Patterning Shotguns for Waterfowl Hunting

Patterning Shotguns For Waterfowl Hunting

Patterning Shotguns for Waterfowl Hunting

Patterning shotguns for waterfowl hunting is an often overlooked aspect of the hunt. So much emphasis is put on decoy placement, concealment, and scouting, but none of that matters if you’re throwing a pattern out there that that isn’t uniform and has holes in it. The only way to find out what your gun is doing is to test it on the range much like turkey hunters do. You want to give yourself the best chance possible at harvesting that passing duck or goose and firing some shots down range is the way to do so.


The Test

We gathered some waterfowl hunting buddies up in southern Illinois and ended up with a small arsenal of guns and ammo.  We were well prepared had a fight broke out! Each shot took place at 40 yards into a 20 inch circle without the use of a bench. Targets were marked and labeled after each shot, then grouped by gun. We used the Winchester Super X2, Beretta A400, Beretta XTrema 2, Benelli Super Black Eagle, Remington 870, and the Remington SP-10. Bear in mind that no two guns are the same. You could take 2 of the same make/model of gun and not get the same results from using the same choke/shell combo. You can use this data as a starting point for your patterning shotguns for waterfowl hunting, but don’t take it as the gospel. Just because a choke/shell combo didn’t perform well in our test doesn’t mean both should be abandoned. Try the same choke with a different shell or the same shell with a different choke. Most of us have a few chokes laying around to use and by inviting some buddies to the range with you, you’ll have a variety of shells that you can all try.


Our setup wasn’t ideal. It wasn’t by the book like most people say how to do it, but it was consistent. Every shot was fired at the same distance and the same size circle. Most tests you read about take place at 40 yards into a 30 inch circle. We had chunks of cardboard from a recent move that only measured 20 inches.  We used what we had and for the sake of consistency, they worked. Now don’t go comparing our shot numbers and percentages to other tests because their targets are probably larger allowing more pellets to be counted. What we wanted to do was see what our guns were doing and give others an idea of how different shell/choke combos stacked up against each other. This is far from scientific, but come on, we are resourceful waterfowl hunters!

What to Look For

When patterning shotguns for waterfowl hunting, it isn’t just about the number of pellets in the circle. You want your pattern to be uniform throughout the circle and have a minimal number of bare spots in it.

Patterning Shotguns for Waterfowl HuntingEveryone would like to see a completely uniform pattern across the circle, but it is nearly impossible to achieve. Good results minimize and keep the gaps at 3 inches or under. The example at left shows a centered pattern, but there is a noticeable gap at the bottom left of the 20 inch circle. The pellets that did hit low and left hit outside of the target circle. When shooting a smaller size shot, the shell has more pellets in it, but that doesn’t necessarily mean more pellets on target. Some load and choke combos just don’t work well. The number of pellets on target is an important part of taking a bird down, but it’s penetration that kills. Penetration comes from the speed and size of the shot. It obviously takes more energy to penetrate the thick down of a goose and since they are a larger animal we typically utilize BB shot size. For ducks, their feathers are thinner and they aren’t as large as a goose so 2’s typically work well.  Shot size for ducks or geese isn’t set in stone. It carries a bit of personal preference in the decision, but keep in mind your typical shot distance and the size of the birds you’re going after.

Our Patterning Shotguns for Waterfowl Hunting Results

Gun Choke Shell Size Shot Size Shell Make Hits/TotalPercentage
RemingtonSP10 Factory I.M. 3.5 2 RemingtonHS Steel 82/?/?
Factory Modified 3.5 2 Black Cloud 121/18864%
Remington870 Factory Modified 3.5 BB Black Cloud 60/10856%
BenelliSBE Factory Modified 3.5 BB Black Cloud 71/18838%
WinchesterSX2 SRM Terror .655 3 3 Black Cloud 75/19838%
SRM Terror .655 3 2 Hevi-Metal 81/18644%
Briley I.M. 3 2 Hevi-Metal 88/18647%
Kicks Modified 3 2 Kent 50/15632%
SRM Terror .655 3 2 Kent 50/15632%
SRM Terror .655 3 1 Estate 56/12943%
SRM Terror .655 3.5 2 Black Cloud 121/18864%
SRM Terror .655 3.5 BB Kent 57/9958%
BerettaXtrema 2 Wrights Full 3 1 Estate 61/12947%
Wrights Full 3.5 2 Hevi-Metal 77/21137%
Wrights Full 3.5 2 Black Cloud 70/18837%
Wrights Full 3.5 2 Black Cloud 65/18835%
Wrights Modified 3.5 3 Black Cloud 50/18827%
Beretta A400 Factory Full 3 2 Hevi-Metal 67/18636%
Factory Full 3.5 2 Black Cloud 77/18841%
Factory Full 3.5 BB Kent 47/9948%

You can see the number of pellets in the shell didn’t always mean more pellets on target. The Super X2 shooting the 3’s is advertised as having 198 pellets per shell while the 2’s have 186. The 2’s had 6 more pellets on target while being advertised as having 12 fewer pellets in the shell. It all boils down to finding the load(s) your gun performs best with.  For the SP10 we used in our shotgun patterning, the load that performed best was 3.5 inch #2 Black Cloud through the factory modified choke tube. The center of the pattern was slightly high and left, but still managed to put 121 inside the 20 inch circle.

Patterning Shotguns for Waterfowl Hunting

Take these results as a guide. Each gun is different and it’s up to you to test and obtain your own results. We owe it to the waterfowl we pursue to limit the number of cripples and lost birds. As diehard waterfowl hunters we are always looking for something to do in the offseason and what better way to get a fix than patterning shotguns for waterfowl hunting this coming season.



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