Choke Tube Decisions
Shotgun Patterning: Things to Consider
By Chase Moore
For any waterfowl hunter, whether it be the once a year guy, the weekend warrior, or the seasoned guide, nothing could be more disappointing than having a bird work into your spread and when the time comes to shoot, you miss all three shots. Well, I guess not hunting at all would be more disappointing, but to a hunter who puts all that time and effort into the hunt and ends up with a meager result should be frustrated. While this situation has happened to every waterfowl hunter, whether they will admit it or not, often times it might not be the result of just flat out bad shooting. Likewise, what you thought was a lack of focus or a situation where you didn’t mount your gun on your shoulder exactly right could really be something as simple as a patterning issue caused by your choke tube and your load selections. And it happens more than you think.
When referring to shotgun performance with regard to pattering, I have heard the saying “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” While this saying might hold true for some, many others may not realize that what isn’t broke in their opinions can still be holding them back from being the best waterfowl hunters they can be. To better understand the issues of patterning and how one should go about choke tube and load selections, I took my questions to Rob Roberts of Rob Roberts Gunworks, who has dedicated himself to the hunter and the basic concepts of accuracy, consistency, and feel. Roberts has it down to a science when helping hunters customize their shotguns to produce the best patterns in any kind of hunting situation. “As with all hunting gear on the market today, especially waterfowl hunting gear, companies are always coming out with better and more efficient products to help one get the most out of his or her hunt,” says Roberts. “The choke tube, which always seems to get a lot of conversation amongst waterfowl hunters, has grown over the years into a big market for these hunters trying to improve their gunning abilities and put more birds on the strap.” But with such a selection of choke tubes these days, how does one go about finding the right one. Here are some things to consider this season when looking to improve your patterning with a new choke tube.
Choke Tube Selection:
First try to understand it on a basic physical level. Every time you shoot, the last link of direction that your wad of shot receives is from that thin little cylinder of steel at the end of your gun. “Today most choke tubes on the market will be made with 17-4 stainless steel,” says Roberts. “It is a must to try and find a tube that is also heat treated for maximum strength and reliability.” Moreover, Roberts asserts that this specification will make for harder and more consistent steel, ultimately translating into better patterns. Another major attribute to consider for choke tubes are the lengths of their parallel section. More specifically, this attribute is the part of the tube which extends out past the gun barrel. Roberts is a firm believer that the ideal length of a parallel section should be an 1 inch to an 11/8 inch. “I have researched and tested every possible parallel section length from a 1/2inch to 21/2inch and have found that the best patterns are always present with the 1” to 11/8” lengths.” An additional feature with choke tubes that presents itself on the basis of appearance, but also holds some significance on functionality is the specification of ported or non-ported. “The whole idea behind a ported choke,” Roberts says, “is the purpose of a wad stripper.” “This means that the wad is separated more dramatically from the pellets at the exit point than a non-ported choke.” “Other than that basic feature, there are no other proven differences like a reduction in recoil or back pressure.” Roberts, who stands behind the performance of his non-ported choke tubes, preaches that the biggest factor is knowing what you want to get out of guns pattern with regard to choke constriction and your gunning abilities. Whether you are a waterfowler who desires to get a softball size pattern at 40 yards or one who needs a more open pattern for close range decoying shots, any pattern can be accomplished with the right combination of choke tube and load. Without having a basic understanding of how a choke tube functions or what look for, it can become a guessing game and this in turn holds the potential for inconsistency and frustration.
Shotgun Load Selection:
When getting into the elements of a pattern, the load also has an effect on the overall outcome, in other words the choke and the load should work together in this whole process. Within any cloud of shot, individual pellet placement is utterly random, and no given pellet or group of pellets can be precisely directed. However, if this scatter of pellets is dense enough, the sheer number of pellets defeats random positioning and can produce multiple pellet strikes to down the game. Choke tubes are essential in this regard, but without a satisfactory load to allow the choke to do its job then you are sent back to square one. So how do go about finding that load to match your choke. Well according to Roberts, it’s really a trial and error kind of deal. “If you don’t feel like getting it professionally done, which I would recommend, the easiest thing to do is to go out and buy a couple of different boxes of shell that you would want to use during the seasons and go to work. Find out which shell patterns best.”
The Professional Shotgun Pattern:
Even though it is very feasible for a hunter to generate a good pattern with a basic understanding of the process, it’s also important to understand that may times it’s not as simple as going out a just buying an aftermarket choke tube. Rather a lot of research should be done to see which choke matches your gun the best and in many cases it would be a good idea to have a professional modify and outfit your gun with a certain choke tube. For example, Roberts suggests a precision custom choke installation and individually-fit choke tubes which will have none of the limitations that are present in mass produced factory or aftermarket choke tubes. A custom choke will be more likely to be in line with the point of aim when the tube is in alignment with the shotgun bore, and the patterns will likely be more uniform when the shot is constricted evenly through the entire choking action. An off-center choke, which can be found sometimes in factory or aftermarket choke tubes, will have the shot strike first on one side of the choke and have an uneven action. However, none of this is say that some quality time your shotgun can’t produce close to professional results. In all of this, Roberts sums it up by saying: “nothing could be more detrimental to one’s hunting experience than blatantly overlooking the importance of your shotgun’s performance, especially that of the gun’s patterning ability with respect to choke tubes and load selection.”