Patterning 101....


Dave McCracken
March 3, 2003, 06:05 PM
Patterning is generally considered a bit of a pain. It's also as essential as breathing to a shotgunner.

NOTHING good can come of a shotgun/load/gunner combination until you establish a link between Point Of Aim and Point Of Impact, AND find out what a given load will do at a given range from THAT shotgun and choke.

Patterning will do both. It take some time and a bit of effort,but yields dividends in short order.

Technically, finding POA/POI isn't patterning per se. But, we can do both here and save time.

Here's what you need....

Some kind of target holder that will support a 4' by 4' sheet of paper. A large cardboard box wil do. Butcher's paper, blank newsprint, or art paper will work as targets.So will the commercial targets some ranges and gunshops sell.You want at least 5 sheets,ten is better.

Blank is best, though a reference point at the center is good. I like a simple dot.

Even better, though hard to find, is paper with a one inch grid laid out on one side faintly enough that it cannot be seen from the firing point. More on this later.

Establish what distance you want to pattern at. For HD use, measure the longest shot opportunity possible and add a yard for GPs.For quail hunting, etc, 25 yards makes sense, 35 for trap, and so on.

Attach the paper to the backer and get ready.

Folks differ on the next part. Some want to benchrest the shotgun and aim from a solid position. I'd do this for a turkey load, since most turkey hunting involves shooting from a rest.

But most shotgunning is dynamic, shooting at something moving fast. These are not aimed shots, but pointed. So, using a good stance and mount, shoot as if that aiming point was a bird going straight away.

Next, make your shotgun safe and mark the target with pertinent info like load, choke and distance.
Remove the target for later evaluation, stick another up, and repeat until you've 5 targets.

Repeat with any other chokes,loads or distances you want to know about.

Now you've got raw data. Here's what to do with it.

The classic approach is to draw a 30" circle around the apparent center of the pattern, NOT the reference mark, and count all those tiny holes. Not mandatory, so relax.

First, though let's find out where the Center Of Pattern falls in relation to where we were looking. Eyeball this and then measure between COP and reference point. If it's centered left/right and either right on or a bit high, Huzzah! it's shooting where you're looking.

NOTE: British folklore attributed to Robert Churchill says that if patterning at 16 yards, a 1/16" change in the stock moves the pattern 1". I doubt it's that simple, but it could give you a starting point if POA and POI don't coincide.

Now let's look at all those little holes. What we're looking for is where the holes aren't, inside the pattern. Places where there's less than one hole for every 2 square inches. Or, any place where a standard clay pigeon could fit without covering at least 3 holes.

Here's where that one inch grid graph paper is handy.Startingf from the center of the pattern, use a bright hilighter to color in all the places where two adjacent squares are unmarked.When done, you've a pretty good idea of where your pattern is strong and where not. I'd regard a pattern with more than two unmarked areas of 2 as patchy(Re Oberfell at al) and not for use at that distance.

A pattern, remember, is a two dimensional record of a three dimensional event. The shot cloud elongates as it hits the air, and may be over 12 feet long at 40 yards. So, just because there's no patches in the pattern doesn't mean all those pellets will arrive simultaneously.But a patterning session like this will help immensely in your progress as a shotgunner.

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March 3, 2003, 07:08 PM
This is Great information, Thanks for taking the time to write it out on how to go about doing it.


March 3, 2003, 07:41 PM
Well Done Sir!!

Big advocate of PB's myself. So much info to be learned from them.
Gun Fit, load, and components (wads, hard/soft shot,pwder meas...).

Needs to be added to the top with other "Shotgunning 101" info.

Andrew Wyatt
March 4, 2003, 02:24 PM
Is this the same technique you use with buckshot?

Would an 18 inch circle be more appropriate to judge buckshot loads with?

Dave McCracken
March 5, 2003, 04:24 PM
Andrew, IMO, buck should pattern into 15" at the max distance it's employed for max effect and minimum endangerment of others. Measure your torso from side to side just below the armpits as to why 15".

For HD inside, no problem. The worst ammo at max distance here at Casa McC would pattern into maybe 4", and my buck of choice half that or less.

Outside, it's different. Here's where patterning is essential. My BOC goes into 16-20" at 25 yards, so max employment range would be around 20 yards under this rule.

Some Southron deer hunters use handloads in overbored, long coned and tightly choked barrels to get much superior results. Naturally, they pattern religiously, oft as obsessed as benchresters.

And while you're patterning your "Serious" ammo, see where your slug of choice hits in relation to the buck pattern.

March 18, 2003, 02:56 PM
Good stuff, Maynard.

March 31, 2003, 03:28 PM
I found patterning particularly helpful during my trap shooting days.
Those straight-aways I was missing on station 3 were mostly the result of a donut pattern.
I changed wads and powder (red to green dot) and the pattern tightened right up. Lost an alibi but improved my scores.;)
Good information!

April 6, 2003, 10:18 AM
Every shotgunner should have a copy of Bob Brister's book, "Shotgunning: The Art and the Science."

Bob did a lot of experimenting, and though the book is probably 20 years old now, it still contains a wealth of information.

Lots of interesting stuff on patterning shotguns.

Remember -- There's shooting to see where the gun shoots, nd then there is patterning to see how the load and choke shoot.

The two are quite different.

April 8, 2003, 12:20 AM
I just ordered Brister's book from where it was 5 bucks off, by the way...

Still Learning
April 8, 2003, 07:26 PM
I'll get my 11 year old to make Daddy some patterning papers in the next week or so. She likes doing things like that. My 870 is supposed to be out of the shop in about 2 weeks. Its pattern was really poor with all ammo. When it comes home it will have a lengthened forcing cone, screw in chokes (Remington), and Scattergun ghost ring sights.

This post also reminded me of my college days managing a city owned trap range. I built a patterning frame and kept cardboard and butcher paper on hand for anyone who wanted to pattern their handloads. That little gesture really won the hearts of our shooters and I can't tell you how much free beer and ammo I was given for doing that:D .

Had I known about the grids and the highlighter someone might have paid my tuition for a semester!

Thanks for the tip!

Cooter Brown
April 23, 2003, 05:49 PM
Have you tried one of these with Buckshot? They really extend the effective range.

Still Learning
May 1, 2003, 11:03 PM
Taping the shorter sized butcher paper is a hassle and I'm lazy. Newsprint will work but the type can make counting the pellet holes a drag...especially for 45 year old eyes.

Today I hit on something that most married guys can count on for patterning paper. The old Christmas wrap that your wife bought right after Christmas works perfectly. The back is WHITE! The sheets are plenty big.

This November you've got some excuses to make or you can just go to the store and buy her some new wrapping paper. Or you can just say, "I don't know where it is. Where did you put it?"

Drawback to this: You can't bring your patterns to the house or she will find it. Evaluate in the field and then burn the evidence.

July 17, 2003, 12:54 PM
New member here, thought I would share a way we pattern shot at our club.
We have a large piece of 12 gauge thickness sheet metal hung up on posts at the end of our fields that we use for paterning light shot.
Take a partial gallon of oil base paint, say a quart, preferably white or light colored, and add a quart or two of motor oil or vegetable oil, whatever is available, mix well and take a large paint brush and paint on the sheet metal. This coating does not dry but stays tacky, put an aiming point on the metal and blast away. The pattern shows up perfectly on the metal and then all you have to do is wipe it again with the brush and you have a new surface to shoot again and again. Rain doesn't even wash it off.

Just thought it might be a neat thing for every body if you can come up with the metal.:)

August 10, 2003, 03:09 PM
Guys, I went by Sears and got a bunch of thier old boxes. I do spray on silhouette's and such, but I find a piece of cardboard handy to pattern on.


Bob F.
November 30, 2003, 10:56 PM
Your local newspaper probably has roll ends of news print lying around for free. Not sure about the newer presses but a few years back they changed the roll before it ran out, had a roll for every 4 pages, ie- a 12-page section ran on 3 rolls simultaneously, everything sinchronized. If a roll ran out it was kinda' like WD-40ing your primers! Kindergarten teachers and Artsy-crafters got a few of ours.

I usually just buy brown wrapping paper for targets/shooting groups.

Mr. McC, I gotta meet ya' one of these days! Maybe @ the Redneck Cup!

February 8, 2004, 07:47 PM
Holy Moley ..... how in Hades did I not see this was here . I mean .... only near a year ... sheesh!

Oh well .. better late than never ... belated thx Dave for another most educational offering ... now wonder I'm a slow learner!:p

February 22, 2004, 11:22 AM
...THANKS for sharing your perspective. We all need to "get back to basics" in order to keep our skills growing in the right direction.

Very Respectfully,

dance varmint
March 22, 2004, 10:54 AM
Good source for patterning paper: Cabela's. They used about 20 big sheets of paper as packing material in my last order. Unscrunch them, roll them up, and then all you need is your staplegun and cardboard backing.

April 24, 2004, 09:36 PM
You boys might enjoy this.

Nathaniel Firethorn
July 10, 2004, 10:49 AM
Quadrille flip chart paper (available at Staples, Office Foo, etc.) has the one-inch grid lines already drawn.

However, I tried Dave's method and found it very tedious to fill in the one-inch squares - on a standard 25 x 30 inch sheet, there are 750 of 'em, and that's just one gun/load/choke combination! :what: It seems like the kind of thing that would be cake for a computer to do, though (take a digital picture of the pattern and apply some really trivial image processing.)

Can anyone here suggest some clever Photoshopping that can accomplish the same thing? :D (I.e., show where the pattern will, and won't, break a clay.)

- pdmoderator

September 22, 2004, 11:32 PM
Thanks. Now I can 'splain it to my wife - who just got her first 1100.

I'm no teacher. You explained it far better than I could.

September 22, 2004, 11:39 PM
Thanks. Now I can 'splain it to my wife - who just got her first 1100.

I'm no teacher. You explained it far better than I could.

November 22, 2004, 04:59 PM
To add one more piece of the puzzle, you "may" need to change the load you are shooting. For example, I have a Mossberg 590A1, with Federal 00 buck, my pattern at 10 yards is 10 inches, with S&B 00 buck it's 14 inches, with Express 00 buck it's 7 inches. If you are not satisfied with your pattern, change the load you are shooting to find the one that matches your shotgun, or the pattern you need for your environment. 00 buck "should" pattern at 15 inches or less at 20 yds to be effective and most of the time it will be an angular pattern (wider than tall) rather than circular.

just my .02 worth....

September 21, 2005, 04:56 PM
Dave, should I pattern multiple shots of each load at each distance to get some sense of "average," or should one shell per load per distance be sufficient? In other words, are shotshell patterns consistent enough that one shot is all it takes to make an assessment?


Dave McCracken
September 23, 2005, 08:58 AM
Better results can be found with multiples.I'd go with at least 3 of each.

Of the millions of shotgun shells fired, no two have ever been identical in pellet density and placement.

March 17, 2006, 09:51 PM
Great Info! Thanks!

I shoot with Trap people that also say that you want between a 60/40 and a 80/20 pattern. That's 60 to 80% above the dot.

Skeet boys tend to shoot a flatter gun; close to 50/50...

Any ideas on that?

July 19, 2006, 07:28 PM
i'm curious if anyone knows if i can do this at any particular range in SE WI?? to the best of my knowledge the ranges in my area only allow shotguns for skeet/trap and not patterning. being a rookie, this would of course be one of the first things i'd be doing in preparation for the fall.

July 27, 2006, 01:42 AM
well, i called the public range here and they do allow patterning. :) :)

Dave McCracken
July 27, 2006, 09:01 AM
Good, go do it. Once you have, you'll be glad you did.

April 18, 2007, 05:22 PM
I'm not sure that you DO get what you pay for, always.

I shoot with a mechanical engineer who got bored and mic'd 100 #8 pellets from a factory AA shell and 100 from a factory STS.

He said the AA pellets ranged from #6 to #12, whereas the STS outliers were #7 to #9, with a lot of true #8.

I know that STS shot looks very round and very consistent when I buy it in bags, but I've never mic'd it. It does appear to be better than some other shot, and when I dump some on the floor, it rolls like steel ball bearings.

The points are these:

1. STS and AA are the same price, and they do differ
2. Not all "premium" shells are all that premium
3. The only way you really know what you are paying for is to buy the components, not sealed-up shells. You can't pattern every round before you shoot it.:)

Dave McCracken
April 18, 2007, 09:09 PM
AB, did you post this to the right thread?....

April 19, 2007, 11:30 AM
Anyone wanting to buy Brister's book on Shotgunning, go to website I bought my copy for $5.50 + $3.95 shipping.

Also, bought Jack O'Connor's Shotgun Book for $5.50 + $3.95shipping. Since these books have been out of print for many years, they are good used books.

I buy most of my books from and they have just about any book you want including college textbooks for a fraction of the new price.

Rollin Oswald
September 23, 2007, 03:50 PM
I hold the belief that patterning for the purpose of finding results for moving targets not using buckshot, is of limited value. My reasons follow:

Patterning results will vary with the shells used (brands and different shot sizes do not give the same patterning results), the temperature of the shells and the temperature of the barrel. One or a dozen patterns will not yield a good average. More are required. Patterning is best done using a good, solid, rest of the type used by rifle shooters.

Now the big one: Patterning results represent only the shots fired with the eye in exactly the same location relative to the rib as was used when patterning. To refer to Dave's Churchillian quote, when the head and eye move, the pattern also moves (in the same direction.)

This is the reason for many misses when the shot picture seemed so good. The cause was movement of the head on the stock during swings. It is especially common with guns that don't fit and with gun mounts that are too low or are out on the shoulder joint rather than in the shoulder pocket. In both cases, it is common for the head to move up or away form the stock on swings in the direction of the gun mount side, to the right for right-handed shooters.

As Dave(?) also mentioned, patterning is a two-dimensional representation of a three-dimensional event. It is due to shot stringing and its effect on crossing targets. In this case, the shot that reaches a crossing target is not at all well represented by patterning results. This holds true for all but gently rising targets and the effect increases with the distance to the target.

Head movement during swings is a frequent and usually unrecognized shooting error. The causes involve a poor shooting form, usually involving the gun mount, raising the head to get a better look aat the target and stock dimensions that do not fit the size and shape of the shooter, which, often, can affect the shooting form being used.

Such are my beliefs. My intent is not to open an argument with anyone but simply to address variables that exist and their affect when shooting moving targets, whether they be clay or feathered, and those gotten when patterning.



September 23, 2007, 05:33 PM
Rollin Oswald,

Interesting perspectives.

My take:
Shotguns are pointed not aimed.
Exceptions exist, such as "aiming" for some uses such as slugs.
Still for ME, a shotgun is a natural extension of me, and therefore due to gun fit, and correct basics, the shotgun is "pointed", even for stationary targets.

My preference is to pattern in the same manner as the gun will be used.
I apply this to sighting in handguns, and rifles.

My take again, One is going to be using a shotgun in various "settings", not from a bench (unless card shooting) and this includes standing, while walking, running and having to aquire a stationary target, while they are moving.

It might be sitting in a duck blind, on a stool while dove hunting, or as I was given lessons to do, shooting from the bed of a moving truck and shooting both stationary targets and targets in flight.

[Think Civil unrest, and "still" targets and "flight" targets such as Firebombs being tossed - shoot firebomb, and prevent hitting porches, roof tops, or groups of persons]

Brister's work, in regard to moving targets - opened many eyes to "shotgunning".

Recall, The Military was teaching soldiers to shoot on the move (trucks) and to acquire stationary and moving targets before Brister's work.
Artillery were shooting skeet to instill correct basics to shoot planes...

Backing up, I was born in the mid 50's. Just a brat and I have Mentors & Elders shoot a pattern board.
Then they had a "moving" target, and using same gun, same loads, same distance, shoot again, and compare patterns.

I am not even big enough to really shoot a shotgun by myself.
I got to use a garden hose and a "pattern" of water to do this myself.

Light bulb was on for me, early on, and got even brighter as time went on, and with Brister's Work.

My take is be one with a fitted gun.
Heck even if one just has to pick up a gun that does not fit, shoot that sucker if can, to see where it shoots to them in relation to Point of Pointing and "compensate".

No matter, know the gun, the pattern and "Zen" that Pattern as a moving one.

5mph differs from 15mph differs from 55 mph (speed of a clay in Skeet) to 65-ish, speed of Int'l Skeet.

Re: Buckshot & Slugs

I do shoot moving targets with buckshot. Safe field to do so, and use a skeet field and 4" clays.
IF, I can make hits using Fed nine pellet 00 buckshot, on a 4" clay, on clays moving 55 mph, and the various angles, I *might* have a real chance if a Serious Situation should occur.
Lady Luck is for sure welcome to show up too!

Slugs, break low 7 with a slug. Now I am not in the condition I once was, still I can still do this.
I shoot slugs from the back of a truck at stationary targets going anywhere from 5 to faster mph [ 60mph is "interesting"] and moving targets, like a 8" ball hit by a baseball bat , or thrown...

My take - in the real word, "something is moving" . Either the shooter just has, will be, and body is breathing, or the target is moving, just has, or will be.

See it, slap trigger, access, repeat as need.

One has to have trigger time, and correct basics, still in a threat situation, quality practice, knowing what the pattern board "said" and moving patterns "said" - done, past history, See, Access,Slap,Acesss, Move, Slap, Do something but don't stand there and make one's self an easy target for Threats.

I miss not having a tennis ball machine and the accessories.
Total rush is shooting tennis balls coming at you, and crossers hitting 90mph speeds.

I cannot explain having a low gun, here a faint click and a tennis ball coming at your face at 80 mph and busting that sucker with a nine pellet 00 buckshot load.

Not sure I could do this today, still I recall the sight pictures and everything!

Tennis Ball Flurries [coming at you] and two man teams are a real hoot! Shoot, move, shoot, move, DUCK! :p


VATX Hunter
February 18, 2008, 02:38 PM
I have always just played around with my shot gun. Shot a few hundred clays. Went on my truly 1st Turkey hunt with it last year and got one,
my son shot a doe a few years back with the rifled barrel.
I have recently started getting into Sporting Clays, that is great fun and the info shared by all about patterning is of great help.

October 1, 2008, 09:21 PM
On a hot Summer day in 1974, in a short sleeved shirt, I went to the Issac Walton League at lunch time to pattern some of my very first shotshell reloads - 1-7/8 ounces of #2s over DuPont SR4756 if I remember right, in a new Remington 870 Wingmaster Magnum with all the Vari-weights removed. I remember the event distinctly. It was waaaaaaay more than just a bit of a pain. :barf: :) That first shot I took two steps backward to keep from falling down.
With Alcan FliteMax wads, and buffer, copper plated shot, and all get out, I got up to 92% patterns, and killed a goose with the first shot ever fired at one out of that gun. Many years later, and hundreds and hundreds of dollars in barrel work, and choke tubes, nickel plated shot, buffers, and every shotcup known to man, I never ever achieved long range patterns that good again. And all I could do was try, because heaven help me, I had sold that gun. :banghead: One of only two guns I ever regretted selling.
And Man, I have killed a lot of paper since then.

January 1, 2009, 01:47 PM
Dave, I got into a argument with my father about gauge and pattern size at a particular distance. You see i use a .410 on Grouse and he uses a .20 . He thinks his pattern will be bigger than the 410 at a given distance. I'm under the understanding that the more Power the tighter the group and more likely to miss at shorter distance. Generally when shooting Grouse they are within 20 to 30 yards

Dave McCracken
January 2, 2009, 05:50 PM
Given the same degree of choke,shot size, etc, the 410 and the 20 gauge patterns will be the same at a given distance.

The 20 gauge pattern will be denser with more pellets in it.

February 10, 2009, 09:50 PM
If you want large cheap sheets of paper, with 1x1 inch grids lightly printed, wrapping paper is a convenient option (esp. after Christmas sales). The side you remember is bright and has pictures, but the reverse side usually has the 1x1 grid (to help with wrapping).

Dave McCracken
February 12, 2009, 09:10 PM
Good idea, thanks!!

Luv my 1897
May 28, 2009, 07:22 PM
I have been trying to figure out how to properly pattern my shotgun, and this is very helpful!



Dave McCracken
May 29, 2009, 12:39 PM
Glad to help....

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