Shotgun Shell Patterning



Anatomy of a Shotgun Shell

A Tight Spray Pattern

The choke on your shotgun and the shotgun shells you use determine the spray pattern. (Yes, I know wind velocity and other things have an effect.)

If you are a Newbie, it is important to understand that the shells used in one gun may create a completely different pattern in another gun.

A 30 Inch Target

Firing a few shells will give you the opportunity to determine if that particular brand is going to give you the ‘tight pattern’ you want for hunting.

Basically, there are two things you want to

Check the Shotgun Pattern

Check the Shotgun Pattern

know. (1) Do most of the pellets fall within the 30 inch circle? If they don’t, can you modify your choke to concentrate the shot or spread out the pattern?

(2) In looking at the pattern created, are there ‘holes?’ Holes are areas (inside the  30″ ring) with no pellet shots. Depending on the size of the blank areas, it may indicate that if an animal was standing in that spot, it would escape being your supper.  Will a different brand do better?

Game and Shot Size

Each shot size is effective for certain game.*

Game               Lead/Tungsten        Steel Shot

Pheasant          4 to 6                                     2 to 3

Turkey              4 to 6                                     2 to 3

Quail, dove      7 1/2 to 8

Rabbit                6 to 7 1/2

Squirrel             6

Ducks, low        4 to 6                                  2 to 3

Ducks, high       2 to 4                                 BB to 2

* This graph and the picture of the shotgun shell were extracted from Wikipedia, “Shotgun Shells”

BTW, US law requires the use of non-toxic (steel, bismuth. tungsten, etc.) shot while hunting waterfowl.

Lead vs. Steel Shot Sizes

Lead is heavier; it flattens and deforms on impact. Lead tends to create a wider pattern and carries farther.

Steel is lighter and does not deform on impact. It creates a narrower pattern, but does not carry as far as lead.

Shot size Equivalence: Steel vs. Lead

Steel            6-4           2           BB         BBB        T

Lead              6              4            2

Did You Know?

Ammunition requires careful handling. I am not referring to locking it up separate from weapons — to protect kids.

Certain things can be dangerous to ammo: excessive heat, contact with sharp objects or high impact. Be sure to check the condition of your ammo before loading.


This blog is a companion to my website:

Published in: on February 13, 2009 at 8:06 pm  Comments (7)  
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  1. I’ve got a question about patterning perhaps you can help me with. I’m shooting a Winchester Select O/U. At 40 yards, it appears to be shooting “left” about 8″ or so. (I’ve shot from a rest to avoid pulling it as I shoot). The same pattern is true for Estate, WinchesterAA’s and Remington.

    any suggestions? other than aiming right?



  2. Dan,
    I am Richard, the “Dear Husband” that Marylouise talks about.
    First of all, possibly there is a manufacturing error in the gun — like the choke is bored off center. Considering it is a Winchester — that seems hard to believe. You might write to Winchester and see what they think.

    Heaven forbid that somehow the barrels were bent – ever so slightly- in an accident. A check could be with a long straight edge held against the barrels.
    You did not mention that this “shooting left” happens with each barrel.

    Not being familiar with the weapon, does it have interchangeable choke tubes?
    If so, does this happen with all chokes?

    I’d be happy to email you again – if /when you have more info.

    — Richard

    Dear Dan,

    Richard is our “resident expert” on guns; he’s hunted everything from javelina to elk, mourning doves to turkeys. He’s going out-of-town for a marathon Friday, but should be back by Monday.

    Best wishes,

  3. Hi, If you take 2 twelve gauge shotguns, both with full chokes, using the same type/size shell and one of the shotgun barrels is 21 inches and the other is 30 inches; will you have the same pattern if you shoot both of them into a circle say at 20,30,40 yards?


  4. Dear Dennis,

    Yes, I believe the choke controls the shot pattern, not the length of the barrel of the shotguns.

    The reason it has taken me so long to give you an answer is — I had to wait for my resident hunting guru, “He Who Likes to be Obeyed … But Rarely Is” to return home and agree with my answer.

    He is knee-deep in marathons now and it’s hard to get his attention until he hangs up his running shoes in March!

    Best wishes,

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