what distance should be used to pattern a shotgun?

It is close to impossible to have two shotguns shooting identical pellet patterns. There are a lot of factors that affect the pattern of your shotgun.

The primary one would be the firing attributes of the gun. Other factors may include the shotshell brand, the gun’s choke, the type of shot, and the shot size.

It is necessary to “pattern” your shotgun for you to choose the ammunition capable of providing the best performance. One of the questions you’d like to ask would be: What distance should be used to pattern a shotgun?

This article will provide info about patterning your shotgun and some relevant content that would become useful to you when the time comes.

Why Bother Patterning?

Is it even important? Yes, it is. There are various reasons why you should pattern your shotgun for point of impact.

For starters, patterning allows you to define where the manufacturer has engineered and designed to shoot.

You’ll also get to know the pattern density as one. Simply put, the patterning will aid you in knowing where to shoot the gun.

what distance should be used to pattern a shotgun

What Distance Should be Used to Pattern a Shotgun?

At what distance should I be shooting at? There is a general standard for the approximate maximum “killing distance.” This standard has been used for lots of years and is widely accepted among all users.

Assuming you’ll be using your gun for waterfowl or pheasants, or for trap shooting, the standard would still be 40 yards.

Patterning Preparation

Patterning can’t be done with a shotgun alone. You need to do some preparations first before you can finally proceed with what you want to do. Here are the things you should put up before you can start patterning.

  • You can start patterning with simple, homemade targets. The ideal material would be a square blank paper with a size of 4 x 4 feet; the paper must be thick craft paper.
  • You must also use a sturdy patterning board of the same size – this will hold your square blank paper.
  • You can also use a commercial target with a bull’s eye. However, you can’t use the bull’s-eye in from the second to the fourth step from the procedure below; because it can only be used to aim at.
  • Make sure that the area behind the spot where you’ll place the patterning board is a place where there are no people who could become victims of a stray bullet. Make sure it is safe enough for the shots to fall without affecting anyone. You can’t risk any life just so you can practice with your shotgun.
  • You will also need some steady platform where you’ll place the patterning board along with the blank paper; with the latter facing you, of course. This could be a bench or any kind capable of holding the board in place.

The Procedure of Patterning

So this is how you pattern your shotgun:

1. Try firing a single shot at the target’s center. To put it simply, “bull’s eye” is your target. Do this from the standard distance – 40 yards. Some professional shooters advise you to be only 35 yards away from your target; this is in case you want to hunt birds after patterning your shotgun.

2. Repeat the process, but this time, with a new sheet of the target paper.

3. Repeat step two. It means you have to do the first phase three times.

4. Now draw a 30-inch circle around the shot pattern’s densest part. Note that this doesn’t have to be the paper’s exact center. Draw the circle on each of the three targets.

5. This part is a little delicate, determine the load percentage expected to land in the 30-inch circle from shooting at a standard distance required (which is 40 yards as mentioned above). Calculate the average pellet counts within the three 30-inch circles.

You simply have to add all the numbers of shots in all three targets and divide the result by three. The result is your average pellet count.

6. Now divide the average pellet count by the original number of pellets from your ammunition load. Only count those pellets you have used. Once you get the result, multiply it by 100.

How to Pattern a Shotgun

Knowing When a Pattern is Correct

You can be sure you’ll have a clean kill when the pellet pattern within the circles looks proper with an even density. You can tell your shooting is good when the pattern contains a sufficient percentage of shots from your original load. The ideal percentage ranges from 55 percent to 60 percent.

You can also assess your pattern with a simple physical inspection. For instance, examine the paper and see the number of pellets with the 30-inch perimeter.

A desirable pattern is when the holes appear to be evenly distributed within the circle. On the other hand, an undesirable pattern is when you see the holes have been randomly just anywhere in the paper, implying uneven pattern distribution.

The good thing about the physical inspection is you don’t have to be a genius to get things done.

Selecting Proper Choke

We have an article that discusses selecting proper choke. Patterning shotgun and adjusting choke are related to each other.

Selecting Proper Choke

With the knowledge in mind, you can determine the pattern of each choke adjustment. You can try different chokes and see how their patterns differ from each other.

You might want to check the article Selecting Proper Choke for you to have a further understanding of the matters at hand.


Know that patterning a shotgun is not a form of rocket science that involves complicated twists along the way. Regardless of the ammunition you use, you will attain patterns with little inconsistencies. You have to look for the average pattern that satisfies you.

Remember the distance to be used to pattern a shotgun; the accepted standard is 40 yards.

However, some people would recommend 35 yards depending on you. But if you are a beginner, it’s best to follow the standard.