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Years ago at the Remington Shooting School our instructor had us put Improved Cylinder chokes in our guns and shoot springing teal targets. We backed up five steps with every break until the whole class was hitting teal with Improved Cylinder chokes from the Ilion Gun Club parking lot. The point of the lesson was supposed to be that even an open choke like Improved Cylinder can break targets that are very far away, and that therefore, IC is all the choke you ever need.

Yes and no.

The video made by instructor Gil Ash illustrates an interesting point. Each of the color-coded circle cutouts shows the effective pattern of different chokes at five yard increments, starting with light brown representing 10 yards. “Effective” is defined as putting an average of three pellets in an edge-on clay target. The circles are based on patterns Ash shot with 12 gauge target loads.

“Effective pattern” and overall pattern spread are two different things. No matter how wide the whole pattern, the effective part that kills birds and breaks targets reliably is the central portion, where most of the shot is concentrated. As a pattern spreads that center changes size–starting out very small and growing larger, then eventually shrinking as more and more pellets migrate out of the center and spread to the pattern edges.

As shown in the video, IC does have the largest effective spread at 30 yards. However, as it also shows, when distances increase to 35 and 40 yards that effective spread shrinks dramatically.

So, as Ash says, you can break targets at 40 yards (the 40 yard disk is the dark blue one) with an IC pattern if you’re hitting them with that small pattern center. However, notice how much bigger the dark blue disk of the Modified choke is by comparison–Ash doesn’t pick it up, but you can see it behind the other circles in the Modified set. So even though you can break those long targets with an open choke, it’s actually easier to do it with a tighter choke, not because the pattern is “tighter” but because at long range the effective pattern is actually larger.