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.