Storms, Patterns and Floor Coverings

Having picked up a roll of finest 42″ plotter paper from the post office yesterday, I was able to prevail upon my wife to help me prepare 16 pattern “plates”, just after lunch, with a view to getting some cartridge testing done this afternoon. Along with some neatly cut squares of paper – her skills as a seamstress translating nicely from cloth to a new medium – I was also able, with her help, to construct a measuring line, formed from 50 yards of garden twine and a few drilled pegs, which turned out – as expected – to be a vastly easier method of establishing a shooting range than the previous way involving the repeated use of an 8m builder’s measuring tape.

I headed out to the fields with gun, paper, cartridges and a set of pre-written labels for the patterns and looked forward to an hour or two of minding my own business and shooting for the sake of scientific study.

Damn You, Ye Gods!

I thought it wouldn’t hurt, before starting the business of patterning, to have a walk around for 10 minutes to see if any birds were moving on the farm. Ultimately, there turned out not to be – a couple of crows outside of range of the .410 were the only quarry I saw – and I returned to the car to get the bits and pieces required for patterning.

As I finished setting up, unpacking the paper and getting everything ready for the first shot, the heavens opened, the wind roared and my carefully laid plans pattern plates were blown into the sky by a howling storm that appeared, as from nowhere. Blazing sunshine in both literal and psychological terms gave way to thunderstorms and a few choice words on my part as I chased around the farm, trying to retrieve the sheets of paper which now acted as though sails or kites in the high wind and flew all over the place.

Thankfully, the wind was blowing in the direction of the wood and only one pattern “plate” was seriously damaged as the trees caught and impaled the white squares. (It looked afterwards as if I’d tried to pattern an elephant gun!)

After 20-30 minutes hanging around under the trees, trying to stop everything from blowing away again, the rain eased and I was finally able to step out of the tree line, re-errect the canes, clips and paper which would form the target and begin shooting.

Preparation => Efficiency

Patterning is always a slow business – from that there’s no real escape. I suppose one could, theoretically, line up pattern plates at all distances of interest and shoot a single cartridge through several sheets of paper, but realistically, the only way to achieve a set of pattern test results is to shoot each combination of choke and cartridge at the distance of interest, one by one. With that in mind, today’s 16 patterns in under two hours was not bad going, especially given than roughly an hour was taken up by walking around, setting up and waiting around for stormclouds to pass. I think I was probably managing about 1 pattern every 3 minutes at one point. Certainly, I managed to get home before the expected time and, after something to eat, set about counting pellet holes and analyzing the data I’d collected.

Child-Proof Floor Covering

My wife observed to me, on seeing the state of our lounge as she arrived home this evening, that if nothing else, covering the floor with paper would conceivably stop (or delay) a mischievous child armed with permanent marker from adding to the design of the carpet:

The results of an afternoon’s pattern testing – or possibly a new kind of floor covering…

The results of today’s tests, which were performed with the Lyalvale “Extreme Game” 16g/#6 and Eley “Extralong” Subsonic 18g/#6 cartridges, have been added to their respective pages in the Extended Pattern Tests section of this website.

Full analysis of the data will require more thought and – I suspect – more testing. As the data stands, there are several features which are apparently contradictory. The key points are:

  • Neither of the cartridges really contain enough pellets to make a usable 40-yard pattern a realistic possibility. This was confirmed by testing – neither cartridge threw a 40-yard pattern with even 100 pellets falling in the standard circle.
  • As would be expected, the Eley subsonic cartridges patterned very well on a percentage basis, achieving maxima of 74% pattern density at 30 yards and 51% pattern density at 40 yards. However, the number of pellets available is low, at 184, meaning that only the 30-yard pattern (through 0.015″ choke) is usable. Extrapolation of the trend suggests that pattern density would fail at somewhere around the 33-yard mark with this combination.
  • Confusingly, the Eley cartridges performed better at 30 yards with the choke having 0.015″ constriction, but better at 40 yards with the choke having 0.020″ constriction. Since pellets generally fly further apart with increasing range, one or other of the chokes should give consistently the best performance, even if not the tighter of the two. This suggests a wide variability in performance, bad shooting or some other factor for which I haven’t yet accounted. The only way to determine whether this is a statistical anomaly or a genuine “quirk” of these brands of cartridges will be to shoot more patterns.
  • The Lyalvale cartridges failed to produce any usable pattern at 30 or 40 yards. Whilst they produced the lightest recoil of any of the cartridges thus far tested, #6 shot appears to be too large for a load as light as 16g (or, for that matter, 18g) unless one is in possession of a gun producing exceptional performance – something I do not appear to have. Perhaps the #7 version of the cartridge would offer a better balance of pattern and energy?
  • The Lyalvale cartridge showed better performance at 30 yards with the 0.020″ choke than the 0.015″ choke as one would expect. However, the tighter choke showed somewhat inferior performance at 40 yards. My gut feeling is that this represents a blown pattern, holding together whilst the velocity is high but rapidly spreading as velocity (and therefore pellet momentum) falls due to significant pellet deformation. Since the Lyalvale cartridge is the lightest available load in a 3″ case, it is likely that it has the highest velocity and I would therefore expect this effect, if it is occurring, to be most pronounced in this case.