Gone Decorating – Back Soon

I continue to be unable to dedicate the time I would like to writing this blog and contributing to the SmallBoreShotguns website. Rest assured, the willingness to do so is great, but the time for shooting, reloading, experimentation and authorship is still sorely lacking.

In many ways, it wouldn’t be appropriate to devote lots of time to enjoyable but, ultimately, unnecessary pursuits such as these, given my current situation, though I hope that this will be the last of the “filler” posts saying – essentially – “I’ll be back soon”.

My new daughter continues to thrive, though the amount of attention she requires is, as with all babies, substantial. Her mother continues to adjust to the new family unit, though perhaps less easily than I have. As one might expect, the other children also require a huge amount of attention currently which, though expressed in many and varied ways, is presumably their desire for reassurance that their new sister isn’t here to “replace” them.

Meanwhile, the state of the house continues to improve. Work on the bathroom was finished satisfactorily by the end of March, though it was much more disruptive than we’d been led to expect. Another minor flood during that work, caused by some loose plumbing, thankfully didn’t seriously damage either the new fittings or the lounge downstairs, though I dare say some blood pressures and voices were raised, given the reason for having all of the work done in the first place…

The lounge, meanwhile, occupies almost all of my spare time (what little is left after family, work, etc.). The room was re-plastered a fortnight ago which addressed years of “bodging” on the part of the previous occupants and a small semi-structural issue which could no longer be ignored. Before and after that, I’ve been working solidly on it for weekends and workday evenings: painting, wiring, hanging doors, cutting skirting and so on.

As DIY jobs go, the lounge redecoration is the most significant I’ve ever attempted and I’m pleased to report it’s going very well. Ideally, I’d complete the work at a slightly more leisurely pace, but we’re on a timetable for having a new carpet fitted next month and the disruption it’s causing isn’t something that any of us want to live with for longer than we have to. Because of that, I’m essentially working 11-12 hour days, moonlighting from software engineering as a builder!

Since none of that really addresses the core subject for this blog of shooting, let me talk a bit about some of the things that are in the pipeline for thre remainder of 2018, when we finally get started:

More .410 Patterning & Testing

We still know of many commercially-available .410 cartridges which the SmallBoreShotguns team have not tested. We have not acquired examples of most cartridges from the Gamebore range and we are yet to acquire examples of some of the imported brands (e.g. RC, Cheddite, Viri). The search will continue and so will the patterning.

28-Gauge Patterning & Testing

It’s probably a little ambitious to say that I’ll get round to doing any 28-gauge cartridge testing this year, given my current workload and the fact that we’re 1/3 of the way through the year already, but it remains theoretically on the list.


I imagine that buckshot doesn’t get a lot of use in this country, although probably more than most people would think. I’m reasonably certain, however, that – like .410 cartridges – it’s one of those subjects about which people like to pretend they know a great deal, but without much evidence or experience to back up their claims. I hardly know anything about how it behaves (though I can certainly theorize) and I’m interested in finding out more.

Using a suitably reinforced pattern plate and with a carefully-chosen location for testing, it should be possible to explore effect of choke and range on cartridges containing much larger shot sizes (e.g. BB, AAA, SG) and draw some conclusions. However, as with any process where the behavior is expected to align closely with a real-world (i.e. Normal) distribution, confidence in the data cannot be high where the number of samples (i.e. the number of pellets) is low.

Garden Gun Restoration

Another one of those projects for which the spirit is willing but the time is absent!

Having tested the full range of commercially available 9mm Flobert cartridges (Yes, all three of them… – Ed.) and successfully employed subsonic cartridges in other gauges for the control of wood pigeons in noise-sensitive areas, it’s now possible to retire the garden gun to the cabinet, except for the occasional visit out for polishing and restoration.

When time allows, I’m intending to tidy up the Modern Arms 9mm, re-blue and possibly re-stock it. I suspect that the spring in the bolt could do with being replaced, since weak strikes have been an issue thus far, though the action is not particularly sophisticated and the wish for greater reliability must be opposed by the need for safety – I don’t want the sear in the trigger mechanism giving way unexpectedly under the extra force! I could also move the bead back round to the 12 o’ clock position, rather than the 2:30 position it’s in now.

Classic Pigeon Cartridge

Finally, there’s the 36g/#5½ low-velocity reload which I produced back in February, which really needs thorough patterning in both of my 12-gauge guns and a decent field test. Having now failed to get out for a proper (half-)day’s shooting in over 3 months, this is becoming increasingly urgent, not least so that I can swap the smell of paint fumes and sawdust for the fresh manure-tinged air of the countryside and reacquaint myself with a much more pleasant form of exercise than climbing up and down ladders.

Whatever I do, there’s plenty there to get my teeth into and document here, if and when it happens…

All Quiet on the Western Front

If it’s been quiet around here for the last few weeks, it’s because life has been somewhat up-ended by the arrival of another daughter into the Hedgewalker’s household. We are all adjusting to the idea, new daughter included and – not unexpectedly – it has meant that the time available for shooting-related activities has been vastly reduced. In fact, once again, I find that I haven’t managed to get into the fields for nearly a month!

What spare time I have had between attempting to hold down a regular job on insufficient sleep and being useful to the lady of the house has been taken up by with decorating and organising the reconstruction of our lounge, which I believe I’ve mentioned was damaged by flooding towards the end of last year. This puts pursuits such as testing .410 loadings and reloading out to pasture for the foreseeable future, I’m afraid.

Whilst the necessity of doing the work has proved to be a welcome distraction from nappy-changing and an occasionally-irate and similarly sleep-deprived wife, not to mention the positive effect it’s had on my collection of power tools (never underestimate the value of a 100% genuine, fully-justifiable reason for going out and buying all of those man-tools you always fancied acquiring!), it does add, somewhat, to the overall strain of life.

Things will no doubt get much easier soon, as the bathroom repairs get underway next week and the lounge redecoration progresses. The plumbers have advised us that having children in the house next week would probably be difficult so my wife is taking them all to visit her parents whilst I stay to hold the fort. I might even get out shooting with a bit of luck.

Finally: reader, if anyone ever tries to persuade you that it’s a good idea to cut chases for cables in a plaster wall using an angle grinder, disbelieve them.. With a diamond disc, my machine cut through the walls like a red-hot samurai sword through warm margarine, but the dust… Oh, the dust!

Second-Time Lucky

I snatched an hour in the field this morning to test the new reloads, which generated some pleasing results. There were a handful of birds around too, all very high and although I took a two or three shots at the ones that came within range, I didn’t bag anything.

The most satisfying moment (or several minutes) of the morning came from watching a trio of hares playing, wrestling and boxing on the edge of the wood – they appeared to be having a whale of a time. Indeed, at first glance, the three of them looked rather like a small deer and it took me a moment or two to work out that the large ball of fur bouncing along the track some distance away was actually comprised of three individual animals!

A Classic Cartridge: Part II

It’s always nice to discover that a cartridge one has loaded is better than it first appears. In absolute terms, the 36g / #6 reload performed well with the Baikal side-by-side, placing an average of 205 pellets into the standard circle with the half-choke barrel and 215 pellets with the full-choke tube at 40 yards. This is a very usable pattern and – unusually for that gun – shows an improvement in performance with the full-choke barrel (which in many cases are inferior).

40-yard pattern shot through the full choke of the Baikal 12 gauge using a 36g / #5½ reload.

Percentage-wise, the patterns initially seemed disappointing. I’d been working off a figure of approximately 340 pellets in the un-fired cartridge as I mentioned in a previous post, but hadn’t actually got round to counting the shot drops to obtain an average. When I did so this morning, I obtained a final result of 302, which suggests that the “#6″ shot I acquired recently is actually 2.7mm in diameter, or size #5½ in real money.

Since I’m generally inclined to prefer larger sizes, the slightly-larger-than-expected shot suits me just fine and, mathematically, makes what had appeared to be a rather average cartridge adequately good. The pellet counts above translate to percentage patterns of 68% with the half-choke barrel and 71% with the full, which is a good result with the Baikal. Again, my experience has usually been that the full-choke barrel (0.041” constriction) is a little too tight to give best performance.

Recoil from the new reload was surprisingly mild. The muzzle velocity was never intended to be high, of course, and it’s probably still a little on the fast side to be considered truly “traditional”, but it certainly gave less of a thump compared with 36g commercial loadings (and, for that matter, most of the clay cartridges I’ve ever used). I have no chronograph, but I’d guess from the report, from the data and the feel of it that I’m not far off my 1175-1200fps target.

Perhaps the one disappointment from this morning’s testing was discovering some un-burned powder in the barrels after each firing. I suspect pressure is high-ish, but not high enough to give a complete powder burn. The recipe does allow for another grain of powder to be added (although the proof house data I have puts that quantity a smidgen over the 740 bar limit and into High Performance territory) but I suspect it wouldn’t help down range. A few flakes wasted for the sake of good patterns is just something I’ll have to live with, I guess.

It would be dangerous to make too many predictions on the basis of a small number of cartridges fired. This was an initial test, rather than a full series of patterns and I’ve seen promising results turn into disappointment in the past, not least with my first attempt to find something to feed the Baikal last year. If this level of performance holds up, however, I’d expect to see around 150 pellets in the circle at 50 yards – which should still be usable – with both pattern density and energy finally running out at around 55 yards.

At this point, I am curious to discover what performance might be like through the Browning semi-automatic I own. I wonder whether back-bored barrels, longer chamber and a range of chokes would show any interesting differences and whether this cartridge might be a better choice than the 39g / #5 reload I originally designed for that gun. The latter cartridge has to be loaded almost entirely by hand, since there is no 1 3/8oz shot bushing available for my press, which makes production a lot slower, compared to today’s cartridge. I could definitely be persuaded, put it that way.

The limiting factor today and, indeed, in the continuation of .410 testing is a lack of patterning paper. Hopefully, by the end of next month, I should have some more in stock and another few boxes of cartridges to test.

Something Sensible

Did anybody realize that the Gamebore “Clear Pigeon” cartridge has been redesigned (again) and comes in a 30g/#6 flavour? I certainly didn’t.

For years and years now, my local shop has stocked the 32g/#6 version of the old cartridge. I’ve used them in the past, though not recently. On the odd occasions I’ve wanted a “pigeon” cartridge the routine has been the same. They offer the Hull “Superfast” 29g/#6 cartridge (for which I suspect their margin is better) and I, always refusing on principle to fanny around with under-loaded cartridges, buy the Clear Pigeon loading instead. Of course, there’s no practical difference between the two (except perhaps that the Hull cartridge has always seemed to produce heavier recoil), but I have other guns better suited to lighter charges.

I felt somewhat short-changed on Monday then, when I left the shop with a box of the Gamebore cartridge and discovered that the contents were 2 grams lighter on lead than I’d expected. Needless to say, they weren’t any cheaper than usual.

Reloading 2018

For one reason and another, mostly related to the huge amounts of time, money and energy required to rectify the damage caused by a flood which occurred in the upstairs of my house just before Christmas, I haven’t had a lot of time or motivation for reloading lately.

I don’t usually keep a lot of 12 gauge cartridges in stock as I haven’t much used either of the two 12-gauge guns I own recently and when I do want a cartridge or twenty, I load them to order.

Since I’ve determined at the start of this year to work on my shooting confidence and to make things as easy for myself as I can, there is now a greater requirement for 12 gauge cartridges than there has been in the past. I had always planned too, to find a suitable reload for my Baikal, but last year’s experiments with a 34g/#5 loading proved unsatisfactory as I documented on this website.

The aforementioned Gamebore cartridges were bought as a stopgap, but it appears that my disappointment in finding I’d bought something other than what I intended has prompted some movement on one of last year’s outstanding projects: the classic pigeon cartridge.

A Classic Cartridge

Gough Thomas, in his book Shotguns and Cartridges states that the traditional pigeon cartridge was always heavier than the traditional game load, comprising 1¼ ounces of #6 or #7 lead shot, compared with 1 ounce (give or take 1/16 of an ounce either way) of #6 for pheasant or partridge. Considered for a moment or two, this makes perfect sense.

Of course, muzzle velocities were much lower and cartridges more expensive way back when, so firing hundreds of 36g cartridges in a morning either didn’t happen, or was a lot less uncomfortable than it sounds.

Last year, I decided I wanted to try making some of these low-velocity, high-pattern-density shells, but never got round to it. Yesterday, I finally did and there are now 6 test cartridges sitting on the shelf containing 36g/#6 and enough A1 to push it along at around 1175-1200fps – a slight under-charge compared to the published 1243fps loading and an identical reload for which I have proof house data.

In theory, the shells should produce the same pattern density as a 24g/#7½ clay load (340 pellets), with the energy to kill birds at 45-50 yards. Of course – they may not perform that well.

I’d have liked to try loading some #7 shot (giving c. 430 pellets in the cartridge) but I don’t have enough in stock to make a decent number of shells. I suspect also that – like the #6 version, to a degree – the extra pellets would be redundant. Effective range would be curtailed by the smaller shot size which would make increasing effective pattern area with lots of pellets and loose chokes the only justifiable motivation for this approach. Of course, in the past, when cylinder-choked guns were ubiquitous, this would have been perfectly sensible.

Of course, I did ask at the shop whether  they had any similar loading, but it was hardly surprising to be told that they didn’t stock anything containing 1¼oz. with a shot size smaller than #4.

Patterns to follow.

The Lee Load-All II: A Tip

I encountered as usual last night the issue of replacing the excess powder and shot into their respective containers from the hoppers in the Lee press. I had never come up with a good strategy for avoiding the inadvertent release of shot into the powder and vice versa – until yesterday.

It happens that I actually have a few spare parts for my press, acquired from a generous soul who no longer needed them and donated them to my experiments. One of the spare parts is a lid for the hoppers.

Why it had never previously occurred to me to drill a small hole in the corner of the spare lid, I don’t know, but last night, I did. By removing the hoppers and attaching the perforated lid, I was able to pour out the powder, directly into the container, through the hole in the corner. Turning the lid round allowed me to do the same with the shot.

The whole process took 2 minutes without incident, rather than 20 minutes of discharging powder and shot into different containers, one bushing-volume at a time.

A Moment Of Madness

Today was a slow-but-steady start to shooting in 2018.

I’d been lacking the motivation to do much in the way of anything this year, with tiredness and a light malaise from 2017 hanging over well into the new year. All that changed yesterday, when – for reasons that continue to elude me – I woke up, if not refreshed, then generally willing to conquer the ever-growing mountain of outstanding “jobs”.

Largely, my activities have been confined to the house, where tidying up loose ends and fixing – well – it feels like everything, have kept me busy for most of the weekend. I’ve discovered talents as a builder and plumber that I didn’t know I had, put it that way.

I managed, this afternoon, to get out to the fields for the first of my Sunday afternoon walks for the year. The first of the two farms I visited was devoid of avian life, probably not helped by a dog walker with Alsatian who seemed to have been using the track ways to exercise her mutt just before I arrived. It is, I suppose, nominally, a free country.

At the second farm, there seemed to be some movement, so I went for a longer walk but didn’t take my usual route. A few crows passed some distance away and likewise a few wood pigeons, but there wasn’t a lot going on.

That changed, very briefly, for about 30 seconds, just as I reached the halfway point of my walk. A large mixed flock, including wood pigeons, gulls and crows seemed to explode into being overhead and I managed to wound a crow (subsequently dispatched) and blow to bits a wood pigeon with the Browning 12 gauge I was carrying. Between jams (the semi-automatic does not like my reloads) and madly searching for some other cartridges, I managed to down a couple of birds, though there were probably opportunities and time for three or four if I’d had a pocket full of factory shells or a different gun.

Back to Basics

I’ve decided, since I get so little practice at shooting, to go back to basics in 2018. When I’m hunting, rather than patterning, I’ll make life as easy as I can to start with, using open chokes and small shot / close-range cartridges, then work back up to longer-range combinations when I’ve built up some (much-needed) confidence. That’s not to say I’m going to stop shooting the small bores or researching them, of course, but when I go out for the sake of hunting, I probably won’t be carrying the .410 – at least until later in the year.

I’m yet to get to the shop to buy a couple of boxes of something sensible (Goodness! Really!? – Ed.) so I used up some more odds and ends today, all shot through a ¼ choke. None of them were really “pigeon” cartridges, but the pigeon I took was a high-speed, 20-25 yard crosser and I was pleased with the shot – even if it felt a bit easy.

Then again, that was the point.


The crow, on the other hand, was probably a bit far out for a quarter choke and an under-performing cartridge (one of my “failed” 34g/#5 reloads initially intended for the Baikal), but I really can’t escape the feeling that all crows, whether 10, 30 or 50 yards away, are all just “a bit far out” and too much like hard work to shoot.

It’s not that I doubt my kit, but the number of times I hit but fail to cleanly kill crows is a lot greater than all of the other kinds of birds I shoot combined. I’ve never understood why this is.

Wood pigeons, I most often hit or miss. Yes, I’ve recorded some explosions of feathers, misses behind and other variations on the theme of wounding a bird on this blog over the last year or so, but the number of birds is never so high in the overall scheme of things that I’m concerned about it.

Jackdaws, to take another example, seem to be my “success” bird. My biggest bags have always included large numbers of jackdaws and I’ve always seemed to have a knack for decoying and shooting them – even when I haven’t been able to hit anything else. My first ever left-and-right was a pair of jackdaws and there have been times when I’ve had them raining out of the sky fast enough that you’d have to look twice to be sure that some kind of biblical plague wasn’t occurring.

Crows on the other hand. Irrespective of gun, cartridge or current form, I always seem to struggle with crows, to a degree which I can’t at this point explain.

I’ll keep working on it.