What’s the Best Choke?
I am asked and see that question asked on Internet discussion forums quite often, and it’s actually harder to answer than the age-old 7½s or 8s question. Although I’ve addressed this topic in previous columns, I feel it deserves a rerun, but the first thing we should understand is exactly how a choke works.
Chokes constrict the shot column by an amount referred to as a choke’s constriction. As vividly demonstrated by a boa constrictor snake, the choke squeezes the shot, which makes the shot column and resulting shot string longer. As the pellets exit the muzzle and encounter air resistance, the lead pellets slow and are bumped out of the way by the layer of pellets behind them, and that continues until the last pellets hit the air. The longer that process takes, the farther out that shot charge is effective, thus a tighter (read: more constrictive) choke will deliver patterns that are effective at longer yardage than a more-open (read: less constrictive) choke will.
As with most things in life, there are exceptions. For example, I have a Remington 870 TC that came with RemChokes of the short-lived “Target” variety. Its Super Full tube had .054” of constriction (yeah, that’s TIGHT) yet threw ugly wide and patchy patterns. Then there’s the gun with which I enjoyed the most success, a Krieghoff Model 32 Vandalia Rib top single combo. That top single barrel was choked Improved Modified and had just .027” of choke constriction. Most of my friends used more choke than that for 16-yard targets, but I shot my way to the 27-yard line with that unaltered factory choke. That can happen because of how that choke is “profiled” (my term).
Chokes have internal taper; that is, the inlet end is larger in diameter than the outlet end, thus creating the constriction we already discussed. But they aren’t tapered clear to the outlet end; there is an untapered portion at the outlet end that serves a purpose of stabilizing the shot charge prior to it exiting the muzzle. That portion of the choke is called “parallel” because, in fact, the walls of the choke are parallel to one another, and it seems that more parallel yields hotter pattern cores thereby creating tighter patterns.
Another first-hand example of choke performance is my last trap combo, a Beretta. Its Improved Modified choke measured at only .025" of constriction, but it smoked targets as if it was an Extra Full. It had more parallel than the Krieghoff chokes in my previous guns, and I attributed its patterns to that.
The only aftermarket chokes I ever used were made by the late Stu Wright of Wright’s Gunsmithing in Pinkneyville, Illinois, a company that remains in business today. Stu educated me on chokes after I bought one of the first Krieghoff KX-5s to land on American soil and wasn’t totally delighted with its choke tube selection. I learned Stu wasn’t enamored with lots of parallel in his chokes and, I guess because of that, I settled on .033" of constriction with his choke in that gun. So, the amount of parallel does make a difference.
If the thought hasn’t already occurred to you, a bore gauge is an invaluable tool for any target shotgunner. You cannot form patterning expectations using a choke’s marking as reference, for all that really tells you is its range of constriction. Its all-important profile is an unknown until you slide a bore micrometer through it. Good bore micrometers are not cheap, but only gunsmiths really need one full-time, so if you and a few of your shooting buddies all chip in on one, it will always be at your disposal at a modest cost.
Another factor in choke selection is your ammunition. Pellet size, pellet hardness, muzzle velocity and even powder-burning rate will all affect how a choke patterns. Experimentation, therefore, is something you almost have to do. Patterning boards are the technocrat’s best friend, but they are NOT the absolute indicator of your choke’s performance. How your gun breaks targets is much more definitive; accordingly, I only used patterning boards to determine a barrel’s point of impact for a starting point in getting my guns dialed-in. I have witnessed countless times a beautiful pattern in just the “right” location fail to break targets hard, if at all. That’s because a lot of us, myself included, apparently make some change in our mechanics when we go from shooting a stationary gun at a stationary target to shooting a moving gun at moving targets. In my case, the gun had to be set to shoot higher — much higher — on live targets than the patterning board suggested.
One time I always did use a patterning board was when I bought a new gun. I would pattern the old gun and then shoot and adjust the new one until it shot to the same point of impact, but I still had to do some fine-tuning as different guns just shoot differently for some reason. Trigger speed, weight and weight distribution all enter into how and where a gun will shoot for you, and it probably wouldn’t the same way for me or one of your friends.
By now, you’ve probably come to the realization that the brand of choke your buddy swears by could turn out to be one you will swear at, and the only way to find that out is by buying choke tubes and shooting with them. Fortunately, choke tubes offer the ability to do just that without costly and irreversible gunsmithing. Additionally, you can always resell any unwanted choke tubes.
Y’all have fun now, hear?
Something you do not want to do to your computer
There is a super-handy gadget called TackLife that is not much larger than a paperback book but will charge your phone or other devices and even start your car — multiple times between charges — if the vehicle’s battery becomes discharged. You can find them as well as other brands on Amazon as well as other places. They are not a gimmick, and I have one in each of our cars. But last August, I goofed while recharging mine.
I had not touched it since initially charging it when I got it last winter. After using it for the first time eight months later to start a co-worker’s pickup truck, I thought I ought to recharge it and connected it to a USB port on my desktop PC. Where I screwed up was connecting that cord to the output port on the TackLife instead of the input port (which are identical). When no lights on the TackLife came on, I discovered my mistake and reconnected the cord in the proper place but still nothing happened. When I tried waking up my PC, the power light came on and the cooling fan ran but that was it. It seems it didn’t take kindly to a 12-volt enema.
I took the tower to a local computer repair guy, who eventually determined the motherboard was DOA. He said he could replace that board but suggested I instead replace the tower and use its undamaged components as spares if nothing else. For reasons unknown to me, I’ve used nothing but H-P PCs and peripherals since buying my first Windows computer in the late 1980s. The one I damaged had been built to my specifications by H-P about four years earlier, and the repair guy was impressed with the quality of the internal components. He removed and tested each one, keeping the ones not damaged by my blunder. He then placed the remains of the carcass onto a pile of electronics he said he would be donating to some place that uses them for training.
I fully expected him to suggest he build a new PC for me but, instead, he recommended I shop H-P’s website for a refurbished unit. He told me they are not ones returned for defects but ones that failed a final assembly test and required an in-house repair. He also said I could find some really attractive buys in their section for business users.
Long story short, I bought a Z2 Work Station that normally carries a price of $1,399 for $739 plus tax and shipping — $795 and change, all totaled. I now join the repair guy in recommending these things, as the descriptive “fast” does not do justice to how this thing functions! When I turn it on from a shutdown, it’s ready for my password in eight seconds, and everything else takes place in a similarly short period of time. The hard drive is one of the newer M.2 designs and is a small black plastic-looking gadget that resides on the motherboard. The tower has bays and wiring for two optical drives (it came with a DVD RW drive) and two conventional hard drives. My old tower had two 2TB drives in it, and since both passed his testing, they are now installed in the new machine and programmed for backup duty.
The only downside, aside from having to spend almost $800, is that while he was able to recover and transfer all my documents, downloads and such, all my thousands of photos seemed to have failed to make the trip. At least, so far. He has suggested I search in all my document folders in case they are hiding within one or more of them. Given his expertise and success in getting everything else transferred, I have a hard time accepting that he somehow erred when working with the photos. And, as it turned out, he didn’t as I found them embedded in other documents. I now have a project ahead of me in finding and restoring them in their proper location.
Tom Brooks sent an email asking for help with a real problem. “I have been battling with tendon issues for a couple of years now. I would get the cortisone shots and that worked for a long time, usually the whole year. Well, over the years the shots were less effective and finally last year the doc said he couldn't keep giving the shots and recommended physical therapy. I decided to go to an orthopedic surgeon, and he told me my tendon was torn and the reason my arm was always getting numb was because my ulnar nerve was entrapped and needed to be released. I had the surgery releasing the nerve and sewing the tendon. It worked for about six months, and here I am wondering if I should go back to the guy and have more surgery or try release triggers. It hurts after I shoot. I’ve tried the bands and sleeves. I figure if I try a release, maybe I won’t be so tight or aggressive when I pull the trigger.”
My reply to Walter was, “I don’t know if a release trigger would help or not, but it might. I say that because you have to relax a muscle to shoot one instead of clenching one; holding the release back instead of pulling the trigger might be less painful. I have arthritis in my hands, and my fingers move with a notchy feeling but that never hindered me in shooting either a release or the pull triggers in my rifles and handguns. About the only way to know for sure is, of course, to try one. Hopefully your gun is not one that is expensive to convert to release and is able to be returned to a good pull trigger if the experiment doesn’t work.”
Ted Brockie sent this reaction to my first column on getting started reloading. “I couldn’t agree more with your strong position on scaling propellants! And your rationale on keeping charges safe. I use a lot of HEVI-Shot, and Tom Roster’s excellent recipes also specializing in the 28 gauge. Love your column and always read it first!”
I thanked Tom for his email can only add that safety HAS to come first any time you manufacture ammunition — that’s what you are doing, you know.
Until next month, please keep your comments, questions and suggestions for future column to me at firstname.lastname@example.org — they are enjoyed and appreciated. SS
Ed Clapper started shooting trap in 1974 but quit six months later due to limited ability and a sore jaw after every shoot. He tried again in 1989, but this time had friends who helped him overcome the obstacles. He liked the sport and became a student of it, attending several shooting clinics, some more than once. In 1989, he was automatically low man on the squad; in 1994, he broke his first 100-straight and won his first registered shooting trophy at the Carlisle, Pennsylvania, Fish & Game Association. His first 200-straight came in June, 2000, at Elysburg during the Pennsylvania State Shoot, where he came in third in a seven-man shoot off for the state championship, finishing as Class AA winner. He earned his 27-yard pin that July. Ed wrote for Trap & Field for many years and began writing for Shotgun Sports in 2002.