ost current shotgun barrels are threaded for screw–in choke tubes, making them truly versatile tools. By simply swapping chokes, shooters can use the same gun for a wide variety of shotgun sports. While changing chokes is easy, deciding which choke to use can be difficult due to the wide array of choke choices out there. Plus, everyone seems to have their own opinion about what works best, further adding to the confusion.
Often shotguns come with three basic chokes — Improved Cylinder, Modified and Full, although some competition models include more. While those three options certainly cover a variety of shooting situations, there are several other constrictions with which serious shooters should get acquainted to allow further fine–tuning of their favorite shotguns.
Whether you’re a “chokeaholic” who changes tubes at every station or simply looking for a way to improve your scores on a particularly troublesome target, the following list may serve as a guide to the many choke options available. Listed are both the choke name and degree of constriction, which remains basically the same regardless of gauge or bore size, although there may be some deviation in the smaller gauges (see accompanying chart). Chokes are available from the gun’s manufacturer and aftermarket suppliers, like Ballistic Specialties, Briley, Comp–N–Choke and Kick’s, among others.
Often called a “Spreader” choke, this is a great choice for skeet’s low incomers, sporting clays’ rabbit and some teal targets. A negative choke has an inside diameter greater than the barrel’s bore. To help achieve this greater diameter, negative chokes often extend beyond the muzzle. Patterns open fast and wide, making it easier to connect on close, in–your–face targets.
Few companies make negative chokes. Two that do are Kick’s and Comp–N–Choke. As Kick’s Chuck Boswell put it, “Negative choke is as open as we can go.” For speedy quail over pointers, his dad, Charlie Boswell, head of Kick’s sister company, Comp–N–Choke, also recommends negative choke. Next time you’re having trouble connecting on a particularly difficult close target, whether clay or feathered, don’t get a negative attitude, but do try a negative choke!
A Cylinder choke has no constriction, the inside diameter is the same as the shotgun’s bore. The absence of constriction means patterns open up very quickly. Cylinder works well on close skeet targets like at Station Eight or low–house birds at Stations One and Two. Cylinder’s rapidly expanding pattern also aids in hitting bouncing rabbits in sporting clays.
As its name implies, Skeet is a popular choke choice with skeet shooters. Having very little constriction, Skeet’s forgiving patterns open up wide and fast. In double guns, Skeet makes a great choice for the second shot at the close stations when paired with a negative or Cylinder choke for the first shot. For pairs at the farther stations, like Three through Five, try Skeet for the first shot and something a little tighter for the second. Skeet is also a good all–around choice for shooters using single–barrel guns.
Don’t let its name fool you, though, Skeet can also be used in sporting clays and for hunting upland birds. For the close incomer of a pair in sporting clays or for incoming doves near a waterhole, Skeet choke works great!
Improved Cylinder (.010)
As one of the three common constrictions, Improved Cylinder (IC) is credited with much and hailed by many. Although I’ve often had little success with IC when hunting birds, such is not the case on clay targets, where IC does a fine job on everything from 16–yard trap to the second shot on skeet pairs. It also works well on many of the presentations encountered in sporting clays.
IC is also the darling of deer hunters in shotgun–only states. The majority of Iowa deer hunters I’ve spoken with prefer IC for the best results with rifled slugs, a notion my dad confirmed a few Novembers ago when he shot a buck on the run using an IC–choked Remington 870 and some old Activ rifled slugs.
Light Modified (.015)
I call Light Modified (Lt. Mod.) the “forgotten constriction.” While popular with dedicated sporting clays and trapshooters, few people outside those circles have even heard of it. That’s a shame, because Lt. Mod. performs well on everything from trap and decoying ducks to upland birds.
For those who don’t want to fool around switching chokes at every station, Lt. Mod. also makes a great all–around choice for sporting clays. It’s more forgiving than Modified, yet provides denser patterns than IC. If I were forced to pick one choke for all my shooting, save for high–flying geese and turkeys, it would be Lt. Mod.
Often touted as the best all–around constriction, the old standby Modified (Mod.) most certainly is versatile. While I may prefer Lt. Mod. in some cases, many times only Mod. will do, like when shooting Handicap trap, tall tower shots in sporting clays or chasing wild sharptail on the plains.
A lot of arm–chair experts still claim Mod. is as tight as you dare go when shooting steel shot, but in today’s world of specialty aftermarket chokes, you can go tighter, as you’ll see later.
Improved Modified (.025)
When gunning large Canada geese with large steel shot, like Ts or BBBs, I prefer Improved Modified (IM). Extended, aftermarket IM tubes made of hard stainless steel or alloys designed to handle steel shot will consistently pattern large steel shot better than traditional Mod. chokes. IM’s denser patterns put more lethal pellets on target yet aren’t so tight patterns are blown.
Many top–notch trapshooters also favor IM for reducing targets to dust puffs. Consider this — New England Firearm’s (NEF) new single–shot trap gun comes with an IM tube.
Light Full (.030)
Another choke likely unfamiliar to many of you is Light Full (Lt. Full). Used by confident Handicap trapshooters, Lt. Full also makes a great long–range waterfowl choke. Many pass–shooting goose chokes labeled “Full” actually measure closer to Lt. Full in true constriction.
For hitting high–flying snow geese, Lt. Full gets the job done. Since switching from Mod. to Lt. Full, I’ve been able to consistently drop more geese with greater authority, resulting in fewer cripples and more birds in my bag. In all the pattern testing I’ve done with various aftermarket goose tubes, Lt. Full consistently patterned BB and BBB steel shot tighter and better than Mod.
The last of the three common chokes, Full, finds its niche on the trap field when employed by crack shots and in the uplands when pursuing late–season ringneck roosters or wild prairie grouse. As a standard–issue choke, Full is sometimes recommended for turkeys, although I believe there are much better choices. I have yet to see a Full choke produce the tight head and neck patterns needed to consistently and cleanly drop gobblers.
Extra Full (.045)
While not having many applications in the target sports, Extra Full (XF) is considered the minimum constriction by many turkey hunters. Many factory XF extended turkey tubes produce sufficiently tight patterns to bag gobblers, but a host of other aftermarket options are also available.
Super Full (.055 or tighter)
For putting the maximum number of pellets into a turkey’s vital head and neck area, Super Full (SF) is the way to go. When longbeards hang up at 40 yards or just beyond, they’re still well within range of a SF choke.
Extended vs. Flush
Besides all those choices, there are a few other things to consider when choosing choke tubes. Extended tubes often pattern better than flush–mount chokes, since extended tubes will usually have a longer taper and parallel section in which constriction can occur more gradually and uniformly, as opposed to the more abrupt constriction in shorter tubes.
Aftermarket vs. Factory
Whether extended or flush–fitting, aftermarket chokes tend to be more uniform in diameter than factory tubes, since the aftermarket company is focused on one thing and their very existence depends on strict quality–control measures. This isn’t to say factory flush–mount chokes won’t perform satisfactorily. Some of my guns actually prefer them; however, I have several “identical” factory tubes that varied by one or two choke sizes when I measured them.
To know exactly what you have, whether factory or aftermarket, use one of the choke checkers or choke gauges offered in our online store to measure your tubes. You may be surprised at the results. Generally speaking, improved patterns are more usually achieved with extended aftermarket chokes.
To Port Or Not To Port
The merits of porting are often debated among gun writers, shooters and even choke–tube manufacturers. It’s been my experience some recoil reduction, at least as I perceive it, does occur with some ported chokes. The trick is in the angle of the porting. To reap the most recoil–reducing benefits, look for tubes whose ports are angled away from the muzzle and shooter, not drilled straight into the tube or angled back towards the shooter.
In all the pattern testing I’ve done, I’ve seen very little difference between ported and non–ported chokes. Ported chokes usually cost more than non–ported tubes, so if you have a gun that shoots fine with non–ported chokes, by all means, keep using them. If you’re looking to gain a slight decrease in felt recoil, the added cost of a properly ported choke may be justified. I’ve had good results with both types. When shooting light targets loads, I typically stick with non–ported tubes; for high–volume target events, early–season dove shoots or when using magnum waterfowl loads, I often opt for a properly ported choke.
Choosing chokes doesn’t have to be difficult. This guide will help you match chokes to your style of shooting. To fine–tune your shotgun, try some of the lesser–known constrictions. Also, spend some time at the patterning board to determine what works best in your gun. Then get out there and bust more targets and bag more birds!