Game hunting is a fun game, but only if you have something to show for it at the end of your expedition. This means it is important to understand the factors that make you yield ducks, turkeys, or whatever else you have gone out to hunt. One crucial question you should ask yourself is: what distance should be used to pattern a shotgun?
This is because it matters a lot the pattern your shotgun makes with the ejected pellets. The concentration of pellets discharged should be within the right distance from the targeted game.
If you are out duck hunting, for instance, your estimated distance should range anywhere between 20 and 40 yards. This is because it has been established that many experienced duck hunters fell their targets within that range. In fact, generally, many types of game people like to hunt are felled within that distance. When hunting turkeys, it’s recommended to pattern your shotgun at 20-30 yards using turkey chokes and turkey load. Turkeys head is relatively small, so it’s crucial to pattern your shotgun at a distance where you can hit the target accurately.
Skilled hunters take 40 yards as their preferred distance, because most game are shot impactfully within that range, and also because that distance leaves you room to move closer to your target if you think you can do so without ruffling the animal, and that needs shooting skills. For home defense or concealed carry, it’s essential to pattern your shotgun at a shorter distance, around 5-7 yards.
Real Meaning of Gun Patterning
After answering the question, “what distance should be used to pattern a shotgun”, the next important question should be how accurate your shots are going to be. If the pattern of your shot pellets are too off either to the right or left of your target, chances of hitting the animal will be slim. In short, patterning your gun refers to how well you set your gun, so that the concentration of pellets discharged will be in direct line with your target.
This calls for great understanding of your shotgun shoots, shot sizes and its choke adjustment, as well as the nature of the animal you are targeting. Ask yourself: What is the size of your gun’s choke tube? What size are the pellets you are going to use? The answers to these questions will help you find the right answer to the question: “what distance should be used to pattern a shotgun”.
Another issue that one might easily forget is how thick or protected the animal skin is. Yet it matters how easily it is for a pellet to penetrate the body. Is your target animal furry, thick feathered or otherwise? You need to keep in mind that it takes greater foot-pound energy to fell an animal whose body is heavily protected with feathers than one whose body is barely covered; and one of the factors determining this energy is distance.
In other words, determining the appropriate shooting distance is not a random decision. Game hunters who are able to take into account all the fundamental factors of shotgun patterning find game hunting a fun sport. In fact, they are often the envy of fellow sports hunters because of their accuracy and prolificacy.
Is Experience Sufficient to Master Shotgun Patterning?
Incidentally, you might be a frequent game hunter and still not be adept at gun patterning. Whether you are new or experienced at shooting program, you need to understand some basics, such as your gun’s precise Point of Impact, abbreviated as POI. One error many hunters make is to assume that a gun will shoot exactly where it has been aimed. While a few might, the rest often shoot some inches away from the point it has been pointed. For some, when you aim at Point A, they end up shooting 6” above A, while others shoot 6” below A.
If you determine that your shotgun ends up shooting 6” below Point A, the logical thing to do is aim your gun at 6” above your target point. That way, your gun will make impact precisely on your target.
When trying to determine your gun’s Point of Impact, remember to consider the distance. The same shotgun that shoots 6” below your target point at 40 yards is bound to have a different POI at 20 yards; and the same case applies if the distance is 60 yards. This is where hunting skills combines with experience to make bird hunting fun as you make clean kills.
Something else to keep in mind is the importance of determining any new gun’s POI, because even if you were to buy guns that are similar from the same manufacturer, you would not be certain they will have similar POI. It is possible to have the same type of guns with similar choke brands yet different POI.
Qualities of a Fine Shotgun Pattern
It is often not easy to tell with certainty whether you have set the pattern of your shotgun optimally, because many times part of the pattern is above the target spot and the remaining half below it. However, this should not be a cause for concern as long as you have observed the basic steps in patterning.
A gun could have 60% of its shots above the mark you consider the clay target, and 40% below that mark, and yet you are able to shoot game with accuracy. The crucial point to note is that your patterning should aim at having the greatest number of pellets discharged being within some 30” circle.
How to Concentrate Pellets within Some 30inch Circle
To find out the highest number of discharged pellets inside a 30” circle, you need to make a shooting canvas and shoot at it with your shotgun, and then identify the part that is most densely populated with holes. After that draw a 30” circle withing that area most affected by your shotgun shell, and then take a count of all those holes.
You need to express that number as a percentage of the discharged pellets, and to do that you must remember the number of pellets your shotgun initially had. If you subtract the balance of pellets in the shotgun from the initial number loaded, you will remain with the number of pellets discharged. This is the number over which you should find out the percentage of the shot string within the identified 30” circle.
Best Way to Confirm the POI
After finding answers to the questions “what distance should be used to pattern a shotgun” and “what is the Point of Impact”, the other pertinent step to take is to ascertain that what you consider the POI is actually correct.
It is recommended that you use the lowest distance of the common game shooting range, which is 20 yards. Remember most animals are felled within a effective range of 20 to 40 yards. So, use 20 yards to determine if your POI is apt. It is still the best distance to help determine your Point of Aim, abbreviated as POA. This is the point where you plan on aiming your shot, while the POI is the actual point the shell hits.
Anyone patterning a gun for purposes of skeet shooting or shooting sports should expect a slightly different answer to the question of what distance should be used to pattern a shotgun. This is because in this case 20 yards should be the maximum. The reason this is considered the upper limit for shotgun patterning where skeet patterning is concerned is that up to here, it is possible to observe not only the shot pattern but also its distribution.
Checking the POI entails making a comparison between the center of the targets and the center of the real pattern the shotgun has made. The factors that need to be compared include the elevation and the windage, to establish their respective differences. It is advisable to ultimately determine the best POI by finding the average of both centers.
Items & Steps Required for Gun Patterning
To pattern a gun, you need:
- 4” by 4” white boards
- clean pieces of paper of the same dimensions
- one marking pen
- a few rounds of ammunition
- probably a piece of tape measure.
The first thing you need to do is set your target, and this exercise should be carried out at a venue away from where people or animals live or visit.
With these items ready, draw a circle on the board to indicate your intended target point. You need to use the tape measure to establish the 40-yard distance.
The next thing should be to try your first shot and to calculate the load percentage as has already been explained. Make five shots at most in this trial, ensuring you calculate the shell load percentage every time before reloading your gun.
You need to repeat this competitive shooting exercise but this time within a 30-yard distance, ensuring you establish the load percentage every time prior to reloading.
Note that you can use the pieces of clean paper in place of the boards, and you should remember to replace the paper after every shooting round, after you have calculated the percentage of pellets impacted that have hit the target.
In summary, determine what distance should be used to pattern a shotgun, then set your POA and test-shoot to establish the shotgun’s POI. Note that you are not limited in the set of distances within which you can test your shotgun’s POI. This means you can choose to try shooting from a 25-yard distance if you so wish. By adhering to firearms safety and safety education practices, understanding loads and chokes, and following the guidance of your local wildlife department, you can ensure a successful and sustainable hunt. Additionally, understanding hunting safety practices such as habitat management and fishing regulations can help prevent accidents.