What Distance Should Be Used To Pattern A Shotgun?

Let me begin by stating a simple fact. No two shotguns can shoot the same pellet patterns. Your shotgun’s pattern depends on several factors. The most important one being the gun’s firing attribute. Then we have factors like the type of shot, shot size, shotgun choke, and the brand of the shot shell.

If you want to select ammunition that offers excellent performance, you must know how to pattern a shotgun. So what distance should be used to pattern a shotgun?


In this article, I’m going to discuss everything you need to know about patterning the shotgun. This useful information will come in handy each time you’re out shooting or hunting.

So are you ready to learn more? Let’s get started!

Why is Patterning the Shotgun Necessary?

You must me wondering if this is even important. So let me tell you that it is. Patterning a shotgun is carried out for a single purpose; point of impact. It enables you, as a shooter, to define the spot that has been designed and engineered to shoot.

You also get the opportunity to determine the density of the pattern as one. In simple words, patterning guides you in deciding where you want to shoot your gun.

Shotgun for Personal Defense: Knowing Distance vs. Pattern – Thunder Ranch

What distance should be used to pattern a shotgun?

What is the general measure for the highest killing distance? The answer to both the questions is right here. But before I tell you that, you should know a major fact about the approximate killing distance. It has been widely used for many years now and is universally accepted among most shooters and hunters.

So the standard for the highest killing distance is 40 yards. This is applicable only if you use your shotgun for pheasants, waterfowl, or trap hunting.

Shotgun Patterning for Waterfowl Hunting

The preparation for patterning a shotgun

When learning how to pattern a shotgun, you need more than just a shotgun. Below I have listed all the things that one needs to assemble before getting on with the procedure.

  • You can always begin patterning with some homemade targets. The simplest material to start with is a blank paper measuring 4×4 feet. But please remember to use a craft paper that offers maximum thickness.
  • To hold the 4×4 feet blank paper, you might need a stable patterning board. This should also have the same measurement as the craft paper.
  • ​The best commercial target that one can use for aiming is a bull’s eye. But you can’t use this for the entire patterning procedure. It’s only helpful when you want to aim at a target.
  • ​Certain precautionary steps must be taken even when you’re practicing with the shotgun. You should ensure that the place behind your patterning board is empty. Because you don’t want any stray bullets to injure anyone.
  • To place the blank paper and patterning board, you require a steady platform. The goal is to hold the board, so you can use a bench.

How to pattern a shotgun? The complete procedure

1. Fire at the Center of the Target

What you need to do is simply use the bull’s eye technique. You can do this from a standard distance of 40 yards. Some hunters and shooters choose to be at a distance of 35 yards from the target. These are the ones that hunt birds after they pattern their shotgun.

2. Repeat the Procedure

You can repeat the above process but with a fresh target paper. Do this once again with another sheet of paper. In short, repeat the first step twice.

3. Draw a Circle

The next thing to do is to draw a circle measuring 30 inches around the densest part of your shot pattern. It doesn’t need to be in the exact center of the paper. And you must draw this circle on all three targets.

4. Do Some Calculation

In this step, what you need to be doing is determining the percentage of load that’s going to land in that circle. This is nothing but the expected load percentage from firing at a distance of 40 yards. Because 40 yards is the standard distance that’s required for shooting.

Then you can calculate the pellet count average within all the three circles. To achieve this, you should add the total amount of shots for the three targets. Then divide that result by three. And the answer you get is your pellet count average.

Once you’ve calculated the pellet count average, you need to divide it by a number of pellets you had originally. Please remember to include pellets that have been used. The result must then be multiplied by 100.

How to find out if you have a correct pattern?

The goal is to achieve a proper pellet pattern inside the circles with a balanced density. Does your pattern have an optimal shot percentage from the original load? If yes, then that means your shooting technique is perfect. This sufficient percentage varies from 55% to 60%.


Credit: shotgun-insight.com

A basic physical inspection can also be done to analyze your pattern. For example, check the paper to see A basic physical inspection can also be done to analyze your pattern. For example, check the paper to see pellets.

This needs to be done with the perimeter of 30 inches. You know you have the correct pattern when, within that circle, the holes have been distributed evenly. Otherwise, the holes will be randomly placed on the paper. This means that you’ve obtained an uneven distribution of pattern.


You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to carry out the physical inspection. It’s a simple procedure that helps in ensuring that you have the correct pattern.

Wrapping it up

Finding out what distance should be used to pattern a shotgun is not a complicated process. The same applies for learning how to pattern a shotgun.

It doesn’t matter what kind of ammunition you’re using; you will inevitably obtain patterns that have minor inconsistencies. What you need to do is pick the average or most suitable pattern for yourself.

The universally accepted measure among most shooters and hunters is 40 yards. Some of the experiences ones go with 35 yards. But it’s better to stick with the standard killing distance if you’re a beginner.

Did you follow all the instructions thoroughly? What distance do you use to pattern your shotgun?

I hope the article was interesting for you to read. If you have anything to add, then please feel free to leave your comments below.

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