Why Do Hunters Pattern Their Shotguns?

Why Do Hunters Pattern Their Shotguns

Every day, there are more and more people who claim that hunting isn’t anything more than just shooting at animals. Well, we beg to differ because we know that there’s so much more to hunting than pointing your gun and pulling the trigger.

Each gun that we purchase carries a set of rules with it, meaning that we can’t use it blindly. We have to understand how it works and learn its functions.

That is especially true for shotguns since their pellets spread out once fired. Therefore, their firing pattern is entirely random, and one pellet will never end up in the same spot twice.

Not only do shotguns challenge the hunters but they also force them to familiarize themselves with the way they work.

This is why hunters pattern their shotguns. In other words, they repeatedly shoot a target using different shells to learn the firing patterns.

Patterning a Shotgun — What Does It Mean?

The term ‘patterning a shotgun’ might be somewhat confusing, but the activity itself isn’t. Patterning a shotgun is essentially a way to determine how exactly the shotgun works.

This is a regular procedure even for those people who own multiple shotguns and plan to get more. The reason behind this is that every manufacturer creates their models differently.

Therefore, patterning for one shotgun model doesn’t necessarily have to be the same as for the other models.

Patterning allows us to determine the firing range and the spread of the shotgun, which is why it’s such a crucial procedure.

Why Do People Pattern Their Shotguns?

In hunting, being accurate and patient is the key to every successful shot. If you can’t shoot the target, then what’s the use of hunting and having a decent gun?

The main reason why skilled hunters pattern their shotguns is that it helps them coordinate their hunting skills with the gun itself. If we don’t know how our gun works, we can’t use everything that we know to its full potential. Therefore, we won’t be able to make clean kills and hit the desired targets. Also, it may hinder the entire hunting process, and someone might even get hurt.

How Hunters Pattern Their Shotgun

There are so many different factors and approaches to patterning one’s gun that we don’t even know where to begin. However, we’ve gathered various feedback from experienced professional hunters.

That information, as well as their advice, helped us compile this short list of important patterning tips. For the sake of keeping everything fairly readable, we selected the three most important things to consider when it comes to patterning.

let’s take a look.


Cartridge and Choke Performance

At first glance, patterning the shotgun might be quite similar to zeroing a rifle, and it is in some cases. However, there are several slight differences between a shotgun and an ordinary rifle. For example, we’ve mentioned that shotguns tend to have unique spraying patterns when we fire them. On the other hand, rifles can focus their firepower into a single dot (firing a single bullet). If we use rifles, we can hit and kill the target in the most humane way possible, by hitting the vital organs.

While that might not be true for shotguns, it would be an understatement to say that they can’t have the same effect. If there’s one part of the shotgun that is so easily overlooked it has to be the choke. But, what exactly is a choke?

What Is a Choke?

Basically, a choke is a tapered constriction of the shotgun’s barrel which is located at the end of the muzzle. The main purpose of the choke is to shape up the spreading pellets and concentrate them into a single area. That way, we get the ability to increase the range and accuracy of the shotgun and make it more efficient.

Shotguns can either have a fixed choke or an adjustable one. It’s worth mentioning that many professional hunters opt for models that have an adjustable choke. That way, they have greater control over the firing performance of their gun.

Cartridge Performance and Pellet Flight

Now that we know what choke does and what it actually is, we can talk about the flight of the pellets.

First of all, the flight of the pellets during firing strongly depends on the shotgun model. Different models have different spraying patterns such as oval and round. Some patterns allow the bullets to stick closer to the center of the aim while others disperse randomly.

Second of all, the direction of these pellets corresponds to how well the shotgun is stocked. For example, short stocked shotguns usually shoot pellets high, while long ones shoot it down.

Third of all, high comb and low comb variations of the gun can force the direction of the pellets either left or right.

These are all the things that hunters utilize to help themselves pattern the shotgun as best as possible.

The Dominant Eye

Determining which one is the dominant eye relies on one rather simple rule. We need to consider the fact that most shotguns don’t come with sights. That’s the sole reason why hunters resort to patterning. Otherwise, the whole procedure would be pointless, wouldn’t it?

The one and only rule to follow here is the ‘finger rule’. We can use one finger of the right hand to point at the desired object. We need to make sure that both our eyes are open while we’re pointing at the object. If we, let’s say, decide to close the left eye, the object’s position will deviate slightly. That same rule applies to shotguns, and many hunters utilize it.

The Particulars of the Patterning Process

Having mentioned the most important things, we can safely talk about the particulars of the entire patterning process. There are still some worthy points and tips to mention, so read carefully.

The Point of Impact

One such point is POI (the point of impact), and it’s almost an imperative to understand it in its entirety. The point of impact basically refers to the shotgun’s tendency to divert the pellets from point A to point B. In other words, our shot might end up somewhere where we didn’t want it to end up. Patterning the shotgun fixes that as well and it’s another reason why so many hunters emphasize its importance.

The Gun’s Resting Spot

Once we understand how POI works, we might want to find a well-supported resting spot for our gun. We can either opt for a pre-made gun rest or a DIY one.

In our opinion, there’s no need to buy a brand new rest if we only need it for patterning. Therefore, we can make one by using sandbags and laying them on top of each other. Alternatively, we can place a table or a bench that’s stable enough; it’s what hunters always do.

The Area of the Target

Now comes the fun part. Since we have a gun and a resting spot for it, we’ll need something to shoot at, won’t we?

We’ve seen that many hunters use a large sheet of white paper (or a piece of white cloth) and stretch it out. Afterward, they measure about 40 inches on each side and connect those points by drawing a circle. Once they’ve drawn a circle they put a dot in the middle, and voilà! — they have themselves a target.

The target will display the exact pattern of the shotgun once it has been fired at. That way, we can easily see what needs to be adjusted and how. It takes up to 12 shots to reach the most optimal settings and successfully pattern a gun. Experienced hunters can probably do it in about 6 shots, but it takes time to reach that level.

Other Useful Patterning Tips

Before we start shooting at the target, it’s always a good idea to count the exact number of pellets by looking into the shell. People often forget to refill the shell, and that results in a deformed spraying pattern. We should always avoid that. Otherwise, we’ll won’t get the desired results.

Shotgun Target Shooting

We think that the most optimal shooting range should be around 40 yards away from the target. We’ve seen that some people practice with higher and lower, but it’s completely unnecessary. However, this range only applies to shotguns. Other rifles are far more capable and accurate than that so they can be used with higher ranges.

Practice Makes Perfect

If there’s one advice that professional hunters can give us, it’s that we should always be persistent. We couldn’t agree more. Just because we don’t see the results immediately doesn’t mean that we won’t be proficient at it later on.

Final Words

Anyway, we’d like to conclude our ramble by saying that patterning is a subjective thing. Some people might find it easier while others may claim how it’s the hardest process ever. Whichever of the two you might be, we hope that this article was helpful to you. Thank you for reading.


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