Blinded by Sunshine

I returned today to the cattle farm I visited a fortnight ago, where I shot my first bag of thirty-plus. Today’s bag wasn’t even close to double figures – two jackdaws, a crow and a wood pigeon – but it did afford some pleasant company and, after a poor start, some cracking shots.

I’d arranged to meet a couple of the other association members to try and make another dent in the numbers of crows infesting the barns. The three of us arrived early-ish and set up a line of hides across the end of the yard which allowed us to cover a lot more ground than we otherwise would have done individually. The arrangement of hides seemed unorthodox but was – apparently – initially effective.

There were fewer birds around this morning and although the others had managed to bag six or seven between them before I arrived, we only managed five more in the remainder of the morning, of which four were mine.

With hindsight, I should have constructed my hide in a different place. Although the location of the hide was good – directly under a known flight line – the orientation was unfortunate and on the first four attempts to shoot, I stood up and immediately blinded myself in the blazing sunshine, wasting cartridges and missing the bird, each time rendered invisible by the massive green and purple blotches in my vision, where the sun had burned its impression into my retina.

Eventually, as you can imagine, I got bored of this, and migrated over to the larger of the other two hides. Over a cup of coffee and a chat, we then watched and waited and took most of the (few) opportunities presented to us. I opened my account with a straightforward jackdaw, brought down with the second barrel and left the next opportunity to my colleague.

After that, at long intervals, followed three more birds. Once again, I “clicked” with the 16 gauge and didn’t miss for the rest of the day. I dropped a 40-yard jackdaw at the feet of my other colleague in the other hide (the shot was upward and perfectly safe), much to his surprise and my amusement and later, from the other hide, a short but extremely fast wood pigeon.

When all hope that we might see other birds was exhausted, I started to pack up my kit, but kept the gun handy. My foresight was rewarded with a maximum-range shot at a crow, which folded beautifully and invited enthusiastic congratulations from my compatriots and many favourable comments on my ability, which I received graciously, even if I felt that my real ability didn’t quite justify the kind words.

Once again, I’m left with a confirmation that 28g of #6 will kill cleanly some spectacular birds (when it’s fired from a tightly-choked 16 gauge, at least) and a nagging feeling that it might just be simpler to buy a slab of factory ammunition and save all the time spent reloading (although three of today’s birds were shot with reloads).

The .410 will, I’m sure, at some point, get another outing. The acquisition of new cartridges to test remains difficult, however.

Personal Best

I hope readers might forgive a modicum of arrogance if I begin by saying that I made some cracking shots today. Although my first “proper” day’s shooting in a long time was by no means perfect, there were two periods of the day where everything clicked and I brought down some stonking birds.

I set out early as planned and got to the farm just after 7am, having disturbed several hundred rabbits and one muntjac doe from their early morning grazing on the verges of the back roads.

Having parked, it took me a while to unload and decide exactly where to build the hide, but my task was to try to rid the cattle yard of the corvids milling around the barns which limited the possibilities to only two or three locations. Eventually, I set up under a line of trees at the end of the yard looking over a field of green barley, with decoys in the bare patches. Although I was never going to shoot every crow in the place, I made a good start, with a crow on my first shot and ten down before 8am.

As you can imagine, I was, by then, in something of a buoyant mood and when I saw one of the many tens of swallows darting over the crops try to eat, thrice, one of the down feathers of the 11th bird (as it gently descended from the point of the shot to the ground) – presumably believing it to be insect life of some kind – I actually laughed out loud. At the same time, I tried very hard not to allow myself to become over-confident and carried on picking my shots but as the morning wore on, the tiredness of the early start began to catch up with me.


As always seems to be the way, the avian traffic slowed down considerably by 10:30am and the steady stream of birds which had been “keeping my eye in” had all but disappeared. Fatigue set in and in spite of plenty of coffee and a snack, my concentration broke. By this point, I’d shot 19 for 30 cartridges and thus it stayed for much of the next hour.

The intervening time gave me an opportunity to reflect on the day so far.

I’d started the day with a quarter-choked 12 gauge and after birds #6, #7, #8 and #9 came down for four cartridges fired, I had wondered whether I should carry on or try the Baikal 16 gauge or the .410 which I’d also brought with me. I retrieved the Baikal.

Bird number 10 was a bit of a spectacular: a jackdaw falling to an ounce of #6 from the full-choked barrel at well over 40 yards (probably nearer 50), at a 90° angle from the orientation of the hide, just as it was about to disappear over the tree line. (I retrieved it, quite dead, for the pattern.) If I needed any reminders about just how capable the queen of the medium gauges is with it’s traditional loading, I wasn’t short of them today.

Capability requires operator competence, however, and my success was short-lived. After missing the next three in a row, I picked up the 12-gauge once again to finish the first session and “discovered”, in the process of working through my 12-gauge “odds and ends” that an ounce of #7½ will indeed bring down a 50-yard bird, as some like to claim, but only sometimes.

I believe I’ve made it fairly clear on this blog that, given the choice, I prefer larger shot (and that remains the case). That lucky, 50-yard jackdaw was quickly followed by a second, wounded at shorter range, and a crow that – although well-hit at around 40 yards – destabilized for a second or two and then flew on, exemplifying in three shots the reason why we don’t use clay loads on game. Needless to say, the handful of “clay” cartridges remaining in the bag were quickly discarded.

Number 20

Readers can imagine, I’m sure, the irritation brought about by shooting 19 birds at a decent cartridge ratio, with the promise of a 20th delayed not only by an hour’s lack of opportunity, but then by a further hour or so of fannying around having apparently forgotten how to shoot.

By midday, I was counting the intervals between seeing birds (as opposed to firing at them) and was within a few minutes of my self-imposed time limit for packing up and going home. Since one can hardly continue doing the same thing and expecting different results, I decided to get the 16 gauge out for what I expected to be the last few minutes, just to see if shaking things up a bit would make a difference.

As with the 12 gauge, I’d bought along my bag of 16-gauge odds and ends. Apart from a quantity of my own 28g/#6 reload, I had about 50 cartridges obtained a long time ago from the local shop at a heavy discount, apparently from the collection of one of their now-deceased former customers. I hadn’t really looked at them before this morning, except to note that they were good enough value to purchase without further consideration: I believe I paid £5 at the time.

Two old brands of 16 gauge cartridge: SMI “Standard” and Sellier & Bellot “Black Star”.

In fact, the bag contained examples of SMI’s “Standard” cartridge, containing 28g / #6 and a similar number of Sellier & Bellot’s paper-cased “Blck Star” cartridge which I believe were (are) loaded with 26g / #7. I would be surprised, given the primers and the degree of corrosion, if any of them were less than 40 years old. There was also a single, likewise agéd example of Eley’s “Grand Prix”, so I put that in the full-choke barrel and one of the green SMI cartridges in the half-choke.

Five seconds later, a crow appeared over the hedge row to the left, as far away as I think I’d ever reasonably expect to shoot anything and was promptly killed by a snap shot, courtesy of the Eley cartridge. Finally, for the first time in nearly three years, I’d reached 20 birds in a day. (That’s what having kids will do to you… – Ed.) I might buy a box of the modern Eleys and compare them to the new-ish Gamebore “Regal Game” when I get a chance.

The Exodus

A flurry of birds quickly followed, with a double for #22 and #23 another highlight, taking me to 24 for I’ve stopped counting cartridges by 12:30pm. After another 30 minutes of total inactivity during which I ate my lunch, I packed up, although I wasn’t giving up when I had a whole-day pass of which to take advantage.

Instead, I drove to the other end of the farm to set up a hide in a maize field which I’ve known both crows and wood pigeons to attack in the past.

None of my shooting this afternoon approached the consistency of what I’d managed in the first two hours of the day (and the S&B cartridges loaded with #7 were not entirely convincing at longer ranges) but I did manage to bring down another seven birds in an hour or so after lunch, most of them higher and faster than the morning’s birds.

By the time I’d built the hide, the wind had picked up somewhat and the birds’ flight lines brought most of them over the wood to which I had my back, which made for exciting, instinctive shooting. One was a particularly good bird, which although not far from the hide, was high and fast enough that it fell, dead, over the far hedge and into the next field, over 100 yards away.

Unfortunately, although the feeling of tiredness had receded, I was never really able to settle this afternoon, mostly thanks to the 48,000,000 local mosquitoes apparently determined to infest the hide. If I shot 30 birds today, I probably killed ten times that number of mozzies, though in spite of my efforts, my arms and legs are still covered in bites. I gave up both pursuits at around 3:30pm, having accounted for 17 crows and 14 jackdaws, which is a personal best, I’m afraid to say. Cartridge count was around 85, give or take.

In case anyone was wondering, the .410 did come out for a few minutes, but ultimately, I didn’t “click” with it as I did the other two guns. Certainly this afternoon, the ranges were too long for it to have been any use and this morning, it didn’t come out early enough for it to benefit from an operator on form. Perhaps another day.

An Afterthought

With all the other things going on in life recently, I haven’t really had any time for any reloading. Interestingly – for me, anyway – I came home today, feeling that sometimes, it’s quite nice just to pop some factory shells in the gun and focus on the shooting and the enjoyment of the day, rather than worrying about whether the patterns for this or that reload will be good.

The Next Generation

Today was not only the first time I’d managed to get into the fields in exactly four months, but also marked a small milestone in my shooting “career”. For the first time ever, my boy came with me for my afternoon walk and – bless him – behaved as well as I’ve ever seen. My wife tells me that there is quite a lot of “he wants to be you” going on with him at the moment and that this explains his ability to behave, essentially, perfectly, when he thinks he’s doing something that “only daddy does”. I’m extremely proud of him.

The DIY continues unabated, albeit at a slower pace than it has previously. We’re almost there: radiators, skirting and architrave are all on the walls; the painting is finished barring a few spots in need of a touch-up; curtain rails, lighting and so on are all fitted; the fireplace has been unexpectedly and successfully rebuilt. We await the arrival of the new carpet and fitters with baited breath: by the time it’s put in, everything else will have been done.

My wife said to me the other day that she now trusts me to do DIY over hiring people on the basis that I’ve done such a good job. I did tell her before we started (to much disbelief) that I would (and having the proper tools helps) but it was gratifying to hear after all the effort. What this all means – other than that I will now be expected to redecorate the rest of the house to the same standard – is that trips into the fields can once again become a regular feature of my existence and updates to this blog will be less “filler” and more “content”.

Perhaps my boy will even come out again.

It was pleasing that he took the wood pigeon I shot today “in his stride” so to speak. Although he behaved appallingly after we returned home -regression to the mean, no doubt – whilst we were out, he asked lots of intelligent questions, followed my instructions and seemed happy enough that we having a walk with the chance of a bird or two to take home and eat, even though he knew there was no possibility of him shooting anything. Beyond a few nettle stings (which usually have him in tears, but which today he shrugged off happily enough) nothing was amiss. Most importantly, we were safe and although hot, well-prepared with sun cream and water. It was a good “father-and-son” afternoon. Meanwhile, I managed 1-for-3 with the 16 gauge, which I didn’t think was too bad, given that I’ve barely picked a gun up in the last four months.

I’m looking forward to getting out again soon.


I think November is probably my least favourite month of the year. Almost everything about it is an inconvenience.

Take, for example, the sunshine: usually I very much like sunshine and I particularly like being outdoors in it, but November sunshine is the worst of all of the kinds of sunshine. The sun hangs so low in the sky that, even when it’s a nice day (especially when it’s a nice day), it’s oppressive. One cannot look into the sky because there is the blinding sunshine, creeping just under the brow and into the eyes. A peaked cap will make no difference – there is not enough distance between where one wants to look and where the sun sits to be comfortable. One is therefore obliged to be blinded by the impression of the sun, burned repeatedly into the retina, or to stare at the ground to avoid the very same – and no-one goes into the countryside, with or without a gun, to spend an afternoon looking at the floor, do they?

It is not just the light of the sun, however. Its very warmth is most inconvenient in November, above all other months. It is too cold to persist in wearing shorts and T-shirt for reasonable periods in exposed farmland, so out come the trousers and jacket, still unwashed from last year. Two hours in November sunshine however and the jacket cannot be discarded fast enough when one returns to one’s vehicle, sopping wet from perspiration and wishing that it were either much warmer, or much colder, but not this!

The list goes on. Driving is more dangerous when one cannot see properly through blinding sunshine. Shooting is near impossible when the spots – impressions of the sun – burned onto the retina cause every bird to disappear into a green-blue haze just as one focuses upon it.

As if to emphasize the arrival of my least favourite time of year (and don’t mistake me – December and January are two of my favourite months, provided they’re properly cold) the peewits and golden plover, those harbingers of doom – all 386,729,448 of them – have arrived on the farms and, as appears to be customary, scared all of the wood pigeons away. They milled around impressively whilst I walked the boundaries of the second farm I visited today and practically dive-bombed me at times, whereas, with one exception, I didn’t see a single pigeon within 100 yards.

The trouble is this: when, every time one sees a bird (i.e. a wood pigeon) and then pauses, stock still, to see if it will approach or fly anywhere in range, discovers it will not and ends by congratulating oneself on exercising a pleasing degree of restraint by not letting the shootbangstick get overexcited, it’s catching. Do it enough times and then, when a bird actually in long-but-shootable range pops out of the hedgerow in front, one simply ends up staring at it, wide-eyed and a bit “gah-gah”, wondering whether it really is close enough to have a go at and… oh – it’s gone

One miss at a distant bird followed – well I wasn’t going to make that mistake again, was I? – allowing me to add one of the Gamebore Regal Game cases to my 16-gauge collection, but I returned home with nothing to show for the trip, except a peculiar weariness.

I blame the sunshine myself. It makes everything look shiny and strange and gives a peculiar sense of “distance from the world”, which I find very unpleasant. Did I mention that November was my least favourite month?

No patterning today. We do occasionally get deliveries on Sunday now, about which I’m rather pleased (the shops have discovered that people actually like to have new things every day of the week and will pay for the privilege – if only the NHS could discover the same about people getting ill at weekends…) but the patterning paper didn’t turn up either way. There’s a huge number of cartridges stacked up on my shelf now and I need to get through testing them, but how much of that gets done before the weather closes in on us remains to be seen.

Trusting My Instincts

A final thought: I should have trusted my instincts. In writing up various pattern and performance tests for the 9mm gun recently, I entertained the idea that the #6 (Italian) cartridge might perhaps have some utility. Looking back at the patterns, I think my initial gut instinct was correct: if #6 and #5 are too large for the .410, then they are certainly too large for the 9mm. It may simply be that the gun is incapable killing any UK quarry humanely, but if it is, the shot size has to be smaller. Energetics aside, you still have to hit the target with one or more pellets and the number of “gaps” showing up in those 9mm patterns – even the good ones – is pretty shocking.

Cartridge Anorak

One of the downsides of being a “cartridge anorak” (and there are many, I can assure you) is that one spends so much time patterning, testing, analyzing and understanding that, when it comes down to it, it’s very easy to forget how to actually shoot. There are of course those of my acquaintance who would say that I’ve never given any impression of knowing how to do that anyway and I’ll be the first to agree – I never have been and never will be a great shot.

I do make the occasional great shot of course. The crow I knocked down at around 9am this morning on my walk around was a very, very long way out – far enough that I shouldn’t have attempted it – and would have been a nice start to the day, if only I hadn’t missed a handful of “sitters” within the ten minutes following. It’s quite a struggle to get underneath wood pigeons at the moment (they’re not short of places to feed), so most of those were crows – and really should have been dead crows.

A lot of the time I’m too tired to see the birds before they’re out of easy range and much of the rest of the time I seem to be hesitant. Out of a motivation to stop shooting distant birds, I now appear to have the worst of both worlds: I still shoot at distant birds, albeit less than I used to (and so take home fewer birds), but the time I now spend thinking about whether any given bird is too far out is often the moment I ought to be swinging the gun and firing at it before it becomes so.

Perhaps I’m going soft in my old age.

I ignored a another pair of inquisitive hares today, as I have done the last three times I’ve been out. They seem – the leverets particularly – to be quite unafraid of humans and will approach almost to within touching distance if one remains still. I suspect it’s poor eyesight – they bolt as soon as I make any noise – but it wouldn’t have been difficult to come home with a bagful on any of the last few visits to that farm.

I have heard it suggested that our landowner wants their numbers reduced a little – unfortunately, to deter the coursers who bring their dogs to chase them – but until I’m given word “officially” I’ll be leaving them alone. I still have a couple in the freezer and it’s game pie for dinner on Monday – perhaps I’ll go and dig one out.

All that aside, I felt very rusty this morning.

Pattern Testing

I did manage to do a series of patterns for the Eley “Extralong” #6 cartridge as planned. I also shot a handful for an experimental 16 gauge load (see below).

The Eley cartridge was – as the Eley cartridges have tended to be – better than most of the other makes, but only middling-to-good in comparitive performance. Hard #7 or #7½ shot still seems to be the better option in a .410, though perhaps my vehemence on the subject of larger shot has reduced a little by now – I can imagine why someone might choose to use either of the 3″ #6 Eley cartridges, though I personally wouldn’t choose them over some of the others I’ve tested.

The 16 gauge patterning was an experiment to determine whether 28g / #5 would perform well enough to replace the usual 28g / #6 cartridge I load for that gun. The motivation was simple: I would only have to buy #5 shot for reloading if it worked, which halves the minimum outlay on shot and allows me to buy less, more often. The trouble is, although the cartridge performed broadly adequately, I’m not convinced.

My 16 gauge gun is a Baikal with tight ½ and Full chokes and has always shot the #6 version of the recipe I use very well. I expect 80%+ patterns from the full choke barrel if I’ve loaded them correctly.

The 40-yard patterns shot with the #5 version were adequate, if a little below what I’d usually expect giving 119, 137 and 142 of (avg.) 203 pellets in the standard circle for 59%, 67% and 70% performance respectively. These patterns will all kill birds but they are much less performant than the original loading. This is perhaps due to the use of new, 67mm cases, rather than the 70mm cases I employed originally, which necessitated an adjustment to the shot column and reduced the crimp depth. Re-patterning the #6 load would perhaps be a sensible precaution in light of this performance reduction.

40-yard pattern shot through the full choke of the Baikal 16 gauge using a 28g / #5 reload.

Whilst the original #6 loading produced a usable 50-yard pattern of between 130 and 150 pellets, the #5 loading doesn’t begin to approach this, putting an average of 85 pellets in the circle at that distance. This suggests that it would be wise to continue to purchase and use #6 shot.

50-yard pattern shot through the full choke of the Baikal 16 gauge using a 28g / #5 reload.