In my most recent job as Brand Manager at Syren USA, I was asked a lot about choke tubes and the most common questions were these 2: “What are they for?” and “Which ones do I use?” I’ve been buying them since 2004 when I started shooting Sporting Clays and purchased a threaded barrel gun, so that experience combined with my recent job has equipped me with the knowledge to answer your FAQ about shotgun choke tubes.
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The short answer for this question is that choke tubes in the end of a shotgun help control the pattern of the shot (aka BBs/projectiles) leaving the business end (muzzle) of the shotgun.
You can easily measure a pattern by shooting at a board with a 30-inch circle on it from a distance of 40 yards to determine how many BBs hit that circle and also where they hit inside that circle. You will have to count the BBs. A lot of gun ranges have a pattern board set up for their members to test their guns. If you’re trying to decide which chokes to use, spend some time at the pattern board. Also, if you can, have your gun put in a vice or sled for this exercise, so you get consistent results that reduce the human factor.
Choke tube diameter is measured from the inside walls of the choke and recorded to a thousandth of an inch. The common constrictions are as follows: Cylinder, Improved Cylinder, Skeet, Light Modified, Modified, Improved Modified, Light Full, Full and Extra Full. These are the commonly used terms and some companies have some extra constrictions included in their mix. Each manufacturer has its own style and thread pattern so chokes aren’t interchangeable in different guns. Sometimes, there are multiple options for the same brand.
Notice the 12 gauge rows and cylinder column in the chart above. While they are for a 12-gauge barrel, the numbers differ. The actual constriction of a choke tube will be relative to the size of the barrel diameter. You can’t compare tube to tube from different manufactures if they aren’t the same bore diameter. I actually learned that from Hannah Price at Briley. I’ve known her since 2004 and she’s probably more knowledgeable than most folks about choke tubes. Feel free to give her a call at Briley down in Houston, or see her at one of the many shoots they attend.
The decision on which chokes to use gets a bit murky. Skeet makes it pretty easy with the Skeet choke, since the targets are always the same distance. For new shooters, that’s the best option. For Trap, with the birds always flying away and dropping, Modified, Improved Modified and Full are your best choices. With an O/U and using the bottom barrel first, put the tighter choke in the top barrel as the target will be farther away for your second shot.
Sporting Clays gets more complicated, as there are such a large variety of target presentations. For new shooters, my suggestion would be an Improved Cylinder for the bottom barrel (first shot) and a Light Modified or Modified for the top barrel. You can then switch barrels as needed. If the course is known for a lot of longer distance targets, choke up a bit – use a Modified for the bottom and Improved Modified or Light Full for the top and conversely, if they are close up and in the trees, more open chokes. This is when it’s good to ask around a bit. Your fellow shooters will be more than happy to share what they use and recommend options for you.
Hunting is similar with your choices; if the are birds that aren’t flying very fast or far, you’ll want more open chokes and for bigger birds flying farther and faster, choke up. If you have a guide or a seasoned hunting buddy, be sure to ask. Obliterating a bird with a close shot and a tight choke will just make you sad … especially if it’s supposed to be dinner. When using steel shot for waterfowl hunting, it is recommended to use more open chokes, unless the gun manufacturer specifically has specified that the barrel and choke are approved for tighter chokes.
There is always lots of debate on using factory chokes or after-market chokes. My advice is that as a new shooter, use the factory chokes. The manufacturers provide them to you with your gun and have confidence that they work. But, if you just can’t resist the appeal of the marketing and branding for after-market choices, do your due diligence. Again, that means taking time to pattern both chokes and compare. Then, choose the one with the best pattern.
Extended chokes protrude out the end of the barrel, and flush are even with the end of the barrel. Flush chokes are typically used in the field and extended chokes are typically used for clays, but this is not a hard and fast rule by any means. Extended chokes are made so they can be changed easily just using your fingers (and always with an unloaded gun).
Different companies use different ways to mark their chokes from notches in the top, colored bands, etc. There also will be information printed on the sides. The notches to denote choke constriction on the top typically start with one notch for the tightest choke and more notches, more open. There are also notches in flush chokes for the wrench.
My advice is to shoot with different choke tubes and find the ones that give you confidence in your shots. Then, leave them alone Some of the best shooters in the world shoot fixed chokes in Sporting Clays so that it eliminates that variable from their brain. Try not to let chokes be the reason or excuse you have for hitting or not hitting a target or bird.
There are hundreds of pictures, references and suggestions on the internet for more information and it’s easy to get lost in the details. Find what works for you and your shotgun.
Lynne is on to her next adventure after over 4 years in Maryland with Caesar Guerini and Fabarm as the Brand Manager for Syren (a line of shotguns made for the ladies). She has attended dozens of demos and events and has been honored to get to meet and introduce hundreds of ladies and young girls (and lots of boys and men too) to all 3 brands and to shotgun shooting! Lynne has learned so much about shotguns – gun fit, eye dominance and mechanics – that shows her just how much more there is to learn. She now is doing marketing and branding consulting and also plans to stay active in the outdoor industry, do more hunting and sporting clays, shooting lessons and add some fly fishing to her repertoire. She’ll be based in the Dallas Fort Worth area. View all posts by Lynne Green