Shotgun Chokes: 101
Shotgun Chokes are a pretty simple concept, but typically beginner descriptions of chokes get convoluted by a slew of one hundredth of an inch measurements thrown at the beginner. Now don't misunderstand, there is a big difference between a choke that constricts .003" and one that constricts .025". But let's start simple and leave precision measurements for another day.
Really you should just think of a choke as a nozzle, let's say for a rocket. As the rocket engine ignites, the propellant needs to be funneled though a nozzle for increased speed. The same goes for shotgun pellets. Up to a point, the tighter the choke opening, the farther the shot flies. Chokes are best measured by shooting at a 30" circle at 40 yards. Once you count how many pellets fall within the 30" circle from one shot, then you can determine how tight of a choke you have in your gun. As a common measurement, a full choke generally deploys 70% of the shot into the 30" circle. But don't worry, these days the type of choke is printed right on the side. Still, this is an important process to know, and it will come into play later.
With Chokes, Nothing Is Certain
Finding the right Shotgun Choke is a process. Different Ammunition brands will perform differently with the same choke, and if you're testing two or more chokes, things can get expensive and fairly complicated. You have to think like a scientist. Label your shooting results using the 30" circle at 40 yards process, and repeat. Keeping things organized and structured will save you time and ammo. Can you assume the same ammo brand will perform consistently when you shoot either 2 ¾" or 3" shells? Nope, you can't be sure. Better test both. Even something called production variance can come into play when selecting a choke. Your choke tube may be slightly thicker than the previous one off the production line, and you can't assume that any two will perform exactly the same. Again, better put the pattern on paper.
We wish we could offer a short-cut, but there is no such thing. If you have success with a certain Choke Tube and ammo out of your Remington, stick with it. But all bets are off when it comes to that combo working with your Mossberg. On the bright side, now you have another excuse to spend your Saturday at the rifle range.
Basic Choke Types
Here is a short list of the major Shotgun Choke types available from no constriction to high constriction. Note that there are many other specialty chokes available aside from the basics we list below.
- Cylinder - No constriction, suitable for close range shots.
- Skeet – Useful for sport shooting and some bird hunting as the name describes, only offers slight constriction.
- Improved – Very versatile choke good for extending shot distance. Can be useful for game like ducks and upland birds.
- Modified – Fairly interchangeable with improved chokes, provides slightly longer distance than improved chokes.
- Full – Provides significant constriction and extended range even up to 40-50 yards for game like rabbits and turkey. Also may provide a little more reaction time as your shot range is extended.
- Extra Full - More of a specialty long range choke that can handle distances of over 50 yards, but not recommended for all shot types. Can be used for game like turkey, but calling the bird closer and just using a full choke is likely the better strategy.
What Should I Choose?
Today many popular Shotguns come with several Interchangeable Chokes and a choke wrench as part of the package. The goal here is to have options. If you have a cylinder or open choke, a modified choke, and a full choke you pretty much have your bases covered. But you shouldn't hesitate to try an improved choke if the other options aren't getting the job done. The glory of choke tubes is they don't require substantial investments to modify your gun. That being said, resist the temptation to go super cheap with choke tubes. If you invest in quality choke tubes, they should be a one-time investment for you anyway.
What about specialty choke tubes that explicitly say they are made for turkey or ducks? At times this can be a marketing ploy, and a "turkey" choke and a full choke may not really differ that much. We will say duck and goose specific chokes can offer a distinct advantage as they are specifically tailored for steel shot. Without getting over complicated, steel shot and lead shot can perform vastly different out of some Choke Tubes. Worse yet, steel shot can damage certain chokes in older model shotguns. Although generally most shotguns today come ready for steel shot, always check the choke specs to make sure steel shot is approved before testing with it.
The good news is you have options. The somewhat bad news is you have a lot of options to explore, and things could get expensive. But therein lies the goal every hunter should strive to meet. Know your gun and know how your chokes perform. Find a choke that gets the job done with an ammo brand you can trust, and stock up on ammo for the long haul.
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