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Choosing Your Shotgun Chokes

Shooting sporting clays some use a light or modified choke.

Shooting sporting clays, some use a light or modified choke.

Shotgun gauge and choke tubes (chokes) seem to be the most confusing for a new shooter. In hunter education, or shooting class, the instructor shows a diagram, explains what gauges, shells and shot are. What is rarely covered are chokes. The majority of new shooters and often many other shooters do not understand shotgun choke use.

Before shopping for a choke you need to check the shotgun barrel to see if it will accept one. Some shotguns have fixed chokes which cannot be removed and are not interchangeable. Most modern shotguns allow the shooter to interchange them. Choke tubes are manufactured to match the make and model of the gun.

A choke inserts into the end of the shotgun barrel.

Sounds easy right?

It is easy to physically insert a choke into the barrel of the shotgun. As a new shooter, the tough part is choosing which choke to use.

For starters, you have to know “why”. Why do you need a choke? Are you going to shoot sporting clays, skeet or maybe hunting? All of these activities can be aided by different choke tubes used in the barrel of your shotgun.

Various Shotgun choke tubes.

Various Shotgun choke tubes.

Common Uses for Shotgun:

  • Turkey Hunting – Turkeys are large birds with tough feathers so a hunter needs to aim at its head. The shot needs to be streamlined as it goes toward this small target. It is important to choose a choke that will give you the tightest pattern. (Choke names: Super Full choke, Extra Full choke, Turkey choke)
  • Water Fowl Hunting – If you intend to hunt waterfowl you will need a choke that provides a somewhat tight pattern. For ducks the pattern needs to be slightly open in order to hit flying birds (Modified choke). Shooting waterfowl close over decoys requires more open pattern (Improved Cylinder choke). Geese are hardier than ducks and you will desire a more powerful, tighter pattern (Full Choke).
  • Upland birds and small game – When flushing pheasant or hunting rabbit in an open field, a slightly open pattern is good. You do not want a tight stream of shot to hit the bird or rabbit because it will damage the meat. A choke that provides a slightly open pattern works well (Modified choke). Hunting grouse, quail or pheasant in tight areas will require an even looser shot (Improved Modified choke).
  • Trap shooting – A slightly open pattern is desired. (Modified or light full choke)
  • Skeet – For skeet you want the most wide open pattern because they fly at more crossing and open patterns. They fly faster so you want the widest spread pattern possible. (Skeet, cylinder or improved cylinder choke)
  • Sporting Clays – Targets fly out fast and at further distances. (Light modified, modified or improved cylinder choke)
  • Protection – For personal protection use, the shooter is in fear of their life. They are most likely being attacked and will be shooting at a very close distance. (Cylinder)
Various Shotgun choke tools.

Various Shotgun choke tools.

The shotgun choke does just that. It “chokes” down the end of the barrel opening, tightening the pattern of your shot or it will be wide open to have the widest pattern. The shotgun choke allows us to adjust to any hunting scenario.

We put various shotgun chokes into our guns, using a choke tool, to restrict the opening of the barrel and control the pattern of the shot. For some activities we want a wide open spray and others require a tight, narrow stream.

In many firearm classes, you will hear the instructor refer to the pattern, or spray, in comparison to that of spraying water from a garden hose. If you rinse your car, a nice wide stream does well, but if you are spraying mud off, you may need a tight, narrow stream. When you squeeze your thumb over the hose end it makes opening narrower and gives you a tighter stream of water. The use of different shotgun chokes achieves a similar result.

Whether you will be shooting a moving target or one standing at 40 yards, it will help if you choose the correct choke for your shotgun. These are some basic choke types. There are a variety of in-between and specialty chokes available. Ask your salesperson or mentor for help.

Choke Chart


Other articles you may like:

The Mathematics of Intangible Physics & the Quintessential Smoothbore

Seven Ways to Get a Start in Hunting


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