Shooters spend a lot of money and a lot of mental energy on the topic of chokes. Probably too much, in my opinion. How a gun fits, how well you can shoot it, the gun’s weight and balance all matter more to me than constriction at the muzzle.
That said, I, too, have stood paralyzed before a hunt, choke tube wrench in my hand, trying to decide if Modified or Improved Modified is the perfect choke for that day, even though the difference between the two is a few thousandths of an inch.
Here are some random thoughts on choke:
I usually err on the side of more choke rather than less when I choose a tube. You can tell the difference right away on clay targets when you switch to a tighter choke. Replace a Skeet choke with IC or Light Modified on the skeet field some time and you will see the birds break harder. On the other hand, your score probably won’t change much (unless you let yourself get psyched out by changing chokes) because a more open choke only gives you a little bit more pattern spread. If you’re on target, you’re hitting birds with the center of the pattern anyway and the overall spread of your pattern makes little difference.
Many manufacturers mark chokes “Improved Cylinder – Lead, Modified – Steel” or “Modified — Lead, Full –Steel” but in my experience a Modified choke, say, doesn’t always produce Full choke pattern with steel. Shot size plays a part. Small steel 6 and 7 shot will usually pattern about the same as good lead loads out of a given choke. As you move up in size to 2s and BBs you’ll see somewhat tighter patterns with steel, but usually not one whole degree of choke tighter. Some really big shot, T and the like, will give you Full choke patterns out of a more open choke, sometimes even out of open chokes like Improved Cylinder. The only way to know is to pattern your gun.
Aftermarket chokes are usually consistent from one to the next. They will likely shoot straight and the extended tubes are handy, both to know what choke is in your gun and for screwing it in and out. Many of the longer ones have longer tapers and parallel sections inside that can give you better patterns than a factory choke. The biggest difference I have seen is when you replace very short chokes like the original Winchoke/Invector style (still used in Mossberg 500s) with a longer extended choke. However, before you buy, test the factory chokes that came with your gun. I had the chance to try a couple of different aftermarket chokes in the Beretta 3901 waterfowl gun lately and when the smoke cleared, I liked what I saw from the factory tube best.
Next time, Random Thoughts on Shotgun Choke, Part II