Newfoundland and Labrador Hunter Education Program


Targeting and Patterning With a Shotgun

There are differences in targeting shotguns and rifles. While shotguns are pointed at a target, rifles are aimed. The trigger pull on a shotgun is quick - often described as "slapping" the trigger. It is important to know your dominant eye when using a shotgun, because you will have both eyes open when taking a shot.

Patterning a shotgun is a very important element in finding out how the shot charge is being affected by the load and choke. Shotguns are usually used for moving targets.

To pattern a shotgun, it is best to go to the range with your shotgun, shotgun shells and some pieces of paper at least 40-inches square. When you pattern your shotgun, be sure the ammunition you use is the same size and type of shot you intend to shoot for hunting or for target practice. Using different ammunition will affect the outcome of the pattern. To assist in centering the pattern as much as possible on the paper you may wish to draw a black 2-inch dot in the center of the paper. Place the paper against an appropriate backstop at the maximum distance you expect to take your game; be sure to measure this distance accurately. If your pattern is found to be effective at the max distance, it becomes increasingly more effective the closer to the gun at which you shoot your game.

Step up to the distance line, aim at the black dot and fire. Then walk downrange and draw a 30-inch circle around the densest registration of the pellets on your paper. You can use a 15-inch string tied to a pencil or felt tip pen to make an accurate 30-inch circle. Hold one end of the string against the center of the densest registration or pellet holes and with your other hand swing the pencil or pen in a full circle. If you find your pattern is substantially off the paper due to aim error or flinching, you must reshoot the pattern.

To accurately evaluate your patterns, you must fire multiple patterns using each shot size and choke at distances you would normally plan to shoot at a target or game animal. Never fire more than one shot at each sheet of paper. After firing your patterns mark and count each pellet hole found inside or touching the 30-inch circle you have drawn on each sheet of paper. Shot pattern results that are consistent, uniform and that have a high percentage of pellet holes in the target will perform best in hunting situations or at a trap range. Patterning can also provide clues about your shotguns normal point of impact or how to correctly position your shotgun if the pattern is not in the proper position.


Shotgun Pattern at 10 Yards

Shotgun Pattern at 25 Yards

Shotgun Pattern at 40 Yards