A Pleasant Walk

Yesterday’s trip turned out much as expected. In the event, I nearly missed nine in a row, a fate happily prevented by my bagging one bird for the eight cartridges fired! Not a brilliant result by any estimation and my dissatisfaction with it has not yet departed. That said, the trip had its positive moments, in spite of the lessons which remain un-learnt.

Love Don’t Inconvenience Thy Neighbour

I may have mentioned in previous posts that there is an organized game shoot on one of the opposite some of the land over which I have permission to shoot. I arrived just as the beaters’ cart had dropped off the beaters for the drive situated across the road, so I unpacked quietly, not wishing to disturb them or the impending drive.

In fact, I ignored one straightforward bird which passed close to where my car was parked because, as you will have guessed, my plan was to await the birds displaced by the guns across the road. In return for not ruining their drive with an early shot or two, I hoped that the pigeons which would almost certainly be in the wood about to be driven, would loop back into the trees on my side of the road to take refuge, giving me the opportunity to bag two or three of them.

Alas, it was not to be. The drive went ahead, but the pigeons refused to take the “easy” option even though I was well-concealed in the trees, away from the road. The majority disappeared off into the distance, at a right-angle to the direction I imagined they would take; a handful of the remainder passed by at some distance, allowing me to take two speculative shots, but with hindsight, I shouldn’t have bothered: neither shot connected and they were probably too far out to come down cleanly even if I had been on target. You win some, you lose some.

Seeking Solitude

In the event, I skirted round the boundary of the wood to the bottom end and then walked back to the car through the trees, looking for movement. It’s not my usual practice to go into the wood, because of the difficulty in getting a clear shot on even nearby birds, unless of course it’s late in the day and the possibility of roost shooting obtains.

Yesterday, however, I was a little “peopled-out” for one reason or another and appreciated the solitude. I may never have been further than 30 yards from open fields and the boundary about which I’d usually walk, but ambling slowly amongst the trees, having always to watch my step for fear of turning an knee in a fox hole and all the while watching for birds felt genuinely like “hunting” in its purest sense. I had literally no idea what would happen and although the quietness and loneliness of the place was necessary and refreshing, I felt as aware and as “alive” as I have in a long while. I may repeat the exercise.

As I returned through the wood, a few birds scarpered in various directions, but only one was not so obscured by the dense cover that it presented a genuine opportunity. I took it and bagged the bird. By the time I reached my car, the drive on the other side of the road had long finished and I just caught a glance of the beaters’ wagon disappearing over the hill as I came out from the trees. I trust they weren’t too disturbed by my presence.

Subsonic? Sub-Par?

Feeling that I’d exhausted all useful possibilities on that farm, I moved on to my next “usual” stop about a mile down the road. Here, I unpacked quietly and – expecting that there might be some wood pigeons in the tree line very close to where it’s possible to park the car – put into my pocket a handful of the Eley “Extra Long” Subsonic cartridges that I have awaiting pattern testing.

The reason for abandoning the Eley “Trap” cartridges I’ve had good success with so far is simple – I’ve got almost none of them left and it’s a 70-mile round trip to the only shop I know of that can supply more of them. Until I finish testing all the cartridges I’ve identified as “possibilities”, I don’t want to invest time and money in driving to buy slabs of cartridges for which there might be a superior alternative.

Theoretically speaking, whilst the subsonic cartridges, with their 18g of #6 would need to be achieving a pattern density that I haven’t seen this gun approach, let alone achieve, to be on a par the the “Trap” load, I thought that they ought to pattern well enough for a couple of 20 yard snap shots at any birds that might emerge from the hedgerow I planned to walk. Wanting to save the cartridges I knew would be effective at what I consider to be maximum range for this gun, I took a chance that they’d work, if I did my bit.

As it happens, there were no birds at which to shoot, but it only now occurs to me, as I write this post, that I forgot to change back to the “Trap” load after I’d gone past the hedge, which makes me feel slightly better about missing two shots at a pair of reasonably “tall” birds a little further on, making the tally 1-for-5.

I certainly missed the birds, but if I’d known I’d had the subsonics in the gun, I probably wouldn’t have had the confidence to take them on. Until I’ve seen whether a cartridge patterns well on paper – these should and I don’t doubt they’ll kill pigeons if I do my bit – I never feel I can have complete confidence in it. In fact, I tend always to imagine the wilder possibilities of performance, not least because I’m all too aware of the breadth of variation in shotgun behaviour with what most folk would call identical or near-identical loadings. Evidence, for me, is key.

For what it’s worth, I’ve also often wondered what kind of difference in muzzle velocity a human can detect as “different”. Is it 200 feet per second? 300? 500? As someone who more often over-leads birds than misses behind (I told you I was weird, right?), I’d have thought a slower cartridge might even bag me one or two birds I’d otherwise have fractionally missed, but perhaps that’s just wishful thinking.

Characterizing My Shooting

Moving on from my double miss (or trying to), I walked for about 1½ miles around the boundaries of the farm before I raised the gun to anything else. Subsequently failing to spot the slow-moving, crossing bird which emerged from the tree line at a little above head height, fifteen yards in front of me, and then – having done so – completely failing to respond to it by shooting it (or even attempting to do so) my confidence took another hit and I decided to turn back towards the car and head home. Sometimes it is better to just not to carry on rather than use up 20 cartridges in frustration, trying to hit anything and everything.

As readers will be becoming aware from these accounts, I’m an instinctive shooter who does best when I’m sure that I’m in good form and my gun and cartridge are well-matched and suitable for the job at hand. I am capable of shooting at a very good average, provided I don’t think too much about what I’m doing.

Unfortunately, I rather like thinking about shooting as it’s a colossally interesting and broad subject, worthy of much thought, which means that whilst I’ll sometimes be in very good form, I’m not capable of “forgetting” enough to ever be truly good at it. This is why I tend to go through cycles of shooting 1-for-2, then falling to bits with a couple of 1-for-9 days and then returning to 1-for-2 again. It’s a practical response to the amount of confidence I have in my shooting ability: I shoot well so I take on harder birds. I then miss the harder birds, drop my average and lose confidence. Then I shoot well again, because I don’t expect to hit anything and – without putting myself under pressure – everything falls into place again. It’s been like that for some years now.

Trigger Happy

Astute readers will recall that I mentioned firing eight shots yesterday and that, so far, the running count is five. The penultimate two blasts from the .410 were in the direction of an pigeon passing overhead, way out of range – at least for my shooting ability and certainly for the .410 – but to which I raised the gun anyway, in another example of my on-going battle with myself over shooting at distant, unmanageable birds. I’ve covered this bad habit several times in my previous posts and except to say that I often display it more when I’m tired and despairing of my shooting ability, I don’t intend to rehash the reasons for it here.

The final shot of the day was at a bolting rabbit. Unusually for me, I put the pattern well behind the bunny. I don’t often take a shot at rabbits, unless I’ve been specifically asked to try to control them as they aren’t my favourite quarry to eat. Other members of the association like to shoot them with air rifles and the farmer doesn’t mind us leaving them as it helps the foxes (which deal with most of them) survive, so overall the numbers tend to stay very low.

This time though, in my despondent, but apparently slightly trigger-happy mood, I thought it might be a nice change to bag one for the pot and had a go. Unfortunately, I suspect I only managed to put a pellet into one of its back legs or tail, as it squealed momentarily at me and continued to sprint towards its burrow, apparently unhurt. That made the bag one wood pigeon for eight shots.

All in all, it probably should have been 1-for-5 or 1-for-3 if I’d restricted myself to the straightforward opportunities and I’d like to think it could have been 2-for-4 at best, if I’d taken the easy crossing bird but, as usual, my keenness and over-confidence are my biggest handicap. Once again, I think it might be good to try to get to a clay ground, both for some practice and for the sake of simply letting off 100 cartridges at targets, to make pulling the trigger that little bit more boring – I’d probably waste fewer cartridges if it was.

As a final aside, I’ve recently discovered that Falco make a 24-gauge side-by-side and that Fiocchi still load ammunition for that gauge commercially. Brass cases are also available. I think it may turn out to be my next gun. You see them every now and again on the continent, but in England? A 24-gauge? Now that would be something special and quite an asset to a website like this one, I suspect…

On peut rêver.