In general, upland hunters use too little choke and waterfowlers use too much. Waterfowlers fixate on tight patterns at 50 yards even though their goal is to shoot ducks and geese over decoys at less than half that range. A friend who tried a new super-long range waterfowl choke said the first duck he shot with it was feet down over the decoys at 20 yards. “I was shocked,” he said, “It looked like I ran over it with my truck.”
What did you expect when you used a long range choke on a short range duck?
At the same time, if you hand most bird hunters a gun their first question is, “What’s it choked?” and if you say “Modified and Full” they immediately hand it back to you as if it has cooties. They aren’t happy if their pattern doesn’t get as big as possible as soon as possible, which is fine up close, but leads to weak hits and cripples on days the birds flush wild.
The goal with choke selection should be to shoot a pattern that kills bird stone dead while still leaving good- looking and edible corpses. That’s my goal, anyway. Both uplanders and waterfowlers, I think, could learn from the Sporting Clays shooters and try a middle-ground choke: Light Modified.
For every Sporting Clays shooter that changes chokes at each station, there are five that screw a Light Modified choke in their gun and forget about it, regardless of whether they are shooting targets in their face or long, edge-on crossers. Light Modified splits the difference between Improved Cylinder and Modified and, in my guns anyway, shoots patterns that I can hit with up close and still reach out to 40-45 yards with as well.
From early teal season to the last day of goose season this year I shot a Rob Roberts T2 choke which happens to be Light Modified. With the exception of one bluewing I centered at about 12 yards as it came right at me (fortunately I missed the tasty parts), almost every bird I shot this year fell dead but not torn up, including a goose or two at 40 yards and maybe a little more and quite a few birds at 20 yards or so. If I did a lot of pass shooting I might want something tighter but as it stands Light Modified does everything I need it to.
In the uplands, Light Modified gives you a little added pattern density on longer shots but it’s still easy to hit birds with at closer ranges. I think bird hunters get a little too concerned about wide-open chokes. No matter what choke you use you should learn to let those birds that flush underfoot get out a ways before you shoot. Even Cylinder choke will tear up a bird if you shoot it quickly when it gets up right in front of you.