Patterning Your Shotgun the Wakeman Way
Patterning your shotgun is vitally important, just as important as sighting in your rifle. While we all want to hit what we are shooting at, almost no one patterns their shotgun properly. The reason is simple: it is a royal, dreary pain to do it. It is inconvenient, time-consuming, tedious, and can be expensive. Yet, no one can do it for you.
Let's consider what it takes to pattern just one shotshell and one choke combination in just one shotgun properly. You'll need ten clean sheets of paper, ten shells, and you'll need to set up at 40 yards (or the ranges you plan on shooting at) with no wind. It is shoot, replace paper, shoot, replace paper, and continue until you have ten patterns. You circle the 30 inches of the pattern that contains the most pellets, and now you get to start counting all of those pellets until you have totals for each printed pattern. You add them all up, divide by ten, and now you have an average number of pellets per 30 inch circle. You still don't know exactly what your pattern percentage is, for you are likely assuming the number of pellets in each shotshell is exact (it isn't) and the pellet count in each shotshell is what you assume it to be based on the standard pellets per ounce tables (it isn't).
So what? Is what you have an efficient pattern or a poor one? You'll never know unless you repeat the entire procedure with a wide variety of shells and chokes, and even then, you have information for only one shotgun. Worse yet, you may only have half of the information for an O/U or side-by-side, for you have to repeat the procedure for the second barrel as well. It doesn't take very long to realize that this can be an unsavory combination of “how I spend my summer vacation” and “there goes my stimulus check.”
The Wakeman Way
This method of patterning is not as accurate as the industry-standard 10 pattern method. However, it is far quicker, far easier, and far more economical. It is infinitely better than not patterning at all, struggling with meaningless one-shot patterns, engaging in the futility of attempting to read breaks, count cripples, shooting at snow, dirt, water, or cattails . . . all of which tells you nothing.
Sure, a ten-shot group is a better average representation of accuracy with a rifle than a three-shot group, but that hardly means that a three-shot group is not extremely valuable. That's exactly what we are doing here: printing three patterns out of your shotgun at the same target.
Example Number One: the Better Shell
Let's say you have a fixed modified choke or a screw-in choke designated as “Modified.” What is marked on a barrel or on an OEM choke is a designation, not any representative of the actual performance you personally will see with any specific shell. Set up your clean paper at 40 yards, then shoot three times at the target. Now, replace the sheet with fresh paper, and repeat shooting three times with a different brand of shell.
Now, you've learned a lot. You've only got two pattern sheets to tabulate and compare. If there is a significant difference between the two shotshells you've tested, it is easy to discern. You also know if your gun shoots to point of aim, or not.
Example Number Two: the Better Choke
This is the same procedure, printing three shots on the same sheet of paper with “Choke A,” replacing the paper then printing three more shots with the same ammo with “Choke B.” Again, you have readily apparent data that shows you what the actual difference is between a choke marked “IC” and a choke designated as “Light Modified,” “Improved Modified,” or “Light Full.” If changing brands of chokes, you'll quickly know which brand of choke with the same designation throws the most appropriate pattern for you.
Unlike the industry-accepted 10 sheet and 10 pattern method, this way will not ruin your weekend or destroy that stimulus check, but it will help you make an informed decision about the chokes and ammunition you use. Have fun!