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.
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.
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.
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.
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.