Chokes For Clays (Again)

Dear Technoid,

I am planning to start into clay shooting and need to know what choke tube constrictions I realistically need. I see all sorts of designations such as skeet, improved skeet, cylinder, improved cylinder, light modified, improved modified, etc. Do I really need all those chokes? I plan to start with skeet and go from there. I have a Remington 11-87 in 12 gauge.


Dear Woodrow,

This question is always a tar baby. You might as well ask me how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. Everyone has their own opinions on this one. The right answer changes with the presentations and difficulty level of the course. The local courses I shoot often have a number of quite long shots and very few short ones. Other areas differ and may have mostly short shots.

For what it is worth, I generally shoot a Beretta 303 semi-auto for clays. I carry five chokes because that’s what fits in the little Briley choke box along with my Royal wrench. My chokes mike .000″, .010″, .015″, .020″ and .035″. The bore of my gun is .722. Designations of these chokes would normally be Cylinder Bore, IC, Light Mod, Mod. and Full. These choke constrictions are in the ball park for these choke names in a tight bore. In an overbore gun, you might be able to get the same patterns with less choke. In theory the range of chokes from Cyl to Full is about (everything in shotgunning is approximate) 40% to 70%.

In practice I use all my chokes, though not the .015″ all that much. If I were only to carry four chokes I would eliminate the .015″. If I were to carry three chokes I’d make it the Cyl, Light Mod and Full. If I were to carry only two chokes it would be the IC and Mod. If only one choke I would probably pick the Mod (or maybe the Lt Mod on a shorter course).

The shell you pick is almost as important as the choke. I generally use #9s inside 20 yards because that is what has set so many skeet records. I use #8s from about 20-35 yards and #7-1/2s after 35 yards because that is what the trap shooters have found best. Obviously, I vary shell selection and choke if the bird requires it. I choke up and “pellet up” for rabbits and rockets and open up when I can see the face of the bird.

If you really want to get into it, you should get one of Warren Johnson’s “Choke Choosers”.  It’s an inexpensive little slide card showing you exactly what chokes to use on what targets. I takes into account distance and angle of the bird. Warren is a math PhD and has used some pretty sophisticated models to generate this information. I find choke chooser most valuable as a desk reference, but some people take it onto the field. After you use it for a while, you will remember what works where and can just use it for refreshing. It is remarkably accurate in the real world.

The first thing that you will note about Warren’s Choke Chooser and my own selections is that we both tend to use just a little more choke and a little more pellet that some other experts suggest. One of the problems with sporting clays is that presentations vary so much that it is impossible to absolutely tell what chokes/loads are best the way you can with the repeated targets at skeet and trap. In sporting clays being able to hit the bird is FAR more important than what you hit it with. In skeet and trap, hitting the bird is assumed if you are a top shooter. What you hit it with is important because of the level of perfection in those sports. Skeet shooters have long ago figured out that #9s are best at their distances, while trap shooters seldom use anything except Full and #7-1/2s for handicap distances.

In sporting the water is muddied because you CAN break a 50 yard crosser with cylinder bore and #9s. And break it pretty consistently once you dial in. But, just because it can be broken with that combination, does that mean that it is the ideal combination? Not hardly. Problem is that there is not massive data base on that particular presentation the way there is in trap and skeet. So when some “expert” claims that he can break everything on the sporting course with a certain choke, there is really no way to prove that he could have done better with the correct choke. That’s why there is so much hooey about chokes in sporting. All the answers work, at least some of the time. None of the answers work all the time.

One thing is for sure with a new shooter. If you mess around with your chokes instead of studying the presentation, you will not get a good score. The one big advantage of plugging in one choke and carrying only one shell is that the lack of choice will insure that you spend your time at the stand studying the target rather than fussing with chokes. If you can’t hit the bird, it really doesn’t matter what choke and shell you miss it with.

Since your 11-87 came with a bunch of chokes, I would pick something in the middle, a bit tighter than skeet- perhaps light modified, and stick that one in. I’d use 1-1/8 oz of #7-1/2s too. Spend your first half dozen days of sporting clays with that combination and then start experimenting. You will quickly develop your own favorites.

Best of luck. It’s quite a ride.

Best regards,

Bruce Buck

The Technoid writing for Shotgun Report, LLC

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1 Response to Chokes For Clays (Again)

  1. James Jones says:

    Bruce: You seem to get this question (or a version of it) a lot. I suggest a shorter answer: “For the beginning shooter CHOKES DON”T MATTER.”
    Yes, that’s not as accurate as your detailed answer, but it will focus the new shooter on what really matters–learning how to shoot. For most shooters, experienced or otherwise, choke selection very rarely causes a lost bird. That is a big deal in a competitive shoot-for the beginner it’s just a distraction.


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