why do hunters pattern their shotguns

Why Do Hunters Pattern Their Shotguns?

What is patterning, and why do hunters pattern their shotguns?

More and more firearms are becoming more refined as technology advances, and the same is true for modern hunting firearms. Shotguns are the most common hunting firearms. When we think about shotguns, we see a rifle that fires pellets. No longer required today are spray-and-pray shotgun rounds. With the use of slug rounds, it is now easier to hit long-distance targets.

Slug rounds are not the same as pellet rounds. Instead of the usual pellet distribution, there is now a single entire bullet. Slug shots can now readily hit a stationary target from more than 100 yards away.

On the other hand, slug bullets are difficult to handle, especially when attempting to hit moving objects. So, even today, we have pellet rounds for a better spread of bullets, which means more opportunities to kill.

However, as I previously stated, pellet rounds are extremely inaccurate. To address this issue, hunters have devised a technique known as patterning their shotguns.

An Overview of Shotgun Applications

A shotgun is a long gun with a barrel designed to fire a shotshell, which fires a number of small spherical projectiles known as shot, or occasionally a single solid projectile known as a slug.

Shotguns typically have smoothbore barrels with no rifling inside, but rifled barrels are also available. Most breech-loading rifles can be single-barreled, double-barrelled, or both. During World War I, American forces used pump-action Winchester Model 1897 shotguns in trench fighting.

When a non-gun owner sees a shotgun, they may mistake it for a rifle.

However, a shotgun is essentially different from a rifle. Most rifles employ either a bolt-action or a gas-action system, whilst shotguns use a pump-action system. Every time you load a shotgun shell, you must “pump” a bullet into the barrel. Even in terms of design and size, rifles and shotguns are vastly different.

The military, police, and hunters use shotguns. Likewise, both the military and the police use them in close-quarters warfare. In proximity, the impact of the pellets is enough to kill someone rapidly. There is no need for anything precise.

Shots will have a higher likelihood of striking the target because of the pellet spread. Hunters, on the other hand, use shotguns to shoot birds or any animal that moves quickly.

Look at security personnel guarding banks if you want to see some firearms up close. They typically carry 12 gauge shotguns in their hands.

What is Patterning?

Painting decoys, training dogs, and getting in shape are all important pre-season tasks, but patterning your shotgun may be the most time-consuming.

Patterning your gun teaches you your maximum range and discovers choke-load combinations that make hitting birds and killing them cleanly easier. Patterns include quirks, anomalies, and riddles all their own. Understanding these will aid you in navigating a useful patterning session:

Patterning the shotgun is one method for increasing your chances of striking a target. Essentially, it is studying your shotgun hit patterns. Hunters select a firing range, discharge the shotgun frequently, and examine the hit patterns. The more they observe it, the better they will understand how their guns work. They can now shoot more accurately after they get the hang of it.

How Hunters Should Pattern Their Shotguns

According to the NRA Family website, whether you’re using your shotgun for clay shooting, hunting, or even home defense, it’s critical to ensure that the choke and shells you’ve chosen are working properly.

Here is what the website recommends on how hunters should pattern their shotguns:

What you should prepare:

  • your shotgun
  • ammunition
  • a few sheets of paper at least 4 feet wide
  • and a sturdy frame big enough to hold them all.

Steps to follow:

1. Check and double-check that your shotgun is unloaded before cleaning the bore thoroughly with a suitable solvent and brush.

2. Inspect the barrel of your shotgun carefully to ensure that there are no obstructions or damage and that any choke tubes you are using are correctly seated.

3. Choose a factory-loaded shotshell that is appropriate for the task at hand.

4. Mount a 4-foot-wide sheet of pattern paper upright on a solid wooden frame. Create an aiming point in the center of the page (a 4-6-inch diameter solid black circle works well).

5. Measure back 25 yards from your target with a skeet gun or.410-bore. And then, measure back 40 yards for all other guns. Put a ground marker there as a reference, so you can fire from the same spot every time.

Test firing, counting and evaluating:

1. Fire one shot through each sheet of pattern paper, then remove it and replace it with a new sheet. We recommend numbering each sheet and noting the barrel (if using an over/under or side-by-side) as well as the load.

2. Using the following criteria, calculate the number of shots required for each barrel/choke/load combination:

  • Fire and evaluate five shells to determine choke pattern performance with 95 percent statistical certainty. This is appropriate for hunting and casual target shooting.
  • Fire and evaluate 10 shells to determine choke pattern performance with a statistically more rigorous 98-percent certainty. 20 for engineering and research work

3. Place each perforated pattern sheet on a white or clear flat surface in turn, then scribe a 30-inch-diameter circle in the location with the most holes left by your pellets on each page. Make a mark in the center of the circle. Draw a 20-inch-diameter concentric circle within your 30-inch circle, then a vertical line and a horizontal line through the center of the two circles. You’ve now divided the pattern into eight parts.

4. Count the number of pellets that have been hit in each segment. Total the number of hits in the 20-inch and 30-inch circles. Repetition is required for each pattern sheet.

5. Divide the total number of hits within the 30-inch circles by the number of pattern sheets. This will provide you with the average number of pellet hits within the circle.

6. Check the manufacturer’s specifications for that specific ammo to get the pellet count for each round.

7. You can now evaluate the choke performance of your shotgun. Most shooters are only interested in three aspects of choke performance.

  • The percentage of pellet impacts in the 30-inch circle as a whole. This is calculated by dividing the average number of pellet impacts in the 30-inch circle (step 10) by the number of pellets that should be in each round.
  • The uniformity of pellet distribution in a 30-inch circle. The majority of shooters assess this by visually evaluating hit distribution on pattern sheets.
  • The pattern’s impact point in relation to the point of aim. In other words, does your gun have a dead-on, high, low, left, or right pattern? Most shooters figure this out by noting the location of the center of the circles in relation to the aim point they drew.2.


You are now ready to assess the results you obtained. Your pellet hit percentage (from 12a above), i.e. expected to choke performance in a 30-inch circle at 40 yards, is as follows:

  • 40% of the cylinder
  • Cylinder Improvement: 50%
  • 60 percent modified
  • Modified: 65 percent improved
  • 70 % complete
  • 80 percent of the way full
  • The pattern’s hit distribution (as seen in 12b above):
  • Central thickening: Compare total hits in a 20-inch circle to total hits in a 30-inch circle.
  • Hits in quadrants: Compare the total number of hits in each quadrant.
  • Hits in segments: Examine hits in 1/8 segments.
  • Point of impact for the pattern:
  • Most field weapons are loaded and sighted to place the pattern center somewhat high at 40 yards.
  • At 40 yards, an upland bird is 2-4 inches tall.
  • Migrating birds, such as ducks, are 4-6 inches tall at 40 yards.
  • At 25 yards, tiny game: dead-on to 2 inches high.
  • Guns for target practice:
  • At 25 yards, skeet: dead-on to 2 inches high.
  • 40 yards, the trap is 6-8 inches high.
  • At 40 yards, sports clay are 2-4 inches tall.

Why Do Hunters Pattern Their Shotguns?

You can easily hit targets with pellet bullets, right? Actually, hitting targets remains a challenging task. This is where shotgun patterning comes in.

When someone first purchases a shotgun, they must first learn how to operate it. Aiming, loading a cartridge, regulating recoil, and appropriate trigger discipline are all essentials before embarking on any hunt, and these are just the beginning.

Being knowledgeable about how you should handle your shotgun and care for it will allow you to avoid the possibility of poor performance and any issues with striking the target. This is why hunters should learn how to pattern their shotguns.

Buying new guns might excite any hunter, but learning and studying them on a regular basis can be tedious. Furthermore, many people do not want to waste their ammunition in practice. Instead, many people go on a hunting trip with their new rifles. As a result, many people miss their target because they are unfamiliar with the pistol they are using.

No matter how skilled a hunter someone is, failing to master a freshly acquired gun will force them to miss their target. So, before going on a hunt, hunters analyze the shotgun patterns.

If you recently purchased a shotgun, you should research its hit patterns as well. However, before we begin patterning your shotguns, we must first learn the fundamentals! We must first learn how to shoulder a shotgun correctly as a beginner.

Hunters pattern their shotguns, and then do more practice.

Carrying the Shotgun

When bringing the shotgun to your shoulder, put the stock on your cheek first, then back to your shoulder.
A common mistake is to lower the head and cheek to the stock rather than bring the stock all the way up to the cheek. When done correctly, with your head naturally erect, the pistol butt should always land in the same position on your shoulder.

Using a Shotgun

There is no time to “aim” a shotgun because targets usually emerge abruptly and move swiftly. It is pointed, with the eyesight along the top of the barrel or rib.

Typically, the sight is a bead on the front of the rifle. Because your eye must be in line with the barrel, it is critical that you position your head properly on the stock.
When you bring the pistol to your face, the stock should fit snugly on your cheek, with your eye on the side of the gun above the centerline. If you can’t comfortably take that position, you may need to alter the “gun fit.”

Activating the Trigger

When hunting with a shotgun, the fast trigger action is more vital than rifle fire. To fire, quickly slap the trigger with a strong action while maintaining a tight grasp on the shotgun and drawing the stock back.
Breath control is not required because the trigger is pulled swiftly and the body and gun are usually in motion.
Continue to swing the shotgun while you pull the trigger. If you stop swinging as you shoot, you will hit behind a moving target.

Swing-Through Method of Leading the Target

The two most common methods of leading targets over long distances are swing-through and sustained lead. Swing-through is the ideal method for a beginner.

Take a swing with your shotgun at a moving target. Increase the gun’s speed until the muzzle passes the target, then fire. In other words, “swing through” the target and fire at a blank space in front of it.

Sustained Lead in the Target

Swing-through and sustained lead are the two most common methods of leading targets over long distances. The continuous lead method is a little more difficult because it takes more skill. You estimate the length of the lead required to strike the target and keep that lead while you swing with the target, fire, and continue swinging.


If you need to make a quick shot and the target is straight ahead at close range, try snap-shooting. Simply elevate the shotgun and point to where you believe the target will be when the shot is fired

Gun Security: Another important thing hunters should have known aside from the pattern shotguns.

You should never, ever play with a gun, whether you’re a beginner or an expert. If you are careless, you may inadvertently injure or even kill someone. Even if you don’t intend to buy a gun, I recommend that you learn about gun safety first.

  1. The first and most basic guideline is to point the gun in a safe direction.
  2. Never point a gun at something you do not plan to shoot. Even if you lower the pistol, be careful not to lower it too far! Otherwise, you’d be aiming at your foot. We could have saved a lot of lives and accidents if everyone only followed the first golden rule.
  3. Treat the pistol as though it is always loaded. It makes no difference if the gun’s safety mode is turned on. And, if you don’t intend to shoot, never put your fingers on the trigger. There have been countless incidents where a gun accidentally discharges while being in the safety mode.
  4. Know where everyone is when hunting. When going on a hunt with a group, always know where everyone is at the same time. Keep in mind what you’re shooting as well as what’s beyond it. If you ignore these, you may unintentionally start a fire! When hunting, it is ideal to be in a horizontal line position. That way, you won’t get caught in the crossfire.
  5. Handle with caution if the gun fails! If a bullet fails to fire, keep the gun pointed away from anyone and carefully remove the round from the barrel. Once that is completed, it is safe to dispose of the bullet.

There are more safety guidelines for handling a pistol correctly, but these are the golden rules you must always observe.


A shotgun is essentially different from a rifle in terms of design and size. Most rifles employ either a bolt-action or a gas-action system, whilst shotguns use a pump-action system. Shots will have a higher likelihood of striking the target because of the pellet spread. Security personnel guarding banks typically carry 12 gauge shotguns in their hands.

Shooting a shotgun is one of the most important pre-season tasks, but patterning your gun may be the most time-consuming. Patterning the shotgun is studying your shotgun hit patterns and discovering choke-load combinations that make hitting birds and killing them cleanly easier. The more you learn, the better you will be able to shoot at your target.

Don’t point a gun at something you do not intend to shoot. If you lower the pistol too far, you’d be aiming at your foot. When hunting, it is ideal to be in a horizontal line position, so you won’t get caught in the crossfire. Always know where everyone is when going on a hunt and keep in mind what you’re shooting as well as what’s beyond it.

We hope this article helps hunters understand that it is important that they pattern their shotguns for maximum efficiency and safety.

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