Patterning a Shotgun for Fun and Profit

Most folks don't bother to pattern their shotguns. The reason for patterning a shotgun is the same reason for targeting a handgun, sighting in a rifle: establishing point of impact and finding the best repeatable performance. The benefits are many: more birds in the sack, elimination of wounding losses, less ammunition used . . . and a lot more to eat. Your dog will think more highly of you and you'll be more satisfied with yourself.



You shoot your shotgun off of a rest at a 40 yard target, sighting “right down the pipe” . . . straight down the rib. Three shots at a 42– 48 inch square piece of paper or poster board using a “full choke” will make it easy to see where your shotgun prints its pattern. Double-barreled shotguns should have barrels regulated within 4 inches of themselves.

Don't let wind blow your mind, for a 10 mph cross-wind blows a 1200 fps pattern of #8 shot 9.1 inches at 40 yards. If you shoot on still to reasonably calm days, shoot directly into or directly with the wind, you'll have more representative results. Number 6 lead (or larger shot) is better for this task.

Many, many shotguns do not shoot to point of aim. Close to half of the shotguns I test do not. This may be corrected by warranty, bending barrels (Tony Knight's favorite method), or eccentric chokes.

For flushing game, I find anything from essentially flat to about 3 inches high at 40 yards as ideal: the “60/40” pattern.


After you have a confirmed shotgun that shoots where pointed, repeat the process off-hand. Results should be similar, otherwise there is a gun fit / stock fit issue.


You'll want about a 99% chance of a 3 pellet critical strike (or better) at the ranges you are shooting. It is the combination of a quality shell and a quality choke that accomplishes this. Once you are satisfied, you have completed this one time process for the intended application. You can count pellets manually, or use the Target Telemetrics system that will quickly give you precise, detailed information: .


A friend related the example of an avid turkey hunter, using a heavy load of #6 shot and a “modified choke,” that bagged his two turkeys every year . . . typically called in to 25 – 30 yards. But, he decided that he wanted a denser pattern from a Turkey Choke. He installed it, and proceeded to miss turkey after turkey. His “patterning method” was shooting at cattails, water, and calling it good.

When his shotgun was finally patterned, the Turkey Choke was doing its job. However, his shotgun shot 14 inches high at 40 yards. With his old, loose pattern-throwing choke, he was bagging turkeys, but only with the lowermost 25 – 35% of his pattern. Buy using a dedicated Turkey Choke, his patterns were tremendously improved, but he was shooting way, way over his birds just like before. Now, though, his pattern diameter was far denser, and naturally, far smaller in concert as well. It pays to pattern shotguns properly, there is no doubt.

A fellow that goes by “GF1” mentions patterning as I have, but as a four-step process, breaking out double-barreled shotguns as a distinct piece #2 :

“As a sporting clays instructor and as a part time manager at a large shotgun shooting center, I am regularly amazed that so few of the folks who come to pattern their shotgun have any idea what they are looking for or why they are doing it. It boils down to four specific reasons:

1) Evaluating if the gun it technically/mechanically shooting where it is aimed (vise pointed), aiming the shotgun at a point on the pattern paper as one would a rifle. If this test fails - the pattern center is significantly different than point of aim - the gun is faulty and needs a fix.

2) Related to 1) above, a double shotgun is aimed as above, each barrel shot several times on the same sheet to evaluate POI/POA differences. Point is to evaluate barrel convergence - that both barrels shoot to the same place, and that should be very close to POA.

3) Patterning for stock fit. Much different than above, as this is shot very quickly, multiple times, without aiming while looking intently at the center of the target. Point of this effort is to adjust/verify fit of stock to ensure the pattern hits where its pointed. I do this at 16 yards, so it's easy to move the pattern center one inch by moving the comb 1/16 inch.

4) Pattern quality evaluation.”


Copyright 2015 by Randy Wakeman. All Rights Reserved.



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