Five Cartridges: Lessons Learned

Although I said in my first post after returning from last weekend’s patterning trip that I hadn’t managed to shoot all the patterns I wanted to, I did make substantial progress this week. I’m certainly going to have to find some more cartridges to test, given that the list of patterns left to shoot with the shells I have is beginning to get quite short.

At this point, all the patterns are counted and all of the data is collated and I’ve confirmed – if not actually learned – one or two things about each of the cartridges tested. It feels like it’s been a huge effort – perhaps it has, or perhaps I’m just tired – and I’m ready for a break once again. Hunting tomorrow evening will not involve the use of a pattern plate!

Currently, I’m not happy with some of the analysis I’ve written about the cartridges. Apart from anything else, I feel I’ve been lazy as far as the technical side of the analysis goes, so I’ll be re-visiting what I’ve written this week at some point very soon to distil the useful information from the sundry words and add the more specific technical analysis which has been a feature of my previous writing.

For those of you who don’t have time to read each of the analyses in turn, here’s a summary of what I’ve covered this week.

Bornaghi “Extreme”

My opinion of the Bornaghi cartridge was moderately improved by further testing, but the cartridge remains well away from being one with which I would choose to hunt. Better-performing alternatives are more-readily available and cheaper to acquire. I had always thought of Bornaghi as producing top-quality cartridges (and the components may be well-chosen and of high quality) but at the end of the day, performance is king and the 14g shell just doesn’t make the grade. I do continue to appreciate the level of detail that Bornaghi print on the cartridge case – in case one were in any doubt about the shell’s contents and capabilities.

Lyalvale “Supreme Game” 9g/#6

I like the idea of a 2″ cartridge – it is a pleasingly-unusual historic curiosity but nonetheless appropriate to the .410 given the origins of the gauge. I remain interested in obtaining and patterning Lyalvale’s alternative 9g loading containing #9 shot and investigating its behaviour.

As much as it would be nice to find a reason to keep a box or two of the Lyalvale cartridges “in stock”, they are not, a practical cartridge for hunting, particularly in a 3″-chambered .410 where the performance issues created by firing short cartridges in long chambers are clear from the data. If I were a more talented shot, I might justify using a handful of them whilst decoying (the shot size is more than sufficient), but they aren’t “general purpose”. Testing them has strongly suggested that a large “jump” between case and chamber-end has a significant and detrimental effect on performance.

Eley “Fourlong” 12½g/#7

For this round of pattern testing, the “Fourlong” cartridge is my personal “winner”. I don’t view subsonic or marginally-supersonic muzzle velocities as any kind of handicap and – on the basis that the long-term average pellet counts for the ¾-choke at 30 yards stays within the region of the 120 pellet mark – I think I’d use these cartridges more often if I was sure that ranges were going to be at 30 yards or under (e.g. decoying). Once again the wisdom of keeping muzzle velocities (and, one assumes, pressures) well below modern expectations is proved.

I’ve been impressed by Eley’s heavier loads (e.g. the 19g “Trap” cartridge) but there’s something about putting that much shot in a .410 that seems a little excessive. I remain hopeful that I will find a true 40-yard cartridge, but if I don’t, then doing 30 yards well with a genuinely light loading, rather than hoping for 40 yards on the basis of luck may be the more satisfying and appropriate option.

Eley “Trap” 14g/#9

Cartridges where one has such a genuine excess of pellets that the most concerning feature is how large one can make the pattern are few and far between. The nearest most folk get is with a cylinder-choked gun and a #9 cartridge on the skeet field, though the Italians go one better with their Dispersante cartridges which contain a device to further spread the pattern. Nonetheless, this is the case with the “Trap” cartridge and our theory that shooting many chokes at the same distance would give the most useful picture turned out, I believe, to be true. Whilst this series might usefully be supplemented by some 20- and 25-yard patterns in future, we established that pattern sufficiency is hardly an issue where #9 shot is used in the .410, but that it’s ability to kill the target remains very much in doubt.

Eley “Trap” 14g/#7½

The patterns shot with the #7½ version of the “Trap” cartridge confirmed that it is probably the best-balanced cartridge yet tested by the SmallBoreShotguns team. Conventional wisdom has it that #7½ shot probably runs out of “oomph” at around 30-35 yards and this coincides with the range at which the best patterns shot from this cartridge fall below the minimum required density. Whilst the heavier, 3″ version of this loading provides more pellets in the pattern, it doesn’t necessarily give any extra range, as its somewhat patchy performance on longer-range birds in the field has demonstrated.

Although perhaps contradicted by later results from tests of the 2″ Lyalvale cartridge, we could not deduce any negative effect on performance from this 2½” loading, compared with it’s 3″ sibling, in spite of the shot column of the former “jumping” from case mouth to the end of the chamber. In fact, the shorter cartridge gave marginally better performance – which is as yet unexplained.

What’s next?

As I said at the beginning of this post, I’m going to start looking around again for some more cartridges to test. This may take some time, but there are plenty more brands in the UK market which I need to find and obtain. In general terms, I believe the previous “priority list” is now reduced to the following:

  • Gamebore “.410 Hunting” 16g / #7 [3″] (or any / all shot sizes available)
  • Gamebore “.410 Target” (a.k.a. “Skeet”) 14g / #9 [2½″] (useless for hunting, but I have a point to prove / refute)
  • Any 3″ cartridge not mentioned above containing #7 or #7½ shot.
  • Any other 3″ cartridge.
  • Lyalvale 2″ / 9g / #9.
  • Any of the Lyalvale 14g [2½″] loads (including the #9).
  • Any other 2½″ cartridge.
  • Anything else.

Additionally, of the cartridges so far tested, there are many with which I’d like to do supplementary testing. It is not my expectation that shooting any of the following patterns will alter the conclusions I’ve drawn from the data collected so far, but they will help to provide a broader data set upon which to base general conclusions and future analysis.

  • Bornaghi “Extreme” 14g/#7: 40-yard patterns with ¾-choke.
  • Eley “Fourlong” 12½/#7: 30-yard patterns with other chokes.
  • Eley “Extralong” 18g/#7: 20-yard pattern with half choke for completeness.
  • Eley “Extralong” Subsonic: Full choke patterns for  to rule out the remote possibility of 40-yard performance; further patterns to sort out 30-yard results for 0.015″ / 0.020″ chokings.
  • Eley “Trap” 14g/#9: 20-yard pattern with ½-choke with for completeness.
  • Eley “Trap” 14g/#7½: 20-yard pattern with ½-choke with for completeness; cylinder, quarter and full choke patterns with to produce a complete data set.
  • Eley “Trap” 19g/#7½: Cylinder and quarter patterns to complete data set.

Additionally, I would like to record confirmatory patterns to strengthen confidence in the existing data centered around the 0.015″ and 0.020″ chokes which have been most extensively tested and seem to be the most effective overall. Since the list above probably accounts for another 30 patterns and confirmatory testing the same again – without accommodating the testing of any new cartridges – it may be some time before they are all ready for analysis!