Shotgun Patterning – How to do it

When you shoot most guns, you align the sights so the bullet impacts an exact point—an example being the 10 ring on a paper target. But when you shoot a shotgun you don’t choose an exact point that you would like your shot to go, you choose an area. This desired area that you choose to put the densest part of your shot is called patterning. Patterning is essentially “sighting in” a shotgun for your personal use and what you intend to use the gun for. When you hear people say that a shotgun has to shoot where you look this is what they are talking about. Some patterning has to do with the fit of the gun to your face, but we will address that later.

For the purposes of this topic, patterning refers to where you would like to break a target or bird above the shotgun, using the height of the comb to change where the gun shoots. This is also referred to as the point of impact or point of aim. If this is not individualized to the way that each individual shooter likes to see a target break, it will lead to very inconsistent results. In hunting and clay target sports there are four basic patterns that most shooters tend to like: 50/50, 60/40, 70/30 and 100. These reference the percent of the pattern that shoots below the shooters aim and what percent shoots above the shooters aim.

50/50 is often referred to as “flat” shooting. With this type of pattern, half the pellets hit below the point of impact and half hit above. This is a very instinctive way to shoot a shotgun, and the shooter will often describe covering targets up when they break them. The shooter often starts the move from behind and tracks down the targets line in order to break the target. This type of pattern is common in hunting—it allows the hunter to have a quick and natural response to a bird in order to hit it. This pattern is also common in trap, skeet, and sporting.

This is an example of a 50/50 pattern, notice how the string literally cuts the pattern in half.

The 60/40 pattern is probably the most common pattern that we see in clay target shooting. With 60% of your pattern above the barrel and 40% below the barrel, this allows the shooter to have a very effective pattern on both wide swinging targets and straight away and quartering. This pattern also can be effective in hunting, especially when presented with crossing birds. The benefit of this pattern is that it allows the shooter to see the majority of the targets break above the barrel. The downside to this pattern is that if the target lines are not consistent it takes away some of the shooters ability to come down to a target due to the point of impact.

This is an example of a 60/40 pattern.

The 70/30 pattern is getting away from the hunting side of shotgunning and coming totally into the clay target sports. With this pattern type, the shooter should always see the bird break above the gun. Some shooters prefer this method because it allows them to see the target through the entire shot and shoot a spot on the target instead of covering it up. This pattern is very common in American Trap, where most shooters hold a high gun and want to keep the range of motion to a minimum. You may also see this in a few sporting clay shooters at the higher level. The upside of this pattern is that it allows the shooter to see the entire target throughout the shot process. This allows the shooter to make slight adjustments along the target line through the shot. The downside is that in some cases the shooter can lose the relationship to the barrel and become lost when trying to place a shot.

This is an example of a 70/30 pattern.

The 100% pattern is shot almost exclusively in the American trap game. When you shoot a target with this pattern you will almost see a gap between the barrel and the target when you pull the trigger to place the shot. This type of pattern can be quite effective in this game, and if you learn it well it can be adapted to other games as well. The downside is that it takes away the shooter’s versatility when moving to a target. It can be hard to place a gun that shoots 100% high on a diving or rising target that you don’t anticipate.

This is an example of a pattern that is 100% high.

Now that we have looked at the basic types of patterns, you might be asking how I pattern a shotgun. The correct way to pattern a shotgun is on a pattern board. This is a large sheet of metal, which you can paint. These are frequently found at most gun clubs. Start with placing a black dot or target that you can shoot at on the board. Then take a piece of string and connect it across the target to a chair or other object to create a line. This is done so that the shooter can follow a line to the target and pull the trigger. Patterning should always be done with the gun in motion because it gives the most realistic scenario to shooting a moving target.

Shoot at least 3 shots at the target with a moving gun to give you a solid pattern to look at. At this point, you can see where the majority of the pattern is hitting and you can adjust the comb up or down in order to achieve the desired pattern. Do this once at 20 yards and then move back to 35 and shoot a three shot group again. This will show you what the pattern looks like at close and far distances

This is a video of my teammate and two-time Olympic Bronze medalist Corey Cogdell-Unrein showing how to shoot a pattern board with a moving gun.

As with anything, there are exceptions to every rule. I know some very talented and successful sporting clays shooters that shoot almost 110% high, they have just practiced at it long enough to be confident with that type of pattern. As always with practice and a lot of shells through the barrel, any pattern can be made to look good to your brain. But when you first start out the important thing is to pick the pattern that seems most natural to you and your eyes, keep in mind that these can and will change from time to time.

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About the author: Jake Wallace was introduced to the shotgun sports after breaking his hips when he was 11, which forced him into a wheelchair for 23 months. He saw a shooting program on one of the outdoor networks and thought that it was something he could do from a chair. Jake started shooting ATA from a chair and progressed to international when he was able to walk again. He loves being in the outdoors because nothing clears his mind like sitting in the woods or on a boat. Jake was part of Lindenwood University’s history of success having graduated from there in 2012 after being a part of four ACUI National Championships for the Lions from 2009-12. He currently resides in Colorado Springs where he’s a U.S. Olympic Training Center resident athlete. JAKE WALLACE: Hunting for Trap Superiority http://www.usashooting.org/news/usasnews/USAnews-2017-August/?page=22 Competition Highlights • 2018 World Cup Gold Medalist, Mixed Team • 2017 Fall Selection, Silver Medalist • 2017 World Championships Team Member • 2017 Qatar Open, First Place • 2016 Fall Selection Match Champion • 2015 Shotgun Team Selection, Silver Medalist • 2014 USA Shooting National Championships, Gold Medalist • 2014 Championship of the Americas, Silver Medalist – shot a perfect 125 in qualification to tie World Record • 2014 Fall Selection, Silver Medalist • 2014 Spring Selection, Bronze Medalist • 2013 Granada World Cup, Sixth Place • 2013 World Clay Target Championships Team Member • 2013 National Championships, Bronze Medalist • 2013 Spring Selection Match, Bronze Medalist • 2010 World Championships Junior Team, Silver Medalist (w/ M. Gossett) • 2010 World Championships Junior Team Member

{ 7 comments… add one }
  • Bpb Fallert October 22, 2018, 9:38 pm

    I have some problems with what was described , as I understand it, sighting in or finding where your gun patterns. Standing up and moving the gun and shooting when on the target seems to be finding out how you are shooting, not where the gun is shooting. Siting and resting the gun shooting at the center of the target should show where the GUN shoots.We use a roll of paper four feet by five feet and draw a clay on it, high, low left or right. The type of targets you shoot, trap, sporting clays, game can be compensated by choke, comb height, hold over or under. Even a turkey hunter would benefit by seeing where his gun is patterning, high or low and how tight at different distances. .

  • Kevin October 22, 2018, 3:22 pm

    I’ve been shooting clay targets for 50 years and hadn’t really understood what pattering a shotgun meant until I read this article. This is great information. However, the first paragraph in this article should have mentioned that this information is intended for people that mostly shoot clay targets with a clay target gun that has removable chokes and and an adjustable comb. Thanks for the great information.

  • archangel October 22, 2018, 10:31 am

    I use birdshot, like #7 and #9 for home defense, it\’s also cheap and plentiful, but I still have a few buck shot and slugs on hand just in case.
    At \”in the house\” distances it\’s as good as a slug and will devastate anything it hits, but if I miss and it goes through a wall or two, it will quickly begin to spread out and slow down so by the time it travels far enough to impact anything else, it should loose most, if not all it\’s lethality.
    Same are concerned about potential attackers wearing body armor.
    If so, go for the crotch take out their junk, open the femeral arteries, and if you aim high, the belly, intestines, kidneys liver, spine and anything else you hit, or go low and hit their, thigh, knees, shin, and feet, will without a doubt spoil their aim, take the fight out of them and will still end their life.
    I assume that if a hail of gunfire is erupting at my house, there will not be a bunch of noncombatants hanging around at or near the house just standing there watching!
    My .223, 7.62×39, .308 and 7.62x54R semiautomatic rifles would be lethal at much longer ranges even after killing, then passing through any intruder, then the house, and that I feel an obligation to prevent if at all possible.

  • archangel October 22, 2018, 10:30 am

    I use birdshot, like #7 and #9 for home defense, it’s also cheap and plentiful, but I still have a few buck shot and slugs on hand just in case.
    At “in the house” distances it’s as good as a slug and will devastate anything it hits, but if I miss and it goes through a wall or two, it will quickly begin to spread out and slow down so by the time it travels far enough to impact anything else, it should loose most, if not all it’s lethality.
    Same are concerned about potential attackers wearing body armor.
    If so, go for the crotch take out their junk, open the femeral arteries, and if you aim high, the belly, intestines, kidneys liver, spine and anything else you hit, or go low and hit their, thigh, knees, shin, and feet, will without a doubt spoil their aim, take the fight out of them and will still end their life.
    I assume that if a hail of gunfire is erupting at my house, there will not be a bunch of noncombatants hanging around at or near the house just standing there watching!
    My .223, 7.62×39, .308 and 7.62x54R semiautomatic rifles would be lethal at much longer ranges even after killing, then passing through any intruder, then the house, and that I feel an obligation to prevent if at all possible.

  • allen991 October 22, 2018, 9:15 am

    I’ve always thought of point of ‘aim’ and point of ‘impact’ as two different things. Point of aim is firing the gun from a fixed position (using a rest) to determine that the gun shoots where it is ‘aimed’. This takes the gun out of the equation in the shooter’s mind. Then you file the beads off and throw them away. (humor). Point of impact is similar to what you described. The shooter focuses on the spot on the board, brings the gun to the shoulder and fires when the comb sets with the cheek (without looking at the barrel). ….. I’m not comfortable with the swing thru method described in the article.

  • RSConsulting October 22, 2018, 9:06 am

    Federal FlyteControl 00 Tactical (or 01 on the rare occasions you can find it). At home defense distances – like shooting a slug (almost). Even at 20 yards – 70% are in the same 2″ hole.

    I’m not talking winged or 4 legged targets – 2 legged are the ones I buy ammo for. And I’ve settled on the load that delivers every BB on target – not through my TV, wall or neighbors kids.

    Rick

  • Rangemaster11B October 22, 2018, 2:58 am

    Also valid for defensive use. As far as I’m concerned, shotguns are for two legged predators. It is helpful to know how much the 00 spreads at a known distance.

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