Why do Hunters Pattern their Shotguns? The Final Truth Revisited

Hunting circles exchange a lot of information, and it was only a matter of time before I got round to dealing with a super question put over by one of our readers, "Why do hunters pattern their shotguns?"

Now, many a seasoned shooter would probably take this as granted, but you will be surprised at even how many veterans are not sure when this question arises. So here I decided to put all controversies to rest and deal with the topic in full detail once and for all.


A Quick Guide on Patterning your Shotgun

Here’s a tried and tested method for patterning your shotgun which is easily actionable by creating a basic setup:

hunter man creeping in swamp during hunting period
  • Use a target that is about 30 inches square
  • Mount your target 40 yards from where you are going to shoot
  • Use a rest like sandbags in a table to keep your shotgun steady
  • Now start shooting at the target, each time using a particular load
  • Draw a circle of 30 inches around the hits from each load in such a way that the maximum number of hits are in the center of the circle.
  • The deviation from the center of the target to the center of the circle which you drew defines the pattern for your shotgun for the ammunition you used.
  • Repeat the procedure for different ammunition and different shotguns
  • Take care to maintain a record of your findings for future reference

Related: What Distance Should Be Used To Pattern A Shotgun?

Why do Hunters Pattern their Shotguns

Now coming why patterning is required, the answers are many but the explanations simple:

Human Aspect

It is easy to lose sight of the fact in the excitement of bagging a trophy that you are taking a life. Even if you are a sharpshooter, a shotgun that is not patterned could hit the target anywhere which could result in a slow and painful death of the animal.

One of the unwritten rules of hunting ethics is that the kill should happen as swiftly as possible, meaning that the shot should penetrate in such a way that the animal has a relatively painless death.

Improved Choke Action

A shotgun tube choke works rather like the nozzle of a hosepipe, enhancing the accuracy of the shot without compromising on power. A gunsmith is the best person to fit tube chokes in the barrels of your shotgun. However, the accuracy of a choke can be optimized once your shotgun is patterned. A choke is particularly useful for improving the performance of an old gun.

Related: Which Shotgun Choke Is The Most Open?

Determining Performance of Different Ammunition

As a regular hunter, especially if you hunt various categories of game, you will find yourself switching to different loads from time to time which can be telling on the performance of your shotgun. If you take the trouble to pattern your shotgun against different grades and brands of ammunition, you will find that the overall performance of your weapons is significantly improved.

Helps in Shotgun Selection

Working in reverse, it is also possible to use this as a useful method for finding the best-suited shotgun for a particular type of hunting. Although a quick look at the internet or a visit to your local gun store can tell you what sort of firearm you need for your desired purpose, there can be variations.

Just to illustrate this point, for hunting wild turkey, you would need a tighter pattern than for duck hunting. You can designate a shotgun for a particular category through patterning.

Related: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Turkey Hunting

How you feel

Whether you are a new hunter or an experienced one, the ‘feel' of a weapon is a subjective thing which will come to you only by using it. Some shotguns may not feel so comfortable, and you will probably not get a suitable pattern from it. If your weapon patterns well, you are most likely to be comfortable with it as well.

So, you need to spend some time and make an extra effort to pattern your shotgun. This way, you will be able to get a better understanding of your weapon, which is one of the more important things that make a good hunter.

A Few Useful Tips on Shotgun Patterning

A Few Useful Tips on Shotgun Patterning
  • Establish a good shooting rest for your shotgun for better accuracy in patterning
  • Keep a tab on the number of pellets in each shot
  • You need at least ten shots for a single patterning
  • Be aware that there will be quality variations between different brands
  • While patterning, try different shotguns as well. Patterning will help you if you need to switch weapons in the middle of a hunt.
  • Pattern your shotgun before each hunt
  • If you get a high-density pattern but off-target, you may have to get the stock adjusted
  • Your local gunsmith will be able to help you to improve the stock of your shotgun

Related:  What is the First Step in Cleaning a Firearm?

The Truth about the Matter

So where does all this lead us? We have gone through the intricacies of how a shotgun behaves. By now you will be much more aware of why hunters pattern their shotguns. The revealed facts are as follows:

  • Even the best shotguns have varied patterns
  • There are multiple reasons why a gun needs to be patterned
  • The main reason, however, is to get a better control on each shotgun
  • You can use different loads in a more efficient way with a patterned shotgun
  • Patterning your shotgun needs to be done on a trial and error basis
  • Your gun stock may have to be adjusted which can be done by a gunsmith

If you haven't already done it, you will see the difference in performance of a patterned shotgun. It is not as if you cannot use one that has not been patterned but the reason that hunters pattern their shotguns is just another way of getting a better shooting experience, and it all adds to being a more successful hunter.

We hope that you will benefit from these interesting facts about why hunters pattern their shotguns, and how to do it yourself. We welcome your feedback and comments, so please do get in touch with us with your valuable contributions.

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