Pattern Testing Trip

The afternoon started well, with blazing sunshine and very little wind and I managed to rattle through 20-25 patterns with very little difficulty. Later, the wind picked up and the rate at which I could shoot them slowed drastically. Even the heavy plywood of the patterning box, now peppered with plenty of lead shot, could not counteract the sail-like behavior of the paper in the breeze and my attempts to shoot the last few patterns were frustrated by the whole edifice toppling repeatedly.

In the end, I gave up. I have enough patterns to keep me busy counting and analyzing data for most of the week, if not longer. The other patterns I had hoped to shoot will have to wait for another day.

No Country for Old #7’s

A quick wander round the farm before I started provided a single shot at a wood pigeon departing post-haste. In failing to account for a straightforward, 35-yard going-away bird which produced a beautiful explosion of feathers as I hit it, but which – once again – flew on, I can only remind readers of my previous posts exploring the differences in presentation between the approaching driven bird and the more commonly-encountered going-away bird.

As I continue to gain experience with the .410 and the smaller-than-I’d-like shot sizes I’m attempting to use with it, I find myself less and less convinced that it can ever be a general purpose gun.

I am not a talented shot, by any means, but I am on form at the moment and I’m failing to bag easy birds that I’d reasonably expect to have folded in the air with a larger shot charge. The Yildiz will kill (and has killed) birds at 40 yards (and probably a little beyond), but I’m increasingly persuaded that whether it will do so with the shot sizes required to maintain a “killing” pattern is – at medium-to-long ranges at least – heavily dependent on the presentation and line of the bird and – to some degree – on luck.

I can offer no evidence for the following assertion since I have recorded none, except what is written in this blog. However, I seem to recall that most of the longer clean kills I’ve made using #7 (or smaller) shot, both in the the .410 and in my 28 gauge (where I’ve switched to using #7 in the last year or so) have been crossing or approaching birds. Departing birds have required the attention of a priest more often than I’d like.

Of course, that may sound like a terrible excuse for simply bad shooting – I can only speak as I find – but I do feel if today’s bird had been coming towards me, the Eley cartridge (18g/#7) would have accounted for it as expected. Likewise, if I’d made an identical shot with 32g/#5, it would undoubtedly have come down.

Two Islands of Thought

I’m increasingly interested in the significance of head / neck strikes where the use of smaller shot is concerned. I continue to suspect others’ success with the smaller sizes – one acquaintance bores us endlessly on a well-known forum on every conceivable subject, provided it’s #7 shot – is down to very high pattern density and amenable presentation.

If this is the case, then the use of smaller shot sizes in a .410, incapable of firing enough pellets to achieve those very high pattern densities, may be sub-optimal. It may be the case that relying on apparently below-minimum pattern densities with larger shot sizes is a better approach in the small gauges.

That said, one can achieve high pattern densities with even smaller shot than #7. Are there in fact two “islands” of terminal performance, one favoring pattern, the other penetration, with the “best of both” option in the middle failing to outperform either? Do we fail to see these “islands” in the larger gauges because genuine pattern insufficiency is almost never an issue and they overlap each other? Is this why I read – horrifyingly – that “serious high-bird .410 shooters” use Winchester cartridges loaded with American #4!?

As yet, I remain undecided, but I am starting to consider whether the evidence collected thus far is starting to support this theory. M(any m)ore field tests will be required to prove or disprove it.

Oh well. I’ll just have to go hunting some more…


I was kept company today by two noisy juvenile crows. Obviously, they were in the process of fledging and had reached the stage of being “branchers” where they were building up strength in their wing muscles by flapping short distances between the outer branches of the tree they were inhabiting, approximately 20 feet above where I’d placed the pattern plate.

I’m sure some readers will question why I didn’t shoot them on sight. I asked myself the same question.

I’m sorry to say that as I encountered them, the possibility of conducting a slightly unethical experiment as to the efficacy of #9 shot briefly crossed my mind. Since this was only 30 seconds after I’d shot and failed to kill the wood pigeon that got away (and that with #7), I decided that I wasn’t prepared to risk wounding them for the sake of my curiosity, pest birds or not. After that it seemed a little cold to simply invent another reason to shoot them having decided the first wasn’t sufficient, so I left them to mind their own business and went away to mind mine. I’ll shoot them next week instead.

Pattern Analysis

Thus far, I’ve only been able to complete pellet counts on a single cartridge, partly due to an intolerant spouse who complains that the sound of pattern paper being moved around is too noisy against which to watch television.

The cartridge thus far completed is the Eley “Fourlong” 12½g/#7 and (without having spent much time thinking about it carefully) the data shows that it performs well in percentage terms, apparently confirming that subsonic velocities, short shot columns and fold crimps are all beneficial. Unfortunately, the small number of pellets in the cartridge limit its usefulness to sub-30-yard ranges, but it is both consistent and impressive, given that other, much heavier loads cannot match absolutely its performance.

There certainly appears to be some merit in the argument that 2½” shells often perform as well as 3″ shells in the .410.

More will follow during the week as I complete the pellet counts and publish the data / analysis.