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.

Something Sensible

Did anybody realize that the Gamebore “Clear Pigeon” cartridge has been redesigned (again) and comes in a 30g/#6 flavour? I certainly didn’t.

For years and years now, my local shop has stocked the 32g/#6 version of the old cartridge. I’ve used them in the past, though not recently. On the odd occasions I’ve wanted a “pigeon” cartridge the routine has been the same. They offer the Hull “Superfast” 29g/#6 cartridge (for which I suspect their margin is better) and I, always refusing on principle to fanny around with under-loaded cartridges, buy the Clear Pigeon loading instead. Of course, there’s no practical difference between the two (except perhaps that the Hull cartridge has always seemed to produce heavier recoil), but I have other guns better suited to lighter charges.

I felt somewhat short-changed on Monday then, when I left the shop with a box of the Gamebore cartridge and discovered that the contents were 2 grams lighter on lead than I’d expected. Needless to say, they weren’t any cheaper than usual.

Reloading 2018

For one reason and another, mostly related to the huge amounts of time, money and energy required to rectify the damage caused by a flood which occurred in the upstairs of my house just before Christmas, I haven’t had a lot of time or motivation for reloading lately.

I don’t usually keep a lot of 12 gauge cartridges in stock as I haven’t much used either of the two 12-gauge guns I own recently and when I do want a cartridge or twenty, I load them to order.

Since I’ve determined at the start of this year to work on my shooting confidence and to make things as easy for myself as I can, there is now a greater requirement for 12 gauge cartridges than there has been in the past. I had always planned too, to find a suitable reload for my Baikal, but last year’s experiments with a 34g/#5 loading proved unsatisfactory as I documented on this website.

The aforementioned Gamebore cartridges were bought as a stopgap, but it appears that my disappointment in finding I’d bought something other than what I intended has prompted some movement on one of last year’s outstanding projects: the classic pigeon cartridge.

A Classic Cartridge

Gough Thomas, in his book Shotguns and Cartridges states that the traditional pigeon cartridge was always heavier than the traditional game load, comprising 1¼ ounces of #6 or #7 lead shot, compared with 1 ounce (give or take 1/16 of an ounce either way) of #6 for pheasant or partridge. Considered for a moment or two, this makes perfect sense.

Of course, muzzle velocities were much lower and cartridges more expensive way back when, so firing hundreds of 36g cartridges in a morning either didn’t happen, or was a lot less uncomfortable than it sounds.

Last year, I decided I wanted to try making some of these low-velocity, high-pattern-density shells, but never got round to it. Yesterday, I finally did and there are now 6 test cartridges sitting on the shelf containing 36g/#6 and enough A1 to push it along at around 1175-1200fps – a slight under-charge compared to the published 1243fps loading and an identical reload for which I have proof house data.

In theory, the shells should produce the same pattern density as a 24g/#7½ clay load (340 pellets), with the energy to kill birds at 45-50 yards. Of course – they may not perform that well.

I’d have liked to try loading some #7 shot (giving c. 430 pellets in the cartridge) but I don’t have enough in stock to make a decent number of shells. I suspect also that – like the #6 version, to a degree – the extra pellets would be redundant. Effective range would be curtailed by the smaller shot size which would make increasing effective pattern area with lots of pellets and loose chokes the only justifiable motivation for this approach. Of course, in the past, when cylinder-choked guns were ubiquitous, this would have been perfectly sensible.

Of course, I did ask at the shop whether  they had any similar loading, but it was hardly surprising to be told that they didn’t stock anything containing 1¼oz. with a shot size smaller than #4.

Patterns to follow.

The Lee Load-All II: A Tip

I encountered as usual last night the issue of replacing the excess powder and shot into their respective containers from the hoppers in the Lee press. I had never come up with a good strategy for avoiding the inadvertent release of shot into the powder and vice versa – until yesterday.

It happens that I actually have a few spare parts for my press, acquired from a generous soul who no longer needed them and donated them to my experiments. One of the spare parts is a lid for the hoppers.

Why it had never previously occurred to me to drill a small hole in the corner of the spare lid, I don’t know, but last night, I did. By removing the hoppers and attaching the perforated lid, I was able to pour out the powder, directly into the container, through the hole in the corner. Turning the lid round allowed me to do the same with the shot.

The whole process took 2 minutes without incident, rather than 20 minutes of discharging powder and shot into different containers, one bushing-volume at a time.