While the serious target shooter may agonise about stock dimensions, barrel length and so on, what is often forgotten is the importance of ballistics, that is except for the very best of them. Down the years shotgun cartridges, and the patterns they deliver, have always been an abiding preoccupation among the top target shooters of the world. That is simply because they hit most of what they shoot at and so they are always looking for a cartridge that will provide those one or two extra broken targets that stand between them and the biggest prizes in their game.
In contrast, it seems with most shooters it is recoil rather than patterns that is the major concern, which I find hard to understand as cartridge loads have never been lighter or our guns heavier. I am, however, quite confident that the vast majority of modern shooters never pattern their guns, or only do so in the most perfunctory way, but if you want to be up there with the best its time you did. Bearing in mind that now the mandatory shot load under CPSA rules is 28-gram and the ISSF 24-gram, one thing is certain: under modern regulations you have far less pellets. I remember patterning my first Browning A1 Trap gun after I’d had the bottom barrel regulated by Westley Richards in Birmingham to deliver a choke pattern equating to 65 per cent of the shot charge at 40 yards with 32 grams of size 7 shot, which was the standard Trap load at that time. With that I would have expected to put 268 pellets in a 30” diameter circle and at about 35 yards where I would actually take my first shot that choke and shot load combination ensured nothing could get through it. Try the same exercise with a 24-gram load that we are now obliged to use and you get a very different picture. With 30thou of choke in the bottom barrel of a modern Trap gun, a densely concentrated pattern covering about half that area is the usual result. There is then a premium on accuracy far greater than it was. It is true, however, that modern cartridges are in many ways much better than they were.
Great strides have been made with faster burning powders so the shot load is delivered to the target quicker, however it’s still pattern quality that counts most. Wadding in the form of plastic shot cups helps in this area preventing deformation of the pellets, which is vitally important as now each pellet does its job by remaining spherical; deformed pellets that become flyers don’t break targets. Another advantage the modern shooter has is the interchangeable choke. The regulating of fixed chokes with a specific cartridge may be beneficial, but only if you stay with the same brand; change to something else and everything could be different. With detachable chokes you can experiment with every constriction and every brand of cartridge to get the optimum result.
Choice of shot size is another matter to consider. While at long range the largest shot size is always the best choice, there is room for manoeuvre for those closer up. It therefore makes good sense, particularly for sporting shooters, to use a smaller pellet size when looking for a denser pattern; 8s, 9s, and even 9 are available. Again, pattern some and see the difference they can make.
Pattern testing for point of impact is every bit as important as pellet count and distribution. An ill-fitting gun that doesn’t deliver the shot charge to where you point the gun is of course disastrous, and can only be properly identified with the use of a pattern plate. Setting up a new gun with an Olympic medal-winning Trap shooter recently, to begin with he wasn’t hitting anything. A quick trip to the pattern plate revealed the gun was consistently delivering the pattern high and right of his point of aim. Some changes with the gun’s adjustable comb quickly got our man back on target. Another demonstration of the importance of the pattern plate and also the advantages of an adjustable stock, which together with the interchangeable choke provides the modern shooter with no excuses for not being able to pattern for success.