What is a Choke on a Shotgun and What Does it Do?

The right choke can help you make the most of your shotgun on a hunt or clay shooting, so let’s give you an insight into its major types and their effect on your shooting.

What is a Choke on a Shotgun?

Chokes are designed to change the pattern of a shot released from the shotgun. They are placed in front of the barrel to increase the firing distance and accuracy of the shot. While some of them are installed permanently into the barrel of the shot, others are interchangeable.

What is the Purpose of the Choke on a Shotgun?

All shotguns come with chokes. These choke tubes determine the pattern of the shot or how far it will spread once you pull the trigger. They allow you to achieve better accuracy at farther distances, reducing the chances of missing the target.

Chokes have varying constrictions, each with a specialized purpose. The constriction tightens the patterns and allows the pellets to stay close together at far distances. The higher the constriction, the farther the pellets reach without spreading out.


Types of Shotgun Chokes

1. True Cylinder

True cylinder chokes do not have any constriction. They are the most popular chokes, ideally used to shoot targets at short distances. The recommended distance is 15-25 yards. Cylinder choke distributes 80% of the shell’s pellets within a 30-inch circle at 20 yards and 40% pellets at 40 yards distance.

The flight pattern of true cylinder chokes is the most open. They release the pellets at a widespread pattern to hit targets at short distances, increasing your chances of success by aiming at them perfectly.

There are five notches on the end of a true cylinder choke, making it easily recognizable. Cylinder chokes can be used for hunting upland birds and animals like quails or pheasants.

However, these chokes are not recommended for long-distance target shooting because they spread the pellets far apart by the time they reach the target. A true cylinder in the UK corresponds to a Cylinder choke in the US.

2. Skeet

Skeet chokes are ideal for people who enjoy skeet shooting. This recreational activity involves competitors shooting at clay targets flung into varying directions. These targets are thrown at high-speed, which makes this competition very challenging. A person who hits down most clays gets more points.

Shooters use skeet chokes with shotguns to successfully hit the clay targets in the competition. These chokes are specially designed to shoot fast-moving targets in the air. Skeet chokes have no notches and a constriction of 0.005 inches that allows you to hit targets at a large distance.

This minor constriction provides a wide-open pattern, so the pellets spread wider, thereby increasing your chances of getting the target. Skeet choke is widely used for long-distance target shooting. However, some shooters also use it for close-range shooting because of the optimum shot patterns.

This choke distributes 50% of the shell’s total pellets within a radius of 30-inch at 25 yards. The skeet in the US has an improved cylinder variant in UK.


3. Improved-cylinder

The improved cylinder comes with a minor constriction of 0.01 inches. Though it does not seem like a lot, it makes a significant difference when you shoot at the clay targets.

Most beginners get confused about whether they should use a regular cylinder choke or an improved cylinder choke.

A regular cylinder choke has no constriction and spreads the shots in different directions. However, some shooters would like a bit of constriction to hit the target successfully, and that’s where an improved cylinder becomes useful.

Even with minor constriction, the improved cylinder choke distributes 50% of the pellets in a 30-inch radius at 40 yards. It increases the number of pellets by 10% compared to shooting with a regular cylinder choke.

There are four notches at the end of the improved cylinder choke. This US improved-cylinder choke also has a UK variant, a quarter choke.

4. Modified

Modified chokes are excellent for medium-distance target shooting. This choke is designed for shooters who don’t want the heavy constriction of a full choke or the openness of the cylinder choke. Its moderate constriction allows the shooter to simultaneously achieve a decent amount of spreading and improved accuracy.

You can use the modified choke for a 30-yard distance or more. With a constriction size of 0.02 inches, this choke distributes 60% of the shell’s total pellets within a 30-inch circle at a 40-yard distance – 20% more than the true cylinder choke and 10% more than the IC choke.

The modified choke has three notches on the rim, making it easily recognizable. The UK variant of this US modified choke is called half choke.

These types of chokes are generally used by hunters for general waterfowl hunting, and shooting down distant upland birds and small animals like rabbits and pheasants. Modified chokes are also among the best chokes for sporting clays.

5. Improved-modified

Improved-modified choke contains more constriction than the modified choke. It is pretty popular among hunters for its versatility. This choke allows you to hit targets at a distance of 30 to 40 yards, thereby giving hunters massive coverage at short to mid-ranges.

You will find two notches on this type of choke. Its 0.025-inch constriction of 0.025 inches allows shots to spread and hit the target more accurately. At a 40-yard distance, improved-modified choke effectively distributes 65% of the pellets in a 30-inch radius.

Improved-modified choke is a US variant, and its UK counterpart is known as a three-quarters choke. It is perfect for upland bird shooting to hunt pheasants, quails, and grouse. While you can use it with rifle slugs, it is not suitable for the long-term health of the choke.

6. Full

Full choke comes with the tightest constriction, making it suitable for distances beyond 40 yards. It provides a dense pattern to the shot and offers the most accuracy. The 0.03-inch constriction prevents the pellets from spreading wide apart while allowing them to stay closer together at large distances.

A full choke can travel farther than 40 yards without compromising on accuracy. It allows 70% of the total pellets to reach a 30-inch circle at a distance of 40 yards. That’s 30% more pellets than the true cylinder.

Some shooters even use the full choke to hit the targets at 60 yards, making it a good choice for long-range shooting with buckshot. It is also used for turkey hunting, trap shooting, and waterfowl pass shooting.

There is only one notch on this choke. A full choke has the same name for both US and UK variants.

Picture by Richard Faulks

How to Use Shotgun Chokes?

There are two ways to install chokes on a shotgun. Some shotguns come with fixed chokes, while others allow you to swap or change the chokes as per your requirement. While both are acceptable, the replaceable or screw-in chokes offer more flexibility to shooters.

The success of your clay shooting or hunt significantly depends on your choice of choke. Each type of choke serves a specific purpose. For example, a cylinder choke allows your shot to spread widely at a certain distance, which is why it is also called an open choke.

However, if you want to shoot at longer distances with precision and better accuracy, you should go for a full choke. The tight constriction keeps the pellets together so you won’t miss the chance of hitting the target.

A skeet choke is perfect for shooting fast-moving targets in the air. On the other hand, a modified or improved-modified choke should work fine if you intend to hit a target at mid-ranges with a shotgun.

While a challenge-loving shooter should use a full choke to hit targets from far away, a true cylinder choke is an ideal choice for anyone using the shotgun for close range or self-defense purposes.