An Unexpected Turn of Events

I was able to get out into the fields for a few hours this morning as planned and was able to continue testing the range of .410 cartridges I have now acquired. After taking 20 minutes or so to measure out a 40-yard range and set up some bamboo canes to support the pattern “plates”, I was ready to go, but pondered for a few minutes more what might be the best direction to explore with the very limited supply of cardboard I had available.

Bamboo canes, cardboard, 30″ cardboard circle, pen, dead jackdaw, cartridges, gun: everything you need to pattern a shotgun. Ok – if you want to split hairs, the dead jackdaw isn’t strictly necessary.

In the event, I chose to finish testing the Eley “Trap” cartridges and shot the patterns which the results of last weekend’s testing suggested might produce dividends, rather than start on a new brand of shells. I’m pleased to report that my hunch was correct: the Yildiz’s ½ and ¾ chokes do indeed give significantly better performance with the Eley cartridges which strongly supports my feeling that the full choke is over-tight (.025″ constriction) and that the full choke patterns shot with both cartridges tested last week were blown.

There was little to choose between the ½ and ¾ chokes. The former averaged 116 (42%) pellets in the standard circle at 40 yards, which isn’t far short of the 120 pellets I’d consider to be the absolute minimum for hunting, whilst the latter managed an average of 133 (49%) in the circle: somewhat above that bare minimum density and approaching the 140-pellet mark, which I consider to be preferable for small winged game (i.e. wood pigeons, jackdaws).

As you may have guessed from the picture above, I was also presented with the opportunity to test the cartridge on live quarry today. As I was setting up the equipment for the photograph of the patterning equipment to be taken, the jackdaw pictured therein arrived over the tree line squawking noisily, drawing too much attention to itself to be ignored. I managed to load the gun in time and it was taken cleanly at a distance of between 25 and 30 yards with the ½-choke barrel of the gun. To my utter disbelief, it folded perfectly.

40-yard pattern shot through the ¾ choke of the Yildiz using the Eley “Trap” 19g/#7½ shell.
A Question of Confidence

It’s a sign of how maligned the .410 is in some quarters that – even in spite of my consistent and long-running refusal to accept shooters’ opinions and prejudices as valuable, unless I have first-hand evidence of their validity – I still doubt both my ability to effectively shoot a small bore gun and the gun’s ability to do what is required of it.

As it is, that is precisely what I achieved with the jackdaw (which the landowner has given standing orders to shoot on sight) this morning: a clean kill at sensible range with a good, instinctive shot. Along with that, I’m happy to report, I successfully resisted the urge to “push the envelope” and take pot shots at distant birds, though the opportunity to do so occurred regularly. My self-restraint is, as I hoped it would, developing with the regular use of the Yildiz.

However, I have an admission to make here and a serious point to derive from it:

Although the aforementioned jackdaw folded nicely and was obviously dead in the air, I was so surprised by what I’d just witnessed that the bird received the contents of the other barrel on the way down, quite unnecessarily. Unavoidably present in that moment of raising, swinging and firing the gun was the expectation that it wouldn’t be enough – that some insufficiency was present which meant the bird wouldn’t come down cleanly; an expectation that a second attempt would naturally be required.

Clearly, this expectation shows an unjustified lack of confidence in gun and cartridge which needs to be overcome. No doubt it is the result of “conditioning” over the years that I have been shooting, perhaps by those who hold that the .410 is a gun for sitting quarry at short range, or those others who claim that #7½ is too small to be effective on game.

For my part, I have never believed the .410 to be unsuitable for wing shooting, though it has many characteristics which make its use for that purpose challenging. I have some sympathy with the argument that #7½ is on the small side for live quarry, if only because many of us prefer to take (or attempt) birds at far longer ranges than those for which #7½ is suitable.

That said, the kinetic energy of an average #7½ pellet (and therefore it’s ability to penetrate through to the quarry’s vitals) is the same at 25 yards as that of a #6 pellet at 40 yards. On this basis, there is no reason that one should not use #7½ shot for short range birds, if one is happy to employ #6 for all reasonable ranges. Killing the bird or not is a function of hitting it with enough pellets of sufficient energy to damage its internal organs such that it cannot live. There is no rule about how big the pellets must be, provided they are energetic enough.

However, given that the subtlety required to understand that point is beyond (or outside of the interest) of many shooters, I can understand why the voice of experience argues “nothing smaller than #6” for live quarry shooting: if people will not investigate for themselves the finer points of cartridge behaviour, then it is better that they are taught to use something which will always be sufficient, rather than risk wounding unnecessarily with a cartridge for which better alternatives are available.

As it is, the second shot hit the jackdaw too, but had no effect beyond slightly altering the direction in which it was falling. As I’ve written here previously, I have never before shot birds with shot as small as #7½, but given that I am now apparently in possession of a gun and cartridge which meet the pattern density requirement I have set for them, my focus must, to some extent, turn to answering the question of energetic sufficiency I have explored a little above. I have the 40-yard pattern, but will the pellets kill a pigeon cleanly at that range, if I do my bit? My gut feeling is that killing birds out to about 35 yards should be perfectly possible. Whether the cartridges will really be effective for those end-of-range shots, only experience will tell.

Next Steps

As I mentioned above, I had a limited supply of cardboard to shoot at today. I did pattern two of the Fiocchi “Magnum” 19g/#7½ (Italian) carridges, although the initial results do not look as promising as I hoped they might. I will do a proper test of those cartridges next (when my wife has had long enough to order more expensive things and, in so doing, acquire a new supply of boxes for me to cut up!) and then follow on with the other three brands currently sitting on the shelf. For hunting, I will continue with the Eley loading until I find (or do not find) something better.

So what was unexpected about all that?

If you’re still with me at this point, I can imagine the question you might be asking yourself, having read all of the above and heard me say that everything had pretty much been as I thought it might. You’ll want to know why I gave this post the title I did.

The answer, dear reader, is a slightly sad one, but I note it here in brief, not least so that I can recollect it later and acknowledge it to myself.

When I had finished doing the pattern tests this morning and had finished the pellet counts, I realized I had found a cartridge which met the requirements I had set for it. Although in doing the tests, I’d scared away all of the birds on the farm I was shooting, I had hopes that there might be some birds roosting in a particular treeline on one of the other farms to which I have access, so I packed everything into the car and drove over to look for an opportunity to bag a wood pigeon or two.

I began my walk and, other than taking a third shot at a departing wood pigeon – a miss – there was very little going on, but I decided, for the sake of exercise, to walk the hedgerows anyway and continued on my way.

As I approached the far boundary of the farm, I watched, from some distance away, a large muntjac buck charging across the field in front of me, perhaps escaping from some unseen danger or perhaps not wishing to stay around to discover the owner of the unpleasant smell of human that he had caught on the wind. Nonetheless, he covered all of the 300-400 yards to the boundary at top speed and it was a pleasure to watch his athleticism.

Unfortunately, the buck did not think to change direction when he reached the boundary and charged straight through the hedgerow onto an A-road the other side. Initially, I thought he had escaped across the road, unscathed, but as I carried on, it became clear that a small car and a white van had stopped at the side of the road close to the gap in the hedgerow and, having decided to investigate, it became apparent that the buck had been struck a glancing blow by the small car, which had not killed it outright.

There will no doubt be some readers who will take what I have written above and what follows and conclude that I ought to feel guilt for the turn of events which occurred today. I can only reassure them, I feel none. A scared animal will run from many things and I have no idea whether the deer ran from me, or from some other predator, or simply because he had detected the scent of a female in heat. There were other “exits” in the field which did not lead to a road, which he could have chosen – he did not. I cannot feel responsible for what was, essentially, a deer’s mistake.

When I reached the side of the road, having left my gun securely within the boundaries of the farm, the buck was clearly seriously wounded, but by no means dead. As far as I could detect (my DSC1 course two years ago did not prepare me for this situation) he had a broken spine, broken front leg and was paralyzed from the middle of the back down. There was no prospect of recovery.

The driver of the small car, meanwhile, was somewhat in shock and was being calmed by the gentleman who had stopped his van in front of her car to see what had happened. After assessing the situation, I asked her to telephone the police to report the collision and then to pass the phone to me. This she did and I subsequently spoke to the call handler to confirm the situation, that I was out for my morning walk, was a certificate holder and had my gun with me and that I proposed that the deer should be shot immediately so as to prevent its further suffering. The call handler – kudos to her – took all this in her stride, said that officers in the area would be notified in case any reports of “a man with a gun on the roadside” were made, took my details in case they needed to contact me again and then left me to get on with it.

I suggested to the lady in question that she should continue her journey and that I would deal with the deer and clear up the mess. This she did, willingly enough, after which I dispatched the deer with the .410, waited a few minutes, checked for a blink response (there was none) and dragged it back onto the farm out of the carriageway and examined it. It seemed, given it’s condition and previous athletic performance, to have been a healthy, large animal.

I suppose I find it slightly heartbreaking when animals die on the roads. Disease, predation, starvation – these are all natural ends for a wild animal, but incapacitation by moving vehicle, followed by shooting most certainly is not. Ultimately, although it was certainly not the intended purpose of the .410, I believe I acted compassionately today and I am glad that I was there to do what was necessary – the idea of the deer struggling on for another 20 minutes until a police firearms team arrived to dispatch it doesn’t bear thinking about.