Shotguns might be one (if not) the most versatile guns out there, people use them for hunting, self-defense, and tactical operations. But one thing is for sure, most people just run and gun when using a shotgun since most people think that you don’t need to fine-tune anything when using a shotgun since it’s not a question of accuracy especially when you’re in close range. But if you’re hunting and especially if you’re using chokes with your shotgun, you need to pattern your gun. Today, let’s discuss everything about how to pattern a shotgun properly, from what you need to look for, what you need, and what distance should you use to pattern your shotgun. Stay tuned!

What is Shotgun Patterning?

No two guns perform the same, this might not be too noticeable in rifles and handguns, but it’s very noticeable in shotguns. Sure, you might think, how can I even know the performance difference between two shotguns when there are literally hundreds of pellets peppering a target every time? Well, the thing is you can’t, at least without patterning. 

Patterning is a procedure to check your shotgun’s spread at a specific distance. As I said no shotguns are the same, even with the same model, same manufacturing date and place, same ammunition, same choke, and even the same shotgun will not perform the same over time, so yes, it’ll all be different. This is why patterning should be done every now and then, especially if you’re a hunter or competitive shooter.

How to pattern a shotgun?

Before proceeding, here’s what you need to pattern your shotgun: 

And now, without further ado let’s get to patterning your shotgun.

The very first thing you need to do is determine what game are you going after. And then, you must decide the distance you’re comfortable shooting a target in an actual hunting or skeet shooting event.

What distance should be used to pattern a shotgun?

This is our main topic for today and it’s one of the most asked questions on forums and articles. We and most people recommend that you pattern your gun at 40 yards if you’re going hunting. It’s a safe distance between your prey, and it’s near enough that most shotguns can deliver a payload that’ll take out your target humanely. If you’re skeet shooting and if you want to determine your shotgun’s POI (Point of Impact) and POA (Point of Aim) you’d have to pattern your gun at 20 yards but more to that later. 

Going back, once you decided your patterning distance, let’s now prepare your setup: Put up a stand for you to put your butcher’s paper into. Once you put it up, take your marker and write on a corner you like: the barrel you’re testing (if you have a multi-barreled shotgun), the distance you’re firing at, the choke you’re using, and finally what load you’re using. Once you’ve done that, draw a circle in the middle just as a reference for you to aim at. If you want to, you can even draw a turkey head on there, just trace your arm up there and make sure that the circle you drew falls on the turkey’s neck.

Once everything’s ready, head down at the distance you’ve chosen. Before shooting, I recommend that you put your shotgun in a vise so you’ll get consistent results, or at least use a table. After that, fire at your target, and make sure to unload your gun before going back to analyze your pattern. 

Pattern Analysis

There is quite a bit to look at the pattern you’ve made. But before that, you need to approximate where’s the center of your pattern first. To do this, observe your pattern from a distance to see the pattern made by the pellets and mark a hole nearest to your guessed center. This center point will become your point of impact. If it’s not perfectly centered on the target you made and it’s off by several inches, then you should be perfectly fine. 

If you want a more detailed analysis of your POI and POA (which is a bit similar to sighting) you should pattern at 20 yards.

After all that take a 15-inch string and attach it to a pen and thumbtack on the other end. Stick your thumbtack into the center hole you marked and draw a 30-inch diameter circle, and this will be considered as your kill zone. From there here are the things you can analyze:

Pellet Count – Count every pellet that fell inside your kill zone. And you can either write that directly on your data corner. Or if you’re testing several loads to see which are more effective, you can follow this formula: ( ). You can find the info about the total pellet on the load you’re using on the manufacturer’s website or on a forum. If it’s not there, you can just open up an unfired load and count the total pellets. But going back, the formula I gave is a percentage formula, and you can use that to have more statistically correct data to put on your data corner.

Pellet Density – You don’t need equations to compute this one, but the pellet count should give you a clue, but still it comes down to your judgement if the pattern you made is too scattered or too compact. Remember that a pattern too scattered might not kill your target humanely. And a pattern too compact might just make your target into ground meat. 


And that’s basically it, if you’re not satisfied with your Pellet count or density, you can and should experiment with other combinations of load, choke, and distance to find that sweet spot you’re looking for. And if you tested your POI and POA, make sure to adjust your sights, that is of course if your shotguns have adjustable sights at all. Oh, and always remember to pattern all your barrels if you have a multiple-barreled shotgun.

Patterning a shotgun helps you become more accurate, but remember, our goal with patterning a shotgun is to make sure our gun can deliver a swift and humane death to your targets. We can hunt and kill some animals but we shouldn’t let them suffer, we’re not savages! And that’s all, make sure to check our other articles, and keep safe!

🤔 What is Shotgun Patterning?

Patterning is a procedure to check your shotgun’s spread at a specific distance. As I said no shotguns ...

🔍 What distance should be used to pattern a shotgun?

Going back, once you decided your patterning distance, let’s now prepare your setup: Put up a stand for you to put your butcher’s paper into...