Pre-Season Shotgun Patterning, Part 1

posted on February 28, 2014

News from Winchester Ammo of an expansion in their TrAAcker shotshell line served as a reminder that it’s time to get out my shotguns for pre-season patterning.  As reported here at, last year’s initial release of TrAAckers was limited to 12-gauge, 2-3/4” No. 8s. Later this year, the line will also include No. 7½s in both 12- and 20-gauge. TrAAckers were a big hit with budding and veteran shotgunners alike looking for a tool to help them master lead. The key component-a visible, pellet-weighted wad that flies true to the shot string-makes it easy for coaches and many shooters themselves to see where the pattern is flying in relation to the bird or clay.

Equally useful in understanding your shot patterns is a session at the pattern board. Some shooters use a metal plate (repainted between shots) but far more common is to hang sheets of cardboard or plain brown craft paper at least 30” wide at an operative distance. Of course this must be done only where it is safe to fire a shotgun.

Patterning is a common late-winter activity as clays competitors prepare for the tournament trail, and turkey hunters make it the first rite of spring gobbler season. A handful of shots for record reveal where the pellets are hitting relative to a sighting mark applied with spray paint or felt-tip marker, and also clearly show pattern density at whatever distance the target is placed.

At American Rifleman, patterning has typically been done at 25 yards for skeet and sporting clays guns and loads, roughly about where those targets are struck. For trap and field guns that must perform at longer ranges, the patterning standard is 40 yards. While some gunners will aim deliberately, others prefer to simulate actual shots by snapping the gun to the shoulder and cheek and then firing as soon as a good sight picture is acquired.  With the proof on the board they can quickly note errant tendencies, which can usually be corrected via gun modification, changing sighting beads or perhaps in reviewing the shooter’s grip, mount or stance.

When Rifleman editors test a shotgun we actually count all the pellet holes present in a 30” outer circle and a 21.5” inner split into quadrants. This tedious chore quantifies pattern tendencies that can affect the gun’s ability to hit on target and thus provides an objective means of comparing different guns. But one doesn’t need to go to the trouble, since patterning characteristics can easily be observed without all that counting. If your patterns aren’t evenly distributed around the mark, then your shooting gear is working against you, and some sort of fix is in order.

Later this week in Part 2, we’ll take a look at the somewhat different task of patterning a turkey gun.


Henry Repeating Arms New Original lever-action rifle right-side view silver engraving gun rifle carbine
Henry Repeating Arms New Original lever-action rifle right-side view silver engraving gun rifle carbine

Hand-Engraved, Silver-Plated New Original Henry Rifle Heads To Auction

There are few places in the country more impressive than The Cody Firearms Museum for history buffs and firearms enthusiasts, and Henry Repeating Arms, Baron Engraving and Davidson’s have created something special to support the facility.

Rifleman Report: Shall Not Be Infringed

As of this writing, the people of Ukraine are locked in a life-and-death struggle with the invading Russian military in the most significant warfare seen in Europe since World War II.

This Old Gun: U.S. Model Of 1842 Musket

By the latter part of the 1830s, most of the major powers finally let practicality overcome economy, realizing that it was time to switch their small arms over from flintlock to percussion. Britain and France were among the earliest, with the United States following suit in short order—the Americans fielding the handsome Model of 1842.

Preview: Brügger & Thomet Unigrip QD With Bipod Foldable

Externally configured as a standard vertical fore-grip, the B&T Unigrip QD With Bipod Foldable, as its name suggests, also features a throw-lever Picatinny-rail attachment clamp and more.

The Armed Citizen® May 23, 2022

Read today's "The Armed Citizen" entry for real stories of law-abiding citizens, past and present, who used their firearms to save lives.

2022 Rifle Of The Year: Ruger 10/22 Competition Rifle Left-Handed Model

Now in their 20th year, the Golden Bullseye Awards are chosen annually to recognize the firearm industry’s best new offerings. Here is this year’s winners as selected by the editors of “The World’s Oldest And Largest Firearm Authority.”


Get the best of American Rifleman delivered to your inbox.