. There will be cartridges to test and analysis to be written for this website, as well as plenty of software development, music making and chilli growing / gardening to pursue.

Quite where the balance between all of those things will end up, I’m not sure yet, but I’ll continue my search for .410 cartridges and – in the continuing absence of anyone else to test them – might make a start on some of the 28 gauge cartridges available in the UK too.

I’ll try to make some time for some actual shooting between that lot, but if I have a resolution for 2018, it’s to take it a bit easier and spend more time thinking about what I’d like to do in my limited spare time, rather than persuading myself always that I ought to be “working”.

“Sow Thinly”

One of the first things I learnt about gardening, having decided to take it up relatively seriously, is that the interpretation of garden “jargon” is something of an art form.

One of the most impenetrable areas of what must be the quintessential English sport (other than a) being miserable and b) discussing the prevailing conditions) is seed sowing.

I find that interpreting the directions on a packet of seeds is fraught with difficulty. For example, the differences between “sow”, “sow thinly”, “sow sparingly” and “place seeds…” are not only quite opaque in themselves, but seem to bear some kind of variable relationship to the number of seeds in a given packet.

The theory is quite clear to me: if the seeds only have a 50% germination rate, then the supplier should supply more of them than if, for example, they have a 95% germination rate. One then sows (“sow”) approximately twice as many of the former than the latter (which have been “sow[n] thinly”) and eventually ends up with roughly the same number of plants.

At least once per year however, this interpretive art eludes me. Last year, I followed instructions to “sow thinly” a quantity of very tiny, apparently unreliable Coleus seeds and ended up with 36 plants when I had expected about four.

This year’s failure – expected, but still irritating – has exceeded all previous failures. I’m currently typing this post, sitting next to a propagator containing approximately 200 Rudbeckia seedlings, having sown “sparingly” the contents of a packet apparently containing half that number of seeds! 

I suspect most of them will have to go. At a 12″-18″ spacing, I could fill my garden and most of the rest of the street too…


Year’s End

It’s taken me a while, but I finally got the remainder of the analysis from the pattern testing I did two Sundays ago written up. Perhaps the best result to report is that we finally found a version of the the Fiocchi “Magnum” cartridge which would pattern adequately at 30 yards, though this isn’t saying much. They are very much a “middle of the road” loading, though perhaps not quite as awful as earlier testing of the (Italian) #7½ and #6 shot sizes suggested.

After more than a year’s testing of over 20 cartridges, I suspect that the best choices for use in the Yildiz are the Eley Trap 19g/#7½ and the Eley Extralong 18g/#7 which have been well known and – surprisingly – Hull’s High Pheasant 19g/#6 which is the very unexpected addition to the “candidates” list. Admittedly, pattern density runs out more quickly with the latter cartridge, but as a 30-33 yard cartridge, it’s unassailable. I suspect that the overall winner of this now-long-running “competition” will only be determined by rigorously field testing whatever the best two or three cartridges turn out to be.

Year’s End

It’s only the end of November, but I’ve come to the point, as far as this website goes, where I’m ready to wrap things up for the year and start afresh in 2018. Of course, that’s not to say I won’t be thinking about life with a .410 or posting here when I think I’ve got something of interest to say, but, having exhausted the supply of cartridges for testing and – to some degree – myself with this and other projects, it’s time to take a break, take stock and think about what I want to achieve next year rather than ploughing on regardless.

This year’s 1st January patterning trip notwithstanding, winter is never the best time for (effectively) erecting a paper sail and shooting at it, given the wind and the rain which tend to obtain, so I’ll spend the time between now and starting up again in February or March shopping and find, if I can, some new brands and varieties of cartridges to test and think about some of the experiments it might be worth doing next year. I’ll also be spending some time actually going out shooting and catching up on some much-needed relaxation.

I’ll add more thoughts as and when they occur to me.

Tip Off

I received a tip off from an acquaintance yesterday: that the Fiocchi #8 (or #7½, depending on who you ask) cartridge I was to test this morning would perform well with the “full” choke of the Yildiz, on the basis of his own experience with that gun, cartridge and choke.

Naturally, I was curious about this suggestion, so before I set off this morning, I put the 0.025″ choke for the Yildiz and the choke key into my bag with the plan that, if the paper hadn’t run out when I’d finished working through the list of patterns required, I’d shoot a few patterns using that choke to see how it behaved.

Not entirely surprisingly, given my previous experience with the Fiocchi cartridges, the experiment proved a disappointment, with what my gut instinct would call “acceptable” patterns at 30 yards and rather poor patterns at 40. On the positive side, I did discover that the Lyalvale 14g/#6 cartridge responds well to the extra choke and gave what appeared to be good, solid patterns at 30 yards (before disintegrating completely over the next 10).

The actual counts and analysis will bear all this out, of course, but it was a couple of hours, pleasantly spent, albeit without a single opportunity to shoot a wood pigeon.

I did, however, manage to take some photographs with my decrepit camera phone (after more than a year of pattern testing) just to erm… prove that I’m not making all this shit up.

Working from the back shelf of the vehicle is often the most convenient way of patterning. The “range” is set out behind the car making packing and unpacking a very straightforward proposition.


People always say to me that “40 yards is a long way” implying that folk most often talk about shooting birds which are far closer than they’d like to think. The patterning paper in this picture is a little larger than one meter square and is standing at a measured 40 yards (observe the line on the ground). Perhaps it’s just the perspective, but 40 yards doesn’t look very far to me – which possibly explains the bad habit that started all of this .410 rigmarole off: shooting at 60-yard birds…