The Reason Why Shotgun Patterning is Important

A common question that hunting enthusiast love getting an answer to is: why do hunters pattern their shotguns? There are many reasons why they do this. For you to understand the answer, it is important to understand some key aspects of using a shotgun.

Why do hunters pattern their shotguns?

1. Understanding Choke and Cartridge Performance is Important

Patterning a shotgun is similar to zeroing a rifle. It is an easy and boring process but one, which is quite fruitful. The first reason you should pattern your shotgun is that it is a humane thing to do. If a shotgun is off the mark, it could do a lot of damage to a creature. As a result, the creature, such as a turkey will die a slow and painful death.

One thing you need to understand about shotguns is that they are not all the same. Each shotgun produces a unique pattern. Thus, you should pattern the shotgun that you will use during your hunt. Some shotguns produce oval patterns while others produce a perfect round pattern.

why do hunters pattern their shotguns
A common misconception is that when you fire a shotgun, most of the pellets end up at the center of where you aim. That is not true. For one, short stocked shotguns cause you to shoot high and vice versa. High comb shotguns move most of the pellets to the left and high while low combs move them to the right and low. All these are important aspects to consider when patterning.

When preparing to pattern, you need to keep in mind that it does not have a rear sight. It is thus important to understand things like the position of the face on the comb of the stock. Additionally, you will have to educate yourself on important aspects such as the dominant eye. Another important aspect to remember is rifling. It is when you shift the focus to the gun barrel. It usually causes the shot to be off target, which has dire consequences for the creature being hunted.

2. More about the Dominant Eye

Since the shotgun does not have a rear sight, understanding this aspect of patterning is crucial. If you use the left hand, your right eye is dominant and vice versa. To understand this aspect, point a finger of your right hand at an object while both eyes are open. When you close you left eye, you should see a deviation from the original point. The same applies when you use a shotgun.

Another advantage of patterning is that it allows you to understand the best choke suited to your gun. A choke is designed to reduce how far apart the shot spreads. However, a choke does not affect the power of the shot. It acts much like the nozzle used in a garden horse. Older models came with fixed chokes. However, newer models come with an adjustable choke. It allows you to use different cartridges that have different characteristics.

3. Tips When Patterning

The most important point when patterning is to understand the shotgun’s POI (Point of Impact). A shotgun will rarely shot where it is pointed. Most shotguns shoot at about 5” to 9” from where they are aimed. If the shot moves in any direction, you can readjust that with ease. Even models from the same factory could vary. Thus, only pattern the gun you will use during a hunt.

The first step to accurate patterning is to have a good rest for the gun. It eliminates the effects that flinching has on aim. You can use a shooting rest or sand bags for an accurate shot. The target area to be shot at should be quite large. Ideally, it should be a black paper of about forty inches length on all sides. It allows you to see where the mass of the pellets goes.

When patterning, use a similar choke and load to what you will use on your hunt. These two aspects also affect the shotgun’s POI. However, ensure that you understand the relationship of the choke you use to the load. Some loads such as steel shots have a choke limit.

Another important aspect to remember is the number of pellets in each shot. Physically count them by opening a shell. You can also check online from the manufacturer. Additionally, stand at an appropriate distance. The ideal distance is about 40 yards for most shotguns.

You should fire at least ten shorts for an accurate patterning. Keep records of where most of the shots land on the paper. If most of the pellets land 5” below the center, you should move the shotgun 5” up. Practice often until you can get most of the pellets where you want them to be.

4. Check Pattern Quality

While you want the pellets to spread out, at times they may spread too unevenly. Check the target area and see if there are too many gaps in between the pellets. If it is the case, try with different types of shells. If the problem persists, test with another shotgun. Defects from the manufacturer have been to affect pellet distribution. You can also try adjusting the choke and see if that helps with the issue.

5. The Target Should Determine You Choke


If you are hunting big birds like turkeys, a tight choke is allowed. However, when hunting smaller targets like ducks, you need a wider distribution. The size of the target is crucial to setting the choke. Additionally, it also determines the distance from the target that you want. A tight choke when hunting ducks will mean that you will miss most of the time.

6. Pattern Your Shotgun before Each Hunt

It is of particular importance to pattern a shotgun if you have not been hunting for a while. For one, the manufacturers could have introduced new types of shells with different properties. Thus, you want to be sure that when you go hunting, you aim better. Additionally, the gun itself may have changed a bit due to the storage conditions. Besides that, remember to check which choke is appropriate for each type of bird or any target you are hunting.

Jim Johnson

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