Types of gun
In formal driven shooting you will normally be dealing with over-and-under or side-by-side shotguns. These will be primarily 12, 20 and 28 bore, but other bores such as 16 and .410 might occasionally be encountered.
The gun(s) will either be a single gun or a pair of guns. Pairs come in two forms: matched and composed. A composed pair is generally two unrelated guns of the same type or specification, put together by a maker. Matched pairs are two guns made consecutively, with the same stock blanks and the same craftsmen producing each part of the gun to the same specification and standard.
Some shotguns will have assisted opening or self-opening mechanisms.
For efficient and safe loading the guns should be breech loading, ejecting, with automatic safety catches. They must be of sound condition and in proof.
The guns will vary in chamber length from 2 to 3½ inch, which is important when determining which cartridges to use.
The safety catch should normally be automatic, but it is worth checking that it is not manual.
In double gunning, the loader should hand the gun to the shooting client with the safety catch on. A gun should not be passed with the safety catch off as this is unsafe.
Fitness for purpose
It is good practice for the loader to make checks on the gun(s) being used by the shooting client. This may be an agreed requirement of the loader/shooting client relationship. A quick visual check will reveal any cracks in the stock or fore-end, dents or bulges in the barrels and lifting or sprung ribs. Multi-chokes should be present and tight. Make sure the barrels are not ‘off the face’ (or loose). If there is any chance that the damaged gun could cause harm to either the loader, shooting client or other members of the shooting party, the shooting client must be informed of the damage and it must not be used.
Knowledge of proof
The loader must be familiar with proof information and where to find this information on the gun. This is particularly important in relation to which cartridges may be safely used in which gun. Many guns are not proofed for high performance cartridges or for steel shot. You must also check that the stated chamber length of the gun exceeds that of the cartridge length.
Suitability of the cartridge
Ensure that the cartridge type and shot size is suitable for both the quarry and the gun. If you use non-lead shot, make sure the gun and cartridge are compatible, otherwise damage could occur.
It is very important not to allow cartridges of different bores to become mixed. A smaller size (say a 20 bore) can be inadvertently loaded into a 12 bore gun and lodge in the barrel. If a 12 bore cartridge is then loaded and fired over the top, it can burst the barrel and cause fatal injuries. You must have no cartridges in your pocket except those of the gauge you are about to load.
There are two common cartridge malfunctions, hang fires and misfires, both of which can be caused by errors in cartridge manufacture or a faulty shotgun. Repeated misfires and hang fires could be a sign of worn firing pins, and the gun should be repaired by a reputable gunsmith.
This is when the cartridge fails to fire upon pulling the trigger, but does fire after a delay. What usually happens is that the cartridge fails to fire altogether, even though the primer of the cartridge has been struck. The gun should be pointed in a safe direction and held securely for 30 seconds. Looking away from the action, the gun should be opened slowly and the cartridge removed.
If the cartridge makes an unusual or muffled noise upon firing, or the recoil is reduced, it should be presumed that a misfire may have occurred. The gun needs to be lowered in a safe direction and opened slowly; the barrels should then be inspected for blockages or damage.