What Distance Should Be Used to Pattern a Shotgun?

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Did you know that if you pattern your shotgun, it could boost your shooting performance? So what distance should be used to pattern a shotgun? The most ideal patterning distances range from 20yards to somewhere around 40 yards.

What Does Patterning a Shotgun Mean?

It entails determining the distance in which your shotgun will throughout shoot reliably and consistently to be successful in your hunting escapade, there are various things that, as a gun holder, you are supposed to know about your firearm. First is the optimal distance that you should use to pattern your shotgun. Understanding your work tool will make the sporting fun and improve your hunting skills and the performance of your shotgun.

Patterning a shotgun is not a question of whether you are new or a seasoned gun holder, failure to pattern your shotgun in the right way will render you unsuccessful in your activities, and the game session may go to waste. Gaming enthusiasts should know that no range has been set as the rule of the thumb. A number of factors make hunters say that their shotguns perform differently in the same range. 

What to Consider When Patterning a Shotgun?

Before you start the process of patterning your shotgun, ask yourself what you want to achieve? If you’re going to pattern your shotgun for hunting, the ideal distance is a 40yards distance. The advantage of this distance is that it is safe, and if you cannot capitalize on it, you can move closer without the prey getting disturbed.

Secondly, if you want to pattern your shotgun to determine POI or POA, the 20 yards would be the best fit distance for you.

For skeet shooting, the maximum allowed distance is the 20yards. From this distance, you can gauge the effective diameter, and you can see the distribution and density of a shot. 

How Do I Check for POI or POA?

To check the POI, you compare the center of the targets with the actual center of the pattern you have made: the difference in elevation and windage. The pattern will usually be a bit higher than that of the center of the target.  To get a more precise POI position, average the first and the second target.

What is a Good Shotgun Pattern?

The chances of having a good shotgun pattern may be 50/50. That is one half of your pattern will be above the target dot and the other half would be below the dot.  Even better is when 60% the number of shotguns shoots of the patterns is above the target and 40% is below.

When patterning a shotgun what is a significant percentage of pellets within a 30 inch circle?

To get the percentage of pellets within a 30-inch circle, count the number of shot shell holes in the 30-inch circle you have drawn around the pattern’s densest part. To calculate the pattern percentage, you should know how many pellets your shotgun had. Then divide the number of shots that hit the 30inch circle by the total number of bullets that your shotgun had.

What to Use For Patterning Your Gun

There are two major items required for these process;

  • White boards
  • Blank pieces of paper

You may need a tape measure, a marker pen and a couple of rounds.

Steps in Patterning Your Shotgun

Set a Target

The first thing is to set a target in an area that is free from animals and human activities.

To set the target, you can use a white board or a blank piece of paper. The target can be a drawn circle on a piece of paper mounted on a board.  Both the patterning board and the paper should measure 4 ×4 inches. 

Positioning the 40 Yards

Use a string or a tape mark the 40 yards mark, and try to shoot from this mark. Every time you shoot, the paper calculates the percentage of loads that hit the target before replacing it.  Replace the paper at most 5 times.

Shoots from 30 Yards Mark

Put a mark at 30 yards, and try to shoot from this distance. Remember to replace the paper every time you shoot. Then calculate the percentage of shots that hit the target.

You can repeat the marking and shooting process at 25yards and 20 yards mark.

Analyze Performance

Once you are done with the shooting, compare the percentage of shots that hit the bull’s eye. The highest percentage determines the shotgun distance.

Why the Difference?

There is no single factor that we will say is responsible for producing the variances in a shotgun pattern. 

Different shotguns will give different spraying patterns when fired.  Depending on the model, some will do best at 20yards, 25, 30, etc.  Below are some of the factors that have been found to have an impact on the pattern results.

How Cartilage Performs After Firing

When a shotgun is fired, it may form an oval or round pattern depending on its model.  The shape will concentrate on the pattern board for the round pattern while the oval-shaped patterns will be spread.

Stocking of the Shotgun

Stocking is also known as buttstock, or simply shoulder stock. It provides support to the barrel, and firing mechanisms are attached to it.  The stocking also provides a means for the hunter to firmly brace the gun and aim with stability. 

Depending on how your shotgun has been stocked, it will give varying patterns.  The long stocked shotguns shoot the pellets  downwards while the short stocked ones shoot the pellets up. 

But before you decide to stock your shotgun, you should check on the legality of the act. In many jurisdictions, the nature of the stock may change the status of your shotgun.  When you add a shoulder stock to a firearm with a barrel size of 16 inches, the National Firearm Act will classify the gun as a short-barrel rifle (SBR). 

Another type of stock is the folding stocks. In the United States, folding stock with separate features is banned. On the same note, fitting a bump stock causes the firearm to be classified as a machine gun. This is prohibited by many countries like Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States. 

Choke Adjustment

At the muzzle end of shotguns, they have a tapered constriction of a gun barrel that is known as the choke. They are common in shotguns, but also they are used in other guns.  In hunting, chokes are used to improve the performance of a firearm. Chokes shape the spread of the shot by tightening the patterns of pellets. So, how wide the pattern is, is a matter of the restrictions, which work to improve the accuracy of your shot. 

It is also worth noting that chokes are used for a particular application, and to some firearms, they can be adjusted, but in some cases, they are permanent.   Shotguns with adjustable chokes yield different results.  For example, if you need to produce a concentrated shot, you need to use a full choke, and the vice versa is true. 

Type of Pellets You Are Using

Different loads do produce different patterns. Typically, when you use the large loads, the patterns’ spreading will be lesser, and the smaller the load, the more the patterns will be spread. 

Is Patterning Your Gun Worth it?

Advantages of Patterning a Shotgun 

Determine Type of Ammo

Since different pellets will yield different results at different distances, patterning your shotgun will make it easy for you to determine the shots that should be used with your shotgun.

Best Distance for Ultimate Performance

If you are using your shotgun without patterning, you may not have an idea of the best distance to shoot your target and kill it.  When you fail to pattern your shotgun, you may end up using more pellets thus wounding or scattering the animal’s flesh.

Hunting becomes fun when you can shoot, and you can get the desired results with ease.  You get to know which pellets to shoot using a particular shotgun, and this greatly enhances your performance.  It becomes demoralizing and heartbreaking when a hunter spends the whole day out in the field and comes home with nothing to show for it and wasted pellets. 

Understand the Point of Impact

Patterning your shotgun will also enhance your understanding of the shotgun. You will know the gun’s point of impact, help you choose your shells, the grade A choke, and the actual distance to use.


Patterning shotgun using a blank paper doesn’t show the perspective of the length of the shot string. Neither does it show the time taken to get to the paper. 


For long-range shooting, I wouldn’t even shoot without using a shotgun with a modified choke.  This is way better because tightening the choke tightens the patterns thus bringing into being a dense pattern. For the same purpose, if your gun has a full choke, it will give you the same results: patterns stay together.

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