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Patterning Your Pheasant Hunting Shotgun

Earlier this week, I received an email from a Pheasants Forever supporter who recently purchased his very first over/under shotgun.  The gentleman asked a variety of very good questions.  I couldn’t immediately answer all of those questions, so I reached out to Ryan Bronson at Federal Premium Ammunition for some help.  Following are those questions with answers thanks to Bronson’s assistance.


What kind of shot pattern am I looking for out of my pheasant hunting shotgun?

(See photo to above)  This image appears on the side of every box of Federal’s Prairie Storm pheasant load.  According to Bronson, “This is an actual target that we shot with Prairie Storm.  This pattern is actually off to the right a little bit (wind drift, shooter error, etc.).  This was a 40-yard patterning target and we look for pellet counts in the 30 and 15 inch rings.  Shotgunners should be looking for even distribution with few openings in the shot pattern that a bird could fit through.  Even though this shot is 6 inches to the right, there are still plenty of pellets in the critical zones.”


What do people do for chokes in the upper and lower barrels of an over/under?  Your best choke choice is determined after patterning your gun with your preferred shot brand and size.  Personally, I like shooting open chokes.  I start with a skeet choke on the top barrel to open up the pattern as much as possible for that first closest shot.  I’ve found this to be an especially important factor in shooting Prairie Storm as the shot performs best with very open chokes.  My second barrel has an improved cylinder choke in it to retain a more open pattern, but not quite as open as my first shot, considering the bird is now rapidly getting down range.   


Is it the ammo or the choke that determines the best pattern?  It’s the combination working in harmony with your shotgun.  Finding the correct recipe through the three variables (gun, choke and ammo) will determine the best pattern for you.  If you already know your gun, then the choke and ammo choices are determined in unison. 


Bronson offered a few additional thoughts to keep in mind when patterning your pheasant shotgun:

I would emphasize understanding what your gun/ammo/choke is capable of at various distances.  Sometimes you are better off letting a bird get out away from you a little before shooting it, especially if it is a tight pattern at 15 yards. 


And if you shoot steel shot, then open the choke up too.  Steel patterns tighter than lead.  Plated lead shot, like the copper and nickel plated shot in Federal Premium will tend to pattern tighter than plain lead shot in value-priced loads because the un-plated shot will have more deformation.  But these are all general rules.  You only find specifics by shooting paper and testing.


The Pointer is written by Bob St.Pierre, Pheasants Forever’s Vice President of Marketing.  Follow Bob on Twitter @BobStPierre.

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5 Responses to “Patterning Your Pheasant Hunting Shotgun”

  1. Tom Weyandt says:

    Too few pattern their guns.

    There’s a possibility that the shot being 6 inches to the right is the result of a improper fit of the gun to the shooter. If that result occurred with regularity the best thing would be to see a specialist who helps fit guns to the shooter. I think the term used is the ‘cast’ of the gun. Another possibility is that the shooter could be left eye dominant and is not making the correction needed. But the bottom line is that with this example it would seem likely that the hunter would have a heck of a time hitting a crossing bird that was going from right to left.

  2. Trent says:

    I like Prairie Storm loads on late season birds, BUT on opening day when they flush close, those shells tear up the meat pretty badly, even with wider chokes. Something about the Saturn shaped pellets gets really deep into the birds and tears them to shreds.

  3. Don says:

    Prarie Storm is good ammo, however I load my own with equal results saving alot of money. Plus I can alter my loads to accomodate my gun, why shoot factory ammo that can vary in each gun out there. Shoot practice with full or modified chokes and switch to more open chokes during hunting season, your harvest rate will increase and less injured or winged birds!!!

  4. Pat H says:

    My observations last season all on wild birds with a 20 gauge using the Prairie Storm steel was that it was very effective. I found it to be one of the more deadly loads in steel I have ever used for pheasants. I recently patterned my 20 gauge using the Prairie Storm steel and lead to see just what was happening and it patterned very well. I really like the steel shot.

  5. Clark K says:

    Mr. Bronson is incorrectly firing his top barrel first. One should fire the bottom barrel first. This causes less muzzle jump because the bottom barrel is more in line with the stock of the gun and the gun recoils back into the shoulder. That allows for a quicker follow up shot.

    I am all for hunters using more open chokes for bird hunting. Most hunters way over choke and are really optimized for the 40-50 yd shot. Most birds are shot within 35 yds of the gun and more open chokes should be used. Because I hunt with a pointer I use anything from cylinder choke to light modified but rarely use anything tighter.


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