Shotgun Patterning

Patterning is the density of the shot in a certain area. There are certain variables that determine the shot pattern or density of the shot. What difference does it make? It makes a difference when hunting waterfowl for example, because you need to know what choke setting and shot will work the best. You will need to adapt and change settings based on the hunting situation. You want to make sure your shots are efficient, and it does not take multiple attempts to bring a bird down. Additionally, you do not want to injure several birds by scattering shot everywhere, you want to bring the targeted one down. Your pattern must be dense enough at the range you are shooting at to have the impact needed for a kill shot.

Shot Pattern Testing

Tools and materials needed include a pencil, roll of white construction paper at least 40 inches wide, staple gun or thumb tacks, tape measure, and a piece of string 15 inches long.

Testing your shot pattern allows you to select your choke setting and choose the right ammunition without having to waste time and resources while in a hunting situation. Testing your shot pattern is straightforward but does require attention to detail and some time. You will also need a secure area where you can safely fire your weapon.

Typically, the testing is conducted at 40 yards, which is probably the maximum range for most bird hunting. If you are testing for sheet shooting you can test at 25yards. Test several guns and different types of ammunition to find the best fit.

You will need a pattern board and you can use two posts set in the ground 4 foot apart. Secure a backboard of plywood or even heavy cardboard between the posts so that a 35 to 40 inch piece of white paper can be attached. You want a background that will easily show the shot pattern. Once you have the white paper attached to the backboard measure off 40 yards (120ft), it is 40 yards to the muzzle end.
Take one shot at the 40-yard line, and then remove the sheet and attach another and shoot again. Do this three times. Shoot as you would if you were hunting, in other words, you will not have a bench to shoot from while pheasant hunting.

Once you have the three shot pattern sheets take a pencil and thumb tack the 15-inch piece of string to the center of the shot pattern. Then holding the other end of the string with the pencil, draw a 30-inch circle around the shot pattern. Now simply count the shots inside the circle on each paper to ensure consistency.
Make sure you have noted the weapon and ammunition you used and the choke setting for each pattern. To be consistent make sure you shoot each weapon and ammunition at least three times so you can establish an average pattern.

Having a decoy or even a life-sized cutout of your target bird is helpful, so you can determine that if the shot pattern were on the bird would it hit the vital organs. You have to be able to envision the pattern on the paper hitting your target with enough density to bring the target down.