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Ten Pheasant Shotgun Patterning Questions Answered

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This is the year to finally pattern your pheasant hunting shotgun. Mike Holm and Erik Carlson of Federal Premium Ammunition bring their expertise and cut through the technical world of patterning to help you master the basics and get ready for wingshooting.

1. Most pheasant hunters never pattern their shotguns. Why should they start?

“All hunters should pattern their shotguns to see what their point of impact looks like at different distances,” says Mike Holm, Federal Premium Product Manager, “Not all shotguns shoot dead center. Knowing your pattern can increase your ability to hit game in the field.  Patterning also lets you see the pattern density and can help you choose the right choke constriction.”

2. At what range(s) should you pattern your pheasant hunting shotgun?

Holm says it’s good to pattern your shotgun at both 20 yards and 40 yards. “This gives you a representation of what your pattern will be for an up-close flushing bird and a more distant flyer.”

3. Should you pattern for both early season and late season pheasant hunting?

“By patterning your shotgun at 20 yards and 40 yards you are preparing yourself for both early and late season hunting.  As we all know, not all early season birds are close,” Holm says.

4. How many different pheasant loads should you plan on patterning?

The most important thing, Holm says, is to pattern the load you plan to take to the field and know what it does. But patterning different loads can be valuable. “It can be interesting to pattern two different loads to see the performance differences. You might even find performance differences that fit different hunting conditions,” Holm says.

5. What choke is a good starting point to begin patterning?

“When patterning Prairie Storm® with the FLIGHTCONTROL® wad, start with Improved Cylinder (IC) chokes, because they generally provide a great combination for up close and at distance,” Holm says, “If you are using a load with a standard wad system, try both IC and Mod (Modified) chokes.”

6. How many rounds should be fired to make an accurate assessment?

Shoot three rounds at three separate targets and then go look at the patterns, says Erik Carlson, Federal Premium Engineering Manager, “This will give you a good idea of what you are getting from a choke and load combination because it averages out any shooter error.”

7. How do you assess your results?

Before you shoot, draw a 3-inch circle in the middle of the paper with a 30-inch diameter ring around it. “If you want to get extremely technical, you can also put a 15-inch diameter ring inside the 30-inch ring,” Holm adds. “You can use these rings to check the average point of impact, pattern density and pattern coverage.”

8. What are the desired results on paper you’re looking for?

For pheasant hunting, Holm says it’s a pattern that is consistently split 50/50 both up and down and left and right from center. “The pattern density should be consistent from edge to edge within the 30-inch circle.”

9. Does steel shot pattern much differently than lead shot?

Steel loads will tend to open up faster than lead loads due to the lower pellet density (this depends on shot hardness, velocity, payload weight, buffer and wad design). “If you hunt lands that require non-lead loads, Prairie Storm® Steel performs similar to a 2 3/4-inch No. 5 lead load,” Holm points out, “It has a similar pellet count, time of flight to 40 yards, and penetration energy at 40 yards.”

10. When should you consider purchasing an aftermarket choke tube?

Holm proclaims aftermarket choke tube makers are experts in their craft.  “Each of them has a unique way to look at patterns and performance. If you are looking to perfect your shotgun pattern, do some research and go with the one that best fits your hunting style and preferences.”

This story originally appeared in Pheasants Forever’s eNewsletter. Return to On the Wing.

Anthony’s Antics Afield is written by Anthony Hauck, Pheasants Forever’s Online Editor. Email Anthony at AHauck@pheasantsforever.organd follow him on Twitter @AnthonyHauckPF.

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18 Responses to “Ten Pheasant Shotgun Patterning Questions Answered”

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  1. harry malcom says:

    hey fellows, this is nothing but an ad for federal ammo. by hawking his product I feel that nothing he says is true, bad article.

  2. mark thiesse says:

    What steel load is compared in the statement to lead 2 3/4 no 5?

  3. Icelander68 says:

    I’ve hunted with guys that only shoot cheap shells. The reason Federal would write an article about patterning is because this is the way to really see the difference. I patterned my gun with some cheap shells at 40 yards and I had gaps that a rooster would fit in. Good information about distance, chokes and yes Federal ammo is mentioned. So what…Federal is a big supporter of Pheasants Forever and I always see them at every hunting related event. Thanks for stepping up and writing a good article that I will definitely use.

  4. Ron Scudder says:

    While it may be promoting federal ammo. I find all the statements made to be very true, no matter whos shell you use. Check your patterns using different chokes, loads and shells. You will find it can make a difference for those that take thier hunting seriously. It can take you from a marginal shooter to one people talk about your consistant shooting abilities an harvest sucsess.

  5. Doug Burrows says:

    I think it is a great article with valuable information. We owe it to the game we hunt to minimize crippling shots and this exercise with patterning will help. Federal supports Pheasants Forever and I welcome their expert comments.

  6. Matt says:

    I agree with the article and the other posters except the first one, this is very good information regardless of the company mentioned. This very similar talk in the turkey hunting world and any rifle used in the field, shoot it at paper or stick your head in the sand.

    I also see Federal at many events and in many ways promoting Pheasants Forever so good on them and I welcome their insight.

  7. Scott L. says:

    Federal Promo or not, this is very valuable info. I kave done this and I learned a lot about my Benelli and its pattern with different loads. I will add that in my experience, there is not better ammo than the Prarie Storm!

  8. K. Perry says:

    Hey…look. Patterning your field gun is fine. But what this article fails to even address, is the “So What”. “So What” are you going to do w/your nice field gun with a POI (point of impact) that is not where you are pointing. Change/adjust the stock? Do some custom barrel or choke work? (They elude to the idea of trying multiple loads to find a good match..might work, might not) If that doesn’t work, what next? Sell it and get a gun that does have a POI where you are looking? If not, then WHEN you do find out the point of impact is not what your thought..what are you going to do about it?
    Are you going to mentally think: “oh, that pheasant is flushing at about 20 yards, and I know my gun’s point of impact at 20 yards is 6 inches low and 8 inches to the right, so I need to aim 6 inches high and 8 inches to the left of this bird…oh..wait it’s now at 30 yards, and I know that my gun’s point of impact is 1 foot low and 1 1/3 feet right at that range so I…..oh wait it’s now at 40+ yards and outta range..guess I shoulda just taken my normal point and shot a few times!!!

  9. John B. says:

    I have been hunting upland birds for over 40 years. Patterning my shotgun is always the first thing I do. Most gun shot where they are pointed, but if it does not, it is nice to know.
    As far as what to do if it does not. Any gunsmith worth his salt can adjust barrels. If it is 6 inches low and 8 inches right at 20 yards. You forgot to pick it up after loading you dogs, and ran it over with your truck.

  10. Pete D says:

    As far as patterning goes, every shot performs differently from every gun. Things that affect your pattern: shot size, total weight of shot, velocity, choke, and your particular gun. You shouldn’t take a load in the field that you do not know how it will perform.

    Of course if you never pattern you gun, you can always blame those missed birds on a poor pattern.

  11. Chuck B. says:

    I bought a nice semi-automatic 20 gauge shotgun that was beautiful to look at, a pleasure to shoot, but I couldn’t hit well with it all. After shooting several boxes of shells, I decided to pattern this new shotgun, and found that it hit about 8 inches low and to the left at 10 yards. “NO WONDER” I was having trouble busting clays with it. The gun came with shims, which I went through, and then added some additional paper spacers to get the guns point of impact to match the point of aim. In fact, because I like to see the bird above the barrel, I tuned it to shoot slightly high. So – good article.

  12. JDub says:

    Great article.
    Thank you Federal and thank you Pheasants Forever!

  13. Barrel length 66 cm. How would.

  14. K. Perry says:

    “I have been hunting upland birds for over 40 years.”
    Excellent John..me too. in fact I’m at the 49 year level.
    But probably what taught me more was I was also on both the Air Force Academy and U.S. Air Force trap and skeet teams, with an Invitation to the Oympic trials (Olympic/Bunker Trap) in 1980. Have had shotguns custom fit for me along with trying to bend bending barrels and warp stocks. Anyway, it can be as simple as the wrong brand of screw in choke. Trust me when I say that I can hand you some shotguns (I have 60 of them BTW) that have not been run over by a truck–that if you put in the wrong fitting screw in Choke(s) it will NOT shoot where you are pointing. SO: ..topic for next article maybe? “Where to start fixing it-when your field gun does not shoot where you are looking”.

  15. I salute K. Perry and John and admire their experience. Moreover I think everybody knows aproximately where to aim to shoot right. It is true, a more professional way is patterning. But wait a second. Do we all rely on hunting for food supplying?

  16. Joe says:

    Who doesnt pattern?

    My first 5 or 6 shots each summer are at the pattern board. Your pattern helps you get a feel for how to aim.

  17. Brent M says:

    Some decent info here & not a bad article. I used to do LOTS of reloading, patterning, chronographing, tweaking loads, finding the right gun/load/choke combo, etc. It was a heck of a lot of fun & I had some loads that I REALLY liked! Had Excel spreadsheets of various data and everything – pretty nerdy. But the last several years, I’ve hardly loaded a hull. Started shooting primarily Kent tungsten-matrix in my Sweet 16 at pheasants. I’ve never patterned it, but they’ve worked VERY well for me. So…I have no interest in patterning them. They’re probably fine. But what if they happen to pattern poorly?? That would conflict w/ my experience & would be too much for my brain to take.

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