What Distance Should Be Used to Pattern a Shotgun?

The question on what distance should be used to pattern a shotgun may sound difficult. For beginners, this is not as hard as it sounds. It entails determining the optimal distance in which your shotgun will shoot reliably and consistently throughout.

Understanding the proper way to pattern a shotgun improves the sporting and hunting shotgun performance.

But how, you ask?

Simple, it helps you become successful in what you need to accomplish in every hunting escapade. No matter how much skills and techniques you have acquired, failing to pattern the distance of your shotgun the right way renders you unsuccessful in the game session.

On the other hand, when you pattern your gun correctly, you save your time, avoid discouragements, and minimize the number of loads you’d have wasted.

What Distance Should Be Used to Pattern a Shotgun?

Then What Should Be The Ideal Shotgun Distance?

There is no exact range that’s been set as a rule of thumb. Different hunters will give different distances ranging anywhere from 20 yards to 40 yards.

The Ideal Shotgun Distance

So Why the Variation?

Different gun models form unique spraying patterns upon firing. Some do best at 20 yards while others are at their best at 40 yards.

Also, your shotgun’s pattern will depend on the way you shoot and how you have patterned it.

The question that you should ask yourself before determining the distance is:

What Do I Want To Achieve?

For hunters, the maximum shooting distance of 40 yards is ideal. It is a safe distance and the prey won’t detect you. Plus, this distance provides the opportunity to move closer if you are unable to capitalize on it.

If you want to determine the POI/ POA (high, low, right or left variance), 20 yards would be the best fit for you.

Actually, 20 yards is the maximum distance allowed for skeet shooting. From this distance you can see the density and the distribution of a shot. Also, you will be able to gauge the effective diameter.

The following factors determine shotgun pattern.

  • Cartilage performance

When you fire a gun, the loads flight forms different patterns.  It can create a round or oval pattern depending on the model of your gun.  The round shape concentrates the patterns on the pattern board whereas the oval shape diverge them.

  • Stocking of the shotgun

Short stocked guns shoot the pellets upward while long stocked ones shoot the pellets downward.

  • Choke adjustment

Some shotguns come with chokes that are adjustable while others are fixed. The adjustable ones yield different results.

For example, a full choke concentrates the shot and vice versa. It is worth noting that you can modify the choke in your shotgun.

  • Type of load you are using.

Different loads perform differently thus yielding different patterns.  So it is always good to test them yourself to have knowledge of the patterns. Typically, the larger the size of the load, the lesser the patterns will spread on the pattern board.

How To Determine The Pattern Of A Shotgun

It is good to set the pattern of a shotgun every time you acquire a new gun, or before you set out for hunting. This is because patterning it increases your accuracy to hit the prey without injuring it.

How To Determine The Pattern Of A Shotgun

So what is the best patterning distance to start with?

The distance to start with depends on the purpose. You can start with 40yards for hunting moving downward or start from 20 moving upward for other activities.

The following are steps for patterning a shotgun:

Step one – Set a Target

Start by setting a target in an open area free from human activities.

The target can be a drawn circle on a blank piece of paper or a dark spot on a blank paper mounted on a board. The patterning board and the paper should measure 4 by 4 inches.

Alternatively, other people use a commercial bull’s eye.

Step two – Position the 40 Yards

Using a piece of string or tape measure the 40 yards mark.

Step three – Shoot from the 40 Yards Mark

Try to shoot from the 40 yards mark. Every time you shoot, calculate the percentage of the number of load that hits the target. Replace the paper and shoot three times before you move on to the next distance.

Step four – Try a 30-yard Distance

After you have replaced the paper, shoot from a distance of 30yards.  Shoot three times and calculate the number of shots that meet the target.

 Repeat the process of shooting at 20yards and 15yards consecutively.

Step five – Compare the Percentages

Compare the percentages of loads that have hit the bull’s eye. The highest percentage determines your shotgun distance.


This commercialized patterning board has a limitation. It may not serve you best for the whole patterning process. I would recommend using the replaceable blank piece of paper for better patterning results.

If your patterns are too dispersed, you risk missing your prey.

For beginners, you will have to practice before you are able to pattern your shotgun.

 For hunters, it is advisable to start patterning your shotgun from the maximum shooting distance of 40 yards. This distance is safe and the prey won’t detect your presence.

Advantages of patterning the Distance of a shotgun

  • To determine the pellets you are using. Different pellets will yield varying results at different distances.
  • To make clean kills. It lets you kill the animal in a humane way by hitting the vital organ
  • To hit the desired target easily
  • To avoid hindrance in your endeavors
  • To avoid injuries
  • To determine the gun’s resting spot
  • To gauge the gun’s point of impact
  • Hunters are able to know which prey to shoot using which shotgun
  • It will help you in selecting your ammunition, the Grade A choke, and a definite distance in your hunting: where you can figure out what your kill array is.


For long range shooting, I would recommend using a shotgun with a modified choke.  This is because tightening the choke constricts the patterns thus producing a dense pattern. For the same purpose, if your gun has a full choke, it will give you the same results: patterns stay together.

The distance that produces 55-60 percent of the loads being evenly distributed on the pattern board is the correct distance for your shotgun.

Responsible gun holders know what is coming out of their guns. Consequently, patterning a shotgun is considered a noble activity everyone should learn to perform before going out for hunting, sporting or even before you own a gun. Hope the question is clear to you – What Distance Should Be Used to Pattern a Shotgun?

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