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Shotgun Patterning for Late Season Goose


We’re in the middle of late goose season here in Pennsylvania. The birds are decoy shy and they’ve been called at by every Tom, Dick, and Harry in the area. Getting them to cup up over the decoys is a real chore. And most of the time it doesn’t work out that way. The birds get close for a look, but often only offer passing shot opportunities. So, we have to be confident that our set up is dialed in for skittish birds. That means patterning choke and shell combos.

Below I’ve laid out two of my late season goose setups – one for a 12ga and one for a 20ga. But let’s start with a quick walkthrough of how I pattern my shotguns.

Patterning 101: A Short Course

Start by getting your expectations right. We pattern to get a clear picture of what’s happening when we press the trigger. The goal is to ensure that we’re sending lethal patterns downrange at appropriate distances. Patterning might shatter your confidence in your current setup. But that’s good news! It gives you the opportunity to improve your system and increase your lethality. Be ready to accept the truth and make changes. Then you’re ready to pattern.

The first rule of patterning is to control for as many variables as possible. Don’t shoot off-hand or try to replicate wing shooting. Use a stable platform and a solid rest much like you would use when zeroing a rifle. You want to see the true pattern. Shooting off-hand isn’t stable and can unpredictably shift your pattern. I set up sandbags laid across a table and I sit behind the gun. The recoil gets a little spicy. But it’s worth it to learn the truth.

Once you have your shooting position locked in, set up the largest blank surface available. You need to make sure that your target absorbs as much of the pattern as possible. It’s best if it’s at least 48 inches wide. Cardboard works – as does paper or painted steel. 

You don’t necessarily need a point of aim. But, if you want, you can draw on a bullseye or use a sticker. Really, you just need to identify the center of the pattern. If giving yourself a point of aim helps you with that, do it.

Then, determine your distances. For late season goose, I pattern at 25 yards and at 40 yards. Twenty-five yards because I set decoys so that the birds are in the 18-yard to 25-yard range when calling the shot. Forty yards because that’s the edge of my ability. And, if we’re honest, shooting past 40 yards on birds is a bad idea for most of us. When we shoot beyond 40, we end up crippling or sailing and not recovering more birds than we kill and recover.

Okay, now send a shot into the target at your first distance. Pull that paper.

Send a shot into the target at your second distance. Pull that paper.

Find the center of the pattern and mark it. Note that it might not be at your point of aim, and that’s okay. Point of aim vs point of impact is a problem for another day. Our objective is to determine whether or not we have a solid pattern at our given distances. Once you’ve identified the center of the pattern, draw a 30-inch circle around it. Now, count the pellets within that 30-inch circle. You want to see an evenly distributed pattern with appropriate density.

Keep in mind that pellet count (density) depends on the shot size and construction. The larger the pellets, the fewer necessary to take down a bird. And bigger is better for late season geese.

We’ve covered the process. Now let’s talk about my late season goose setups.

My 12ga and 20ga Setups for Late Season Geese

(I want to preface this section before we go any further. These are not the only shell and choke combinations that I tested. But they are what I’m currently using, and they are working for me. By working, I mean I’ve killed geese with them. I’m not saying that these combinations are the end-all-be-all.)

This year my best patterns were through a Browning Maxus 2 12ga with a Muller Decoy choke (.730 constriction) and Boss 3-inch Bismuth #2 1.5oz (150 pellets per shell). And a Beretta A400 20ga with a Carlson Medium Range Bismuth choke (.600 constriction) and Boss 3-inch #3/5 Bismuth (estimating 75 #3 and 115 #5 per shell).

Here are the results:

Maxus + Muller Decoy + Boss #2:

25 yards: 133 pellets (86%)


40 yards: 88 pellets (59%)

A400 + Carlson Medium Range Bismuth + Boss #3/5 Combo:

25 yards: 162 pellets (85%)

40 yards: 120 pellets (63%)


The pattern densities and distributions are perfect for me, my guns, and the way I hunt late season geese. I want them to decoy. But I need enough pattern spread and energy to kill geese that don’t want to play, and for follow-up shots on those trying to squirt away. Over 80-percent at 25 yards means that if I do my part, that goose isn’t leaving. Around 60-percent at 40 yards still gives me enough pattern to be lethal.



I have a lot more patterning information coming your way. I’m doing some in-depth testing in 2023, and I’m sharing it all with you. We’re talking about turkeys, clays, pigeons, waterfowl, the whole gamut.