The Mythical ‘Even’ Pattern

The Mythical ‘Even’ Pattern | Shooting Sportsman Magazine
Because gamebirds are almost always passing at angles through the shotstring, the chances of them lining up with a pattern "hole" are slim. Photograph by Lee Thomas Kjos/

I was pleasantly surprised at the number of positive emails I received concerning my November/December column on patterning myths. As you might expect, the messages came from shotgunners who actually have taken the time to pattern test. A common request was that I spend time explaining and debunking the long-held and widespread belief about the so-called even pattern. So here goes.

When I ran my shotshell ballistics training sessions over a 30-plus-year period across the US, Canada, Europe and Australia, I began each session with a list of questions, one of which involved patterns. I asked attendees to draw what they considered an ideal pattern. The predominant drawing looked like the top of a saltshaker—that is, a nearly perfectly round 30" circle consisting of pellet marks equidistantly spaced both horizontally and vertically among one another across the entire diameter. When asked why, they said that this constituted an “even pattern.”

“What’s so good about that?” I then would ask.

“No holes big enough for a clay or bird to slip through,” was the most common answer. 

So that is the popular concept. But here’s the problem. There’s no such thing as an even pattern. All patterns have holes, pellets are never evenly spread across, and no two patterns are alike. Over that same 30-plus-year period my assistants and I probably fired and measured more patterns—especially using hunting loads—than any living shotgunner today, and I assure you we never saw an even pattern, or one without holes, or one that even approached the ideal that those attendees would draw. Such patterns simply don’t exist. 

What’s more, even if an even pattern actually were obtainable and if it were the holes in patterns we were worried about, then they would come into play only on stationary targets and in a very minor percentage of shots. Holes in patterns are important for “stationary” targets like the head/neck areas of turkeys. But holes in patterns are largely irrelevant for clay targets or birds flying except for targets flying perfectly level, shoulder-high to the shooter and coming straight at or going straight away from the shooter. Such shots almost never occur. 

There always will be uneven distribution of pellets and holes throughout every shotstring.

Most clay target and bird shooting involves targets rising through, dropping through and/or crossing at an angle through the cloud of shot (aka the shotstring) directed to intercept their flight. Because moving targets are almost always passing at angles sideways and/or up or down through the shotstring, this greatly reduces the opportunity for them to line up with a pattern “hole.” The principal problem with those who believe in the even-pattern myth is that they incorrectly conceptualize what the shotstring looks like flying through the air. Many of them perceive it as a two-dimensional, flat, pancake-like entity that looks like the pellet marks made on a two-dimensional patterning surface. This creates the illusion that all the pellets arrive at the same time. 

In reality, once it leaves the muzzle, the shot charge is perpetually stringing out—getting ever longer in length and greater in diameter and creating ever-increasing space among its pellets. At most shooting distances this amounts to about a couple of feet of shot-cloud diameter and many feet of shot-cloud length. For example: With most lead-shot loads, the shot cloud developed at 40 yards commonly will be 3 to 4 feet in diameter and 12 to 15 feet in total length. The more proper image then is that of a comet, not a pancake. 

As to the pellets making the pellet marks on a two-dimensional pattern-testing surface, always keep in mind that they certainly do not all arrive at the same time. The pellets that tend to end in the center of the pattern are the least-deformed, most-spherical ones that retain their velocity best, fly truest to the point of aim and therefore arrive the most dead-on and first. The more-deformed and less-spherical pellets in the charge tend to arrive farther out in the 30" circle and later because they slow down more. Finally, the pellets that strike near the edge and outside of the 30" circle are the most-deformed, non-spherical pellets. They diverge from the point of aim the most, slow down the fastest and therefore arrive latest at the patterning surface. 

In reality then, because of the diversity in shape and size of shotshell pellets in all shot charges (except possibly TSS), all shot types from all chokes develop shotstrings that occupy many cubic feet of space with many inches of space between pellets while on the way to intercept a moving target. There always will be uneven distribution of pellets and holes throughout every shotstring. But a flying clay or bird will stand a tiny chance of lining up with any holes unless the holes are huge. And even if a pattern were perfectly “even,” there still would be holes longitudinally in the string that could not be perceived or measured on a two-dimensional surface. 

Therefore, searching for an even pattern is an empty quest.

To consult with Tom Roster or to order his manuals on reloading lead and bismuth shot, reloading HEVI-Shot and HW 13, or having shotgun-barrel-modification work performed or his instructional shooting DVD, contact: Tom Roster, 1190 Lynnewood Blvd., Klamath Falls, OR 97601; 541-884-2974,

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