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If you need to extend the range of your shotgun when firing birdshot or buckshot and pattern more tightly, you will benefit from the use of a choke tube. Choke tubes are available in a variety of designs and constriction levels. But which is suitable for you?
What is a Choke Tube?
A choke tube is a metal cylinder with a tapered inside diameter that you screw into the muzzle of a shotgun. Choke tubes are designed to constrict the spreading pattern of the shot pellets to increase the range of the shot charge.
There are multiple types of choke tubes that you can choose from, depending on your preferred kind of shooting, target, and range.
When you fire a shotgun loaded with birdshot or buckshot, multiple spherical projectiles, called pellets, leave the muzzle in a cluster. The farther the shot pellets travel, the more they disperse. Shot dispersion is necessary to greater or lesser degrees, depending on the target and other shooting conditions.
Contrary to popular belief, barrel length does not have a consistent effect on the spreading pattern of a shot charge. Unless you cut the barrel of a shotgun down to less than 10”, the difference will probably be negligible. However, it will also be unpredictable.
One of the advantages of a shotgun is that, when attempting to hit a fast-moving aerial or ground-based target, the spread of multiple shot pellets increases hit probability. However, as the range increases, the shot pattern density dissipates.
Choke tubes allow you to tighten the spreading pattern of the shot pellets as much as necessary to improve your odds of hitting, killing, or destroying the target.
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Types of Shotgun Chokes
The degree of constriction a shotgun choke tube provides is measured in thousandths of an inch. There are a variety of choke tubes available on the market. The three most common types, from most constrictive to least, are:
Full choke is the most constrictive option of the three, offering .035”. It condenses the shot pellets to increase the effective range of the shotgun. Trapshooters and turkey hunters most often use the full choke.
Modified choke is less constrictive than full at .020” and represents a middle ground, so the pellets will begin to disperse earlier. While useful for trap shooting, the modified choke can also be used for pheasant hunting.
3. Improved cylinder
An improved cylinder is the least constrictive, or most open, choke tube among the three most popular options at .010”. Along with the skeet choke tube (.005”), the improved cylinder choke is more useful for relatively close-range shooting, whether you’re shooting clay discs or birds. In double-barreled over-and-under shotguns, you can combine different chokes to increase your flexibility.
Other Types of Chokes
If you want to maximize the spread of your shotgun or you’ve asked, “Which shotgun choke is the most open?” The easiest answer would be cylinder bore; however, that isn’t technically a type of choke. Cylinder bore offers no constriction at all — i.e., the inside diameter of the choke tube and the bore diameter are identical — so shot patterns begin to open up rapidly.
However, there is also a negative choke tube designed to increase the spread pattern of the shot compared to a cylinder-bore barrel. The degree of constriction in a negative choke may be measured as -.005”. This maximizes hit probability at very close ranges and is sometimes promoted for home defense or close-quarters battle (CQB) military applications. The consequence of this type of choke is that it severely limits the effective range of the shotgun.
There are also muzzle devices that change the spreading pattern of the shot pellets in other ways. An example is the Vietnam-era Duckbill designed by the U.S. Navy in 1968. This device alters the spreading pattern to be more horizontal.
What about tighter options? After the three most popular choke tubes, there are also extra full and super full, which increase the constriction in increments of .01” (i.e., from .035” in full to .045” and .055”, respectively). These types of chokes are the most constrictive, allowing you to achieve reliable headshots at 40 meters or more on turkeys, hence the nickname “gobbler getter.”
Flush and Extended
There are two additional categories of choke tubes: flush and extended. The advantage of an extended choke tube is that, by extending past the muzzle, the cylinder is longer and can constrict the shot charge more slowly and uniformly.
In choke tubes that extend past the muzzle, there are also ported variants. A ported choke tube exhibits the characteristics of a muzzle brake or recoil compensator. By exhausting escaping gases laterally, vertically, or circumferentially, the ported choke tube can reduce recoil, muzzle rise, or both.
Whether you need a ported choke will depend on several factors, such as your personal sensitivity or resistance to recoil, the type of shotgun, and ammunition.
Porting doesn’t appear to affect the spreading pattern of shot pellets one way or another in practical use, so use whichever type you prefer.
What About Cylinder Bore?
As a cylinder-bore shotgun offers no constriction of the shot pellets, the type of shot, type of ammunition (e.g., flight control), and range determine the spreading pattern. While the cylinder-bore shotgun can be used for close-range sporting purposes, it is the standard for home defense. If you need to deter a burglar or other malcontent inside your home, constricting the shot pellets is probably not necessary.
Adjustable Choke Tubes
The adjustable choke tube allows you to change the degree of constriction by twisting and locking it, either using your hand or a tool. These devices can help determine the type of choke that functions best with your particular gun or ammunition.
Unfortunately, these devices also tend to be heavier and bulkier than their fixed-constriction competitors. Some shooters also find them less than appealing cosmetically, although this isn’t a practical criticism.
Choke tubes are designed for birdshot and buckshot pellets; however, shotguns fire other types of ammunition too. You may be wondering whether it’s possible or advisable to shoot slugs through a shotgun barrel with a choke tube. The answer is that it depends on the choke tube and the shotgun manufacturer’s recommendations.
Generally speaking, you should avoid shooting slugs through choke tubes tighter than an improved cylinder. If you fire a slug through a full choke tube, for example, you risk blowing the choke tube out of the gun, damaging the barrel and potentially causing injury.
Do You Need a Choke?
Whether you need a choke tube at all, and if so, what type depends on the type of shooting with which you intend to practice. Different shotgun sports, game animals, and tactical scenarios call for different ranges.
If you’ve asked which shotgun choke is the most open, you presumably need spread for relatively close-range targets. That’s typically skeet or improved cylinder.
Balancing Your Shot Pattern
Choke tubes are a valuable accessory for your shotgun, allowing you to adjust the patterns to find that perfect balance of range and shot density. Experiment with a few until you find the one that’s right for your gun and ammo.