April 28, 2023
I have a confession to make. Up until this last season, I was one of, dare I say, the majority of waterfowlers who had never truly patterned their shotgun. No one would ever mistake me for a deadeye, but I can usually hold my own in the duck blind. Honestly, I never gave patterning my waterfowl loads more than a passing thought. While pattern testing turkey loads last spring with sub-par results, I threw some steel loads in out of curiosity. As with the turkey loads, the results were marginal at best with sporadic patterns and holes big enough for birds to easily slip through, even at 30 yards. My eyes were opened wide to the necessity of patterning my shotguns and that sent me on a deep dive to find the best choke/load combination.
What You Need to Know About Shotgun Patterning
Aftermarket choke tubes and the endless supply of opinions on them can lead you down some bottomless rabbit holes, trust me. The more I researched, the more confused I became. Despite the plethora of biased information on the world wide web, there were three truths that it seemed most could agree on. First and foremost, regardless of what choke you use, take the time to pattern your dang shotgun. Second, every load and choke combo will shoot differently. What works best for me, may not work at all out of your gun. Lastly, do not over-choke your shotgun. You will put far more birds in your bag with an open choke that evenly distributes your payload than a strung-out baseball sized pattern at 40 yards.
Unfortunately, there is not a single magic choke that will work in every scenario your waterfowl endeavors will take you. Choose one or two that will suit your needs depending on what you are hunting and how far your average shot will be and then get to testing with a variety of waterfowl loads. Jimmy Muller, shotgun ballistics guru and founder and mastermind of Muller Chokes, said it best: “The geometry of the choke and barrel bore diameter uniquely impact each load based on shot size and velocity.”
Keep in mind that no two patterns will ever be the same. Over the course of five to ten rounds fired into their own 30” circles, you will begin to see a recurring pattern, good or bad. Well-patterned shotguns will evenly distribute their payload across every quadrant of your 30-inch circle.
Your maximum effective distance can also be discovered when patterning your shotgun. Some will tell you that you need 100 pellets inside the 30-inch circle to consider it a lethal pattern. I say don’t overthink it. Shoot your shotgun moving away from your target in 5-yard increments. When you start seeing large gaps in your pattern that birds could fly through, or more pellets outside the 30-inch circle than in, it is safe to say you have discovered your maximum effective range.
Factory chokes are a great starting place, but aftermarket choke tubes can elevate your shooting to the next level.
Best Waterfowl Choke Tubes
Below are some of the best and proven waterfowl chokes to consider when shopping for an aftermarket choke tube.
Kick’s High Flyer Choke
Kick’s High Flyer choke tubes are one of the most consistent in the game, a proven deadly shotgun choke and have been a go-to option for serious waterfowlers for years. High Flyer chokes feature outward angled diagonal ports designed to improve pattern density and reduce recoil. With a variety of options available, Kick’s offers a valuable choke selector feature on their website designed to get you the right choke for your needs and style of hunting. MSRP $70 | kicks-ind.com
Patternmaster Code Black Timber Choke
Patternmaster is one of the most respected and revered names in the waterfowl industry for providing clean kills at all ethical ranges. Their Code Black Timber choke tube adds a versatile close-range option to the wildly successful Code Black series of chokes. It is engineered to deliver devastating patterns inside 40 yards, while shortening your shot string to deliver more pellets on target at the same time with their patented stud ring technology. No matter what Patternmaster choke fits your hunting style, you can hit the marsh in confidence knowing that you are shooting one of the best choke tubes on the market. MSRP $95 | patternmaster.com
Carlson’s Choke Tubes Bismuth Bone Buster
Carlson’s new Bismuth Bone Buster tubes take advantage of one of the hottest trends in the waterfowl world, premium bismuth shotshells. Their bismuth specific choke accounts for the varying ballistic performance variances between bismuth and steel, producing deadly patterns for a variety of bismuth load offerings. The Bismuth Bone Buster choke is made of 17-4 stainless steel with both a mid-range and extended-range option. Like every Carlson’s choke tube, it is backed by their lifetime warranty. MSRP $50 | choketube.com
Rob Roberts Chokes Triple Threat Combo Pack
Rob Robert’s legendary Triple Threat choke tubes are built on 30+ years of experience to bring waterfowlers a trio of choke tubes engineered to cleanly take down everything from flighty early season teal to wary late season honkers. Constructed from 17-4 PH stainless steel, the Triple threat series of chokes are machined to extremely tight tolerances, guaranteeing pattern performance across the board. MSRP $225 (Combo Pack) $80 (Individually) | robrobertsgunworks.com
Muller Choke Tubes H2O Waterfowl
My eyes were opened to the science that goes into making a choke when I visited with Jimmy Muller, founder and owner of Muller Choke Tubes. Using his patented Gun Specific Patterning Geometry technology, which tailors each choke to a specific make and model of shotgun, Muller engineered the H2O Waterfowl line of chokes tubes. The H2O line features a Decoy, Passing and UFO model for the corresponding distances you intend to shoot ducks and geese. Muller also offers a 60-day money back guarantee that his chokes “will out-pattern any other choke regardless of ammo choice.” With a guarantee like that, what do you have to lose? MSRP $130 | mullerchokes.com