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Article 8 – 2020 (September)

a coach monitoring a student's shooting

Russell Mark


Australian Shooter Magazine – Question and Answers


Article 8 – 2020 (September)



Question: I have taken a lot of interest in the art and science behind patterning my shotgun and also have been very surprised by the results I have obtained. There are plenty of people that suggest testing a shotgun on a pattern board is a waste of time. At times I find I am getting some inconsistent results and that makes me feel as though the criticism is justified. I know you are a great believer in shotgun patterning, but can you explain my inconsistent results? I am using the same shotshells each time and generally like to shoot at pattern paper at exactly forty metres.

Michael Gauci, Richmond NSW



Answer: Without actually watching you test your shotgun it is difficult but having patterned thousands of shotguns over the years your inconsistent results are not unique.

At the range in Werribee where I do the greater majority of pattern testing, I have hammered in a two metre fence high steel fencing picket twenty metres back from the pattern board. I have wrapped some soft rubber around the pole from the 1.3 to 1.8 metre mark. This rubber coated pole has been a saviour for the exact reason you describe. Most shotgun shooters can’t hold a shotgun steady to save their lives. I fall into this category. What I suggest is the person patterning their shotgun stand as close to this pole as possible and mount the shotgun EXACTLY as you would do on the shooting range, paddock, riverbank or wherever it is you are going to use your shotgun. Try to get the barrels as close as five millimetres to the pole when mounting the shotgun to your shoulder then gently lean sideways ever so slightly so the barrel is now resting against the pole. If you have mounted the shotgun in your natural position this pole should take away any human error in testing the firearm.

Patterning your shotgun only translates to a meaningful test if you can duplicate at the pattern board what you are doing when you are under pressure when using your shotgun counts for real. The problem, other than any unsteadiness that the pole should take care of, is that often people don’t put their heads on the stock with the same pressure when shooting at a stagnant steel plate or paper, as they do when they are shooting at a clay target or wild game. If you push your head down too hard the shotgun may shoot flatter and to the left (assuming you are right handed) and if you don’t push your head down hard enough it may very well place your shot charge higher and further to the right than it normally would.

Pattern testing as I have described above is a great way to see if your shotgun is shooting straight. At twenty metres you will get a great guide to the percentage of the shot pattern above, below, left or right of centre. At this distance, regardless of the choke you are using, you will see the pattern open up enough for you to visually make a decision IF you are mounting the gun in the same technical way each time regardless of where you are using it. The further you go back the greater the chance you have of making small errors, exactly the same way your rifle works. The closer you are the more accurate you will be. In the USA thirteen yards is a common distance to pattern shotguns for exactly this reason. I personally find that for people using really tight chokes, this distance doesn’t allow the shot to spread apart far enough to get a great visual guide.

Your distance of forty metres is way too far unless you are trying to make a judgement about how your ammunition is performing at a range you may be trying to shoot your targets at.

I can’t understand the criticism you are receiving from patterning your shotgun. If you were introduced to a professional shooter controlling vermin for a living, then you would expect that person to constantly sight their rifle in to gain continued accuracy to maintain results. Why would anyone think it is any different with a shotgun? If you don’t definitively know by physically testing the firearm then you are simply guessing.

I can’t explain why some people can pattern their shotguns “freehand” so much more accurately than others, but if you ever have ever had the misfortune to see me shoot a pistol then you would get some idea. The target is rarely in danger!

Try using a support such as a pole and stand a bit closer then I am sure you will eliminate the inconsistency in your results.

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