Rain or Shine

The weather was somewhat changeable this afternoon and as I arrived at a deserted farm, I pondered the difficulties the farming community must face in deciding when to cut crops. Too early and the crop isn’t dry and may spoil in storage before it can be sold; too late and inclement weather can soak the ground, delaying harvest and reducing the yield, either through the plants naturally depositing seed into the ground as they are apt to do, or by causing the crop to rot on the plant, infected with fungus or suchlike. I was grateful then, that my livelihood does not depend on whether the gods bring rain or sunshine for a handful of weeks in July and August.

Having sat in the car with the rain clattering down on the roof for about 25 minutes after I arrived, my patience was rewarded with a break in the clouds which lasted for nearly an hour. I set up the pattern board, with a new “foot” by which the tendency of the wind to blow the plate over was successfully resisted, and began testing the “odd” 12-gauge patterns which I’ve been meaning to shoot for some time, but haven’t yet done so due to focussing on the .410. With that testing and another 30 mins or so after a break for more rain to pass, I exhausted my supply of paper and shot enough patterns to give myself a day or two of counting, analyzing and pondering.

The early results are in, however, and they are either interesting, or as expected.

Speed Kills

Various members of the team here at SmallBoreShotguns are working on articles on various sujects more or less related to the pursuit of small bore shotgunning at any given time. The article I’m currently writing, entitled “The English Disease: Fact or Fiction” is currently 75% finished, awaiting pattern data and that is what I have been able to collect today.

I’ll save the full conclusions for the article itself, but, in short, the hypothesis that speed kills patterns appears to be broadly correct. I shot this afternoon, using my Baikal 12 gauge, 40-yard patterns for two identical loadings (28g/#7½), one subsonic and one very, very fast.

The faster loading – Hull Sovereign – contains much harder shot and – one assumes, better components all round, but even with those advantages, it’s still performing 10% worse than the identical loading shot at subsonic velocity (Hull Subsonic). In fact, one of the subsonic patterns only ended up three-quarters on the plate and still had almost as many pellets in the “circle” as the least good Sovereign pattern. The 30-yard patterns are still to be counted, but there I expect to see noticeable differences in pattern size, which again, will feature in the article.

I’ll say one thing though – Hull Sovereign recoil hard. To be fair, the subsonic rounds kicked pretty hard too – much more than I was expecting – particularly given Hull’s reputation for producing smooth, comfortable cartridges. Undoubtedly, in the case of the former, it’s the high muzzle velocity and the unavoidable laws of physics, but I found myself thinking (yet again) that it was quite unnecessary to get beaten up by one’s gun like that. I’ve been patterning and using the last of the Gamebore Black Gold 36g/#4 cartridges I kept in my car, and they are noticeably more comfortable to shoot than the Sovereigns. I’m just saying.

Oh and whatever the powder in the Sovereigns is, it stinks. Ugh.

Feeding the Russians

I’ve had an excellent, long-range load for my 16-gauge Baikal for almost as long as I’ve had that gun, having stumbled upon an apparently perfect recipe first time out. Whenever I have cases and components available for loading them, that cartridge is the one I’ll use, without exception.

I’ve been hoping to achieve the same for my 12-gauge Baikal, which is the same model of gun with slightly bigger tubes and marginally-different chokes and started with a 34g/#5 loading using Vectan A0 which was – I’m told – a duplication of the Gamebore Pigeon Extreme cartridge of the same specification.

Although I’m not yet at the point of changing the load, today’s pattern testing did show that I haven’t been as lucky with the 12 gauge load as I was with the 16 gauge cartridge. The 40-yard performance of the cartridge was adequate, but mediocre and recoil was slightly more than I would have liked, although it was a warm, muggy day which may have kept powders hot and pressures high.

The patterns shot today revealed little difference in performance between the full and ½ choke barrels of the side-by-side and both gave approximately 60% 40-yard performance. Experience suggests that whilst guns of this configuration will often shoot simillarly performant patterns from both barrels, the overall performance can be improved.

I would expect it to be possible to achieve a 70% pattern, if not a 75-80% pattern with the kinds of powder and components used, so given the sharp recoil and report of the cartridge, I believe the appropriate next step will be to reduce the powder charge a little to see if that tightens the groups and makes the cartridge a little more pleasant to shoot. This has worked in the past and may do so again: examination of the barrels after firing suggests that the pressure is high enough to guarantee complete combustion of the (rather slow) powder and reducing the charge a little may not change that.

Feeding Myself

After I’d finished patterning run out of paper I packed up the car and went to another farm for a wander. This was my opportunity to test, in the field, the stock extension I’d borrowed from my friend and the early results are positive.

#4 shot is not the best shot size for pigeon, but whether or not the first bird I hit was winged by inadequate pattern or poor shooting, it is to my regret that I wasn’t able to persuade it out of the hawthorn bush into which it fled to finish it off. I poked around on hand and knee in the driving rain for 10-15 minutes to try and see where it was hiding (and made a simillar effort on my way back to the car) to none effect. No doubt it either recovered or will have been eaten by the foxes by now.

After suffering a brief but embarrassing relapse of my long-standing shoot-at-anything-within-100-yards condition with a couple of silly shots at distant birds (putting #4’s down the tubes will do that to a man), I consoled myself with a straightforward 40-yard crossing bird that came down cleanly and felt “right”.

This was clearly the difference made by the stock pad – no longer was I having to aim 6′ underneath the bird to hit it, but rather, I was looking where I was shooting and the result was as expected. Obviously, this a thorough test does not constitute, but it certainly feels a lot more like I’m shooting where I think I am.

I quite often think that I’m really not very good at shooting – and compared to many, I’m not – but anything 40 yards out is a good bird, even they always seem rather close to me. The fact that it felt straightforward (or even easy) gave me a dose of much-needed confidence.

And the .410…

Well, what I can I day. This post was about shooting, but not about the Yildiz. I guess sometimes one just has to address the questions that have been waiting unanswered the longest. I’ll order some more paper tomorrow and the new Hull & Eley cartridges will get patterned soon enough. Next week, with a bit of luck.