Bourjaily: Patterning is Such a Grind

Patterning shotguns is drudge work, although I have to admit getting a certainly geeky enjoyment out of counting the pellet holes in paper. The more you pattern guns, the more you wonder how it is we kill things and break targets so consistently with a shotgun. Like snowflakes and thumbprints, no two patterns are alike, and all of them have gaps. The perfect "even" pattern, with pellet strikes distributed across regular intervals, simply doesn't exist.

Patterns are usually evaluated by looking at pellet strikes within a 30-inch circle. In reality, the killing part of a pattern is the 20-inch central core, and even there you will find gaps. As you can see by the picture, there are two gaps in the core of the pattern that a target could fly through unbroken (one pellet strike isn't enough to break a clay. You need three).

I shot these with my trap gun and an Improved Modfied choke at 35 yards. I used a variety of target loads and, as always when I shoot patterns, I learned a couple of things:

Good quality target loads -- Remington STS, Federal Gold Medal Paper -- outpatterned less expensive Remington Gun Clubs.* In fact, a good 1 ounce load puts almost the same total number of pellets in the circle as a less expensive 1 1/8 ounce load does. The difference, I believe, is mostly due to the quality of the shot.

If I had to come up with a number of pellet strikes in a 20-inch pattern core that would virtually guarantee multiple hits on a clay target, I'd say you need 230 hits in a 20-inch circle at whatever range you're shooting your birds.

And, as always, I learned that fooling with 4x4 sheets of paper on a windy day isn't very much fun.

*That said, Gun Clubs are my favorite economy load. They perform well enough and the hulls are highly reloadable using STS data.