How To Pattern A Shotgun (Proper Distance And Technique)

shotgun in man's hands

The first time I patterned my shotgun, I was surprised by how far off the pattern was from what I had seen in the gun shop. Not only was the pattern spread, but it was also elongated.

That is to be expected for a shotgun the same way it is for a rifle or handgun. The distance at which we shoot our shotguns should be between 10 and 15 yards. Anything less than 10 yards will require tighter patterns to compensate for the increased likelihood of a miss due to a closer clay target being harder to see. At greater distances, most of the pattern goes into space rather than on your target.

The thing is, you really can’t see imperfections in your shooting with a single sighting. You have to pattern your shotgun and see where the pellets are actually going. This article will go into depth about how to do that, as well as what you should expect from different distances.

How To Pattern A Shotgun

It’s fairly easy, just follow these steps

  1. Make sure the barrel of the shotgun is completely clean, so no powder or other residue is left inside it.
  2. Fire one round at 40 yards to see where it hits on the target board. Make sure to mark where that shot hit with a sharpie marker. Then fire another round, and mark that shot with a different color sharpie marker if needed, so you know which shots belong to which group of shots.
  3. Now you need to sandbag the shotgun to help make sure it’s not moving at all, while you fire three shots at 40 yards. Mark these with red, yellow and blue sharpie markers, and then repeat that test at 45 yards, 50 yards and 55 yards. Then repeat that at 60 yards, 65 yards and 70-75 yards.
  4. You can also shoot at a target at 10 yards to see how the pattern looks at that close of a range. You can also shoot at targets shorter than 10 yards if you’d like, just use patterning boards to measure and mark where each shot hits.
  5. Now you can take those groups and patterns, and use graphing software to analyze the data. You can graph the vertical spread vs. horizontal spread of your shots as well as the center of impact vs. distance down range.
  6. You can also graph the size of each pattern in inches, and compare how the patterns change when you move further away from your target. Make sure you use a consistent round of ammunition, so the shot size is consistent for each test run.
  7. You can even use mirror sites, but these are usually hard to come by and not allowed in some competitions.
  8. Finally, you can use a laser range finder to see exactly how far your shotgun is shooting at that time before you take your next shot.

You can do all of this with a single shot from one position or a series of shots from multiple positions. Just make sure you fire from the same position every time.

Shotgun Pattern Tips

  1. You should test your shotgun at variable distances, so you don’t have to rely on a “good guess” for a shot distance one day in an important competition.
  2. You can also use this data to compare your performance from one year to the next, if you regularly test your shotgun. You can use this data to compare the spread and patterns of shots at different ranges in order to see what has changed over time, and what has stayed relatively the same.
  3. You can also test new choke patterns that your shotgun has, and see if they help improve the center of impact at different distances.
  4. You can use a layman’s understanding of physics to see how choke patterns and shot placement may affect your shotgun patterns. For instance, you can make an educated guess as to what causes the spread in your pattern, instead of just assuming that it’s because you’re not good enough or because the shot size isn’t big enough with your gun.

Why Do You Pattern A Shotgun?

You should pattern your shotgun to ensure that it’s shooting the distance you think it is. You can also use the data you get from patterning your shotgun to help fine tune your shooting techniques. You can see what choke patterns work best for certain distances, and see how well you’re performing at different ranges when you compare one year to the next.

What Distance Should Be Used To Pattern A Shotgun

To do it properly, you should be at least 40 yards away from your target. You should also use a patterning board instead of using an actual target, in order to get more accurate results.


Hopefully this article has helped show you why you should pattern your shotgun, and how you can go about doing so. It only takes a few minutes to do, and it will likely help you improve your shooting skills as well as your performance in the field.

Written by Fred

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