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Big Gun Wildfowling

By by Graham Downing, courtesy ofThe Field

Big Gun Wildfowling

Shooting at long range demands accuracy and even patterns. Most wildfowlers use a long-chambered 12-bore, but those who shoot with the larger-bore guns swear by them

Shooting at long range demands both accuracy and dense, even patterns.When geese are the intended quarry, then a large shot size is also preferable, and in order toensure a pellet count sufficiently high to maintain pattern density, it is necessary to put large quantities of shot into the air.If those charges consist of 2oz, 2½oz or even 3oz of shot, then the laws of physics indicate that it is far preferable to send them skywards in a short, squat package of large diameter — a 10-, 8-, or 4-bore gun — than to squeeze them, protesting, through a souped-up 12-bore.
Most wildfowlers today use a long-chambered 12-bore,but those who shoot regularly with the larger-bore guns swear by them. 'It's the finest wildfowling gun in the world,' says Simon Cutts of his 1904 vintage W & C Scott boxlock ejector 10-bore, which he uses to shoot wigeon on his home marshes on the Essex coast.He also has a double 8-bore hammergun by Woodward, a pretty gun with sleek back-action locks and a balance that belies its 16lb, plus an absolute leviathan of a 4-bore, double barrelled and nitro proved for 4oz of shot, by Thomas Bland. My own single-barrelled 4-bore is heavy enough at 13lb, andwhen fired at a high goose has an action like a pile-driver which forces your waders deep into the mud.My 8-bore, a single underlever hammergun by Harrison, with its 42in of damascus barrel the colour of rich Madeira wine, is another matter.It was built for shooting geese, and that is exactly what it does. It may look a big gun, but a well-built 8-bore will handle sweetly and swing well, delivering its 2¼oz of shot on target with solid consistency.The introduction in September 1999 of legislation requiring the
use of non-toxic shot for the shooting of wildfowl threatened tobanish the boom of the 8-borefrom the coasts of England forever.
Large-bore wildfowlers, however, are a resourceful lot.Since the time when Eley ceased manufacturing 8-bore cartridges more than 20 years ago, the 8- and 4-bore enthusiasts have had to load their own, and a few specialist suppliers have ensured that they have been able to obtain the means to do so.When homeloading first became necessary, appropriate loads were quickly worked up, tested and published. The same thing is happening again, except that this timetungsten matrix and bismuth shot is being loaded instead of lead.Simon Cutts has used both in his big-bore guns. 'Bismuth patterns as well as lead and is very consistent,' he says, 'but with tungsten you've got to pattern every gun. One gun with full choke threw terrible patterns, but another with three-quarter choke patterned brilliantly.'Ian Charlton of Clay & Game Reloaders has made a speciality of developing large-bore loads for Gamebore's tungsten matrix shot. Charlton stresses how quickly the science surrounding the new non-toxic alternatives is developing. 'Technology has had to advance very rapidly. Non-toxic shot needs nurturing and it requires a progressive powder to work it properly.'We now have new propellants like the Swedish Bofors TK8 - light years ahead ofthose like Blue Dot, which a lot of reloaders are still using.It gives lower pressures and higher speeds for the same given weight of powder, and is delivering brilliant results.'Charlton accepts that in the early days, tungsten was patterning too tightly in 8-bore loads, with 100% patterns in a 40in circle at 60yd. 'That really is too tight.We're selling scatterguns, not rifles.' With all the new components which he offers and the formulae which he has developed, however, he has high hopes for the future.Lancashire large-bore specialist Alan Myers builds his own fowling pieces and supplies ammunition and shotgun reloading materials in all the large calibres. He has focused his attention on bismuth shot: 'I've done all the proof tests from 4-bore down to 10.I've found that bismuth is 12% to 15% down on penetration against lead, but that it patterns better. You get more pellets in a 30in circle. This means that, because you've got up to 15% more pellets in the load, the foot-poundage delivered to the target is roughly the same.'Myers recommends buffering bismuth BB shot to avoid pellet fragmentation, but confirms that for No 3 shot and smaller, buffering is not needed inthe large bores.Although Myers and Charlton have published Proof House-approved loads for 10- and 8-bore guns, and Myers for 4-bores, they accept that with commercially loaded ammunition readily available for the 10-bore,it is the two larger gauges that particularly depend on the availability of reliable home-loading data and components.It is a little ironic that it has takenthe demise of lead shot to initiatethe rapid advance in shotgun ammunition technologythat we are currently witnessing. While it is hard to see the cost of large-bore ammunition falling substantially, it is not impossible that within the next four or five years the quality of the loads being produced will exceed that of the lead loads they have replaced.In any case,cost of ammunition is of secondary consideration to most big-bore users, who rarely fire more than a handful of shots in an outing.Read more:

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