Pointable? Yes. Swingable? To Be Determined…

I was able to get out to the fields for a couple of hours this afternoon. I took the Yildiz with me and a pocket full of cartridges and went to see what was about. In short, not much. I shot a wood pigeon just before the end of the afternoon and found it’s crop full of what looked like peas – but I thought that probably they were probably some kind of seed or berry from a hedgerow, given the time of year. I couldn’t identify where it would have been feeding, at any rate.

The Yildiz performed well enough, although the chap behind wasn’t necessarily up to standard. I had four attempts on other birds earlier in the afternoon but found that the lightness of the gun was making my swing through difficult to control. I missed three of them in front! I sometimes have the same problem with my (equally light) 28 gauge – so this is a familiar problem on which I need to keep working.

The bird that I downed needed a little help on its way as I didn’t place the pattern on it properly and winged it, but it went in the bag pretty quickly after it came down, so I’m not too ashamed of that. It was well within 30 yards, so it was a bad shot rather than an out-of-range shot; some of the others I took may have been a little optimistic, but as I’ve said, I’ll keep working on that too.

I didn’t have a chance to do any patterning work today, but helpfully a friend has offered to pick up a box of everything he can get when he visits a major cartridge dealer next week, so once Christmas is out of the way, he and I will be doing some pattern tests and finding out what this .410 likes best to eat!

First Outing, First Impressions

I had a very enjoyable walk along some fine hedgerows under the big Cambridgeshire skies this afternoon and was treated to a very attractive sunset at the end of it. As planned, I had with me the new Yildiz .410 and I can report that, overall, I’m very pleased with it, after its first proper outing.

There is some work to do to get it to where I want it to be, however.

First Impressions

The positives first. The gun is lightweight and very comfortable to carry. I probably covered 3-4 miles today and at no point did I feel that I was lugging around a heavy piece of steel. That said, I’m not sure there would be anywhere to go, so to speak, if a .410 gave that experience. It points very nicely and has a noticeable upward bias – I’d guess somewhere around 65/35 or perhaps even 70/30. That’s more than I’m used to with my other guns, but it didn’t prove too much of a handicap as the two wood pigeons I bagged proved.

After time in the field, I found I was slightly disappointed with the bluing in the chamber area. I found when I was cleaning the gun that it seemed thin and dull where it had been rubbing against my jacket and there were some “trails” on one side where it had rubbed against one of the buttons of my coat. I think this was a deposit from the button onto the blue, rather than a scratch in the bluing, as a good rub with some gun oil removed it, but I have not noticed this with my 28 gauge – also a Yildiz – which after 2-3 years of reasonably regular use still retains a glossy, dark finish. Perhaps they are not spending as long on the bluing process as they have in the past?

The area where I feel there is most work to be done is in the cartridge department. When I owned a .410 previously, I remember being somewhat less than impressed with the performance of the Eley “Extralong” cartridges and the same was true today.

Performance in the Field

One of my motivations for buying another small gauge gun was to tackle, head on, a bad habit I’d got into of taking, regularly, 60-yard shots at passing birds. The usual result of such shooting is about four wasted cartridges followed by one “spectacular” (and repeat), which isn’t why I got into shooting. It’s shooting by what I’d call “informed luck” rather than by skill and I need to stop doing it.

The habit developed partly out of a long “drought” last spring where there were basically no birds on any of my permissions and partly out of owning and shooting a 16-gauge gun so tightly choked that minimum usable range is about 30 yards and maximum is somewhere beyond 70. I pride myself on being an ethical hunter and although I’m sure many readers will be familiar with the desire to take the occasional “pot shot” when it’s been five outings since you’ve seen a bird that was closer than 100 yards, it isn’t really sporting. To be fair, when I use that gun, it’s normally clean miss or clean kill, depending on whether I’m pointing it in the right direction, but still.

A .410 is not a gun you can push to the limits of shotgun shooting. It will not let you take outrageous shots – one will never successfully down a 60-yard bird when there are so few pellets of such a small size in the cartridge to start with. The gun limits the shooter, rather than, in the case of the 16-gauge described above, the skill of the shooter limiting the capability of the gun. It is this discipline that I want to force upon myself using the Yildiz and I have probably had my first hard lesson in that respect today.

It was very noticeable today that the gun “ran out of steam” after about 30 yards. Several issues contribute to that situation, I think. For example, the first bird I shot was probably only 20-25 yards away, but it survived the shot long enough that about half of its descent was vaguely controlled, before it “flopped” and fell the rest of the way. We all get a wounded bird every now and again and that bird was dead before it hit the floor, but I do like to see them fold properly in the air – the sort of “and that’s that” effect that game shooters will recognize.

I wondered several times on my walk whether the slightly disappointing performance I was seeing might be that I was using #7 shot where I’ve used #6 and #5 in the past. I like #5 shot – even for pigeons – but recently, I’ve switched down from #6 to #7 in my 28 gauge to achieve a better pattern-energy balance and I’ve started with #7 in the .410 since it’s long been my belief that anything larger leads to an unbalanced cartridge in that bore size. All of a sudden, #7 seems to be the new “normal”!

Whilst enjoying the scenery, I found myself saying to myself things like “I’m used to big shot and ‘definitive’ results and now I’m using #7 I have to get used to things being slightly less immediate, occasionally.” I’ve had a few “slow kills” with the 28 gauge too recently, which plays on the mind, but I don’t believe #7 is insufficient for normal-range shooting – we’ve been using it for exactly that for hundreds of years, for goodness sake!

In all, I fired ten cartridges for two birds, which I thought wasn’t too bad for a first outing with an unfamiliar gun and a .410 at that. Some of the shots were out to about 40 yards; most were in the 20-30 yard range. Six of those cartridges were three sets of two shots at the same bird. Usually I hesitate to use the second barrel unless I’m sure I can correct my error and hit the bird (and then miss because I’ve hesitated), but today, I was just trying to get a feel for where it was pointing and how it swung, so I didn’t worry too much about missing a second time. If I’d have done the patterning before my walk, I probably would have left at least two of those “double” birds well alone and reported a vaguely respectable “two for six”, but stupidly, I didn’t…

Pattern Tests

When I got back to the car after my walk, I retrieved the four sheets of cardboard that I’d brought along – none of them quite big enough to be a pattern plate(!). I plan to do a full series of pattern tests in the near future – today I just wanted to get an indication of performance. The results of these informal tests seemed to entirely make sense with the shots I’d taken earlier in the afternoon.

The “plates” were 30″ x 23″, making them 7″ under-sized in one direction, or approximately 13% smaller than they should have been, once the appropriate circle had been drawn onto them. I set them up at 30 and 40 yards and shot four patterns with the Eleys. The cartridges contain, on average, 208 pellets. The 4-notch choke (0.010″ constriction) put 68 pellets onto the cardboard at 30 yards and a mere 29 pellets onto it at 40 yards. Neither of the patterns were even vaguely usable. The 3-notch choke performed better, putting 104 pellets into the circle at 30 yards and 62 into the circle at 40 yards.

This is very much not “Light Modified” / “Light Full” performance as I’d hoped for. If I adjust those numbers to account for the missing pattern area and convert to percentages, I obtain the following results: 4 notches @ 30 yards: 38%; 4 notches @ 40 yards: 16%; 3 notches @ 30 yards: 56.5%; 3 notches @ 40 yards: 37%.

Clearly, there are a number of reasons why these patterns might be so poor, the first of which is simply that shooting only one pattern through each barrel at each distance could have produced a statistical anomaly that makes performance look a lot less good than would be shown over a 10-shot average.

However, I have found with other .410s in the past, that the Eley 3″ cartridges just don’t seem to pattern particularly well at range. I can’t say exactly what the reason for this trend is, but I found the recoil to be rather sharp (much more noticeable than the equivalent load in a 28 gauge of the same weight) and the “wad” to be basically a nitro card by itself. When taken together with the melted case mouths, my gut feeling says this is an over-loaded cartridge with a tiny quantity of powder producing very high temperatures and pressures very fast to get the shot column moving. It suggests that a lot of that shot is getting squashed together or possibly welded, deforming and never reaching the pattern plate because it’s curling off out of the pattern as fliers.

Next Steps

The first thing is to adjust the basic configuration of the gun, not focus on secondary ballistic effects. I’ve tightened the chokes on the gun by one “notch” and I’ll repeat the pattern tests with the new “tight” barrel sometime soon – hopefully next week. The 3-notch choke is usable as an “open” barrel: 56.5% of 208 pellets at 30 yards is enough pattern to kill birds out to 25-30 yards and – interestingly – is pretty close in performance terms to what Yildiz themselves call the 3-notch choke: Modified. Provided I can get better performance out of the other barrel, I may yet end up with a 40-yard gun (i.e. ” for all reasonable ranges” but no further), which I’d consider a great success.

I’m still going to look for some of those Gamebore cartridges, as I suspect that a plastic wad and slightly lighter load will make a noticeable improvement in performance in a .410. I may also buy some of the other brand the local shop had, relatively useless as they no doubt are (11g/#6), just to get some percentages for “another cartridge” to see if the (already rather tight) chokes give broadly similar performance irrespective of cartridge, or whether, as I suspect, the Eleys with their fibre “non-wad” and roll turnover are a particular handicap.

What happens after that will depend largely on the results of those tests, but one thing’s for sure. The proverbial itch is being scratched and it’s very satisfying indeed – and just as interesting as I’d hoped.

Cartridge Tuning in Small Gauge Guns

General Principles

The general principles of hunting game with a shotgun, with respect to ballistic performance, are well established.

  • Shot must be big (energetic) enough to kill at the range it is used.
  • The shot cloud (pattern) must be sufficiently dense that our quarry cannot escape through the gaps between pellets.

As most of us are well aware:

“Shotguns work best with big loads of large shot.”

Unless one is in possession of a gun and cartridge combination which throws a sufficient number of pellets of sufficient energy, one will not reliably kill one’s quarry.

The primary factors influencing the density of the pattern thrown by a gun and cartridge combination will always be a) the quantity of shot, b) the size of the shot and c) the geometry and constriction of the choke through which it passes. A change in load weight, shot size or choke can account for a change in average pattern density of tens of percent and should be the first port of call if the behaviour of one’s cartridge is found to be unsuitable for the quarry hunted.

A list of secondary factors which can influence the density of a pattern is given below. None of these factors should be considered unless the cartridge employed is reasonably “balanced” and the gun has been configured to be broadly appropriate to the quarry hunted. Without pattern sufficiency (or being very close to it) for the quarry and shooting range in question, adjusting for factors that might influence pattern density by only a few percent is likely to be a waste of time.

The previous point deserves some emphasis. The fundamental factor in the effectiveness of a shotgun is the number of pellets in the cartridge. Imagine that we are intending to hunt small to medium game birds. If we have 300 pellets in the cartridge, (e.g. a 12-gauge hunting load), we only need approximately 40% of them in the standard circle at any given range to have a usable pattern: losing or gaining a few percent of average pattern density is of no consequence. After we’ve chosen the appropriate choke for the range we’re shooting, there is very little else worth adjusting.

Conversely, if we start with fewer than 200 pellets in the cartridge (e.g. a 28-gauge hunting load), a loss or gain of 5% average pattern density can equate to a noticeable change in the effective range of gun and cartridge. Since it is rarely the case that one wishes to lower pattern density, particularly in the smaller gauges, we can focus on the problem of trying to achieve better performance from the gun and cartridges we are able to acquire.

If we find that performance is not sufficient for our needs in a fixed choke gun, for instance, we do not have the option of screwing in a tighter choke tube to affect the pattern. If we cannot use a different gun for the task at hand, this usually means trying to adjust the cartridge to be better suited to both our gun and the task at hand.

Secondary Factors Affecting Shotgun Pattern Density

Most of the factors in the list below are related to the deformation (or not) of pellets as they travel from the cartridge / chamber, down the barrel of the gun, through the choke and into the environment. Pellet deformation is the major cause of “fliers” – pellets which exit the muzzle and fly on a curved path, away from the axis of the barrel, and do not contribute to the usable pattern which the gun throws.

N.b.: Un-deformed pellets will also fly away from the axis of the barrel, but will tend to do so along a straighter path and may still end up in the usable pattern, dependent on their initial direction of travel relative to the barrel axis and the range at which the pattern is measured.

Shot Size

Various physical factors mean that smaller shot is likely to deform to a proportionally greater extent than large shot. Furthermore, assuming all other factors – including proportional deformation – remain constant, the path of a larger pellet, having greater mass / momentum, will be straighter than a smaller pellet. The use of larger shot is therefore likely to increase the percentage of the original shot charge which ends up in the useful pattern at any given range. This does not, of course, guarantee that an absolutely larger number of pellets will end up in the pattern.

Shot Column Height & Bore Size

Substantial friction forces are generated between the shot column and the barrel wall when the shot charge is propelled by the combustion gases towards the muzzle of the shotgun. These forces can deform the pellets on the outside of the shot charge to a significant extent and cause them to become “fliers”. This is known as “scrubbing”.

Where the bore is small and the shot column tall (e.g. the 3″ .410 case) a large proportion of the pellets will be in contact with the barrel wall as the shot column travels down it. Naturally, greater scrubbing of pellets increases the number of that deform and fly rapidly away from the barrel axis and out of the usable pattern.

Many years’ experience has shown particular loads to be well-suited to each of the available gauges. Traditionally, this has been ¾oz for the 24 and 28 gauges, ½oz for the 32-gauge and 7/16oz for the .410. These “historical averages” upon which millions of hunters over many generations have settled can be taken as representing the best balance between implied velocity (lighter loads will tend to have higher muzzle velocities) and implied column height (lighter loads will have shorter shot columns) for a given bore size.

Plastic / Fibre Wad & Case-Chamber Length Synergy

This scrubbing effect described immediately above effect is particularly pronounced in cartridges loaded with a fibre wad, where there is no protective layer of plastic between the pellets and barrel wall. Furthermore, the use of a fibre wad can introduce detrimental effects related to wad damage which tend to be less significant with the use of skirted plastic wads.

There are two factors which, when they exist together, make fibre wad damage more likely: firstly, where the cartridge case is substantially shorter than the length of the chamber and second, where the forcing cones at the end of the chamber are short or non-existent.

If this situation occurs, it is possible for various detrimental effects to accompany it. Upon firing, the wad may be sheared on the edge of the end of the chamber if, as is likely, it does not fly exactly along the axis of the barrel. Combustion gases may also pass round the wad as it “jumps” from cartridge to barrel or because it was damaged upon entry to the barrel and does not properly contain the pressure behind the wad. Escaped combustion gases under high temperature and pressure may interfere with the pellets, which may become welded together or deformed through melting. Whatever the cause, this interference is likely to cause pellet deformation and reduce pattern density.

These effects are likely to be reduced or mitigated entirely if the gun has progressive forcing cones and / or the cartridge case length matches the chamber, since the opportunities for combustion gases to get in front of the wad will be significantly reduced.


Generally, we think of choke as contributing to increased pattern density, with more choke making for tighter patterns, but this is usually only true up to a point. Suddenly forcing a quantity of shot through an opening smaller than the space in which it has previously existed exerts substantial forces on the shot – some through direct impact with the angled wall of the choke, some through collision with other pellets so deflected. All of these collisions carry the possibility that the pellets will deform as a result, reducing their ballistic efficiency and increasing the likelihood that they will become “fliers”.

Whilst this effect can occur in shotguns of any gauge, it is more significant in the smaller gauges where there is literally less wiggle room inside the bore for the pellets to collide – to use a term borrowed from physicists – elastically. Rather, like an immeasurably more complex version of Newton’s cradle, the impact of one pellet into another, into another and so on will be much more likely to end with a collision into the essentially immovable barrel wall, ultimately making the collision inelastic with the energy transferred into the pellets as a deformation effect.

A greater degree of choke, achieved by using a larger angle of incidence rather than a longer choke tube, will increase the collision force of the outer pellets upon the tube, leading to larger collision forces affecting the “inner” pellets by transmission. This will increase the likelihood of and degree of pellet deformation observed and reduce the density of the resulting pattern, perhaps, in the worst cases, rendering it “blown”.

A “blown pattern”, in guns which are said to be “over-choked”, often results in a noticeable donut-shaped ring around the centre of patterns. The “hot centre” of the pattern remains intact, but the vast majority of the remaining pellets follow curved trajectories and impact the pattern plate close to or outside of the standard circle. This effect is more pronounced at long range.

Muzzle Velocity

In spite of the current trend in the UK towards the development of cartridges with higher and higher muzzle velocity, “speed” is actually the enemy of shotgun performance. It is telling that, outside of the UK market and perhaps the water-fowling market in the US, muzzle velocities of 1200-1350fps are considered quite adequate for hunting and there is very little interest in increasing them. Perhaps the majority of hunters worldwide feel that the prospect of reducing their shotgun’s performance at range, at the expense of significantly increased recoil is a trade-off not worth making? We may yet come to refer to the delusion that high muzzle velocity is desirable as “the English disease”.

The reason that velocity is the enemy of good patterns (and therefore, shotgun performance in general) is simple. Every one of the other factors described in this list relates to the deformation of pellets under mechanical force. In every case, increasing the velocity of the shot column will increase the forces exerted on the pellets, in turn increasing the likelihood and degree of deformation, degrading pattern quality.

If you doubt this fact, ask yourself why turkey hunters in the US often speak most highly of cartridges which have muzzle velocities of 1100fps or less, even though modern powders can drive their huge magnum loads much faster? The answer is that for them, pattern is everything and pushing the velocity to even 1200fps reduces the number of pellets that end up in the head and neck of the bird.

Shot Hardness

The ability of a pellet to resist deformation and remain spherical under stress is a property of the material of which it is made. Lead, a soft metal, is much more easily deformed than steel, Bismuth or Tungsten, though this property can be mitigated to some degree by the addition of small quantities of Antimony, and by the method of cooling employed when the shot is manufactured. Using harder shot can, to some degree, increase the quality of patterns.

Shot Lubrication

Related to the hardness of the shot and the degree of choke employed, the use of copper plating or powder-based lubricating agents on the shot (e.g. molybdenum) may reduce the degree to which pellets deform each other upon collision by allowing them to slide past each other and through the choke more easily. However it should be noted that, to date, the author has seen no convincing evidence for the improvements in performance which are claimed for these techniques.

Chamber Pressure, Wad Shock Absorption & Crimp

Chamber pressure is outside of the ability of all but the most dedicated reloaders to manipulate, as is the presence / absence of a shock absorbing stage in the wad of the cartridge. Very few brands of cartridges offer variation between loadings which extends as far as being able to choose a roll or folded crimp. However, the reason that attention may be given to all three factors is the same.

As the cartridge is fired, the burning powder expands rapidly and forces the shot column forwards. Prior to the column’s entry into the barrel, the resistance-to-opening of the crimp must be overcome, as the burning combustion gas continues to expand. This causes a rapid, short-term increase in pressure inside the cartridge and compression of the shot column until the crimp gives way and the column starts to move forwards.

Whilst this compression and rise in pressure is necessary in many cartridges for the powder to burn efficiently, it is damaging to the pellets and can cause deformation via crushing and – in some cases – “cold-welding” of the pellets, such that two or more of them become fixed together for the duration of their journey out of the gun. (This is often seen on paper / cardboard pattern plates as conjoined pellet holes.)

Lower chamber pressures, the use of roll rather than fold crimps and the presence of a shock absorbing section in plastic wads can all reduce the degree to which this crushing effect occurs, with a commensurate improvement in pattern density.


The secondary factors described above are not all easy to manipulate. Some of them exist in opposition with each other and some are in opposition to the primary factors influencing pattern and performance listed at the top of this document. None of them can be fully mitigated – they are the inevitable by-products of the fact of igniting a charge of powder to propel a shot column out of a shotgun barrel. All of the effects they produce are particular to a given combination of gun and cartridge combination and their influence on such a combination can only be measured or spoken of in the most general terms, but not predicted.

What then, is the purpose of listing or analyzing them?

Taken together, they can provide a clue as to the steps which can be taken to improve shotgun performance in guns which seem unable to pattern beyond a certain percentage or give an even pattern at a particular range. There will always be limits: sometimes nothing will make a gun put more than a certain percentage of its shot in the circle at 40 yards, but understanding the factors preventing that may at least give an indication of adjustments worth attempting before settling on that conclusion. Indeed, sometimes the adjustments which lead to an improvement in performance will initially appear counter-intuitive.

Take, for example, the Eley “Extralong” cartridge for .410, loaded with #7 shot. Perhaps our imaginary shooter has tried the cartridge with every one of his .410s and found that none of them will put 120 pellets in the standard circle beyond 30 yards, in spite of the fact that they’re all tightly choked. (This is roughly equivalent to a standard 40% or “cylinder” performance.) What might he do to improve the situation?

Our shooter cannot use a bigger load – 18g is just about all the shot you can put in a .410 cartridge – and he cannot use a tighter choke because all of his guns have fixed chokes. It therefore falls to the manipulation of the secondary effects, through the use of an alternative cartridge, to improve the situation.

Our shooter might choose, counter-intuitively, to use a cartridge with a lighter load – perhaps one loaded in a 2½” case. Yes, performance might be damaged by the introduction of a big jump between the end of the cartridge and the end of the chamber and will certainly suffer from the lower pellet count, but the reduced influence of shot column compression might be enough to make a positive improvement in pattern density overall.

Or, our shooter might look for a box or two of the classic Eley 3″ subsonic load, containing 18g of #6 shot. True, because of the larger shot size, the number of pellets in the case will be 20% lower, but it’s not uncommon to find that subsonic loads pattern in the 80-90% range, such is the damaging effect of acceleration to supersonic velocities on pellets. Our shooter might find that in absolute terms, the number of pellets falling within the standard circle is doubled – perhaps achieving a usable number.

Perhaps, if – in spite of our earlier suggestion – we allow our imaginary shooter the use of a multi-choked .410, he might try loosening the chokes substantially. It could be that his pattern plate shows the tell-tale donut-shaped gap in his patterns and that the chokes of his other guns are simply too tight for good performance to obtain. Reducing the “crush” of pellets at the choke may tighten the patterns through reduced pellet deformation.

Of course, without patterning alternative cartridges with the gun intended for their use, this can be nothing more than a hypothetical discussion of possibilities. The reader should remember too that, if by some chance we were able to control every one of these secondary factors and manipulate them in the direction of theoretically better performance, we may still not see that occur in practice. An apparently perfect combination of adjustments might even damage performance, such are the vagaries of internal ballistics. Beyond a certain point, the success or failure of any given combination of gun and cartridge may simply elude all explanation, after which it is a matter for the gods.

Thanks for reading!

A New Arrival

As expected, I was able to visit my local firearms dealer earlier today to pick up the new Yildiz .410 I’d ordered. After a few minutes to check the condition of the gun, pay and complete the requisite paperwork, I walked out with gun, a bag of bits and the same silly smile on my face that I’d worn last Thursday.

When I got home, it was tea time, which meant, unfortunately, that a proper examination of the gun would have to wait. I took it from its box, fumbled it together – the manner in which barrels and action joined together wasn’t immediately obvious – and locked it away for later, telling myself how grown up and responsible I was being by not insisting that dinner should wait for me to look at my new acquisition.

I didn’t have to wait very long. By 7pm, the kids were bundled into bed, the wife sent off to her church meeting and I had the house to myself. I retrieved the gun from the cabinet, put it down on the kitchen table and inspected it carefully.

Since I bought my 28 gauge – also a Yildiz – I’ve been in a perpetual state of indecision as to whether a chrome-coloured aluminium receiver is an attractive feature of modern firearms which brings out nicely the engraving, or really constitutes a Class 1 Bird-Scaring Device which ought to be blued or painted or taped over as soon as possible.

The .410 also has this “feature” and, for a moment,  I did wonder whether it might be more sensible not to clean the thick black packing grease off the metalwork! I am, however, a proverbial magpie and very much like shiny, pretty things, so out came the oil, rags, patches, toothbrush and cocktail sticks to give the gun a thorough cleaning.

After 30-40 minutes careful attention, the gun was spotless. It’s quite a pretty little thing, with blued barrels, silver action and ordinary (but not unattractive) dark Turkish walnut for the stock, capped with a think plastic butt pad.

It is certainly a full-size gun, unlike the many .410’s shortened and adjusted for use by younger persons. It seems to be a pretty good fit, too. Obviously that judgement is made only on the basis of lifting and pointing it a bit around the house. I’ll have to test where it throws the shot and how it patterns when I can get out into the fields next weekend – but my concerns that the fit could and would be substantially wrong, like the Baikal I’d owned in the past, were unfounded.

As I implied in my first blog post, I bought the gun partly because it was an itch that needed to be scratched (so to speak) but I don’t think I’m exaggerating if I say it looks like I should be able to hit something with it too. I don’t expect to shoot it well, or manage big bags with it (give me 50 years more to practice, then maybe!), but I don’t think it’s a lost cause either.

The gun isn’t feather-light, but it’s not exactly a Baikal either. I suspect it’s lighter than the 28 gauge, but isn’t obviously so because the balance point is further forward. That may prove helpful.

The gun’s measurements are slightly curious. Using calipers, I found the bore to be a dead-on .410″ as I’d expect with a CNC-machined gun. The chokes are slightly unusual, however: the “cylinder” choke actually has a .005″ constriction, which makes it more a skeet choke according to Briley’s chart. The remainder of the five chokes get tighter in .005″ increments down to .025″ for the choke marked “full”.

Obviously, I don’t know how any of them pattern yet but I’ve started off with the .010″ and .015″ chokes, which is a nod in two directions: first, that .410’s are often said to be over-choked (true, in my limited experience) and second, that it’s as near as I can get to the ¼ and ¾ combination that I’d instinctively want in a gun like this. A .410 is intended to be a short-range gun and that’s how I plan to use it; if I ever need to shoot crossing birds at 60 yards, I’ll choose a more appropriate tool.

Briley, with their near-infinite gradations of choke call the .010″/.015″ combination “light modified” and “light full” in a .410, which seems preferable to the “skeet” and “light modified” I’d achieve by opening both chokes one step. The .025″ choke is actually off the end of the Briley chart, where “extra full” is given as .020″ constriction, so I suspect that it might be best avoided as a pattern-blowing machine.

All of this theory can be put to the test and refined when I find a free morning to shoot some patterns and test all the chokes and cartridges I can get hold of. I’ll probably get out for a walk on Sunday but I’m unlikely to have time to shoot more than a pattern or two with each barrel to check that they’re reasonable. I suspect that a friend and I may head out in two weekends’ time for a proper patterning session.

Cartridges: because of a limited selection at my local RFD, I ended up with the Eley 3″ 18g/#7 “Extra Long” shells. Not the cartridge I’d have instinctively chosen, but the alternative was Hull Game & Clay 11g/#6 which I thought would be about as effective as lobbing handfuls of gravel at the birds. Nonetheless, kudos to my dealer for stocking a cartridge containing something other than #6 shot in a .410 – it’s remarkably uncommon in my experience!

In time, I hope to acquire a few boxes of the Gamebore 3″ 16g/#7 load to test, which is the lightest commercially available load in a 3″ case and the one which arguably should, in theory, give the best performance. However, I haven’t found a supplier for these yet. I’ll discuss my reasons for wanting to test that particular cartridge in another blog post, but for now, I’ll look forward to my walk on Sunday afternoon and promise to report back with my findings.

“You can have any shot size you want, as long as it’s #6.”

The trouble with empiricism

How many times have you walked into your local firearms dealer’s premises and asked for a box of .410 cartridges? Assuming you have, you’ve probably been confronted with the problem implicit in the question that forms the title of this article.

Shotgunning, like everything else in life, is subject to a number of pervading myths and false truths. Folk discover that something works well or doesn’t work at all, but for one reason or another can’t explain why – either it’s too complicated or the theory just doesn’t tie up with the evidence in front of them. This can be particularly true of field shooting.

The trouble with this empirical approach isn’t people asserting that something thing works or doesn’t work. Although they may have no hard evidence to back up what they’re saying, they may be telling the truth on the basis of their own, very real experience. That’s fair enough.

Rather, the problem with empiricism is second-order: people have become so used to accepting as gospel the opinion of self-professed experts or even anyone with a modicum of greater experience than themselves, that they don’t question any more whether the things that are claimed are based on solid evidence, or even substantial experience. For this reason, some “facts” about shooting which are at best questionable and at worst, simply wrong, have come to be held as truth, when in fact, the reality is quite different.

Nowhere is this more true than in the case of the .410.

What Voltaire didn’t say

Consider several beliefs, often held to be “truth” amongst shooters and yet no more than common myths:

“The smallest shot size suitable for live quarry is #6.”

Without reference to range, the type of bird or even the type of shot, it is a widespread myth (or perhaps, to use a kinder word, a “tradition”), that game birds ought to be shot with #6 shot (or larger). Anything smaller is frequently branded as “inhumane” and arguments on this subject frequently break out when a group of hunters find themselves in the same room with nothing else to talk about.

“The .410 isn’t meant for birds, but for ground game.”

Another common myth: a .410 is good only for shooting stationary targets at short range, which means a sitting rabbit at 20 yards is fine, but a bird? No-one shoots wingéd game with a .410, do they!?

“If a .410 isn’t choked full, it won’t kill properly.”

Pervading any discussion of the .410 or small bores in general is the common assumption that there are so few pellets in any .410 cartridge that it is impossible to achieve a usable pattern density without a gun choked full (and full) – conveniently forgetting the fact that average pattern density will tend to be approximately 10% (or one degree of choke) higher, for every 5 yards closer you get to the target.

“The .410 is for boys and women who can’t handle a full-sized gun.”

What about the final, great .410 untruth – that it is an “introductory” bore size used to introduce petite ladies and small children to shooting, before they move onto a “proper” gauge?

Between them these myths probably account for the woeful state of the .410 gun and cartridge market in this country (and a lot more of the prejudices against which open-minded shooters have to compete besides). It would be easy to blame the cartridge manufacturers for this of course, but they can hardly be blamed for providing the product that shooters think they want rather than the one which might actually maximize the capabilities of those shooters’ guns – they have to make a profit after all.

Rather, an apparent conspiracy of shooters’ ignorance and the unwillingness of the shooting media to disabuse their readers of their mistaken perception of the .410, allows them to continue unabashed in their belief that guns of this bore size have no place in “serious” shooting.

The #6 Myth

To return to the title of this article, it is neither true, of course, that all .410 cartridges are loaded with #6 shot, although the difficulties that many of us have in obtaining cartridges loaded with anything else might suggest that to be the case. Although it is hardly possible to stuff enough #6 pellets into a 3″ .410 cartridge to make a pattern usable at 30 yards, let alone one suitable for all reasonable ranges (e.g. 40 yards), it has been the author’s experience that firearms dealers very rarely stock anything else because customers generally will not pay money for cartridges that contradict the prejudices listed above. In fact, upon receiving one’s inquiry, the dealers will often promulgate these very myths themselves, in an attempt to sell what they have rather than what one actually wants. In short, the market is skewed to the point where hardly anyone has an interest in whether what they’re selling is the best tool for the job – provided it sells.

It could reasonably be argued that #7 shot is a little on the small side for rabbit. It could likewise be argued that, if the user of a .410 expects to be limited to an effective range of 25 yards, that the atrocious patterns thrown by cartridges loaded with tiny charges of unsuitably large shot do not matter – except of course, that their inevitable failure to kill reliably at longer range compounds the mistaken impression that the .410 is too limited and incapable to be genuinely useful.

Happily, a small, dedicated band of enthusiasts know better. We know that the history of the gauge is not found in the grouse moors and pheasant fields of England, but in the control of small pest species in an agricultural environment, particularly in the area of fruit farming.

We recognize that the commonly found, modern 2″ .410 loading, containing 9 grams of #6 shot is about as effective as simply hoping that our quarry will simply fall out of the sky and into our bag without our intervention, but that its ancestor – the same cartridge loaded with #10 or #11 shot – is an extremely effective killer of the sparrows and other songbirds which decimate vineyards and olive groves in the regions where those crops are cultivated. (If you have ever explored the websites of the Italian cartridge companies and wondered at the range of cartridges loaded with seemingly gigantic loads of tiny shot and dispersante wads, this is the reason they exist.)

What we understand more than anything however, is that the .410 was never intended to be a “do-everything” gun and that those who try to make it do the job of a 12 gauge will always be disappointed. Historically, the .410 has more in common with the rimfire shot shell gauges than it does with the 28 gauge, although in purpose it has since moved away from the Flobert cartridges towards the 28. The introduction by Winchester in 1933 of the 3″ case was a nod in the direction of versatility, though even that development – whilst going some way to addressing the payload deficiency inherent in the smaller 2″ / 2½” shells introduced its own peculiar issues (which are discussed elsewhere on this site).

The Solution

So how would the team at SmallBoreShotguns.com improve the situation?

The .410 can be made into a very effective small-to-medium game gun with proper attention given to the mitigation of the factors which are detrimental to all gauges but which in the .410 are particularly pronounced. However, attempting to address those factors without first satisfying the basic requirement of a cartridge which balances the competing requirements of pellet energy and pattern density will always be somewhat unproductive.

The single greatest improvement that could be made to the market for the .410 in the UK is to take a lesson from the continental tradition and demand from the cartridge companies loadings in smaller shot sizes. A concerted move away from cartridges loaded with #5 and #6 shot, which are prevalent but undoubtedly too big to provide the best balance between pattern and energy, towards the smaller sizes, would go a long way to encouraging a general re-evaluation of the gauge and its capabilities. The pellets in Eley’s 12.5g/#5 “Fourlong” load, for example, would probably still kill a game bird at 50-60 yards – but the pattern to do so will have failed at around 20 yards, even with a gun giving full-choke performance, which is clearly indicative of a poorly-balanced cartridge. There are many similar commercially-available examples.

Were such a re-evaluation were to happen, it might turn out that, in spite of the designs on many a box of .410 cartridges, the gauge is not best suited to the control of rabbits, but is rather most at home dealing with small birds at moderate ranges – pigeons over decoys or early season grouse, for example. It might – one would hope – provoke a renaissance in controlled, moderate shooting which would go some way to counteracting the higher, further, faster trend which pervades modern game shooting, no doubt enriching the few in possession of cliffs over which to drive birds, but – in many eyes – doing nothing to improve the quality of the sport. Perhaps to some extent, this swing back to “reasonableness” is already under way with recent increased interest in shotgun reloading and the greater availability of kit and components with which to do so.

Smaller Shot, Better Patterns

For small to medium game birds (e.g. pigeon, grouse, partridge), the use of #7 shot would seem quite reasonable and in the typical 16-18g 3″ loadings, will provide sufficient pattern density to kill effectively as far out as 40 yards in a moderately-choked gun. #7 shot will also kill ground game, although to do so reliably, one would ideally keep the ranges shorter to ensure that the pellets retained sufficient energy to cleanly kill the quarry.

To step further along the path of smaller shot sizes: our natural prejudice against using “clay” size shot for game shooting, for fear of wounding birds, makes us think twice about using smaller shot than #7, but a cloud of #8’s at average velocity will kill at 25 yards and #7½ shot will reach out to 30 or even 35 yards. Provided we are disciplined enough to restrict our shooting to birds genuinely within those ranges, there is no reason that any of the aforementioned sizes should be considered unsuitable for game shooting. At the ranges listed above, as little as 8½g of #8, 12½g of #7½ and 16½g of #7 (respectively) through a half choke will give the pattern density required* to reliably bring down a small-to-medium game bird.

Beyond that, the fate of the .410 lies in better education. Some shooters, or even most of them, have no interest in the great labyrinth of detail which exists within shotgun shooting and only scratch the surface of the knowledge developed and extended over many generations of hunters and hunting. We do not argue that they will be or are unsuccessful in their ignorance, but they may not get the best out of themselves, their equipment or their hunting life.

Shot well, or even half-well, a double .410 is an excellent tool for the hedge-wandering hunter – challenging, satisfying, requiring of self discipline and quite remarkably effective if used within its capabilities. In the current market, with few affordable double guns and even fewer sensible cartridges available to the average .410 shooter, it is perhaps difficult for many of us to discover that fact for ourselves, or to provide evidence supporting those assertions to others who are sceptical. Here at SmallBoreShooting.co.uk however, our happy band of enthusiasts will continue to make the case for the .410 as vigorously and in as evidence-based a way as we can.

Thanks for reading!

* = 120 pellets in the standard 30″ circle at 40 yards.