Choking Up, Part II

Choose the choke tubes that are right for you.

Field & Stream Online Editors

Before tubes, choke work was a highly specialized business. About the only people who went in for it were competitive shooters who would have their chokes tailored for, say, 16-yard trap. When plastic shot cups came on the market in the 1960s and made patterns denser, many shooters found that their chokes were suddenly too tight, and there was a rash of choke-reaming to accommodate the new shells. But you could only have one constriction, and good choke work was not cheap.

Now, anyone can pick an aftermarket tube off the rack and twirl it into a muzzle. The question is, should you?

Very likely. An aftermarket choke can make your gun more efficient by reining in straying pellets that would otherwise be lost as flyers, often improving patterns by a consistent 5 or 10 percent. I recently compared a factory Modified tube and a long Undertaker waterfowl choke (Hunter's Specialties, 800-728-0321) of about the same constriction in one of my duck guns. Both chokes printed patterns of roughly the same overall size with my favorite load of Winchester Supreme High Velocity 2s. The Undertaker, however, put an average of 10 to 15 more holes into the 30-inch circle-every time.

Extended Chokes
In chokes, longer is better; many factory chokes are short, although some are lengthening as shooters come to demand it. Extra length allows choke makers to machine a longer, more gradual taper into the portion of the choke that constricts from the bore diameter to the choke diameter. After the taper, there's room in an extended choke for a parallel section where the internal diameter remains constant and the shot charge has a chance to stabilize before it exits the muzzle.

Extended tubes are easier to screw in and out. They also move the main stress of steel payloads past the muzzle, reducing the chance of barrel damage. And, of course, they look very high-tech and aftermarket, which helps them sell.

Custom Choking Options
The easiest way to select an aftermarket choke is to pick a bubble-packed tube off a pegboard and pay somewhere between $30 and $80 for it. Manufacturers now mark chokes for their intended purpose instead of by constriction only. You might find one labeled ducks over decoys or pass-shooting geese and you can be fairly confident it's been bored with the appropriate shooting distance and shot size in mind. Chances are it will improve your patterns, as the Undertaker did in my gun.

However, off-the-rack tubes fit guns about the way off-the-rack suits fit people. Because they are made to average, not specific, bore dimensions, you may end up with more or less constriction than you think you're getting. For example, you may want a true Full choke with 30 points of constriction, but you may end up with 25 points or 22. Or 35, which is way too tight for most uses.

The solution is to buy tubes sized to your gun barrel. If you order chokes from Briley Manufacturing (800-331-5718), Seminole Gunworks (800-980-3344), Ballistic Specialties (800-276-2550), or Kick's (800-587-2779)-to name four good choke makers-you can either send them your barrel or have a gunsmith measure the internal diameter before you call. Then you can be sure you get the constrictions you want. If choke makers know your barrel diameter they can also match the entrance end of the choke to that diameter, which will reduce plastic fouling and ease the shot charge's transition from bore to choke. Almost any older gun can have choke tubes installed, even older guns with thin barrel walls. Recently, for instance, I had Briley Manufacturing install a set of their XV tubes in my father's old Beretta o/u. The 23/4-inch-long, steel-shot-approved tubes fit flush to the muzzle, the barrels weren't bulged, and the appearance (and the value) of the gun weren't changed at all. Cost for two barrels and five tubes ran about $370.

When you begin shopping for tubes, yyou'll find an almost infinite number of constrictions available. Hastings (785-632-3169), for instance, sells its HQC tubes in 13 constrictions in .004 increments. A pile of chokes is really of more use to target shooters than to hunters. In the field, you can get by with four or five chokes: Skeet, Improved Cylinder, Modified, Full, and Turkey Full. Pick a choke (for hunting, it's best to err on the side of a little too much choke), put it in the gun, and then forget about it for the day and focus on hitting the target. Remember, the most important choke is still the one that happens in your mind, not the one in the muzzle.