Patterning your shotgun is critical, but an often overlooked aspect of being prepared to use that gun in self-defense.
I have patterned a few shotguns before and understand that many people do not because they are living in some type of an alternate reality believing that a shotgun doesn’t need to be aimed and that somehow their payload will magically find their intended target. The hard reality is you must practice sound fundamentals and have both a steady aim and good trigger control in order to hit your target, even with a shotgun.
Before I get started, I’d like to ask all of the Gun Pretenders, YouTube, and Instagram Instructors and of course those famous Keyboard Operators out there, please stop recommending birdshot for professional/duty and or home or self-defense. Birdshot offers less than adequate penetration and besides, birdshot is for shooting what … the correct answer would be, you guessed it, birds.
OK, let’s talk about how to pattern your shotgun.
In order to establish a control group, I recommend placing three (3) shots on a target with a variety of payloads, each from the exact same distance, 15yds or 45ft. The POA or Point of Aim I chose with my Beretta 1301 Tactical was the center of the “A” Zone on an I.P.S.C. (International Practical Shooting Confederation) target. (Yes, I patterned the gun with some birdshot and I used a distance of 10yds or 30ft for those payloads)
Sure you could use five shots and most often in zeroing my rifle I will use a five shot group because I want to make sure that I minimize the outliers or as Pat McNamara calls them, “Junebugs.” However, I feel that three shot groups are sufficient to get an accurate feel of the payload and what it will do when launched from your shoulder-fired shotgun.
The reason I specifically mention shoulder-fired shotgun is that there are a couple new kids on the block, the Remington TAC-14, and the Mossberg 590A1 Shockwave. These shotguns have been available for over a year now and maybe close to two; however, they are basically hand cannons and are difficult to shoot with much accuracy using full-power payloads even for the most experienced of shooters. One man, “Brobee223” on YouTube has perfected the art and was very successful using his Mossberg 590A1 Shockwave to bag a couple deer late last year. I have linked his video below, give it a look. Fair warning, it is rather lengthy.
Back on track with patterning my Beretta 1301 Tactical. The first load I chose to shoot was by far the best and it really comes as no surprise. The Federal Premium 2 3/4″ 00BK, 8-Pellet, Low Recoil Flite Control® Wad (LE13300) is the choice of many an experienced shotgunner. As you can see in the photo below, all twenty-four (24) pellets from my three shot group landed within a 3″ group with the three (3) larger holes being the wads.
Below are photos of my other targets, using different loads, showing their patterns.
Federal 2 3/4″ 000BK, 8 Pellet, Maximum. (F127000)
Olin Corporation 2 3/4″ 00BK, 9 Pellet Military Grade. (Brown Box)
Federal Premium 2 3/4″ 1BK, 15 Pellet, Low Recoil Flite Control® Wad. (LE132 1B) This was the second best pattern; however, I find that the 1BK is not as consistent as the 8 Pellet 00BK patterned in the first photo.
Federal 2 3/4″ 4BK, 27 Pellet, Maximum. (F127 4B) Just to big of a spread for me at this range and not something I would recommend for professional/duty or home or self-defense use.
As I mentioned above, I wanted to put some birdshot on target and here are the results. Birdshot Federal #4 Shot “Heavy Field Load” – 2 3/4″ – 1 1/8oz – 10yds (Take note, the larger holes were made by the wad, not the shot) This sure appears to be a tight pattern, it’s the lack of penetration that makes birdshot suboptimal in its effectiveness for professional/duty or home or self-defense use.
Winchester Super Target #8 Shot 2 3/4″ 1oz – 10yds (Once again, the larger holes were made by the wad, not the shot) Same result, fairly tight pattern; however, penetration with this payload would also be an issue.
So, once you have established a control group and your desired starting distance (Mine was 15yds) and you have selected the payload that you feel works best in your shotgun, it’s time to find out what the maximum effective range of your shotgun is with that particular load. In order to determine that, you will want to run your shotgun out to a distance and stop when you find the point at which you can keep all of your pellets from your chosen payload inside an 8″ to no more than 12″ pattern. I’d also recommend not only shooting cardboard or paper targets alone, make sure to shoot some steel as well. I happen to use 12″ AR500 discs that are 3/8″ thick, they work well with 00BK at this range.
From this test, it’s easy to see that my 1301T likes the Federal Premium 2 3/4″ 00BK 8-Pellet, Low Recoil Flite Control® Wad (LE13300) best at 15 yards. From previous experience with this payload, I can move back as far as 30yds and still keep the pattern inside an 8″ to 12″ group and that is precisely the reason I choose this particular load for my shotgun.
When I can find some time in between the courses that I am teaching and the ones I am attending as a student this spring and summer I will pattern my Vang Comp Systems Remington 870P to find out exactly what it likes best. Candidly, I suspect that there will be some similarities; however, one never knows until we put in the work.
If you need assistance in patterning your shotgun for professional/duty or home or self-defense use please consult a reputable Instructor/Coach who is familiar with the nuances of patterning a shotgun and can give you proper advice on the appropriate payload for your intended use as well.
Until next time …
As always, live life abundantly; train hard so you can fight easy!
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