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How to Choose the Right Choke Tube | How to Shotgun #8

how to shoot a shotgun Sep 14, 2023
How to Choose the Right Choke Tube | How to Shotgun #8

There's no question that when it comes to choke tubes, there are A LOT of options. Even if you're using the factory chokes that came with your gun, how do you know which one to use? Today, we're taking a deep dive into how choke tubes work and how you can decide which one to pull out the next time you go shooting. Are you ready? Let's go!

First of all, what is a choke tube?

A choke tube is a cylinder tube that screws into the end of your barrel. Different chokes vary in constriction to affect the size of your pattern at various distances. If you're not understanding this, here's all you need to know - Shotgun shells do not shoot a single projectile. Rather, the shell contains a bunch of tiny BB's that are tightly compacted in the shell. As soon as the BB's exit the shotgun, the barrel will no longer keep them tightly compacted. As they enter the open air, physics takes over and the BB's begin to separate both vertically and horizontally. This increasing area that the BB's cover as they fly down range is called your pattern. The objective of the choke tube is to alter how soon and how much those BB's expand as they exit the barrel by "pinching" them at the end of the barrel. More "pinch" at the muzzle will result in the BB's staying closer together for longer, ultimately resulting in a further effective range. The degree to which the BB's are "pinched" is known as 'constriction'. There are many different types of chokes offered on the market that may have different names from different manufacturers, but there are still industry standard constrictions that you must understand to know what you're looking for.

What are the common constrictions? (Ranging from least to most constriction)

Generally speaking, these are the 5 degrees of constriction that you will find in a choke tube. Oftentimes, if you buy a new shotgun, it will come with either all 5 of these or a combination of these. The constriction of a choke is usually marked by how many notches it has in it. See the image below.   

  • "Cylinder" 
  • "Improved Cylinder"
  • "Modified"
  • "Improved Modified"
  • "Full"


What other options are there? 

Over the years, manufacturers have released more discipline-specific chokes, as well as variations to previously standard chokes. Here is the same list, with some lesser-common sizes added in bold

  • "Cylinder" 
  • "Skeet"
  • "Improved Cylinder"
  • "Light Modified"
  • "Modified"
  • "Improved Modified"
  • "Light Full"
  • "Full"
  • "Extra Full"
  • "Turkey"


So, how do I choose a choke?

Glad you asked! First, we must determine the target we're pursuing and the type of metal we'll be using in our shotshells. The metal of our shot somewhat determines the effective range of our chokes. Below is a graph from Carlson Choke tubes showing us the average affective distance based on whether you use lead or steel shot. Also, being aware of our metal is important because some chokes are only graded for use with certain metals. So if we're shooting ducks with steel and know that we can get them in within 25-45 yards, we should be looking for a modified choke approved for steel shot. 

Another element you absolutely have to know before ordering a choke is the type of thread pattern or choke system for your shotgun. There are some shotgun manufacturers that have crossover with choke systems but you must know so that it fits properly! Your gun manual or the internet should make finding out pretty easy. If you shop online, after-market choke manufactures will often have a pretty stream-lined system for helping you choose a choke. For example, Carlsons Choke Tubes makes it easy.

What other options are out there?

There are more than a couple of options to explore regarding choke selection. This is why patterning your shotgun is so important. Patterning is when you shoot your shotgun at a large paper target to see how your BB's spread over time and space (like we talked about earlier) - Doing this with multiple ammo and choke combinations will give you a really good idea of how effective your shot is if shot at varying distances. We've released two videos about patterning - One about which shotgun patterns best and another testing which ammo patterns the best. We'd highly recommend checking those out!

(Watch best patterning shotgun HERE) - (Watch best patterning ammo HERE)

There are still a couple of other options to discuss: First, do we want a flush mount choke or an extended choke? A flush mount choke is just as the name implies. It screws in and mounts flush with the end of the barrel. An extended choke screws in and extends past your barrel. We personally use extended chokes for a couple of reasons. First, the longer that our BB's can be constricted, the more true our constriction will be downrange. Shooting professionally means getting as many advantages out of your gun setup as possible. Another benefit to an extended choke is that they are often ported. These extra cuts in the choke tube act as an extra gas release from the exhaust of our shot, resulting in lesser felt recoil and muzzle-jump.  Another benefit of an extended choke is that you can take them in and out with your hands.

Finally, it's worth noting that some manufacturers make specific chokes for specific ammo. For example, if I'm shooting Federals Prarie Storm, there's a specific choke made to correlate with the various metals used in that specific shotshell. At the end of the day, you have to choose what choke is going to work best for your objective. At least knowing how choke tubes work will help you decide which route to go. And if that means sticking to the factory chokes that came with your gun, that's fine - That's what they're there for! However, if you're hard-headed like us and want every advantage possible on the range or in the field, an after-market choke specific to your pursuit might be the way to go. We choose to use Carlsons Choke Tubes because they're made in the USA, they have more than 30 years of patterning data to optimize their chokes, and they always have someone available to answer the phone if we need guidance or assistance. If you want to explore the world of after-market chokes, check out Carlsons (HERE!!!)

This was a run-through of how to select a choke but there is more to the story. Stay tuned for our upcoming video on how to patter your shotgun.

Whether our targets in the field or our targets in life, we will only hit what we are focused on, so live the #targetfocusedlife 

Stay Target Focused,


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