Why do hunters pattern their shotguns? It’s simple. Hunters pattern their shotguns to determine the range and spread of a specific gun with a particular choke and particular shells.
Why do they need to know this information?
It is straightforward; knowledge of how far pellets will travel and how they will spread after being fired allows the hunter to be even more accurate and make sure their shotgun is working correctly.
“Patterning” or “testing a shotgun’s pattern” also prevents hunters from only injuring an animal that may get away initially but suffers and dies later on. As a hunter, you are responsible for always making the most effort to have a clean kill.
In other words, the real question should not be why do hunters pattern their shotguns, but how do hunters pattern their shotguns?
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How to Pattern a Shotgun
Below are the basic steps on how to pattern a shotgun. Check out the NRA’s article on patterning a shotgun for more detailed steps.
- Check that shotgun is safe and unloaded, then check that the barrel’s bore (s) is clear.
- If the choke is inserted, check that the choke is securely seated.
- Ensure you are using the appropriate shells to pattern test your shotgun. These are the shells you will be using after the trial for your intended purpose (i.e., clays, ducking hunting). This includes using the same shell from the same manufacturer.
- Setup 4 pieces of white paper that are 4 feet in width. Mark the center of each piece of paper and create a 4.6-inch circle around each mark. Number each sheet, and assign a number to each barrel of your shotgun if you are using an over-under or side by side
- Measure for 40 yards away from the target. Note if you are using your shotgun for skeet or a .410 measure out to 25 yards.
- Shot at each target once
- For each barrel, do this between 5 to 10 times.
- Write down the number of pellets in each shell based on the manufacturer’s specs.
- Make a 30-inch circle where most of the pellet holes are on each sheet. Mark, the center of the ring.
- For the average number of pellets in your 30-inch circle, use the following. The number of pellets in the 30-inch circle for sheet 1+sheet 2+sheet 3+etc…./divided by the number of targets used.
Details of the Patterning Process
- The overall percentage of pellets in the 30-inch circle is calculated by taking the number from step 10 and dividing it by the number from step 8
- Visually check the evenness of the pattern distribution of the pellets in the 30-inch circle.
- Visually check the pattern’s center of impact in relation to the point of aim. You can do this by aiming at the center that you marked in step 4.
That is all fun and games, but what do chokes have to do with patterning?
What is a Choke?
Don’t get choked up on this next section..(get it?!)
A shotgun choke is a small constriction (we are talking tenths of an inch here) in the barrel at the firearm’s muzzle. Its function is to control the spread of the pellets (or shot) coming out of the shotgun.
Older shotguns tend to have fixed chokes, whereas newer shotguns tend to have chokes that can be removed and replaced with a different choke.
Shotgun Shells and Pellet Performance
We are not choking around anymore…okay, we will stop, promise.
To pattern your shotgun, you need to decide what shotgun shell you will use. To determine the shotgun shell, use the following three basic following questions.
- What is the gauge of your shotgun?
- What is the length your shotgun can handle? You can generally find this on the barrel, or a quick internet search with the make and model of your shotgun will tell you.
- What shot size do you need? The smaller the number, the larger the pellet. Or if letters are used, the more letters used, the larger the pellets. For clays, you are looking for a range between #7-#10. With requirements for hunting, the smaller the game, typically the more significant the shot size you will use. Just remember to check the regulations for the area you will be hunting in before deciding.
Which Eye Should You Use?
You know which is your dominant hand, but do you know your dominant eye?
To find out:
- Look at an object a ways off bring your hands together to make a triangle.
- Place the object in the middle of the triangle with both eyes open.
- Close one eye at a time.
The eye that stays open with the thing not moving out of the triangle is your dominant eye.
If you are cross dominant, for example, right-handed but left eye dominant, there are methods to handle this.
So Why Do hunters Pattern Their Shotguns?
The simple answer is to better understand the dynamics of their shot. This leads to better accuracy and better hunting. The more complex question is how do you pattern a shotgun, but with the information, you will be able to pattern your shotgun to hunt in no time!
So what do you think? Do you use a different method to pattern your shotgun? Let us know below!