Choosing Shotgun Choke Tubes
Dr. John Woods 10.25.16
In the younger days of my rural lifestyle I learned to shoot quail, dove, rabbits, and squirrels with a bolt action .410 Stevens shotgun, a hand-me-down from my brother. That diminutive little smoothbore actually had no choke so I would say it was an open choke.
Later I obtained use of another ne’er-do-well shotgun an old Mossberg bolt gun with a drop out magazine and an adjustable screw choke pressed on the muzzle of the gun. It was supposed to be screwed down to press or open slits in the muzzle end to control choke from improved, to modified, to full choke. It was worthless.
In those days most shotguns came from the factory with fixed chokes. So you bought a gun with a full choke if you wanted to hunt ducks and generally a modified choke for small game. An improved cylinder was sometimes used for close up shooting of busted quail coveys or sometimes running rabbits in open fields.
Later came the screw-in choke tubes that revolutionized the barrel choking of shotguns. I don’t know who invented the screw-in interchangeable shotgun choke tubes, but my first Remington 11-87 shotgun had them, one improved cylinder, one modified and one full choke. Later I got turkey chokes and an extra full turkey choke for really tight patterns.
Essentially a shotgun choke tube provides the appropriate barrel restriction at the muzzle to pattern the shot in various widths or shot spreads down range. An improved cylinder is a very open or wide choke useful for close quarter’s bird shooting. A medium or modified choke is designed for general use and small game hunting. A full choke is the narrowest or “tight” pattern for waterfowl hunting.
There are many other choke selection options, two for buckshot or slugs, using an open bore choke (or no choke actually) or very, very tight chokes for turkey hunting. You can actually purchase other custom chokes for a variety of shot patterns for any number of specialized uses. Deer hunters can even buy special slug barrels for hunting.
Hunters can get away with traditional factory chokes for most applications. Preppers and survivalists using a shotgun for self-defense or protective uses will likely want an appropriate open choke for buckshot use.
Whatever choke is selected for hunting or self-defense, the shooter needs to pattern the shot used to see how it prints on paper to know its spread pattern. Check both lead and steel shot.