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Shotgun Tips for Beginners: 5 Tricks to Shoot Like a Pro! [VIDEO]

Pro shooter Aaron Hayes runs you through a few tips to help improve your shotgun performance at every stage.

Competitive shooting has been on the rise over the past few years as gun owners want to put their skills to the test.

But what if you’re just starting out with something like 3-Gun and your shotgun skills aren’t up to par?

No worries, we got, fam! We’re tackling shotgun shooting with a few tips and tricks with pro shooter Aaron Hayes!

From patterning to fitment, we’re giving you the best advice to get you up and running with a shottie, so keep reading to learn more!

Or, if you prefer to skip the words, check out the video below!

As always, head over to Pew Pew Tactical on YouTube for more gun and gear video content.

Tips for Shotgun Shooting

1. Know Your Pattern

While you can always run and gun, it pays to know your pattern if you really want to maximize your performance.

What does that mean?

Extra Full Choke Pattern
Extra Full Choke Pattern

Think of patterning like zeroing…you’re basically learning how your load flies, the max range, and the density of the pattern at various ranges. Different chokes, loads, etc., can all impact your pattern.

When we say know your pattern, there are two key elements:

  • Know what your pattern is doing and how different chokes affect it.
  • Understand when and where to use it.

Before each season, Hayes suggests heading to the range and shooting your competition shotgun at various distances with ALL your chokes.

Yes, ALL your chokes

Using 3-yard or 5-yard increments, shoot your target, measure your pattern, and write it down. Then back up either 3 yards or 5 yards and do it again for every choke and every distance.

Hayes also suggests keeping this info either in your phone or on your stock, so it’s always handy.

2. Count Your Rounds

Some competition stages can see round counts upwards of 50 rounds! That’s a whole lotta lead!

Keeping the gun loaded so you can tear through stages is kinda important, so counting rounds as you go is essential to a successful run.

Beretta 1301 Tactical Reload
Knowing your round count will make reloads faster and easier.

Knowing how many shots you’ve popped off and how many rounds are left in your gun will help you stay on top of reloads and targets as you move through the stage.

That said, sometimes numbers can get fuzzy in your brain…especially while you’re trying to concentrate on shooting. So, Hayes suggests a simple way to keep track of your rounds.

Hangover Math Gif

Simply count to eight and then reload. That keeps things consistent, and you aren’t left wondering, “How many shots do I have left?”

But what if you miss? Hayes says he still uses the 8-count approach but just logs the misses and loads only those with his next reload.

So, if he misses two, he makes a mental note of that, and when he reloads, he only loads two. That way, when it’s time to move on to the next area, he can do a full reload of eight.

3. Make Sure Your Shotgun Fits

It might sound simple, but it’s a pretty important step in the process. A well-fitted gun will provide a more comfortable shooting experience.

Not to mention, a gun that fits will help ensure you have better recoil management and, thus, better shots on target.

Smaller shooters might not be able to pick up a full-size shottie and start slamming lead downrange out of the box…at least not well.

But luckily, there are options. For junior shooters, there are youth-sized shotguns. And for adults, most modern shotguns these days come with some adjustability – namely in Length of pull and drop and cast.

Length of pull refers to the length of the stock behind the trigger.

Drop and cast refer to the vertical adjustment of the stock (drop) or the horizontal adjustment (cast).

A lot of modern shotguns offer adjustable features.

In addition to these adjustments, you also can switch out buttpads which shaves some inches off.

You can also invest in a cheek riser, which will help you rest your head more comfortably against the stock as you shoot.

Swapping out buttpads can also help out.

4. Focus on Your First Shot

Again, this sounds simple, but sometimes distractions get the best of us.

Whether you’re trying to mentally plan the stage or a random movement grabs your eye, learning to focus on that important first shot will help your stage go smoother.

How do you achieve first-shot focus?

Look at your target and concentrate on hitting that first shot. Don’t worry about the next shot or the shot after that – put all the mental energy into that very first one.

Hayes says his body and eyes, as well as the muzzle of the gun, are all pointed at the target prior to starting. That way, when the beep sounds, all he has to do is shoulder the firearm and pull the trigger.

5. Less is More

Okay, we admit, we’re gearheads here at Pew Pew Tactical. We love equipment! And like a lot of you, we too have been swept up by adding all the extras.  

All of the Prism Scopes
Is this too much?

But when it comes to setting up your gun, less is more. Sure, you can always upgrade things, but be mindful not to overdo it.

Sometimes what seems like a cool upgrade might spell disaster in a stage.

Make sure your upgrades make sense.

The key to keeping things tuned for performance? Ask yourself why you’re adding it and how it will improve your shooting.

If it’s really performance-related, then rock on. But if it’s for aesthetics…well, you might want to rethink it at least on your competition gun.


To recap: patterning is essential, count your rounds, get that good fit, focus on the first shot, and remember that less is more when upgrading.

Thanks, Aaron, for the tips!

Whether you’re dipping your toes into the competitive water for the first time or trying to diagnose what’s stopping you from taking your shooting to the next level, hopefully, we’ve given you some good info to work with.

To see some of these tips in action, check out the video below.

Have any tips or questions? Drop us a comment below. Want to snag a 3-Gun shotgun? Take a look at our suggestions of the Best Shotguns for 3-Gun!

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