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Tips & Tactics

Choosing The Right Choke For Your Shotgun

by Layne Simpson   |  November 3rd, 2010 73

Loads and hunting conditions factor into the equation

The evolution of the shotgun from flintlock to modern repeater capable of firing fixed ammunition is important, as are other inventions such as smokeless powder, nonmercuric primers and plastic hulls, but all combined do not hold a candle to the importance of choke development. If not for choked barrels, shotguns built today would perform about the same as those built during the 1800s and earlier.

We may never know for certain who discovered that the range of a shotgun could be increased by reducing or “choking” its bore to a smaller diameter at the muzzle, but in the United States an Illinois duck hunter named Fred Kimble is usually given credit for coming up with the idea around 1866. Through the decades most guns had fixed chokes and while the introduction of aftermarket devices such as the Cutts Compensator with its screw-in choke tubes of various constrictions became popular with skeet shooters during the 1950s, few hunters used them.

Evolution of the interchangeable choke system took another leap forward in 1959 when Winchester introduced its glass-barreled Model 59 shotgun with the Versalite choke system but several more decades would come and go before the idea became universally accepted by hunters. The eventual adoption of the interchangeable choke system by shotgun manufacturers increased the versatility of the old scattergun by leaps and bounds and it saved shotgunners a lot of money as well. No longer is it necessary to buy extra barrels in order to have different choices in chokes; today’s guns come with a variety of screw-in chokes that can be switched with a twist of the wrist.

The amount of choke in a barrel is easily determined by subtracting the inside diameter of the choked area from the diameter of the bore, both measured with special gauges available from Brownells. If, for example, the bore of a 12-gauge barrel measures .729 inches and its choke measures .694 inches, it has .035 inches of constriction, which is rated as Full choke. The bores of 12-gauge guns can vary anywhere from .720 to .740 inches among various manufacturers but regardless of what the bore actually measures, the barrel is choked Full if its choke diameter is .035 inches smaller than the bore.

Chart No. 2 shows the amount of constriction assigned to various degrees of choke by Briley manufacturing, the largest manufacturer of screw-in chokes in the country. Choke for choke, constrictions are the same for the 10, 12, 16 and 20 gauges but differ for the 28 and .410 once we get tighter than Improved Skeet. This is done in order to keep the constriction percentages close to the same. For example, if we squeeze down a 12-gauge, .729-inch bore by .035-inch, we are reducing its diameter by about five percent. If we reduce the .550-inch bore of a 28-gauge barrel by that same percentage, we arrive at a choke constriction of .026 inches, which actually falls between what Briley indicates as Full and Extra Full chokes for that gauge.

Every shotgunner should understand how to determine the amount of choke in a shotgun barrel but actually doing so is not an absolute necessity. Even with that knowledge, the only way to know for certain how a gun and load combination will perform downrange is to pattern-test it on paper. Anybody can do it; simply shoot a sheet of paper measuring around 40 inches square at 40 yards, draw a 30-inch circle around the highest concentration of pellet holes in the paper and then count the holes. If, for example, the ammo you are shooting is loaded with 1/4 ounces of No. 2 steel shot, it contains approximately 156 pellets (see Chart No. 3).


Chart 1
Percentage Of Shot Inside 30″ Circle
CHOKE 20 Yds 30 Yds 40 yds
Cylinder 80% 60% 40%
Skeet 92% 72% 50%
Improved Cylinder 100% 77% 55%
Modified 100% 83% 60%
Improved Modified 100% 91% 65%
Full 100% 100% 70%

If you count 94 pellet holes, your gun placed 61 percent of the shot charge inside the 30-inch circle. Referring to chart No. 1 reveals that the load is delivering Modified performance. To get a better picture of how the gun is performing, shoot at least five patterns with the same load and take the average of the results.

Keep in mind that just because your gun delivers Modified (or whatever) performance with one load doesn’t necessarily mean it will do the same with other loads. Also keep in mind that just because the barrel of a gun or its screw-in choke was marked “Modified” or “Improved Cylinder” at the factory does not mean it will deliver Modified or Improved Cylinder choke performance with all loads.

Different loads from various manufacturers or even different loads from the same manufacturer can vary in a number of ways and those variations can result in a difference in performance even though choke constriction remains the same. Even though the load you just tested delivered Modified performance, another load might deliver Improved Cylinder performance while the next might perform as if your gun is choked either tighter or looser.


Chart 2
Standard Choke Constrictions in Inches
(From Briley)
Choke Gauge
DESIGNATION 10/12/16/20 20/410
Cylin
der
.000″ .000″
Light Skeet .003″ .003″
Skeet .005″ .005″
Improved Skeet .007″ .007″
Improved Cylinder .010″ .009″
Light Modified .015″ .012″
Modified .020″ .015″
Improved Modified .025″ .018″
Light Full .030″ .021″
Full .035″ .024″
Extra Full .040″ .027″
Super Full .050″ ——-

The same rule also applies to different guns. If you test two seemingly identical shotguns with exactly the same amount of choke constriction in their barrels, one might deliver Improved Cylinder choke performance with Load A while the other gun delivers Modified performance with the same load. Like I said before, the only way you will know for certain how a particular gun and load combination is performing is to spend some time with both at the pattern board.

One of the great things about screw-in chokes is they give us the option of conveniently and inexpensively trying different constrictions with different loads. If you hunt flooded timber where most shots are taken inside 20 yards, you need the largest pattern your gun will shoot while maintaining adequate pellet density. If that box of shells you recently bought is delivering overly tight patterns for those conditions, just screw out the Modified or Improved Cylinder choke and screw in a Skeet or Cylinder choke.

Moving to the opposite extreme, if the box of ammo you have is not delivering a dense enough pattern at 30 yards for consistent multiple pellet strikes on mallards, simply replace the Modified choke with Full or perhaps even Extra Full. But be careful when using extremely tight chokes as once the optimum amount of choke is reached for a particular load, a further increase in constriction can actually have a negative effect on pattern quality.


Chart 3
Number Of Pellets Per Ounce
SHOT SIZE LEAD* STEEL
8 585 - – -
7 1/2 410 - – -
6 225 316
5 170 243
4 135 191
2 87 125
1 - – - 103
BB 50 72
BBB - – - 61
T - – - 52
F - – - 40
*Pellet counts for bismuth and Tungsten-Matrix shot are about the same for lead

Choosing chokes for specific hunting conditions is quite important. For shooting where most birds are taken inside 25 yards, Skeet and Improved Cylinder are our most useful chokes. When teamed up with the right load, those two deliver adequate pattern density for shots out to 25 long paces and yet pattern diameter is large enough to make hitting birds that flash by just off the muzzle of your gun quite easy.

For most of the waterfowling I do Improved Cylinder is the most useful although Modified comes in a very close second. While less useful for all-around use than more open chokes, there are times when Improved Modified is a good choice. As a rule, and depending on the load used, Improved Modified will extend range by five to 10 yards over Modified with some loads and yet at closer ranges it is easier to hit with than Full choke. When hunting with a side-by-side or over-under double, I often use Improved Cylinder in one barrel and Improved Modified in the other. About the only time I ever use chokes tighter than Improved Modified is when pass-shooting at longer ranges.

Those rules work for most of my guns and me but only pattern testing will determine if they work equally well for you and yours. To determine the maximum effective range of a choke/load combination for wingshooting, start by shooting paper at 20 yards and then back off from the pattern board in five-yard increments, shooting patterns at each range.

Once you see the percentage of shot inside a 30-inch circle drop below 65 percent you have exceeded the maximum range for that particular combination. While I realize it takes only one pellet through the brain or spine to drop a bird for keeps, I also realize it is possible for all pellets to miss those targets and if that happens multiple pellet strikes will usually deliver enough energy for a clean kill.


Chart 4
Approximate Effective Pattern Diameters (In Inches)
  10 Yds 20 Yds 30 Yds 40 yds
Spreader 23″ 37″ 51″ 66″
Cylinder Bore (no choke) 20″ 32″ 44″ 57″
Improved Cylinder 15″ 26″ 38″ 51″
Modified 12″ 20″ 32″ 46″
Full 9″ 16″ 26″ 40″

  • bob

    Hi,Just bought a browning feather 525 20 gage and it came with one full,one modified and one improved cylinder,I hunt upland game(phesant and grouse)plan on buying some extended choke tubes,looking for good combination? Either browning diamond grade or diana grade? ADVICE? What would be a good combination? Purchase two modified chokes? One Modified and one improved modified? This is coinfusing for me?Anu advice would greatly be appreciated. Sincerely Bob

    • Jason Rogers

      The guy wrote- gotta try all combinations. That can get spendy (cost alot), so I recomend you find your Gut, and go with It's instinct. That's what shooting is all about.

    • jon

      if you hunt upland game you will want to use a full or modified lead choke for grouse i would use a full choke all the way mostly because they get up faster and are more skid dish for geese and duck i recommend for geese a modified or improved cylinder most likely 12 gauge but for a 20 you will want a full for the range and make sure that your shot is accurate for ducks you would want a modified for the spread and range 40 yards 65% and a large spread to shot a group of ducks never fails with a modified when you shot 3 ducks with one shell and make sure you have your lead chokes and your steel chokes or you will strip them and your pattern will be all messed up

  • Stan Martin

    Good Morning,
    I just read your page on shotgun chokes. Actually I have been looking all over for info on chokes, and yours' is the easiest to understand; However, what I can't find is a way to tell them apart. I understand that the small cuts on the chokes are indicative of its size, but no one explains the amount of cuts for each size.
    Is it a universal description?
    How many cuts for each choke size?
    Thank You!!
    Stan

    • Jeremy

      4 "cuts" in choke represent an improved choke
      3=modified
      2=improved modified
      1=full choke

      1 being the tightest group of pellets at 30 yards and shot group gets wider as the number increases.

    • Yannis

      Generally there are little notches on the top of the chokes. Or there are stars on the side of the choke.

      5 notches – cylinder
      4 notches – improved cylinder
      3 notches – modified
      2 notches – improved modified
      1 notches – full

    • dylan bush

      It will say on the chokes as well.

  • Mike

    Would I need to use a choke if I shoot a slug, or are the chokes just for the bb's?

    • Marty

      Mike

      When shooting slugs, you want no choke.
      Think of the process of the choke. The choke effectively squeezes the pellets closer together, this slightly "lengthens" the group of pellets.
      A slug however, is not going to compress very readily, this will cause significant pressure build up in the barrel and receiver and will create a great deal of friction heat in the choke region.
      Worst case, you blow up the receiver/barrel, best case, after some number of shots you have overheated and permanently damaged your barrel.
      If you have a fixed choke barrel, a gunsmith can open it up for you if you only intend to use it for slugs.

      • Mac

        I recently e-mailed Mossberg with this question, and was told that I could shoot rifled slugs through an Improved Cylinder choke.

        • Mac

          PS, this was in Mossbergs 90130 vented barrel.

        • jon

          actually no the new chokes for IC are closing the pattern now and will compress the barrel splitting the end of the barrel

          • Dave

            Actually anybody and everybody knows you can shoot foster slugs or rifled slugs through any barrel that is no tighter than modified. To do so would damage your gun. Not sure where you "experts" are getting your info.

          • Trent

            Exactly. I shoot winchester 20 ga rifled slugs through my benelli all the time with a cylinder choke (Is what benelli recomended) Shooting a slug through a smooth bore shotgun is like shooting a pre civil war flintlock rifle or musket… A rifled barrel would significantly increase range and accuracy of a slug, but is not necessary. And you don't shoot rifled slugs out of a rifled shotgun barrel. The rifles in the barrel and on the slug would not match up and just mess everything up.

  • Dalton

    I just got a remington versa max I plan on shooting it out of a boat this duck season instead of its choke tubes being called improved and modified and all that it came with 4 choke tubs the one in it does not have a name but but the other 3 one is called wooded timber the other is called over decoys and the last is pass shooting I have no idea what these do with my pattern

    • Landon

      remingtons chokes are Wooded timber-IC overdecoyes-MOD pass shooting- FULL

  • Brandon

    For goose hunting would you need a modified choke or a full choke

    • rick

      Mod or improved mod would be best. Full is to rough with the steel loads.

  • farhad yousafzai

    Hi…i have recently bought BAIKAL MP 27 over under along with three chokes . i am also a partridge hunter but am confused about the using of right choke in the right barrel .please help me while hunting the partridges for best results which chokes give you best results…. farhad

    • Steve

      Hi Farhad, if you are shooting driven partridge I suggest you use an open choke maximum 1/4, if they are are walked up I suggest you use a slightly tighter choke say 1/2, but as the article says I would try your cartridge/choke combo on a pattern plate.

  • Willard

    In a Benelli Super Black Eagle II 12ga., what would the best choke choice be when shooting 3 1/2" 00 Buck Shot?

    • Alex

      Well you would most likely want to try a couple of different chokes but I have a mossberg 835 ulti-mag and when i shoot my 3 1/2's i am using a full shoke. about a 4-6 inch pattern every shot

  • Mike Sturtz

    I have a new england firearms 10 ga. single marked on the barrel "Full" can i shoot steel through this barrel without damage?

    • dylan bush

      Umm, No you can not. If you ask your local gundealer he will prbably tell you. you need to thread it and get the right choke for a steel shot!

      • Dave

        The barrels for new england arms guns were not designed for steel use. Pretty sure Pat O. is purely talking about full choked barrels, not an older gun like a new england arms gun. Mike, don't shoot steel through it, you will regret it over the long haul because it will rip your gun apart over a few shots. It's better to just go ahead and buy a remington 870 (the workhorse) or an 11-87. A single shot shotgun isn't a wise pick for duck hunting and geese hunting and is the only kind of hunting that requires steel. Hunt something with that 10ga that you can use lead!

    • Pat O.

      I have been shooting steel shot no larger than #2s through mine for years and have never had a problem with it.I would not recommend ant larger shot size due to the constriction of a full choked bbl.

  • richard

    I see in your chart #2 that a super full is .050, I have a Carlsons Black Cloud long range choke and it is .700 what would that be considered, xxxsuper full, ect….. I patterned the shot and have 87.5% at 40 yards.

  • https://www.facebook.com/aladent Al Case

    I have a Benelli Super Black Eagle 2. I'm looking at extended chokes for goose and duck hunting. I do both pass shooting and over decoys shooting. Any ideas on which chokes to buy would be appreciated. Thanks.

    • clint

      kicks improved works great over decoys

  • Jack

    I have an H&R pardner pump and go waterfowling with it. What choke should i use?

    • NIk

      Modified

  • Phil Parkinson

    AlCase – I have an SBEII and shoot mostly over decoys with Hevi-Shot. I have found that a Carlson Extended MidRange Choke made for the Crio barrel patterns well and provides great density out to 40 yards. I have also had excellent service when contacting Carlson…just a thought.
    Phil

  • mike

    i have a sbe ll and am going on my first goose hunt . Whats a good choke. No time to test them out

    • anees

      hi mike.use improve modified for the best reault

  • Dave

    what choke should be used for trap shooting

    • colby

      i find modified or a lite modified works best

    • anees

      i suggest improce cylinder is the best for trap .coz its basically a practice for partridge

    • Wingmaster

      IMPROVED MODIFIED

  • Mac

    What chokes would you prefer for Skeet shooting, to better results, I use C & IC, should i go SK in both barrels or C in both barrels?

    • Wingmaster

      SK&IC Shooting SK #1 &IC #2 If you are a OKshot it should help about 6% plus.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000229492035 Muhammad Ali Ahmed

    hi I have baikal MP153 semi auto shotgun. I want to know what choke should i use for partridge for sangrouse ducks and for deer hunting . I have these chokes IC, M and Full.
    One more thing i want to know that can i shoot with baikal MP153 semi auto with out chokes.

    Thanks
    Ali

    • anees

      IC for partridge and sand grouse M for ducks u can also use for sand grouse and full for deer ..chokes gives u good result rather than without choke

  • Curt

    Does anyone know the actual choke IDs (Inside Diameters) for a 20 guage?
    From checking 20gauge bores, I'm seeing
    .595 for Full Choke 20ga
    .600 for Modified
    .605 for IC

    I just bought a used 22" barrel for a 20ga Remington 1100.
    It is marked "Full", but the ID measures .612 (Makes me think that it has been sawed off)

    What do you think?

  • John

    Anyone know about these cutts compensator choke system? I'm into turkeyshoots where you shoot a 6" card at 19 yards and the tighter the pattern the more the odds are in your favor. Does anybody know about how they pattern?

  • Bob

    I'm into block shoots (similar to a turkeyshoot), shooting a 4 inch card at 30 yards. I'm using a Mossberg 500 with a .650 full choke. I've been told that that is the tightest choke that I can use in this gun. Does anyone know whether that is an accurate statement? Is there a tighter choke available? Some of the guys are getting 100 bbs in the card where I'm averaging around 40-50.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001590742709 Wilson Couch

      One thing I keep hearing as I research is too much constriction can be worse than not enough at the place I shoot, many of the guys that win money often shoot with a choke bigger than the minimum. Too much constriction destabilizes the shot/wad. I have heard some legendary things about the cutts system but other guys say otherwise. Plus the other shooters are competing so don't take "friendly" advice at face value.

    • Nelson

      Bob, if that is a 12 gauge you can use a XXFULL Turkey (lead only). Hope this helps. That is what MOSSBERG says.

  • Berreta

    How does barrel length affect pattern? What determines the distance of the effective kill shot?

    • Pat O.

      The length of a barrel is to help the energy delivered from the force of the charge in the shot-shell to travel further.My duck hunting shotguns all are 28".I only use Remington s (my preference)I have an 1100 and a 870 wingmaster.Both in 12 ga.(and I am not a rep.for Remington).

    • Wingmaster

      The barrel length affects the pattern very little. More so, the load your shooting has the biggest effect. If shooting a 28" barrel compaired to a 30", you might get three or four more pellets in a 30"circle at 40 yards. You need to pattern your gun on paper to know exactly what it's doing. Then you can make the gun do the best it can for what you're shooting.

  • james

    Is it safe to the barrel of a Mossberg 835, to shoot lead shot with the choke removed? It seems to me it would mess up the choke threads.

    • Nelson

      James, according to MOSSBERG—never-never-never shoot without a choke. Yes it will mess things up.

      • http://www.facebook.com/trent.deshane Trent William DeShane

        same with a slug?

        • Dave

          Never ever shoot a threaded shotgun without some type of choke system in it, even if it means going with the largest bore choke you can buy. Slugs and shot will damage the threads. It's better to be safe than sorry!

  • Bachar khalaf

    I own a hunting rifle benelli super sport 12-gauge what is best for shooting skeet chokes

    • Heather

      I use an improved cyl in mine and do very well, you should be able to hit pretty much anything with that, I rarely take that choke out. I shoot the 12ga super sport in the tournament circuit.

    • Justin

      That is an awesome gun! How do u like it?

  • jim

    i have 2 835s that i am useing at a turkey shoot we are shooting 30 yards with 7 1/2 shot and 28 inch barrels one gun has port holes in barrel the other doesnt what would a good choke be for a good pattern a 20 gauge shell has to go in the barrel to pass.

  • Bill

    I am still unclear as to what choke to use on my Remington 870 for a slug. I've heard yes and no on the I.C. chokes. can anyone tell me what I should use so as not to damage the barrel?

    • Pat O.

      I have a 870 wingmaster and use a modified choke for slugs

      • Dave

        It's almost a given that the best all around choke for a shotgun for just about any kind of hunting is a modified. If you need something tighter, then you buy something tighter (like turkey hunting or whatever), but for a slug? Modified is clearly a great choice.

  • james

    iv got a berreta xtrema wot choke do i usefor solid slugs?

  • mark

    I just bought an old, single shot FIE 12ga with a full choke barrel on it. Sounds great for using shot, but can I shoot a slug through it?

  • Ryan

    I would like to read your article but the stupid F-ING Dodge add is right over the first 4 paragraphs. It Won't Close!!!

  • Nik

    DONT SHOOT STEEL OUT OF A FULL CHOKE IT WILL RUIN THE CHOKE!!

  • Khaled

    Thanks.
    I bought Baikal MP 153 camo.will you please inform me about the usage of chokes with details?

  • held357

    What would be a good choke to use for a 28" barrel shooting #4 buckshot ?

  • allen

    Mossberg 835 factory barrel has a over-bored barrel. Never shoot a slug through these barrels with a choke or without. No choke may allow the slug to hang up on the choke threads. Pluged barrel with a 3 1/2 magnum round will do things you will not like. With the choke the factory over-bore is close to a 10 guage the slug will rattle down this barrel and when it enters the restriction of any 12 guage choke it may hang up with the same results as above. If you want to shoot a slug with this gun you will need either a rifled barrel in 12 guage or a cylinder bore in 12 guage. If you call Mossberg and get the "store" they have a 18.5 inch barrel that is cylinder bored with open sights.

  • chris

    Looking at rob robertsons turkey choke for 12 ga benelli supernova. What choke constriction would be the best for Win HV 3 1/2 2oz. 5's?

  • Chris

    I've shot a slug through improved cylinder in my 20g ted williams 200, and through improved cyl in my 12g 870 express, said in the Ted Williams owners manual that it was recommended with my adjustable choke, but open was ok too, both got extremely tight groups with Remington slugger rounds.

  • bcarry

    I recently bought a benelli montrefeltro automatic 12 gauge shotgun. I am having problems with a couple of things. First of all, I did not know this, but there are two different springs made for the recoil. a light one, and a heavy one for fast charged loads. but, with that in mind, I did order a heavy spring and am currently waiting for it too arrive. but, my shots are all over. different patterns with everyshot. I tested the gun against my 870 wingmaster and at times the pattern was better and others worse. So im not sold on the choke being the problem yet, but what I did notice is the wads laying on the ground. in front of the automatic, the wads were wide open and laying fairly close to where I was shooting. seemed like the good shots made with the gun, the wads went farther. with the 870, the wads seemed consistant but not all were wide open. besides the spring possibly being the problem, is it possible the chokes are screwing up my patterns as well?? is the choke opening the wads to early?? any help on this would be appreciated! Thanks!

  • Joel

    I bought a turkey choke for my Winchester 1300 from bass pro and the jokers behind the counter gave me the wrong one. Its my fault for not trying it immediately when I got home but I had faith that it would fit. I’m hunting tomorrow and needed a full choke. My ruger red labels full choke screwed right in, do you think it will work?

    • Fred

      It’s been 2 months, and I bet the answer was ‘yes’

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