I am sure that many of you have at some point or other heard fellow shooters talk about chokes in relation to shotguns. So what is a choke, what does a choke do and which should you be using. If you are wondering about any of these things then please read on……
What is a choke?
A choke is the constriction on the end of the shotgun barrel that determines the spread of shot/shot string that the gun produces.
Unlike rifles and handguns that shoot bullets one at a time, shotguns shoot many pellets all at the same time. These pellets are collectively known as “shot” and, depending upon their size, hundreds may be fired from just one shotgun shell. But, for a combination of reasons, shot pellets have a natural tendency to separate rapidly from each other as they fly toward a target. The choke controls the spread of shot, adjusting it for different shotgunning distances
To put this into fairly straightforward terms. If a shotgun barrel is the same diameter throughout its full length with zero constriction then that equates to a cylinder choke. This essentially means that the choke will produce a widespread or pattern. At the other end of the choke spectrum, full choke produces a constriction of 40 thousandths of an inch.
Fixed or multichoke?
Many older guns and side by sides in particular will have fixed chokes. This is due to the multichoke being a fairly recent invention (early 1980’s). A fixed choke shotgun is exactly that. The barrels are both fixed with a particular choke. Although a fixed choke gun can offer better balance than that of a multichoke gun, in many instances they have limitations due to not being able to change the chokes. With the impending lead shot ban, the requirement for fixed choke guns is dwindling away fast.
If you own a multichoke shotgun (most likely an over and under), then when you delve inside the gun’s hard-case/cardboard box you will be greeted with a set of shiny tube-like objects with threads on. These are shotgun chokes. So when should you use which choke and why? All too often I meet customers that have been shown no guidance on purchasing their shotgun and are still using the chokes that were originally supplied in the barrels. For example, all new Beretta game guns are supplied from the factory with 1/2 (or modified)in the bottom barrel and full in the top barrel. Unfortunately, this is far from ideal for most clay and game shooting applications. This is even more relative when novice shooters are taken into account.
Cylinder choke. Although this may sound like a great option as it produces a ‘barn door’ pattern, it offers the shortest shot string meaning holes in the pattern are created as the shot carries. Cylinder choke is only really used for close quarter clay targets ( eg skeet) where no quarry is involved and a break from a single pellet is preferred to a ball of dust.
Improved cylinder choke: In modern shotguns, this is referred to as 1/4 or a constriction of 10 thou. Without a doubt one of the most popular choke constrictions for both game and clay targets. The effective killing range being 20-30 yards.
Modified: This is 1/2 choke and as I am sure you will now be working out this is tighter than the 1/4. Twenty thou constriction and is most effective at distances between 26 and 43 yards.
Improved modified: Here we have the 3/4 choke which is not really a choke I would recommend unless the quarry is tall birds. At 30 thou constriction the shot string is considerably reduced from that produced by a 1/4 choke and therefore usually used by an experienced game shot on high Pheasants.
Full: Forty thou of constriction from the true cylinder bore of the barrel means that full choke is best suited to specific disciplines of trap shooting or when not shooting for the table, like Fox dispatch.
How do I know which choke is which?
In most cases, factory manufacturers’ choke tubes are denoted by a number of small incisions or notches on the outside of the choke. Certainly, in the case of Browning, Beretta, Miroku and Lincoln (to name a few), this is the case. A single notch will denote a full choke with the cylinder being zero or 5 notches. If you place the tubes together in a line you will see the physical difference in the metal thickness of them.
What chokes should I use?
So if you are heading out on one of the many great CGUK simulated days this summer or looking forward to those crisp November days on the Pheasants, here are my choke recommendations.
To keep everything simple I would simply suggest 1/4 and ½. This is probably the most versatile combination for both driven game and clay shooting. Both chokes are more than capable of a clean kill in the field (the ½ for more testing birds) or providing a satisfying break on the clay ground.
An absolutely essential piece of advice is to always remove and clean your multichokes after shooting. During shooting deposits of lead etc will inevitably collect around the choke. Moisture will also penetrate between the choke and shotgun barrel. Permanent neglect can lead to heavily fouled, corroded and in extreme circumstances, permanently stuck chokes.