Gun Stuff 101 - Patterning Your Shotgun, Post 1

We’ve talked in the past about sighting in a rifle for a particular load and the time and effort that is sometimes required to find the round that performs best for a particular gun. Sometimes “good enough” is ok, but I think most sportsmen and women, would rather use the best possible gun and ammo combination available to them. Or at the least, they would want to know how their gun performs with the particular round they are using, even if it is not the best.

Patterning a shotgun can be just as important as sighting in a rifle, and is beneficial for several reasons. There are new types of shotgun shells introduced every year, for every type of hunting, and new choke tubes too. Some of the new choke tubes are general purpose and can be used for a variety of shooting, but many are specific to a particular load. On the other hand, some of the shells produced are designed to shoot well with the factory tubes that come with your gun, while others benefit from a tube that is specific for that shell. You may be surprised to find that your full choke doesn’t give you as tight a pattern as your modified choke with a particular shell. This could be because of the wad type used in the shell, or perhaps your gun happens to shoot a much better pattern with an aftermarket choke tube than the factory tube that came with your gun.

In order to understand how these shells will perform in your gun, or how effective and compatible your choke is with the load you are shooting you have to pattern it. In doing so, you can also determine if your gun is shooting to “point of aim” or not; surprisingly, many shotguns actually do not shoot to “point of aim”. Without mentioning any specific brands, some manufacturers design their guns to allow you to “float” the target over your front bead to give you a full view of it before shooting. With a gun designed as such you will likely over shoot and miss if you aim with your bead in the center of the target. It is not a fault of the gun, choke, or ammo, it is simply how they are designed – and patterning your gun will help keep you from making that mistake.

Patterning your gun is a fairly easy process, but it requires some patience and a good shooting rest. If you have patterned a shotgun before and did not use a rest, then you were not doing it correctly – sorry, there’s no other way to put it. The shooting rest is critical, because it helps to reduce the “human error” element of shooting. It’s no different than using a good rest for sighting in a rifle. You are not trying to determine how well you shoot the gun – you are trying to determine how or how well the gun shoots the ammo. If you add inevitable “human error” into the equation, your results will be skewed - whether you realize it or not. After giving in, and using a rest, the remaining process is up to you. You need to determine shooting scenarios you may encounter, and the distances at which you need to shoot. Set your targets up accordingly, and pattern your gun. You will have the greatest success, from the start, if you take the proper steps we’ve outlined above.

In order to assist our customers and provide them with the best information that we can give, we often test our products or use them ourselves for our own shooting and hunting activities. We want to be able to tell you first- hand what has worked for us or what we have discovered in testing. Over the next several months we are going to experiment with multiple types of shot shells and choke tube combinations. We will be using chokes from several different manufacturers and shooting different buckshot, waterfowl, and turkey shells. We will report on what we find on Facebook (Like us at RedNex Sporting Goods) & Instagram (rednexsportinggoods), and we will also have that information available to you when you come into the store. Stay tuned!


What do you mean by “pattern”? – As shot leaves the barrel, it begins to disperse in the air, resulting in a cloud of pellets. The ideal pattern would be a circle, with an even distribution of shot throughout, with a density sufficient to ensure enough pellets will intersect the target to achieve the desired result. – Wikipedia

What is a choke tube? – A choke tube constricts the end of the barrel to change the pattern of shot as it leaves the muzzle. Choke tubes come in different thicknesses/bore narrowing, depending on the shot pattern desired, and are screwed into the muzzle-end of a barrel. Think of a fireman’s hose, you can constrict the flow of water by twisting the nozzle - hard stream of water (that can travel quite a distance) all the way to a soft spray (which doesn’t go very far). The same concept can be applied using choke tubes.