Learn What Distance Should Be Used To Pattern A Shotgun?

When you fire a shotgun with a multiple pellet shell, the pellets start to spread out into a pattern when the shell exits the barrel of the gun. As the distance between the pellets and the shotgun increases so does the diameter of the pattern.

Generally speaking, pallet pattern differs from shotgun to shotgun. This means that you can never have two shotguns having the same pellet pattern. There are several factors that influence a shotgun’s pellet pattern, and they include, shell brand, choke, and shot size.

That being said, when selecting ammunition for your shotgun, you must first know how to pattern it. Towards this end, in this article, I will be tackling the age-old question of what distance should be used to pattern a shotgun.

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How Choke Affects Pellet Pattern?

The one factor that affects a shotgun’s pellet pattern is the choke. The latter is a constriction at the muzzle of a shotgun. This constriction improves a shotgun’s performance and is popular among many hunters. So how does this constriction affect pellet pattern?

The choke affects how tight and spread out a shotgun’s pattern is. There are essentially, four types of choke, fully, modified, cylinder, and improved cylinder. Cylinder choke means a gun barrel without a constriction. On the other hand, an improved cylinder choke means the gun has a slightly constricted barrel. A gun with an improved cylinder choke produces a pattern that spreads out fairly quickly and is ideal for hunting upland games such as turkey, rabbits, and others.

How Choke Affects Pellet Pattern

Image Credit : https://www.hunter-ed.com/montana/studyGuide/Shotgun-Choke-and-Shot-Pattern/201027_700048225/

A gun with a modified choke has a moderate constriction meaning the pattern stays together and is denser. This kind of choke is ideal for long-range shooting. Thus, a gun with a modified choke will produce a dense pellet pattern. Full choke, on the other hand, has a tight constriction and thus the pellet pattern stays together. This choke is ideal for hunting squirrels.

When considering the distance for patterning a shotgun, it is important to consider its choke. As seen above, the gun’s choke will have a big influence on the pallet pattern.

Which Is The Right Pellet Pattern?

A question that is closely related to the main question I will be answering in this article is which the right pellet pattern is. The pellet pattern of your shotgun will determine a lot of things including how well it shoots, and the shot distance.

What Distance Should Be Used To Pattern A Shotgun 1

To know if your shooting is good, check the pattern that ends up on the target. If the pattern contains a good number of the pellets that exited your shotgun, then your shooting is good. Also, the pattern should be evenly distributed. This means that the right pattern should contain about 55 to 60% of the pellets that exit your gun’s barrel and should be evenly distributed on the target. If the holes created by the pellets are unevenly distributed on the target, then the pattern is not right. Bottom line, physical inspection of pellet patterns is not rocket science.

Do You Really Need To Pattern Your Shotgun?

By now you must probably be wondering whether there is need to pattern your shotgun. Well, if you want your shooting to yield the desired results, then shotgun patterning is a must. And the reason is that patterning helps you know where to shoot the gun. Thus, as a hunter patterning will help you know which prey to shoot at using your shotgun. This is the main reason why patterning is so important to hunters in particular. Patterning will help you know the density or the impact delivered by the shotgun.

What Distance Should Be Used To Pattern A Shotgun 2

Another important reason to pattern a shotgun is to check for voids. A void is an area on the target that has not been hit by the pellet. If your pattern has a void, then your chances of killing a waterfowl are greatly reduced. Because as a hunter you will most likely be aiming at the waterfowl’s head, and a void in the pellet pattern will result in a miss.

What Distance Should Be Used To Pattern A Shotgun?

Now we get to the all-important question of what distance should be used to pattern a shotgun. The answer to this question depends heavily on a shotgun’s standard kill distance. Also, it might depend on what you are using the shotgun for. For trap shooting and hunting of pheasants and waterfowl, the standard kill range is 40 yards. On the other hand, for competitive skeet shooters, this range drops to 25 yards. According to me the answer to this question is 40 yards, the reason being that most people use shotguns for hunting. Therefore, the recommended distance for patterning a shotgun is 40 yards.

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However, as I shall explain below, when patterning a shotgun, try and shoot from different distances. Ideally, you should begin shooting from the 25-yard range and work your way to 40 yards.

What To Use To Pattern A Shotgun?

Knowing the right distance to pattern a shotgun is not enough to get you on course to patterning your shotgun. Thus, you will need to know what else is required, since you cannot pattern a shotgun using the shotgun only. There are several things you will need when preparing to pattern a shotgun, and they are;

  • A square blank of paper measuring 4 by 4 feet
  • A sturdy patterning board also measuring 4 by 4 feet
  • An open area that is free from human traffic
  • A platform where to place the patterning board, it can be a bench
What Distance Should Be Used To Pattern A Shotgun


Some people use commercial targets with a bull’s eye at the center. While this can be a nice alternative to the blank paper, it has its limitation. The main limitation is that you cannot use it for the entire patterning procedure. Therefore, I recommend going for a blank piece of paper attached to a patterning board.

How To Pattern A Shotgun?

Now that you know from what distance you should pattern a shotgun and what to use, let’s get to the actual process of patterning a shotgun. The procedure is fairly simple and can be achieved without any problems.

The first step will be to set up the patterning board with the blank paper. Once you have set the target, try shooting the target from a distance of 40 yards. If you are thinking of going bird hunting immediately after patterning, then aim from 35 yards. Try to aim at the center of the square paper target.

Repeat the first step with a new piece of blank paper two times. Essentially, you should shoot at three different pieces of paper. Once you have shot at all three blank papers, draw a thirty-inch circle on all of them. Draw the circle around the area of the pattern that is most dense. This should be done on all three paper targets.

The next step is the most crucial and will entail you doing some calculations. In this step, you will have to determine the percentage of load that will land on the target for 40 yards. To count the number of shots that have hit all three targets. Once you have gotten the result, divide it by three. The result you get will be your pellet count average. Divide this average by the number of pellets you had originally. When doing this calculation, include pellets that you have used. Multiply that number by 100, and the result you get is your load percentage. Ideally, the load percentage should be between 55 and 60%.


The answer to the question what distance should be used to pattern a shotgun is not difficult to answer. Also, patterning a shotgun is not difficult and is something you can do at home. Needless to say, you should ensure there is nobody near the target area. And while you will get some inconsistencies with your pellet pattern, always pick the most suitable pattern. As stated above, if the pellets are unevenly distributed on the target, consider using another shell. In summary, I hope that this article has been of help to you and that after reading it you will no longer shy away from patterning your shot gun.

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