Patterning your shotgun
I have thought of writing this hint for a couple of years, but because there are so many great articles about patterning written by great shooter/coaches, I’ve waited. Now three of my students have recently purchased used or new shotguns, and all of them want to pattern their shotguns.
Patterning gives the shooter confidence in where their shotgun and any sub-gauge tubes, as well as their shot shells, shoot. I personally like to pattern my shotgun when I’m evaluating new loads just to see if they perform as well or better than my previous loads. I also pattern any new (to me) shotguns.
Many years ago a friend of mine purchased a couple of pallets of 12-gauge ammunition for a really great price. His scores with these new shells dropped him out of AA almost immediately.
At first he thought he was just having a few bad days. After this happened a third time, I suggested that we pattern his shells. We found big holes in the several patterns that we shot. I loaned him some of my reloads while still at the pattern board, and they worked fine. He then used my reloads at his next shoot, and his scores came back up. His great deal wasn’t so great after all, and patterning proved it was the shells, not him.
I like to pattern from a steady rest as you might when sighting in a rifle. I believe that shows me where the shotgun shoots the loads or the shotgun I’m evaluating. I also like to use paper so I can take the patterns home to mark and evaluate at my leisure. Paper also allows me to keep a record of past evaluations. I place the paper between 14 and 18 yards for skeet. I use that yardage as that’s about where I try to break most of my skeet targets.
Pattern your new shotguns, sub-gauge tubes, and shotshells to see where they shoot so you’re confident in their points of impact.
If, with your current shotgun, you have a sudden change for the worse as you try a new brand of shells or a new reloading formula, take your new brand or new reloads and some of your old ones to the patterning board and see if there’s a difference in your patterns. It may be your problem is with your ammunition and not just you or your shotgun that’s affecting your scores.
Barry Hartmann is an NSSA Master Level and NRA Certified shotgun instructor who teaches American skeet and wingshooting. You can contact Barry at firstname.lastname@example.org or 918-803-2393.