No matter your shooting style, how a shotgun fits and its pattern is important when choosing the right shotgun for you.
Consistency is absolutely key when patterning a shotgun: there is little that’s more frustrating to a shotgun shooter, whether hunting or on the competition circuit, than a shotgun setup that patterns inconsistently.. One slip-up can cause game like hares or deer to scatter and hide, which can ruin a whole day’s worth of activity.
There is good news, though: With the proper choke tube for your shotgun, you can improve your firearm’s pattern without spending a fortune.
Whether you’re new to the game or want a refresher course, this guide will cover everything you should know about shotgun choke tubes.
What are Shotgun Choke Tubes?
Choke tubes are accessories designed to alter a shot’s distribution as it leaves a firearm, also known as the shot’s pattern. Using a choke tube allows you to constrict the shot charge to hold it together longer before it spreads. This provides a denser shot pattern at a longer range than you can achieve with an open choke.
There are a variety of shotgun chokes on the market. They tend to be used most often on hunting and target shotguns. Choke tubes make it easy for you to change your shotgun’s pattern and range, increasing the versatility of your gun without the need to purchase additional barrels to achieve different types of shot patterns.
Before choke tubes for shotguns were available, a shooter was more or less stuck with the original construction of the shotgun’s barrel. On most commercially available, mass-produced shotguns, this meant a gun that was set up for a maximum effective range somewhere inside of 25-30 yards. For context, a full choke is effective at 40 to 50 yards, giving you much more flexibility when hunting. Most shotguns today come standard with a variety of screw-in chokes, which can easily be changed with a wrench.
As with most things in firearm history, there’s some controversy over the origins of screw-in chokes. The idea itself likely dates to the early 19th century, as the range limitations of shotguns frustrated shooters, while the widespread implementation of commercially available and standardized chokes came with the mass-produced shotguns we all know and love post-WWII.
Types of Shotgun Choke Tubes Explained
There are several different choke choices out there, but here are some of the most common types you’ll encounter, listed from most to least constrictive:
- Full Choke
- Modified Choke
- Improved Cylinder Choke
- Cylinder Choke
The type of choke you need is determined by your distance from the target. Each of these chokes has a slightly different shape and intended use. In general, shotgun chokes control how tight or spread out the pellets will be at a specific distance: this is what’s called patterning. Here’s what to expect from each type of choke tube mentioned above.
A full choke has tight constriction that results in a dense shot pattern. It distributes about 70% of a shell’s pellets in a 30-to-40-inch circle at 40 yards or more. Full choke tubes are best for long distances around 40 yards. They’re frequently used for trap shooting, turkey hunting, and buckshot loads. Shooting accuracy is significantly enhanced with a full choke tube.
There are also specialty tubes built for different types of shot. You can find choke tubes specific to the type of game you’re hunting, such as waterfowl. There are also choke tubes available for hunting larger predators such as coyotes. Additionally, there are sport-specific choke tubes available for skeet and trap shooters.
A modified choke has less constriction than a full choke. It delivers about 60% of a shell’s total pellets in a 30-inch circle anywhere between 30-40 yards. The modified choke is popular with shotgun users who don’t want the heavy constriction of a full choke. It is most often used for waterfowl hunting as well as for hunting some types of upland birds and small game. It’s also used for trap shooting.
Think of a modified choke as being useful for situations where you might have to make a quick shot that is not aimed with the most precision, but the target is not going to be the fastest moving in the world.
Improved Cylinder Choke
The improved cylinder choke is less constricted than the modified choke, distributing 50% of a shell’s pellets in a 30-to-40-inch circle at 40 yards. It is ideal for close-quarters hunting of waterfowl and upland birds like quail and pheasants.
Improved cylinder chokes are a great tool for folks who need the shot density to hit a fairly small target, but the pattern size necessary to improve hit probability on relatively small and fast-moving targets.
With a cylinder choke, the barrel is not restricted, so the shot spreads quickly. It distributes about 40% of a shell’s total pellets in a 30-to-40-inch circle at 25 to 40 yards. Since the pattern is spread out, it increases your chances of hitting your target. It’s recommended for short distances for birdshot, buckshot, and self-defense. Cylinder chokes are most frequently used by law enforcement officers.
Cylinder chokes are ideal for increasing hit probability, especially when paired with buckshot to increase the lethality of each individual shot.
Benefits of Choke Tubes
There are two main benefits to using a choke tube for your shotgun. You can choose different constrictions with different loads. You can also improve range and pattern effortlessly, making your shotgun much more versatile.
Benefit #1: Try Different Constrictions
Using a choke tube gives you the ability to try different constrictions quickly without spending a fortune.
With different choke tubes, you’re essentially able to have a several-in-one shotgun that can perform a variety of different patterns at various distances. All you have to do is decide which one you want for each occasion.
Benefit #2: Improves Patterns
Choke tubes are a beneficial and versatile tool for hunters and target shooters. Each type of choke tube, combined with a specific load, will result in different patterns. The choke, then, is one of the factors that a shooter can use to tailor the overall shotgun’s setup for specific situations.
For example, buckshot fired through a full choke would likely be a good choice for someone deer hunting from a stand or blind a known distance from the target in a location where deer are known to stand still. On the other hand, a cylinder choke with birdshot would result in a much wider overall pattern at the same distance, so would be a lot better choice for hunting small animals that fly, as the name of the shot type would suggest.
How to Select the Right Choke Tube
When it comes to selecting the right choke tube, there’s a simple equation all shooters should stand by when measuring success out on the field:
Firearm + Ammo Size + Choke Tube + Shooting Situation = Success
So, while choke tubes are versatile and, in many cases, essential, you have to choose carefully and ensure all components are compatible.
You may experience some trial and error when shopping and trying new chokes on your rifle, but that's all part of the process. The idea is that once you find the right size and the right piece, you’ll be well on your way to more accurate shooting.
Step #1: What Gun Are You Shooting?
Shotgun choke tubes aren’t universal, so either through the manufacturer or your retailer, find out which chokes are compatible with your firearm.
Even within a single manufacturer, there could be several choke tube systems. Sometimes, the same gun can have different choke systems depending on the model, year, and barrel. For example, not all Beretta shotguns use the same Beretta choke tubes.
So, before you go spend money on a new choke, always make sure that you know what’s suitable for your model.
Step #2: What Ammo Are You Using?
Since choke tubes are all about increasing accuracy and pattern, the type of ammo you’re using is critical. Whether it’s a slug shot, buckshot, or birdshot, you’ve got to choose a choke tube that will complement it best.
Once you know the ammo type and size, you can begin looking for the right choke tube. You can always check out compatibility charts or read the information that may be available through your firearm’s manufacturer or retailer.
Step #3: Testing the Pattern of Your Shotgun
Lastly, you’ll have to test the pattern of your shotgun with the choke tube. After all, you won’t know what it’s like until you try it. The best way to test the pattern is by conducting a basic pattern test on paper in a safe area or shooting range. This is the most important step: while the choke types we list above are good rules of thumb and there are many forum posts and videos online about specific setups, the terms that manufacturers put on the side of a package are marketing terms, not specific standards for each choke. The only way to know how your shotgun fires with a specific choke and loading is to test it!
- Set up your pattern paper or board at 40 yards. Always abide by gun safety rules and etiquette when doing so.
- Load your shotgun with three shells so you can conduct three test rounds with your choke tube. Get into a shooting position.
- Line up your sights and fire a round. Go down the range and remove the target to put up a new one. Repeat this step at least two more times.
- Analyze the results of the pattern test. In a 30-inch circle at 40 yards, you should expect to see 70% of the shot in the circle with a full choke, 60% with a modified choke, 50% with an improved cylinder choke, and 40% with a cylinder choke.
If your pattern test reveals less-than-satisfactory performance for the shooting you do, try a couple of different loads and test at least three rounds for each. Try to go up or down a shot size or even test different choke tube types that impact the accuracy and pattern. If you are totally new to shotguns and chokes, asking someone at the counter at Green Top Sporting Goods is likely to save you a fair bit of time, money, and frustration in blindly trying out chokes and loads. A little good advice is among the best shooting aids we know of.
Choke Tubes for Shotguns
The choke tube can turn one shotgun into several specialized guns by customizing it to fit different styles and environments, depending on which type of shooting you’re conducting.
At Green Top Sporting Goods, we’ve got an expansive variety of shotgun chokes fit for any shotgun or rifle. Even if you don’t know where to start, one of our gun-and-ammo experts can help you choose the right choke for your model. Check out our available shotgun chokes today.