Chokes Versus Fixed Tubes, by Dave McCracken
In the last two weeks, I've had several queries about what chokes to use for (insert purpose here). Tied into this is the convenient and popular option of interchangeable tubes, Most folks like them, but there IS a worm in that apple. So,let's take a little walk through Chokeland and see what upsides and downsides there are....
First, whatever choke denomination you use, the markings thereof are just an educated guess. By changing loads,we can make any choke give patterns at any set range that would have more variance than by switching to the next tighter/looser tube.
In other words, a Modified choke can give IC type patterns with small,soft fast shot, or nigh Full choke performance with a buffered load of hard, large shot at a lower velocity.
Having a long forcing cone mimics a tighter choke. By less deformation of the shot, more of those little pellets stay in the pattern, making it not tighter, but denser.
NO choke, fixed or tube (Or the Polychoke style) can be trusted to give the marked pattern with all loads, or even most. Only a session at the Patterning board will tell you just what YOUR load and choke combo will do. A bit of work, but well worth it. And while we keep hearing about patterning at a standard 40 yards, it's better to make the distance what a particular type of shot will be. Quail get shot, and shot at, around 20-30 yards away, so pattern your quailgun/load/choke combo there.
And now Fixed vs Tubes....
No one disputes the versatility of choke tubes. They are nigh universal, add to the value of the gun and oft serve to make one shotgun suitable for clay games,upland hunting and waterfowl. The rifled tubes aid accurate slug work.But...
First, installation sometimes leaves a bit of tube skirt showing. This can deform patterns,bulge the steel and even result in the tube being torn from the bbl. Rare, but a royal pain and expensive to fix.
Also, sometimes either the bbl or tube is not as concentric as we'd like.So, our Loudenboomer Special SP throws a nice pattern with the Skeet II choke, but the Modifed tube, same make, throws a tighter pattern, but centered low and starboard. My guess is, 25% of the tubes out there will vary Point Of Impact.
And, some tubes manage to loosen as the shotgun's fired. I've seen trapshooters check their tubes every post,and HAVE to tighten one up in the course of a single round. Make is not important, tight tolerances on the choke threads and loose tolerances in the bbl happen. A bit of beeswax on the threads and a little more Oooomph when we tighten helps, although these should be checked frequently. When a tube loosens enough, that thin steel is exposed to higher pressures. Bulges can/do happen thereby.
On the other hand, fixed chokes are less likely to be problems. Some are also non concentric, again patterning is vital. While one loses versatility, a special purpose shotgun may do better with a fixed choke, tailored or just plain suitable for a specific load and job. Instance, a turkey, waterfowl or trap gun. And then, money being no barrier, I'd probably pick a load and ream/polish until I got EXACTLY the results I wanted at a given range.
All around shotguns will probably do better with changeable chokes. Doubles,with their choice of chokes, benefit less from tubes than single bbled guns. I'd get tubes in a pump or auto for upland hunting, but stick to a fixed IC/Mod combo in a double.If I'd be using that double for clay games, I might stay with the fixed chokes and switch loads, soft 9s for skeet, hard 7 1/2s for handicap trap, both for SCs.
For home defense, choke is meaningless, 5 yd patterns are the same. I advise that for Serious shotguns, figure out the max distance it will be used at, add one yard for GPs, and pattern with your Serious loads. I see no advantage to anything tighter than Modifed, but your needs may differ.
My HD 870 is chokeless, the Deer 870 that serves as backup out of season has a Skeet tube in it.
Dave McCracken has been shotgunning longer than many shooters have been alive. He regularly posts on TheHighRoad.org and TheFiringLine.com. This article is reprinted here with his permission; reprinting or redistributing this article without his permission is expressly prohibited.