First published November 2010
Close your eyes and picture a dream drive. Stratospheric pheasants soar towards your peg in an orderly stream.
You take a right and left well in front, swap guns with your faithful loader and gracefully fold a second brace overhead – another silky gun exchange and you’re ready for the next wave. What a lovely daydream!
Reality is more often a prolonged neck-aching stare at barren sky punctuated (just as you look away) by a sudden flurry as the only birds of the drive flash overhead en masse.
You miss the first, nearly fall over swinging onto the second and then get your hand stuck in a damp pocket as you attempt to claw out fresh cartridges.
By the time you’ve fumbled some new ammo into the chambers, the rearguard of the departing pheasants are diminishing specks two fields away and you’re frantically praying that the other Guns were too busy to notice your passable imitation of the late Norman Wisdom.
So, given that few folk can afford to double gun, how can you boost your rate of fire in a hot corner?
Adding some cartridge pockets to a standard cartridge bag makes a speed loader bag. However the cartridges are close together and can be fiddly to cleanly extract a pair. They are also expensive – around £190 for a leather example.
At the most basic level, a wide cartridge pocket which can be strapped open helps, as does a hearty shake of said pocket to encourage shells to settle brass end up, and thus the right way round for loading.
LEFT OR RIGHT?
Then there’s the tricky question of which hand you load with. Watch 10 people shoot and you will be surprised at the apparently random combinations of hand and pocket for reloading.
I shoot from the right shoulder and tend to load a heavier over/under with my right hand from a right pocket.
With a lighter side by side I will ‘nod’ the gun open with my right hand and reload with the left hand from a left pocket.
Curiously, reloading is seldom part of shooting instruction and most people seem to muddle along with what they did on day one.
Sometimes it’s down to which hand or arm is strongest, and people use that to support the gun and t’other to stuff it.
BAGS AND BELTS
Speed-loader cartridge bags and belts can give a slight edge by ensuring that two cartridges can be grasped by their brass ends.
However, leather cartridge belts can be fiddly and frequently are unwilling to yield their contents.
Also, as we get older and plumper another problem manifests.
The belt disappears beneath an overhanging stomach, effectively hiding shells when they are needed most.
Adding some SpeedLoader Swifts to a standard cartridge belt is an interesting idea, and certainly speeds reloading by enabling pairs to be extracted.
Speed-loader belts – cartridge belts with half moon plastic clips instead of full pockets – suffer the opposite problem and freely shed their contents whilst you are walking.
Guns who use these belts are worth following around because they leave a colourful trail of live shells on the ground – and with the current cost of lead, every little helps!
Speed loader belts with open cartridge clips are smooth to use, but they tend to shed shells whilst walking between pegs.
Another old trick is to hold two cartridges in reserve by gripping them between the knuckles of your forward (non-trigger) hand.
This is uncomfortable and takes practice – indeed it is said that some old time loaders developed widely spaced deformed fingers from habitually holding four spare cartridges betwixt knuckles.
The illustration (above), taken from Sir Ralph Payne-Gallwey’s 1892 tome Letters to Young Shooters shows how to perform this reloading trick.
SIMPLE AND EFFECTIVE
A neat and inexpensive gadget, which brings Payne-Gallwey’s 19th Century finger-trick right up to date, is the Speedloader Swift.
Retailing at £4.95 or £17.95 for a pack of four, this simple plastic clip doubles your firepower (and potentially your bag) by comfortably holding a pair of cartridges between your knuckles.
The SpeedLoader Swift a simple plastic clip updates the old loader’s trick, enabling a pair of spare cartridges to be held during firing, ready for rapid re-load.
Alas, it is currently available for 12-bore cartridges only.
At the other end of the cost spectrum sits the Loadmaster Classic – truly the Rolls-Royce of cartridge dispensing.
The Loadmaster Classic – the Rolls-Royce of reloading kit. Shown here being used with the right hand, but this one works best worn on the left. Nod the gun open with the right hand whilst reaching for fresh cartridges with the left.
Covered in finest bridle leather and holding a full box of cartridges this stylish accessory smoothly presents pairs of cartridges to your free hand.
The down side is the cost – an eye-watering £250.
Furthermore, some wag is bound to shout ‘tickets please’ as you get on the gun bus, for when slung over shoulder, the Loadmaster does somewhat resemble a Reg Varney era bus conductor’s ticket machine.
Having said that, I would not be without mine. On a recent partridge day, I reckon the Loadmaster doubled my rate of fire.
Over the years many other devices have been marketed for increasing loading speed.
A few of these are shown in the photographs. They mostly depend on gravity to present cartridges to hand, the right way round and preferably in pairs.
Here’s one that fell by the wayside; The ‘Fleet Loader’. It has limited capacity, tends to catch on things, and can dint your lovely walnut stock if you are not careful – hence it became a museum piece.
The fact that you can no longer buy these models says something about their real usefulness in the field!
If any readers have pictures of other strange inventions to help reloading, please send them in – we’ll send a bottle for the best.
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