10-Gauge Cartridge Round-up
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- Last updated: 19/05/2017
Big is always better; or is it? When it comes to shotguns, one calibre or gauge, has always caught the imagination of shooters and that is the mighty 10-gauge.
It was the biggest, most practical bore for wildfowlers on the shores, wanting that extra range and payload for distance shots and extra hitting power.
Today, however, with the advent of the 3½inch magnum 12-gauge, the big old tenner is looking a bit long in the tooth. Trouble is, I don’t think so, as the 10-gauge will always have a place in my heart, as I had some great fun in Scotland on the Isle of Islay with an old Marlin Goose gun thus chambered and it’s just fun — expensive to shoot but fun.
Also, with the careful choice of load and possibilities for reloading, the old 10 gauge is still a very viable cartridge for wildfowl.
The 10-gauge, as with the other shotgun bore sizes, is governed by the space occupied by one ounce of lead. It’s an odd system, where the smaller the number the larger the bore and only the 410-gauge has a true 0.410-inch bore diameter. The rest are thus, 28-gauge is 0.550-inch, 20-gauge is 0.615- inch, 16-gauge is 0.662-inch, 12-gauge is 0.729-inch diameter and the mighty 10-gauge is a whopping 0.775-inches diameter. It’s pretty imposing to be honest; when you lay the bores side by side, you then see just how large the 10-bore is.
One ounce of shot occupies 0.775-inch width by 0.610- inch depth, so has a short shot column for the same weight as a 12-gauge, which is 0.729- inch by 0.690-inch. But the beauty of the big 10, is that it can handle a bigger payload of shot sizes, from 1¼oz to 2¼oz.
Case sizes obviously have to enlarge to keep all this extra shot in and I had a selection from two 5/8-, two 7/8- and the 3½-inch length. If you are going for the big 10, then the 3½ shells are the way to go but the lighter loads make the big boomer that more versatile.
The only problem is that to accommodate the bigger cartridges, the shotgun has to be scaled up to accommodate and so the overall weight of the gun increases. This makes it tiresome to carry, although most will be used static from a hide and when loaded up, especially in an auto or pump, it becomes very front heavy. I can live with this as the overall performance negates all these negatives.
F A Andersons sourced me a superb Browning BPS 10-gauge pump, which is a beast but very reasonable at £700, the auto version Gold is over a grand, but what a performer. This BPS is large at 49.5-inches overall and weighs an arm straining 10.5lbs but this is purposeful to allow a 28-inch barrel for good velocities and wall thickness and that extra weight is welcome to reduce some of that recoil. The BPS is clad in Mossy Oak Shadow Grass Blades camo, forming a protective cover from the elements, where the BPS will no doubt be used. The feature I really like is the Browning’s bottom loading and ejection, as it keeps the action orifices out of the weather and allows the ejected cases to drop at your feet, handy if you reload these expensive cases, as I do.
I patterned the big Browning at 30-yards, as usual, to see how a few lead and steel shot loads of differing size cases performed, with a view to reloading in the future for some speciality loads. I used a ½ choke, as steel shot patterns as a ¾ to full with this choke size and a full choke will blow a pattern.
First up, were the smaller cased and lighter loaded Ballistic Precision Ltd cartridges. These have a two 5/8 length case, with a large 18mm head and red plastic casing. It has a rolled crimp top with over shot wad printed with the shot size. I had a BB 4.1mm loading, with a weight of 1½-ounces with lead shot for inland wildfowl and these proved nice and light to shoot. Priced at £18.95 for 10 shots.
On the boards, it shot the best patterns with very nice even spread across the 32- inch board, with few holes and certainly not big enough for a duck or goose to slip through. I had a total of 81 BB pellet hits, with 51 pellet hits in the outer circumference and a healthy 30 pellets in the inner 15-inches.
Next up, were the Game Bore Mammoth Heavy loads. These are two 7/8-inch case length with the high 18mm head and green plastic casing and roll crimped with over wad but no shot markings. These are on the case with, shot size and weight indicated at No 1 shot and 1½oz load. What is different with this load is the Tungsten Matrix shot, so non-toxic but having a better weight ratio than steel, but at a hellishly high price of £48 for 10 shots!
On the pattern boards, it shot a good, even spread with a few holes i.e. just duck size but not big enough for geese. I had a total of 83 pellet strikes and pretty similar distribution to the Ballistic Products cartridges. I had 52 pellets to the outer area and 31 pellets to the inner sector. Considering the price difference! Well you decide…
The next two loadings were a bit more economical and more in keeping with the 10-gauge ethos of big is better, 3½-inch Remington steel loads.
The first were the smaller shot size of No 2 shot (No 4 shot lead equivalent), so good for ducks. These big 3½-inch cases had a lighter one 3/8oz payload of No 2 shot at speeds of 1500fps, muzzle. The Remington loads have the typical Remmy green cases, with high head size and this time crimp closure.
These really went off with a bang, as flames and rolling echo reverberated down the loch side. On the boards at 30-yards, I had nearly double the pellet strikes with the smaller shot size and larger payload. 150 No 2 shot pellets hit the board and a little clumped to the right but generally good. 84 pellets hit the outer portions and a good 66 pellets to the inner sector for a solid hit, which is needed with the lighter steel shot compared to lead.
Going bigger shot size to BBs for geese and steel again but a lighter one 3/8oz load, again with the same case size as the No 2 shot. These seemed much milder to shoot, much like an old nitro gun, with a shove to the shoulder, rather than a kick.
On the pattern boards the big BBs shot a total of 85 pellets at 30-yards but with a definite bias to the left and up, lighter pellets going faster. I had 32 pellets in the 15-inch inner circle but all up left and 53 pellets to the outer sector, with the lower right quadrant pretty bare.
The heavier loadings are where the 10-gauge shines, so I wanted to reload some 2oz steel BB loads to see if I could improve on the BB Remington one 3/8oz load. However, because of the volume difference of the steel to lead shot, you are restricted to 1½oz steel max, whereas with lead I could go up to 2¼oz.
I used the same cases and reloaded on a MEC Steel master press but used lead BB shot sourced from Norman Clarks Gunsmiths, as was the press. We shoot geese over farmland and silage fields, well in-land with no water or lakes – so Lead is fine. The loch side is reserved for steel only.
A load of 38.5-grains of Blue Dot powder with a Rem SP10 wad and ¼-inch felt 20-gauge under shot wad was used. I now had a very good dense pattern of BBs at 30-yards, with a total of 107 pellet strike with 41 in the inner sector and 66 in the outer sector, so nice and dense but again despite lead still with an upward bias.
More reloading is needed.
The 10-gauge continues to have its followers, as it’s a quirky old round and one that not only looks impressive but can really perform with the right load. However, with the advent of excellent 3½-inch 12-gauge cases holding the same shot weight, the reign of the big 10 is now less dominant on the foreshores.
Cartridges are expensive but that is where reloading is a real bonus, as you can tailor make your loads to suit your exact shooting conditions.
Norman Clark: Shotgun reloading and powders, www.normanclarkgunsmith.co.uk
Clay and Game: Shotgun Reload kit, reloading manuals, www.claygame.co.uk
Just Cartridges: 10 gauge cartridges, www.justcartridges.co.uk