How To Pattern A Shotgun – A detailed guide

Game hunting is an adventurous and exciting hobby to keep. With the hunting season around the corner, cleaning and caring for your gun and picking the best ammunition has surely become your favorite weekend chores. While preparing for the upcoming hunting season, one of the most crucial things to do is patterning your shotgun.

Unless you call yourself a gun geek, patterning a shotgun can be quite a daunting task. However, with a little guidance, mastering how to pattern a shotgun isn’t much difficult. If you are one of those who need a little brushing up on patterning techniques, you are in the right place.

In this article, we have thrown some light on why patterning is necessary and how to pattern a shotgun. Keep scrolling to demystify patterning techniques and get ready to bag more birds this season! 

Why Do You Need To Pattern Your Shotgun?

Shooting a rifle is quite different from shooting a shotgun. The rifles usually shoot the bullets at the same place (well, almost) every time you fire, while the shotgun pellets can end up in different places making different patterns. 

Just like no two snowflakes can be the same, no two shotguns can have the same shooting pattern. Sometimes the aim of the shotgun can be off-center or might have a gap in the pattern depending on the type of shells and chokes used. 

Patterning a shotgun helps you to understand the optimal range of shooting your gun so that you capture your target in one go. To find the ideal ammunition for your shotgun and to reduce wounded bird escape, learning how to pattern your shotgun is imperative. 

What Do You Need For Patterning Your Shotgun?

Before we proceed to tell you how to pattern a shotgun, let’s find out what you need for patterning your gun. 

  • The foremost necessity is a large area of at least 80-100 yards. This is because you need at least 40-50 yards to test the shotgun pattern.
  • Next, you need a few pattern plates or sheets. They can be blank or pre-drawn. You have to attach these sheets one at a time to test the pattern of different chokes and shells. 
  • You can also use a 40-inch square sheet and draw a 30-inch diameter circle on the paper to count the pellets that land inside the circle. 
  • You would also need a large cardboard stand where you can pin the pattern sheet. 

How To Pattern A Shotgun?

  • The best way to pattern your shotgun is to use different ammunition at different ranges. This will help you to find the perfect combination which is the most effective.
  • The choke you need for your shotgun can be determined by the range you choose for shooting. The wider the range, the more choke you will need to get the required pattern density.
  • If you are an expert in shooting from a range of 40 yards, a ¾ or full choke is the best one to use.  
  • As the range increases, the percentage of useful pellets that land on the pattern plate will continue to decrease.
  • For a good result, there must be at least 130-140 pellets evenly distributed in the target area to ensure a clean kill.  

Few More Things To Know About Patterning A Shotgun

Just knowing how to pattern a shotgun will not suffice. There are some other factors that play an important role in patterning a shotgun. Let’s dig a little into some details.

1. What Is A Pattern Plate? 

A shotgun pattern entails the number of projectiles that fit in a particular space when the gun is fired from a predetermined distance. The predetermined space on which the pattern is tested is known as a Pattern plate. It helps in determining how the pellets will scatter when a certain type of ammo is used. It allows you to understand how your shot will be placed in relation to the barrel of the gun. 

The patterning of a shotgun is extremely important to find out the coverage of the shells and the number of projectiles you would receive in the target area. This, in turn, will help you to understand how effective and efficient your shotgun is. Counting the pellet holes on the pattern plate also helps you to understand the ideal choke and cartridge combination for your shotgun.

2. What Is The Ideal Shooting Distance For Pattern Testing?

The distance from which you fire your shotgun plays a key role in determining your shooting accuracy. When in the field, your target will look like a little black dot from a distance. Pattern testing helps in perfecting your aim so that the fowl or turkey you have your target on won’t escape, even if it looks no larger than a dot. 

Ideally, shotguns are patterned at a distance of 40 yards. This is because previously, the shotguns used to have a maximum shooting range of 40 yards. However, with recent advancements, many shotgun shells have a wider shooting range. 

If you are patterning your gun for hunting game birds, then pattern testing should be done at the range you shoot your birds. If you are aiming for a clay pigeon at a straight-line, then the ideal range to determine your point of impact is 30-35 yards.  To bag a dove, pattern your gun at a range of 40 yards and see if there’s any gap in it from where the bird might slip through. 

If you are well-versed with game hunting a 12ga shotgun might be the ideal gun for you. This could be patterned at a 40-yard distance. For a short-statured hunter or someone looking for some tweak in the game, a 20ga shotgun can be a good choice that needs to be patterned at 30 yards.

If you are aiming for waterfowls or ducks, you would require standard or magnum loads on a big 12ga or behemoth 10ga shotgun. Ideally, these need to be tested for patterning at a maximum range of 50 yards. This will prevent the pellets from spreading too much while retaining the killing power. 

3. What Is The Best Circle Size For Pattern Testing?

Shotgun patterns are usually counted inside a 30-inch circle. This diameter of the circle holds the maximum useful scattering of a pattern. The target circle on the pattern plate is most effective when it can accommodate about 70-80% of the shot fired. If you are lucky, a mispointed shot by about 15 inches might land you a game bird with a stray pellet. However, that is not likely to happen all the time.  

If you want to hunt turkey this time, patterning your shotgun can get a little tricky. For a shot to be lethal, you need the pellets to hit the head or neck region of the bird. Any wider shot will only put the pellets into the bird’s flesh and wound it but won’t stop it from escaping. For that, the ideal patterning circle size for testing your turkey gun is 10 inches. You would want to see how many pellets land in the smaller circle in the neck region of the bird. 

4. How To Measure The Pattern On Your Target Sheet?

A more efficient way of pattern testing is to shoot first and draw a circle then if you are using a blank plate. This way it becomes easy to see where the pellets get projected and count them. However, you can also use the ready-made pattern plates which have the target circles drawn on them. Usually, pattern plates have a 30-inch circle pre-drawn. 

If you are using a blank plate for pattern testing, you can use a 15-inch string and marker as a make-shift compass to draw the circle. Fire your shotgun from a minimum distance of 30 yards keeping your aim at the center of the plate.  After you shoot, see where the pellets are projected on the plate. Get a target marked on the plate with a sharpie on the densest area of the pattern and try drawing a circle taking it as the center. Then try counting the pellet holes inside the circle to understand how deadly your shot is from that distance. 

If your gun can shoot a lethal pattern from this distance, that does not mean it will do the same from a distance slightly farther or nearer. The pattern depends upon the type of chokes you use.

Open chokes tend to spread steadily when fired, and give a cone-shaped pattern when tested at different distances. The tight chokes stay together for a while and give their pattern a bloom-like appearance after covering some distance. 

A difference of 5-10 yards can spread the pellets on a different pattern. To be sure, it is always wise to test the shotgun accordingly so that there is minimal wounded bird escape. 

5. How To Know That Your Patterning Is Going The Right Way?

The right way of determining whether your patterning is correct is to find out the percentage of pellets that land on the target area of the pattern plate. Take an average of the number of pellets you get in a shell and then find out the average of pellets that land on at least 10 pattern plates. 

Look for the patterns on the plate. If they are not overly dense on a specific area or make a patchy pattern all over, then you are good to go. 

Things To Remember While Go For Pattern Testing

Now that you know how to pattern a shotgun, there are few things that need to be kept in mind before you begin the pattern testing of your gun. These tips will ensure your safety and help you to pattern your shotgun like a pro. 

  • Always remember to wear a shooting glass while patterning. This will save your eyes from any unfortunate injuries.
  • Never use steel shots on a metal pattern plate. This can invite accidents due to possible ricochet or rebounding of the pellets.  
  • Draw a 6-inch circle with a marker on the pattern plate as a target. This may look large from up close but will appear as a tiny dot when you view from a distance of 40 yards. 
  • Never use one pattern sheet for continuous shooting. This will get you nothing but confused while counting the pellet holes. Always replace the sheet with a new one.
  • Find the center of the pattern by judging the densest part of the pattern (the eye). Taking that as the center, draw a 30-inch circle.
  • Pattern testing is not the same as testing of POI (Point of Impact). If you are testing for POI it is better to use a tight choke, while open chokes are better for patterning. The POI will not always hit the Bull’s Eye. If not, determine the difference in elevation (up or downshift) and windage (right or left shift) to find the Point of Impact.
  • If you find your gun’s aim a little off-center, fix it on a gun vise or consult your gunsmith.
  • Always double-check that your gun is unloaded before you take it inside. Thoroughly clean the bore of the shotgun with your preferred solvent and brush to minimize the risk of unfortunate events.
  • The inspection of the health of your gun is of utmost importance. Make sure there is no obstruction or damage and the choke tubes are securely seated.

The Bottom Line

Patterning a gun is not so difficult if you get well-versed with some quick tips. And with this article, we are hoping we helped you with that. You don’t have to be a pro with your gun to have a good game hunt. It only takes a little practice and perfect patterning of your gun to master it all. Few simple techniques can teach you how to pattern a shotgun and you will be ready to bag a good number of turkey or pigeons this season!

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