When was the last time you patterned your shotgun? Possibly never? If so, join the club. It’s a big club.
To most smoothbore users, patterning seems almost superfluous. A shotgun’s a scattergun, right? When we miss, we universally blame our leads.
But what if your target simply sailed through one of the many holes in your shot pattern or was just tagged by a single pellet on the weak outer fringe of your pattern. Or suppose your scattergun doesn’t really center its pattern where you know your point-of-aim is. Suppose the stocking of the gun doesn’t fit your anatomy and affects your ability to center your patterns. Suppose your shotgun with its particular chambers, forcing cones, bore size and chokes simply isn’t compatible with the factory ammunition or handload it’s being fed. How will you ever know if you don’t spend a few minutes shooting patterns on paper?
The answer is you won’t.
While patterning and interpreting patterns seems like an arcane science full of techie terms like “pattern performance efficiency” and “pellet distribution factors” coupled with mystical pie chart representations, the patterning process can be simplified and actually be enjoyable. What has changed is the nature of available patterning target.
The HunterJohn series consists of 38″x 40″ targets overprinted with 79 clay pigeons, or the silhouette and internals of a duck, or the head of a turkey. In the center of each target is a large red aiming point. The advantage of the HunterJohn series is that each target permits the shooter to see the location and concentration of their patterns superimposed on a realistic image—either on a clay pigeon about the size of the body of a dove or quail or on one of our popular game birds. The targets even incorporate a variety of 30″ circles and pellet count formulas for more traditional pattern analysis.
In practice, the targets are shot at the distances commonly occurring in the field or on the trap, skeet or sporting clays range. It’s your choice—say anywhere from 25 to 60 yards depending upon your game—and not at the traditional standard of 40 yards. They are shot with the exact ammunition and with the exact degree of choke you would be using as well. The aiming point is the 4″ red dot in the middle of the target. I would recommend shooting at least three targets for interpretive purposes before changing the load, choke or distance.
To interpret the results, I hold the target up against the sky and check whether or not the pattern seems centered on the target. Each pellet hole becomes a point of light, and the distribution of the shot in the pattern is immediately visible.
I then check the pellets in the actual target image. The duck and turkey images provide immediate feedback as to whether or not the shot have hit a lethal area of anatomy. The clay pigeons require some study. I routinely draw a large “X” across any pigeon that does not contain at least three pellets, following the generally accepted rule-of-thumb, that it takes approximately three pellets in the core body area of smaller upland birds to insure an adequate percentage of kills.
Then comes the corrective phase. Is the pattern centered? If not, the problem may be as simple as the way you mount your gun, or as complex as the stocking, the barrels, sighting plane, or the choke of the shotgun. The answer may be as simple as a little hands-on coaching or as complex as the purchase of a custom-fitted stock or a new gun altogether.
Does the pattern reveal a distribution of shot appropriate to your game? For example, a high core-density for head shots on turkey or a well filled out, even pattern for clay targets and most bird shooting. Here’s where the fun comes in with endless options for tailoring the end results with changes in ammunition, powders, wads, shot sizes, and choking.
So if you’ve been put off by the whole idea of patterning your shotguns, pick up some HunterJohn targets. They’re fun, easy to use, and the results may surprise you. One thing for sure, you will know your shotgun a lot better than you do now. Patterning targets let your gun speak to you and in doing so, reveals its likes and dislikes, its strengths and its weaknesses.
By Holt Bodinson
(cases of 72 targets for $79.08)
P.O. Box 477, St. Louis, MO 63166
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